Rex Hammock, founder and owner of an eponymous content-marketing agency, has through longevity and thought leadership been recognized for decades as a leading voice in content marketing, a term Hammock himself has little use for.
In addition to high-profile membership in a variety of industry associations, where his counsel drove and early awareness and understanding of content marketing, Hammock has published an influential blog since 2000, where he led a broad conversation on media and web publishing.
When he started the company in 1991, it was a custom-publishing agency, meaning it produced print magazines and other print materials for associations and for marketers. Products ranged from purely organic editorial content—for example, member magazines for associations—to magazine products for marketers, allowing them to use a magazine-editorial format to build brand loyalty and tell stories about their markets.
Now, Hammock describes his business as a specialized marketing-services company focused exclusively on direct-to-customer media and content using all types of print, digital and video marketing services. Hammock represents a certain perspective—the small, independent content-creation shop—as well as anyone has over the years. I recently asked him for a pioneer’s perspective on the market—how it’s changed, what works, what doesn’t. Not surprisingly, he had a contrarian’s perspective. Here are some of his observations, grouped by topic.
The Challenge With Finding the Best Definition of Content Marketing.
Hammock says he doesn’t know the definition for sure, and suggests that even the people who created the term are confused. “I prefer to call myself a marketer who uses any form of media or format or content to help clients accomplish goals related to building deep and long-term relationships among buyers and sellers in a marketplace,” he says.
One challenge is that the term “content” is too broad for a narrow definition. All forms of human expression, he says— from the drawing on a refrigerator door to the painting of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre—are content. “Trying to describe it is something akin to trying to explain the color blue to someone who is color blind,” Hammock says.
As a result, he adds, his company just describes “what we do as customer media and marketing content. But those of tools. Our job isn’t just creating great media, it’s helping a client accomplish a specific business goal.”
More than that, he continues, the term content marketing itself has been co-opted for search-engine optimization, and over time, as a buzzword, “content marketing,” like “web 2.0” and others, will be replaced.
People Get a Lot Wrong About Content Marketing.
Much of today’s assumptions about content marketing are like the early days of desktop publishing, from the mid 1980s through the mid 1990s, Hammock says. The Mac had just launched and companies thought publishing was just a matter of purchasing a Mac and placing an administrative assistant in front of it. Ironically, the power and capabilities of that new technology led to some of the worst design and writing ever experienced.
“In many ways, we’re back at that place where people in senior positions think that younger people all understand marketing and media because they’ve lived on Facebook for the past decade,” Hammock says. But being good at social media is not the same as being able to articulate a business goal or develop business-to-business digital media for, say, physicians.”
There Are Good and Bad Uses of Content in Marketing.
Content that helps customers accomplish what they wanted to accomplish when they came looking for the solution your product delivers is the best use of content, Hammock says. “We call it, ‘help not hype,'” he says. “Help is the best use of content. Hype is the worst use of content.”
Lead generation is a good use of content, Hammock adds, but he calls it the direct marketing of marketing with content—meaning that it might produce a sale but it won’t increase the value of your product. Content that makes people smart will.
The most effective forms depend on the audience, the context and the goal, Hammock says. “What works for an audience of registered nurses may not be the most most effective medium for reaching an audience of fly-fishing enthusiasts—or it may be,” he says. “Understanding the needs and preferences of the audience and matching that up with the correct medium is one the things that I love best about our work. It’s like trying to write a hit song, which I’ve never done. There may be a formula to it, but it still depends on some magic and timing and luck.”
Hammock says he’s constantly being challenged by potential clients who say things like, ‘How can you help us if you never worked in the automotive brake business?’ “We respond by saying, “We are not going to tell you that we know your business,” Hammock says. “That’s your job. Our job is helping you transform that knowledge into something that will add value to your products, find new customers and extend the relationships you have.”
There’s Not a Lot That’s Surprising in Today’s Content Marketing.
“One thing that’s surprising is that every year a launch of a new custom magazine will generate lots of stories implying it’s the first time such a thing has been done. Like a magazine being launched in Europe by Facebook, for example,” Hammock says. “Other than that, however, very little surprises me.”
Hammock’s Take on the Most Effective Customer-Marketing Components.
- The basics: A corporate brand website that doesn’t hide things like your phone number. A blog for every product. The social media outposts used by your audience.
- A wiki: The most powerful online medium, which is also the most underused strategy.
- Subscription content: RSS and email.
- Branded media: Media that serves your audience that isn’t hype, but is a major voice in your industry or region.
- Bottom Line: Content that helps people do their jobs, pursue their passions, and master things they want to master.
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