Content [Marketing], Control, and Community

There is no such thing as content marketing.  And social is merely the latest buzzword to reflect the latest methods to approach the age-old concept of community. †

What is new and different is the shift in the locus of control of the message and messenger.  The faster we accept that today we have less control over the message the faster we gain more control over our business. (Huh?  read on…)

There are in fact new tools and tactics to implement marketing and community because of technology. But the key is to understand that these new tools and techniques won’t work until we examine and embrace the control issue. Among many other data points, the three most recent things that have helped me approach this conclusion are:

  1. A Marketo content marketing infographic that I mostly agree with
  2. A session by Rachel Happe I attended last night at the Boston Product Management Association. Her session had “social networks” in its title, but I think the session was really more about community and control.
  3. Examining, in practice, the marketing efforts of author / poet Marly Youmans as she executes these perspectives both consciously and purposefully as well as in a defacto way due to funding realities in her line of business.

Do we really need another word to muddy up the marketing waters?

As product managers and product marketing folks we already have enough industry and non-industry confusion about what marketing is. A local Boston-area car dealer radio ad makes me cringe every time they talk about their new marketing program. (Hint Mr. Car dealer – it’s called a sale. A discount.  It’s not a “marketing program.”) When I correspond with Marly — see below — she and some in her community often see marketing as something that is at best a diversion and at worst to be frowned upon as dirty.  I think she and others in the fine arts space often conflate marketing with advertising or sometimes PR/press junkets or selfless promotion.

Marketo’s great infographic is titled “Is Content Marketing Traditional Advertising’s New Rival?” Isn’t Marketo just comparing good marketing meant to engage and educate customers (which has always been around) to advertising (or bad advertising) meant to foster a transactional sales cycle? My favorite “go to” example of brilliant marketing, which I think Marketo would call content marketing, is Sony’s “Daddy What’s a Betamax” comic book (scroll down page to see the yellow-color comic book) from ~1977. Content marketing has always been around.  It is called GOOD MARKETING. It educates. It engages. It doesn’t always close.  It may actually exist to promulgate an idea that is only loosely related to the products one is hawking.   This leads me to…

Social Networks a.k.a  ceding control to gain control

Rachel Happe’s session last night said many things. The one that stuck was not new to me.  But she said it very concisely, and I paraphrase: We need to give up control to get control.

The days of large companies issuing a press release to control an issue are gone. The Consumerist, twitter, and Facebook have relegated hiding product quality or customer service issues. Glassdoor has allowed employees insight into companies cultures in ways that HR directors best pay attention to. Rachel has some great case studies of companies that have “lost control” ungracefully and others where that loss of control has been powerfully turned on its head to be of advantage to the company.

The mechanisms by which individuals have gained and companies lost control are the tactical tools of technology social networks – the FaceBooks, pinterests, twitters, discussion groups on websites, nings, public webconferences, and the next-greatest-tool that will be released next week.  At the end of the day, all that these tools allow is what has always happened. But they allow them on a much broader, much faster, and easier-to-add-nodes-to-the -network way.  They are just tools.  They are transformative tools, but tools.  And if you don’t know how to safely run a table saw, at least read the manual. As Rachel pointed out, just starting a Facebook presence doesn’t mean you are networking in a new way.  In fact, you could get egg on your face if you are not ready to answer the questions raised when you start using these new platforms without “reading the instruction manual.”

My recommendation

If your team doesn’t do or doesn’t have someone on board who hasn’t run customer-focus groups, hasn’t designed messaging for tradeshows, doesn’t have an understanding of how to create outreaches to press and media, hasn’t written white papers to a variety of audiences, doesn’t understand how to properly bow to an angry customer (and when not to), you should GET a person like that to lead your “social media” efforts.  Or at least to manage the strategy and check in on the more junior person you hire to execute the tactics.

