The Breakout: We’re starting our SXSW Q&A series a little late this year, so we figured we’d better make this first one count. We bring you five questions with the one-and-only Kristina Halvorson (@halvorson), co-author of Content Strategy for the Web and the CS community’s own patron saint of quality footwear. We asked Kristina a few questions about her feature session, “Go Home Marketing, You Are Drunk,” and now we’re more excited than ever to see it.
Scatter/Gather: The recent rise of content marketing has created a huge resurgence of interest in talking about the role of “content” in digital. This should be great news for people who practice content strategy, and yet I have mixed feelings about it. I gather you have similar concerns. Why isn’t this cause for celebrating in the streets?
Kristina: Your saying, “I gather you have similar concerns” must be your diplomatic way of saying, “Kristina, I see that you have been ranting about this on Twitter recently, why all the rage?”.
There are two reasons I have, uh, mixed feelings. First: we were finally just starting to talk about why companies need to be creating content … and not from a generic, “to engage customers with our brand!” standpoint, either. Give me sound business logic. Show me how your content projects ladder up to a larger strategic initiative. Demonstrate why investing in this super awesome video content is more important than investing in, say, fixing your technical documentation taxonomy so people can get help with the stuff you already sold them. This push for “content marketing” (which is really a rebrand of cross-channel custom publishing) essentially tells companies, the most important thing you need is MORE CONTENT. This sucks.
And that leads to the second thing: the content marketing trend is ruining my clients’ lives. Here are people who are trying to fix a seriously broken website, or redefine roles and responsibilities within a team so it can move from being reactive to strategic, or simply get some solid voice and tone guidelines in place so they can start working towards a consistent voice across channels … and what are they being tasked with? MORE CONTENT. Worse, MORE COOL CONTENT. Wrong conversation being driven by the wrong (albeit well-intended!) folks. I mean, stop it already. Do not ask what your content can do for you. Ask what you can do for your content. (OMG Rachel I just made that up. Also I am fairly sure that is somehow blasphemous but it works, am I right?)
S/G: And yet, I’m cautiously optimistic about it. I suspect you are too. What can we do to set folks on the right track?
Kristina: Listen, you give me too much credit with the whole “optimism” angle. What I’ll say is this: whatever pain points we set out to solve at the beginning of our content strategy careers are only becoming more painful and obvious now that “content” is such a focus, and I think that’s a good thing. Like, “I have been telling you not to eat so many Hot Pockets, and now you have clogged arteries, so now it’s time to get real.”
What I’m seeing with clients is that they’ve finally hit a wall with subpar content, and that they’ve realized if they want to get “content marketing” right—that is, if they want to create and deliver the right content, in the right place, to the right people—they need to have the right people internally planning and driving those efforts. So my optimism is, “Hey, yay, the drive to do content marketing is making things so bad that people HAVE to tackle this from a strategic perspective! Woohoo!”
I want to reiterate, though, that creating and sharing smart, valuable content isn’t of itself a waste of time. And that’s the primary message of content marketing: make content people care about. The problem is that, as is often the case with marketing trends, the “teaching” articles are all focused on tactical execution and don’t help people ask “why” or build strategies that actually put some constraints on their activities. When content marketing equals “do all the things in all the places!” then lives are ruined and the plague descends and everything dies. Wait what.
S/G: The field of content strategy has come a long way since we first met five years ago. What development has surprised you most in that time?
Kristina: Probably the speed with which the conversation has progressed, and the number of people who have stepped up to the plate to share ideas, methodologies, case studies, and so on. Like, I wouldn’t say I’m surprised as in, “I never thought THIS would happen!” but more, “Holy crap, look how quickly this has evolved.” The dimensions of content strategy—user experience, technology, mobile, organizational change—people have just been diving into these areas with such courage and curiosity. It’s been thrilling to watch. It IS thrilling.
S/G: What do you suppose you’ll be doing the next time someone feels compelled to say “Go home Kristina, you’re drunk!”?
Kristina: Really. Do I really have to answer this.
Well, you know, four years ago I blogged that I thought content strategy would catch up to social media as a hot topic before too long. That was sort of a “Kristina is drunk!” thing to do. And yet, bam! WHO’S DRINKING NOW?
So, I don’t know. Probably something to do with how marketing organizations need to change. OR maybe someone finding out exactly how much I paid for my new Fluevog boots. Don’t judge.
S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW this year?
Kristina: MINDY. FREAKING. KALING. Also, I’m really excited to see Mindy Kaling. Oh hey, did you know Mindy Kaling will be there? Because I’m looking forward to seeing her.