Communication field guide: what happened to marcomm?
So far, all of what we’ve talked about under marketing communication can be used to sell a product in a promotional way. The promotional approach is one approach to marketing communication and it was the most commonly-used one for a long time. However, when brands started to use social media platforms, they realised that they now existed in the same space as their audience’s social lives. Audiences didn’t want marketing messages intruding on their newsfeeds where they were living their everyday lives.
A new approach to marketing was therefore developed: content marketing. Content marketing takes a non-promotional approach. Instead of talking a lot about the brand/product, it aims to provide something else of value: e.g. information, entertainment, inspiration, humour, education. A lot of brands were doing this already previously. But with the rise of content marketing, it became more important. People called it a softer sell. It was about building relationships by advising audiences about issues, rather than selling a product or service. A hotel, for example, didn’t just have promotional material about its rooms and restaurants. It also included content marketing efforts: e.g. a destination guide, a blog about the best independent fashion designers in the area, Instagram posts which talked about the culture and history of the city.
Content marketing represented a few main shifts. It moved the emphasis from seeing everyone as a potential customer, to seeing audiences as consumers of content. It also changed the idea of the transaction: transactions were no longer only monetary, i.e. you give up cash for a product/service. Transactions also exist in terms of the time, attention, and data we give brands: we expect value from the content itself, even though we haven’t bought an actual thing.
One aspect of content marketing is the idea of telling stories: stories about the brand, stories about people, customers, etc. Storytelling does what content marketing is meant to do — provide value beyond promotion. But not all content marketing is storytelling. Storytelling is a specific approach to content marketing that creates a narrative of some sort to draw an audience into a story. The story may centre around the product, or around customers, or a case study. But storytelling represents another major shift from the promotional approach: it builds a narrative, highlights challenges, and is valuable in itself.