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Looking into the latest Content Marketing stats, I discovered this insightful data point:

“The recipe for success for content marketing in 2020? Catering to your audience. According to the CMI, 88 percent of top-performing content marketing programs target their audience’s needs rather than a stock sales messaging approach.”

If my memory serves me right, all marketing communication needs to be relevant to be successful. Selling meat to vegetarians is a waste of money, just like marketing heavy machinery to school children. (On a side note, 12% of these programs are using the stock sales messaging approach and they are still top performers? Who are these people?)

What the above insightful stat tells me that there is major confusion in the content marketing world. Just look at all the definitions people use:

Content Marketing Institute: “Content Marketing is about attracting an audience to an experience (or “destination”) that you own, build, and optimize to achieve your marketing objectives.”

Even more confusing, the Content Marketing Institute has a second definition: “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” As stated before, replace content marketing with marketing communication and it works.

In this paper, the authors quote Rowley from an article: “Content marketing can be defined as a management process where a firm identify, analyze and satisfy customer demand to gain profit with the use of digital content through electronic channels.”

Jay Acunzo defines: “Content marketing is just solving the same customer problems as your product but through media you create and distribute.”

I’m more confused than ever. That’s very concerning. Especially when some sites claim that 26% of the total marketing budget of B2C marketers is directed toward content marketing. It seems as robust as the claim that by the end of this year, 50% of all searches will be voice searches. Making these claims is a proven strategy never to be taken seriously by real professionals.

Content is about attitude

If your brand has not a clearly defined attitude, it’s better to stick with traditional advertising. If you rely on creating magic worlds where beautiful business people smile at each other during their meetings, where B2B buyers look like the software solution changed their 80-hour workweek to a 1-hour playdate, where cars only travel on empty roads – stick with advertising. Content doesn’t claim to be native just to be found out as pedestrian advertising. That’s the seedy side of content.

Content is bigger. Content is meaningful and substantial. Content can withstand critical eyes. Content has attitude. And, that’s the reason why good content will beat any other marketing tactic.

Content has to be essential

We can all live without advertising but we can’t live without content. Good advertising has always been centered around outstanding content. Only essential content is good content. What is Nike without “Just Do it”? That tagline is the sun that feeds and brings to life all the other marketing tactics of the sneaker firm.

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Content with attitude transformed VW into a market force.

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Non-essential, bad content.

Content should be the premium tool of the communication industry. Content is king for all admired brands. It drives leads, is the central nervous system of the whole communication universe. Content is the attitude of a brand.

Let me leave you with one stat: 99.9% of all content marketing is nothing more than bad marketing and buzzword bingo. I made that stat up but I’m pretty sure it’s true. Because 99.9% of so-called content marketing has no attitude, no point of view, no backbone. It gives the most amazing opportunity for marketers a bad name. What a shame.

 

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A ghost runs rampant across the planet. The ghost is present in every digital conference, each business talk, each segment on CNBC and in every newspaper. The belief in the transformational power of Digital is the final belief system of our time. Digital Transformation will solve everything: Growth Problems, Death, Lack of Intelligence, Human Weaknesses and Weaknesses of our Democracy. Well, let’s skip the last one.

While solving all of our problems, Digital Transformation threatens also everything: Whole Verticals are under threat, Democracy, Freedom, maybe even reason. 20–70% of all jobs will disappear. AI will take over our jobs. We assign, full of excitement, apocalypse capabilities to Digitization, just like we used to do for Nuclear Power and Alien Invasions. Humans might need these mega-demons once in a while to feel alive.

All this talk about Digitization is challenging for us because we are dealing with two Internets and we can’t align them in our heads and our lives. The Internet is amazing. It’s still a wonderful experience to call a car with a friendly driver to a dark corner of an unknown, rainy part of town. Or to compare all the prices of hotels in Fresno. And, then there is the darkroom of human desires and trivial narcissism — the thing we once called Social Media.

Jaron Lanier, one of the digital pioneers, called the myth of social networks “Digital Maosim”. Maoism as an allegory for the cross-fading of complex realities into fanatical, social imperatives. “The Internet empowers the powerless” can be compared to Mao’s “Political Power grows out of the barrel of a gun”. Both slogans lead to terrible disillusions. The social Web empowers definitely world savers, neighbors, running groups, friends that otherwise would never hear from each other again. But it also empowers trolls, stalkers, idiots, Russian saboteurs, terrorists. It transports people in our living rooms we can’t see. And we definitely don’t want to see.

