When you read most content marketing case studies, you get the idea that any company that employs content marketing can expect dramatic, positive results. The reality is more nuanced. For the companies that are properly positioned, content marketing is undeniably the most sustainable path to high ROI--especially in today's economy, when so many traditional advertising methods and mediums are losing traction. But, there is another group of companies who should avoid content marketing at all costs--companies that run a real risk of damaging their brand and alienating their core customers through content marketing. Specifically, if your company can't answer "yes" to the following two questions, you should avoid content marketing until it can.
Does our company have a set of coherent values?
Content marketing is based on the notion that your current and future customers have a core set of needs, aspirations, and values to which your company connects. Realistically, this is not true for all companies. Many companies have a more improvisational approach to customer acquisition: "if they'll work with us, we'll work with them." There's nothing inherently wrong with this approach. As much as most "values-based" companies might hate to admit it, nearly every company starts out this way. In the early days of a company's development, there are usually more pressing needs than understanding and expressing your core values. Before Apple was a high-end, design-conscious tech behemoth, they were a scrappy, low-priced alternative for companies and individuals who couldn't afford more established enterprise solutions. If you're still discovering yourself, you're not yet ready to explain yourself through content marketing.
Is our customers' experience consistent with our values?
For every one company that is not yet ready to explain its values, there are a hundred who are too embarrassed by their real values to share them with their customers. The result is hypocrisy--something that is immediately sniffed out and punished by customers. Take McDonald's for instance. McDonald's is trying to rebrand as a healthy. They are leading this effort with their content marketing--increased transparency about ingredients and increased discussion of healthy menu options. Unfortunately for McDonald's, these marketing efforts fall flat, because the experience most people have of McDonald's is so different from the message McDonald's is sending. A charbroiled chicken wrap doesn't undo fifty years of disregard for customer health. McDonald's has two better options. First, it can make real strides to construct a more healthy menu, wait for customers to realize and appreciate the change, then begin talking about it. Or, it can discuss its real values--convenience, consistency, and thriftiness. McDonald's might just find that there are still a lot of customers out there who connect to those values. Whatever it decides, McDonald's (and every other company) should only discuss values that are recognizable in the company's core decisions and product offerings. Otherwise, they risk alienating their current customers while clumsily chasing new ones.