Content: I Know It When I See It
The term “content marketing” bothered me a bit when I first heard it.
I knew what marketing was. I’d taken courses in college and later worked for some large advertising agencies.
However, I was hard-pressed to think of any examples of marketing that occurred in the absence of content. I’ve never identified any cases, have you?
Now, a few years later, I’ve come to accept the term “content marketing”, for a few different reasons. I won’t go into all of them, but becoming acquainted with Content Marketing Institute was certainly a factor.
According to CMI:
Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
To be clear: I still think that “content marketing” is a subjective, imprecise term. Though I can accept the CMI definition of content marketing. Because I recognize that we live in a subjective, imprecise, world.
And there are few terms more subjective or imprecise than “content”.
I think that nowadays when most people a say ‘content’, they are referring to the types of content (text, video, illustrations…) that we compose on a computer.
However, there is so many other expressions of content out there: pottery, wood carving, improv…
A couple of years ago, I learned of this group in West Michigan, who are undeniably content creators (and perhaps, content marketers):
Learning of the Crazy Ladies Quilting Circle caused me to begin re-thinking the definition of the word content. Clearly the members of this group create content. It’s interesting to learn of their strategies of incorporating ‘yo-yos’ and “monkey wrenches” (I love the domain-specific vocabulary) into their content products
I won’t chronicle my entire acceptance journey, but let’s just say I’ve come to like this definition of content: from Dictionary.com:
“something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing, or any of various arts:a poetic form adequate to a poetic content.”
While the definition doesn’t explicitly list pottery, or improv, or photography…their inclusion is implied.
In short, everything we produce is content. We’re all content creators.
Like many terms in our lives, the definition of content (therefore content marketing) is a slippery, squishy, evasive one.
“….and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so (provide a shorthand description). But I know it when I see it….”
Likewise, “content marketing” may be hard to define, but you’ll know it when you see it.
Let’s look at an an unconventional example of content marketing in the following section.
What Did Bo Know And When Did He Know It?
I especially like the previous definition of content, because it includes non-traditional forms of content. Thus, according to the definition, artful expressions such as this as would be considered content:
The content-creator making the catch, and the ascent up the wall, is Bo Jackson, considered by many to be one of the premier athletic performers, of the 20th Century.
ESPN named Jackson the Greatest Content Creator in history (OK, they didn’t say content creator…I think it was “athlete” or something like that).
Jackson won acclaim as a Heisman Trophy-winning three-sport star in college, and his brief—though brilliant— stints in both Major League Baseball and the NFL.
If we accept that athletic performances are content (as I do), then Bo Jackson is an A-list content creator.
At the height of his fame in the late 1980’s, he played baseball full-time for the Kansas City Royals and football part-time for the Los Angeles Raiders (following baseball season’s end).
At the time Jackson was under contract with athletic-apparel manufacturer, Nike, which produced one the of most memorable ad efforts of the era: the “Bo Knows” campaign.
The first Bo Knows ad featured a smart script, with an ensemble cast of some of the era’s notable athletes, and a famous blues-rock guitarist who delivered the mother of all dad jokes.
Nike made a solid media buy, too. The ad launch coincided with Jackson’s appearance in the starting lineup in his first baseball All Star Game.
Nike and its ad agency, Wieden and Kennedy did good work, but there were some things that were beyond their control.
Moments before it aired, Bo Jackson hit a long home run in his first swing in the All Star game….the call was made by legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully and a recently term-limited president making the call.
Yes, Vin Scully and the Gipper behind the mic as a Heisman Trophy winning NFL sensation hits a home run in The All Star Game.
Nike (and W&K) got a bit lucky there.
To extend the Lefty Gomez adage, of “I’d rather be lucky than good”: on this night, Nike and W&K were good AND lucky.
To truly appreciate the full context of the ad’s premiere, it’s helpful to watch Jackson’s at-bat that preceded the airing of the spot.
This was his first All Star game, he was the first batter for his team and he hit a home run on his first swing:
And merely three outs later, the first of the “Bo Knows” ads premiered:
Oh, Bo Diddley… if there were only Nobel Prize for Dad jokes….
In light of this ad (and Jackson’s timely All Star home run), let’s consider a customized CMI definition of content marketing:
Nike provided a strategic marketing approach in which Bo Jackson focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content (touchdowns, home runs, acrobatic catches) to attract and retain a clearly defined audience (sports fans, and those who buy athletic apparel) — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action (buying ‘Swoosh’ logo clothing).
An injury cut short Jackson’s football career, but he was able to return to baseball for a few more seasons. With an artificial hip, no less.
His determination to play baseball again led to another series of Nike spots featuring his bionic hip, his rehab routine, and rant-prone comedian Dennis Leary.
In 1993, he returned to Major League Baseball with a new team (the Chicago White Sox), and a new hip. In his first at bat of his comeback season he hit a towering home run:
Of course he did that (he’s a master content-creator). Thus, Nike subsequently sold more apparel.
Because Bo knows content marketing.