The addiction to the Social Web can be explained with our human nature of a connection-being. From the moment we are born, we are hungering for connections and being seen. Being accepted. Being in relationships. Those synapses are being used by the Social Web, tapping into our relationship neediness. People upload the weirdest thing to their social pages, sharing things they would never share in real life. The pseudonymity of the Web drives people literally crazy.

In the jungle of unresolved emotions, Digital promises something it can’t keep: The right partner. Endless choices. Best friends. Even better friends somewhere out there. The Internet amplifies the Nervousness of our social lives on all levels — privately, socially, politically, economically. The result: Our current reality of constant shitstorms, outrage, conspiracy theories, populism, and overall pessimism. The Web can do a lot of things, but it can’t hug you, it can’t heal you, it can’t connect on a human level — unless we are already connected in the analog world.

The Analog Revenge

One of my favorite places in Amsterdam is the Nordermarkt, a Farmers Market that is open every Saturday. I get my cheese, fruits, vegetables, bread, pastry, mangoes, fish, flowers, potatoes from this place. It’s a 2-hour experience every weekend. I chat with the potato guy about his trip to Ibiza, taste the newest bread, buy olive oil from a vintage harvest in Spain. It feels like a place filled with passion and competence. One would think these markets should be extinct by now. Walking distance from my house are at least 4 cheese stores, 4 supermarkets, 5 bakeries. And I’m pretty sure I pay much more on the market than I would pay at the local supermarket. But I still head home each Saturday filled with joy and satisfied that I got a good deal. Supermarkets never make me feel that happy.

What are the merchants selling at the Nordermarkt? Products? Quality? Sure. But the secret is not the product. They trade with relationships. That’s what people are looking for, in the analog and digital space. In the analog world, the foundation of relationships — trust — can be developed rather easily. We look into each other’s eyes when we exchange value.

And that’s the reason why the majority of digitization predictions were wrong. Why are eBook sales stalling and people continue to buy print books and magazines? Why are Moleskins and fancy fountain pens more popular than ever? Why do people put Post-Its on screens and print out important emails? Why do people continue to use cash? The digital gurus sneered about those Digital Neanderthals and proclaimed once those fools were being washed away by the Digital Tsunami, the REAL Digital Revolution would take place. A biological solution…

Maybe sticking to analog is not the problem. It might just be part of the solution.

David Sax, a Canadian writer, explains in his book “Revenge of the Analog” how the Digital doesn’t conquer the physical, it just reinvents it:

· Revenge of Print: The more feverish and disruptive our information world becomes, the more messages interrupt us, the more people are looking for the quiet presence of paper. Paper is hip. Print is more than alive, the motto of Monocle’s last media conference.

· Revenge of work: We were all supposed to work as cyber nomads in coffeeshops and planes. Instead, work has become more social and physical. The best coders work in lavish office environments, eat organic food before they head to Pilates. And, there are more jobs out there than people who can fill them.

· Revenge of Retail: Yes, Retail is dying. The terrible Retail of Toys“R”Us, Sears and Mega Malls. In the meantime, new shopping concepts are popping up everywhere, there’s more innovation in Retail than ever and digital is fully integrated. But it’s only one channel, not THE channel.

· Revenge of Learning: Let’s be frank: MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses) have turned out to be duds. Sure, there are some courses that flourish and work well. But during our digital fever we learned that learning is always the results of human, empathetic interaction. Computer are not bad for learning, bad teachers are. Computer don’t solve the secret of knowledge and learning. As Piaget said: “The goal of education is not to increase the amount of knowledge but to create the possibilities for a child to invent and discover, to create men who are capable of doing new things.”

At the end of his book, Sax proposes a new way to deal with the digital revolution: Digitization doesn’t mean a reduction of the world into 0’s and 1’s. Instead, we should focus on a co-evolution of the digital and physical world. Just like one can only understand their native language when one learns a second, the real potential of Digitization can only be explored through its counterpart: the analog world

Digital Enlightenment

A healthy future relies on healthy relationships that allow for transformations. A family works when a deep feeling of security transforms into the drive to be free. Globalization is successful when different cultures can exchange freely and creatively to create win-win situations. A company prospers when it’s aligned with societal needs. When employees, leadership, capital, work, innovation and marketing are in full alignment. It’s important to differentiate digital strategies into Technology and Human solutions:

Technology Digitization:

Replaces relationships with digital tools. The goal is to put a digital distance between the customer and/or employee. The boom of digital assistants like Siri and Alexa is based on the hope to replace real market relationships. Between customer and products/service the illusion of a human voice. It’s cynical and manipulative.

