The bullshit and the bollocks

Are the 4Ps still relevant to the content marketing industry – or should we be looking towards the 3Cs instead?

“Content marketing is a meaningless term invented by bullshit artists to add gravitas to mundane marketing activities
Bob Hoffman, The Ad Contrarian
 
Bloggers and columnists know you need something to grab people’s attention, which may be why they get so sweary. It's the same challenge when you’ve got the graveyard slot at a conference – hence the title of a talk I gave at this year’s Marketing Week Live, where I tried to find something useful amid the profanity.
 
It all started with a (gentle) debate in Marketing Week about whether the 4Ps – product, price, promotion and place – are still relevant, inspired by the effect of Brexit. Their research showed that most CMOs no longer have responsibility for pricing.
 
So should we now be talking about the 3Ps? Or even the 2Ps? After all, promotion is an increasingly complex task for the CMO and the lines have blurred between it and distribution (place), disrupted by digital, channel and platform innovation and its effect on how people behave.
 
Others don't think so. Aviva’s Pete Markey says that many brands are struggling precisely because they have ignored the 4Ps in favour of “chasing digital audiences”.
 
Another perspective on the 4Ps comes from Professor Mark Ritson, also writing in MW, who argued against a tweet promoting the top 24 marketing experts to follow. As he points out: “it’s clear… that these people are actually experts in just one area of marketing – communications”. He estimates that it’s the other 3Ps that make up 90% of what we call marketing.
 
He goes on: “They sell it using a variety of different, new conceptual names like…“content”, “lead conversion” and “digital marketing”, but this is what ancient professors used to call the promotional part of the marketing mix.”
 
Ah yes, the demon content – one of the fastest growing areas of brand spend. Which is probably why this headline got so much attention.
 
In truth, it’s a pretty balanced piece. But Ritson says: “It’s not that I don’t see the value of what content marketing does. I just don’t see how it’s any different from what we were already doing.”
 
And I’m not sure that’s true. Nobody’s really doing what they used to do; people’s behaviour, their interests, intentions and expectations keep evolving, and brands – and their approach to brand comms – have had to adapt to keep up. Content marketing is just one of the newer comms opportunities available. And it works because people seem to like it – which is why lots of  ‘advertising’ and PR now looks, and feels like, content. In my view recent attempts to define content marketing as ‘highly strategic’ and advertising as ’tactical’ are misguided and not helpful.
 
But here are two things that are true: there’s too much content, and most of it isn't very good. 
 
Source: TrackMaven – The Content Marketing Paradox Revisited, 2016
Source: Beckon – Marketing Truth Or Marketing Hype?, 2016
The latest evidence for this comes from the new release of Meaningful Brands from Havas. This found that 60% of the content created by the world’s leading 1,500 brands has little impact on consumers’ lives or business results. Ouch.
 

So what's going wrong? Well, too many brands and their agencies are seduced by the idea of brands as publishers (please – even publishers don't want to be publishers) and are making the wrong stuff. As Maria Garrido of Havas puts it:

Or, back to Ritson, who says: “content marketers… seem to think that their reason for existence is to create content, rather than communicate with clients and sell stuff”. (And he is spot on.)
 
So, to create communications that get us noticed, understood, enable us to be useful and hopefully liked – and to sell stuff – we need to really understand people’s lives, which are going to keep changing.
 
This means we need to evolve and stop arguing about the right and wrong way to do things, or which model is best. It means taking a more dynamic, adaptable approach to marketing comms.
 
Here’s just one example of that for now, inspired by the trend we have seen towards a more conversational approach to marcomms.
 

In the past few months at SevenC3, we've been developing a model that helps our clients to manage, organise and prioritise their comms around the 3Cs of content – campaign, conversation and conversion.  

All three are essential and all three need to be connected to deliver the consistently good customer experience that people expect. We’re using this model to make sure that everything we do, from ‘traditional’ ad campaigns across TV, radio and digital through to planned and reactive content for social, is optimised for the customer, joined up and effective for the brand.
 
It’s a simple, practical approach and we’ll keep adapting it as we learn what’s working well and what’s not. And so far it’s working – no bullshit.