The late Bill Hicks had a comedy routine, wherein he expressed in no uncertain terms, exactly what he thought of the marketing profession. “If any of you here tonight are in marketing or advertising,” he said, “Kill yourself.” Harsh words from a man who in his day was considered by many to be a philosopher and a sage. And though most don’t specifically agree with his directive, plenty of people today share Mr. Hicks’ underlying sentiment that marketing is about nothing more than attaching a dollar sign to everything and anything possible: seeing every person as a potential sale and every situation as an opportunity for advertising.
Back in the days of Mad Men-style marketing, there may have been some truth to that viewpoint. But this is the age of marketing through Internet content and social media. And content marketing is a very different animal indeed.
One of the most successful social media marketers at the moment is George Takei. His Facebook page has over 4 million “Likes” and his posts get hundreds of comments and shares. Two of the most successful YouTube marketers are the vlogbrothers, John and Hank Green. Their YouTube channel has over a million subscribers and 300 million views, and they’ve each launched several other channels and projects from that fan base, which have also been met which huge success.
“But wait!” some might say. “George and the vlogbrothers aren’t marketing! They just like to create and post content! They do it because they care about their fans!” No one said they didn’t. But consider: in addition to his funny pictures and puns from around the Internet, George Takei also posts links to the book he wrote, garnering support for the stage musical he’s involved with, and even purchasable ringtones of his catchphrases. John Green has used his YouTube videos to promote his Young Adult novels, which helped propel the latest of them to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. And Hank Green recently sponsored a Kickstarter campaign for his webseries, which raised over $400,000 (far beyond its initial goal of $60,000). These examples are the epitome of what content marketing is all about.
That doesn’t mean that George and the vlogbrothers are nefariously plotting how to use their content to make themselves rich at the expense of their fans. It just means that they have an international platform with which they can reach a huge audience. They’d be crazy not to use that platform to further their various projects.
Marketing is considered by many to be a parasitic relationship. The marketers swoop in and separate their audience from their money, giving them nothing in return. But content marketing is a symbiotic relationship—i.e. everyone benefits. The creators provide their audience with content they enjoy, and the audience in turn helps them by supporting the projects they’re passionate about. Whole communities have sprung up around these relationships, with fans and creators working together towards common goals. Being a content marketer is nothing to be ashamed of. The potential that that content has is virtually limitless.