Skeptical Readers: What’s a Content Marketer to Do?

Published March 13, 2014 by Melissa Tsang+ in Converting With Content Marketing

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Readers don’t trust the media, and especially not the Internet. 

A survey conducted by Mancx revealed that Americans are predominantly skeptical of information on the Internet. As many as 98% of Americans surveyed find reasons to distrust online content.

Why is that?

In the Mancx survey, respondents’ skepticism were triggered by “too many ads”, or suggestions that the content was “self-promotional”. Or: readers are very likely to pick up, and dismiss, commercially produced and sales-driven content.

Here’s a similar finding from another medium – the mass, or broadcast, media. A Gallup poll conducted in 2012 (an interesting year in American politics) found that 60% of Americans did not trust the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.

More recently, research published by Forrester revealed that “consumers trust content they go out and find…than they do content that is pushed at them”.

Translated: Americans stop trusting the media when they perceive them as mouthpieces for specific interests, commercial, political, or personal. 

And they’re not wrong.

We all more or less agree that brand journalism will be a big thing in 2014. Platforms and aids are being created at breakneck speed to facilitate this process: Contently, Google’s Media Tools, and BrandVoice, to name just a few. Journalists are turning to brands, at a rate of what Contently describes as “a revolving door between newspapers, magazines, and PR firms” – most notably, Yahoo recently “poached” noted tech journalist David Pogue.

Market considerations inevitably dominate journalistic ones

The consequences of commercialisation are that the media cannot guarantee the consistency of its content (Siegert, Gerth, & Rademacher, 2011). This is because, in a profit-oriented and increasingly competitive media industry, market considerations inevitably dominate journalistic ones.

That is how PR and advertiser-driven content dominate the media – they mean cost-savings for the industry because they are much less expensive than investigating and editing services.

Already consumers are not inclined to trust commercially-produced content. It doesn’t help that content creators aren’t producing content that give them reason to. 

Consider the following headlines on Inc.com – “Turn Your Brand into a Religion”, and “Brand Loyalty is (Almost) Dead”. In the former, Yakowicz envisions a loyalty established by well-crafter dogma and customer zeal. In the latter, James details consumers who are increasingly agnostic about their brand deities, and the impossibility of the loyalty Yakowicz describes.

Consider also Paul Graham’s observation in “The Submarine” that the headline “Suits make a corporate comeback” is nothing novel, and that suits have been repeatedly “coming back” every year since 2002.

Also – why does news about the health benefits of dairy contradict so much? Sometimes dairy milk is good for you, sometimes it is dangerous, and recently it’s the new post-workout fuel.

What does this mean for content creators?

The trend of increasingly commercialized media is not lost on readers, who are already inclined to approach profit-driven voices with more than a pinch of salt. It doesn’t help that the voices represented on the media are frequently contradictory, and that this confirms readers’ distrust and dismissal.

Content creators should say things and ask questions that are valuable and relevant to the reader, rather than strategic for the brand. Brand journalism is not content marketing – while the latter places the brand at the center of its strategy, the former focuses on its audience and what they care to know.

Jeni’s Ice Cream and CorePower Yoga are (increasingly!) successful businesses that write excellent content for anyone remotely interested in ice-cream or yoga. Jeni’s blog covers everything from the novel (mixer recipes that employ sorbets), the personal (the story behind one of Jeni’s collections), and the funny (a compilation of every mispronunciation of Jeni’s flavors). CorePower releases a monthly video showing viewers how to do a yoga position right.

In other words: Readers return meaningful engagement with trust, and that goes a long way. 

Being customer-centric pays off

HubSpot’s 2013 report on the “State of Inbound Marketing” observes that putting customers first yields cost savings, and more and better quality leads. Its survey found that inbound marketing delivers 54% more leads into the marketing funnel than traditional outbound leads.

Plus, US inbound marketers spending more than $25k a year saved an average of 13% in overall cost per lead and $14 more for every new customer acquired, than marketers relying on outbound strategies.

So what are we trying to say at the end of the day? Here’s your takeaway: 

Readers are already inclined to distrust commercially-motivated content. A customer-centric content strategy (like a kickass, intimate twitter strategy) is an essential step to recover their time, attention, and patronage.

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Melissa Tsang
Melissa Tsang is a writer and speaker on the social impact of ecommerce and technology. She's also a bit of an impulse shopper. (A bit.)