Human Digitization:

Creates new relationships, connecting customers, product and environment. When organic Jeans are being offered as a lease subscription, new markets are being developed. When people share their car rides and preferences on BlaBlaCar, new digital relationships are being developed to benefit everyone. Good Digitization combines real-haptic with the information-communicative to develop new relationships and availabilities.

Technology Digitization:

It’s often about efficiencies and cutting jobs. When a company develops a Digital Transformation Strategy without envisioning new relationships and not mapping out the Relationship Strategy, they basically admit they ran out of innovation. They want to squeeze the last penny of profit out of the firm. Customers are moved to web sites and chat bots. The bank moves people into the virtual world, the advisor can’t be reached. At the end, everybody is frustrated. And unemployed.

Human Digitization:

Uses Digital as a power to enhance the relationships between people, organizations and products/services, generating benefits for everyone. It moves control operation to the digital side to allow for human freedom and relationships. It empowers each stakeholder — customers and employees.

Will Ethics win?

It’s not that easy. Cold Technology condenses on the warm surface of human needs, and a lot of heat is generated. Just like the evolution, the digital evolution is a blind selection process. Uber will disappear if it doesn’t overcome its cynical and sexist corporate culture. And Facebook will crumble unless it develops human regulatory systems. Or it will be the trash bin of Humanity, a smoking trash fire of desperate emotions that people will flee to become analog again.

A wave of human-digital alignment processes is coming. Just like the Evolution where new species have to find their stable niches, digital strategies have to explore their adaptabilities to the human environment. That has nothing to do with ethics, many bad players will continue to exploit the Social Web. But we will separate the good from the bad, the digital that makes sense from the nonsense. Factories will use the Internet of Things because it makes sense that machines communicate to improve efficiencies. At home, connecting my coffee machine with the fridge is nonsense and the search of a solution to find a problem.

The Human-Digital Evolution has just begun

When you spend too much time in Silicon Valley and with Digital Gurus, the future is pre-programmed: AI will take over everything, many of us will settle down on Mars and Death is dead.

But there’s a fundamental misunderstanding behind the AI Religion: Computers are better at Chess does not mean they are smarter than humans, they are just better when it comes to algorithms and board games. AI can only beat human intelligence where complexity doesn’t require the intuition and creativity of the physical human being. Watson might be better at diagnosing diseases but many of our sicknesses are not precise, they are very diffuse. Watson will get stuck in the complexity of the human and health care system. Siri and Alexa will remain toys for some, annoyances for most. Robots will not take over the care of the elderly.

The future vision of the Internet giants are the clothes of the new digital emperors. They are filled with panic of the new monopolists, aggregating so much power that it even scares them. Facebook, Apple, Google and Co. wanted to change the world, they were the rebels and now they transformed into Darth Vader. Luring people to click on ads is in the end not a very sexy business model. Their escapism of AI and Robots, Mars and Singularity are just camouflaging the obvious: they have no clue how to escape the click-based model and they have no idea what the next business cycle will bring. The same escapism infected an American airline when they accepted reservations to fly to the moon (the bankrupt PanAm).

Euphoria, Bankruptcy, Decline, Selection: In the next few years we will experience major turbulences in the world of the digital empires. Google, Amazon, Twitter and their ilk disrupted the world, now it’s their turn to be disrupted. The evolutionary carving out continues and will lead to a “New Human Story” as Yuval Noah Harai describes it in his book “Homo Deus”. The human-digital evolution has just begun. And it’s our job to shape it.

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If it’s important for someone to be the smartest one in the room, it’s the smart move to let them enjoy that feeling.

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He started with nothing and created a movement. He didn’t have any of the tools, platforms, and technologies available to us to change the world. We have the responsibility to use the tools, the changing media landscape to make an impact. It’s easier than ever to be heard.

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood — it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

What are you waiting for?

 

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You found her on an online site, she seems intriguing, everything you are looking for.

You meet in person, the first impression is pure magic. You start the conversation and it turns within a few moments into a monologue. You learn everything about her, every last detail. You keep asking questions because that’s the only way to keep the conversation going. Whenever she asks you a question, she is bored immediately and wants to add her perspective. It’s easier for you just to keep listening to her, mentally walking away from the table, waiting for the moment you never have to see her again.

