Why some large companies suck at content marketing

Recently, Junta42 released their 2010 content marketing survey (if you haven’t read it, do it now – it’s good reading.)

One of the oft-reported stats is that smaller companies (those with less than 99 employees) are spending two times more on content marketing than their big-brand counterparts (40 percent versus 18 percent.)

To those of us in the content marketing trenches, this is not surprising. And here’s my theory on why.

Small companies have a distinct advantage in the content marketing game: They “just do it” (to borrow from an old Nike ad.) They may start Tweeting because it’s free, granted -  but quickly realize that Twitter is a powerful marketing tool and stick with it (I have seen many smaller companies pay someone to Tweet for them because the campaign is so successful.)  Small businesses may start a blog for SEO purposes – but they they learn that their blog helps them interact with readers in a new, fun (and profitable) way.  Spending money for a Web-page rewrite may be daunting, but they do it to help drive new business. (for an example, check out the Studio Blue Pilates case study.) It’s certainly not that they have more money than their corporate counterparts. It’s that they’ve focused their spending on what’s worked: Content marketing.

Large brands…not so much.

I don’t know how many times I’ve worked with a big brand on a content marketing initiative, only to have it shelved, delayed or in a constant state of “We’ll finalize this during our next meeting.” One big-brand client who was thisclose to signing pulled out at the last minute because “legal would need to approve all the content, and they didn’t have time to do so.” Another client wanted to conduct market research on what, exactly, they should blog about. That was a year ago. And believe it or not, the market research is still ongoing (after being shelved a few times over 2009.) Yet another client feared Twitter because, “What if people Tweeted something negative about their company? How would we deal with it internally?”

Large brands don’t choose to have that “just do it” freedom, and that’s sad (I say “choose to have that freedom” as policies and procedures can be changed…assuming there’s an internal push to change them.) How many times have you seen a big-brand client discontinue a content marketing campaign because the project kept going on hold and the results were spotty? Or seen an ecommerce company directly uploading their print catalog copy for their Website and then say that “SEO content marketing doesn’t work” because the copy doesn’t position (uh, yeah…because there are no keyphrases in the copy.) Or refuse to build a blog – that market research proves that their customers would embrace – because “if an external consultant blogs for us, they may say something wrong. And we can’t handle it in-house. So we won’t do it.”

Instead, the budget that would have been (possibly) earmarked for content marketing flows other places. Large brands focus on being #1 in PPC results, purchasing display ads and doing other things that may gain exposure, yes. But it may also be a very expensive way to gain customers…especially since the experience is totally one-sided (buy from us) rather than interactive (tell us what’s important to you.)

That is sad as well.

So, consider this a call to action for large businesses to embrace content marketing. It could be setting up a dedicated Twitter-guru who monitors and responds to Tweets (like @alaskaair and @starbucks.) It could mean working with a consultant to uncover content marketing opportunities. It could mean making internal changes so getting one blog post approved doesn’t take a month every time. If Zappos can do it (heck, if Starbucks can do it) other large companies can do it too.

If they want to.

In short, it means that large businesses need to look at their content marketing assets differently. They need to get out of their own way and view their content as an interactive stepping-stone – not a reputation management threat.  And large businesses need to learn to carry through on campaigns that help them communicate with their customers and prospects, rather than pushing all their spend to PPC “because it’s easier.”

When that happens, it will be a good day for those big-brand companies. Their customers – and their bottom line – will thank them.