Building a community one stanza at a time

If you want to meet a great author and budding businessperson — who won’t admit that business is exactly what she has added to her repertoire  — who has begun to dip her toes into social, then explore the blog archives of Marly Youmans. Maybe you can even join her discussions!

Here is a “mid list” (yucky term) poet, novelist, and YA author who has lived the transition from the complete control of big NY publishers to complete reliance on herself, the community she can create, and the help of smaller boutique publishers to differentiate herself. She is a great individual example — still in progress, as most of us are — of learning how to let go. Giving out free chapters, free poems, connecting to her audience directly for feedback, criticism, and network building.

On her blog, amidst the wonderful discussions of her and others’ work you will find some of the best discussion and perspective of marketing challenges you can read from the persona of a successfully published writer in the midst of major changes in the market.  You’ll see letting go and ceding control to the community and her bringing power back to herself and her work through credibility and authenticity. You’ll see her experiments and frustration of using new social tools  to reach existing and new audiences.

Is Marly doing marketing or content marketing? And is the point of her use of social tools self promotion or to bring people into her communities by offering value – above and beyond her own work-for-sale?  Or both?  And is self-promotion wrong? Hers is a good case study to watch as her reach grows.

Best to all,



† For a wiseguy who may not hire me because “there is no such thing as content marketing”:  Of course all of the things in the Marketo infographic are necessary.  I’ve done most of them.  My point is that we don’t need a new word, not that we don’t need the activities.

3 thoughts on “Content [Marketing], Control, and Community

  1. marly youmans

    Hi Gary (and Beth)–

    Thank you for that thoughtful post. While I’ll be doing events later on in the year (when the snow vanishes), right now we are focusing on the internet. And I’ve been pleased so far that a good number of people are sharing the latest book and leaving comments here and there or writing posts. The latest news is that composer/videographer Paul Digby is going to do a video for “Thaliad”; I’m really pleased about it!

  2. Gary Dietz Post author


    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I think a key point in your reply is “…authors need to get over the idea that it’s bald self-promotion and somehow “dirty”or beneath them — actually it’s intelligent networking and attention to the business of writing that will pay off in the long run.” As I’ve shared with Marly, I am often shocked when writers and other artists refuse to acknowledge that any work is necessary, much less want to participate in the work, to promote their creations.

    I can understand if the creator’s only goal is to share with friends and family or if they are creating only for themselves. However, if they have any hope of increasing the numbers of those who will enjoy their creations they have to do work or delegate work — and its associated cost of time and money — to make sales/views/awarness {insert other goal here} happen.

    What I think is even worse is when an established writer who will be able to sell his or her next piece with very little personal marketing effort (beyond the creation) belittles “marketing” as beneath or as an interruption of their craft. “My stuff is so good it will sell itself and even if it doesn’t my golden work has pleased the Gods .” Famous last words, only true for a very few creatives and a very few companies — or people who don’t need any more income to pay the rent and groceries.


  3. Beth

    Gary, thanks for these thoughts and for taking seriously Marly’s struggles to adapt to a new publishing reality. It’s been illuminating to work with her as her publisher for “Thaliad,” and with other authors who have varying interest levels/knowledge of the web and social media. I can say unequivocally that without a strong web presence and continual use of social media, books like this would be dead in the water. Social media and blogs don’t replace personal relationships and real-life contacts in an author’s hometown and region, but they are a very necessary addition if an author expects to sell books. A small publisher simply cannot, on their own, create relationships and loyalty to an author. We ourselves are slowly building our own reputations for quality, design, strong genre choices, etc., but today our efforts must be in partnership with authors. I am convinced that people buy books from people they know and have come to like and respect. Using the web to help with building those relationships — illuminating who the author is and why they are worth reading — is a lot of work, and to be successful it has to be sustained over a long time. However, authors need to get over the idea that it’s bald self-promotion and somehow “dirty”or beneath them — actually it’s intelligent networking and attention to the business of writing that will pay off in the long run.

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