When you look at your inbox, it’s clear that brands are trained in the art of monologue. They act like 3-year olds sharing everything with their parents. That works most of the time for the little ones because they are closest to our hearts. It can’t work for brands but they keep trying because they don’t know better, the marketing engine has to run.

That’s only half of the story: Marketing is not about telling customers everything. It’s to make them curious to learn more. Just like a good date, the best marketing is to know how much information is enough, what to leave unsaid. And leave space for your own imagination to complete the picture.

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January 17. The gyms start to empty out, fewer runners in the park, alcohol sales start to pick up, the weekly book hasn’t been touched for more than a week. A large part of virtue consists in good habits. We are our habits and the patterns that permeate life.

Just think about the visit to your supermarket, a routine that you do on rinse and repeat. The brands you buy, the ones you avoid, the aisles you walk through quickly, the register you go to, your routine while waiting.

The majority of marketing is based on the paradigm to change people’s stories. Do you know how unlikely it is to change someone’s mind? More unlikely than changing your habits. We live our own story and outside forces won’t alter our version of the truth. But, we can try to understand the stories of others about who they are and what they believe, and we can build on that story.

James Carville said: “It’s the economy, stupid.” For marketing, it’s the heart, stupid. People don’t just change what they are doing and reverse course. But if we build on their story, they might take a small step towards a different version of their story.

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It happens almost every day: People connect with me on LinkedIn. Within 24 hours, you can set the clock, they pitch their services.

Odd sales metrics, not understanding how marketing works or plain laziness: This approach is like playing the lottery. It might work, but in reality, you are wasting your time, effort and, most importantly, the connection you just established.

It’s important to establish connections. But the real work is in creating and deepening relationships.

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It’s January 01, 2030. Your national government has outlawed any traditional marketing. What would you do without your digital levers, your print, TV, radio, Direct Mail and other forms of marketing?

After you got over your anxiety attack, I believe you would start with people. You would redouble your efforts with your current customers. And you would try to attract new customers by talking with them, not at them. You would get very good at explaining what you do, why you think your product/service is the best, and how it will make the lives of customers better. You would look closely at your customers, try to understand them better, empathize with them. You would be emotionally attuned to your customers.

That’s how selling was done before we started to rely on marketing, technology, and tactics. Brands made the best possible product for their known customers they wanted to serve. It was pretty straight forward, courageous and full of risks. But when it worked, it was glorious. Instead, we are hiding now behind efficiency and scale while moving away from our customers.

We have an endless arsenal of marketing tactics at our fingertips. Maybe these infinite options limit our ability to really connect with customers?

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One of the holiday traditions in our house is to work on a puzzle throughout these quiet times. In 2019, we decided on a Clementoni 1,500 pieces puzzle of the Piazza di Spagna in Rome. The goal was to finish in a week but life happened, business travel and the puzzle was harder than I expected. Last weekend, we sat down and decided to get it done by Sunday.

Sunday came around and the one thing happened that should never happen with a puzzle:

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And this:

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And another one

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3 missing pieces. We looked everywhere but it was clear the pieces were never part of the puzzle.

Clementoni had one job: Deliver 1,500 pieces of a puzzle. Nothing else. And they failed. All the LinkedIn Marketing, all the Instagram posts, the terrible website: It’s meaningless and even counterproductive when you don’t do your job.

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And, so we decided not to do our job and spend hours completing the blue sky. Final destiny for this puzzle? Trash.

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Because it is incremental. Yes, there are these Uber and iPhone moments when everything changes quickly. But the majority of digital transformation is incremental. Machines take over a job we never imagined they can do, and over time we get so used to it, we regard it as a natural step for machines to take on more and more tasks.

Machines are better at spotting tumors, trading stocks, execute all banking transactions, get us where we want to go, correct spelling, find cheap services and products, predict weather and find familiar faces in a huge crowd.

If you flew to Saturn 14 years ago and just returned from your awe-inspiring trip, you would not believe what happened to human-only tasks since you left the planet in 2006. But since we are being slowly boiled by technology and not water just like the frog experiment, we don’t consider these changes amazing.

Since jobs are being lost, the last thing we should do is our job. We need to be braver, more human, more focused and do things differently. There are huge opportunities out there. But you are missing out on them by continuing doing your job,