What the latest pop culture phenomenon taught me about the state of content marketing

Confession: I read a lot of content. Like a lot. Part of my job as a content marketing specialist for a content marketing company is that I am scouring the web in search of new trends, fads, and values about content marketing. Not only am I reading and writing about content marketing, but I’m reading what brands are publishing, I’m reading what traditional and online publishers are publishing, and I’m reading my favorite blogs. All so I can learn what the state of content marketing is really like.

And one of my least favorite content trends that is here to stay is what I like to call the “lessons learned from the latest pop culture phenomenon.” You know the type: “5 things students can learn from Marvel Cinematic Universe” or “What The Avengers can teach us about fashion.” (Both of those are made up, but you know they exist in some form somewhere.) Some of these articles are surprisingly great, but most are not. Worse, you can tell the article—especially when it comes from the B2B sector—was suggested by your mom. (No offense, Mom!)

By far the worst offender, in my opinion, are the content marketers who write about content marketing (aka what I do). What I call “meta content marketing”—in other words, the content marketing that is all about the nuts and bolts of content marketing—has very little business writing stories like “What Star Wars: The Force Awakens can teach us about content marketing” or “Content marketing lessons from the new Star Wars film.” And yet it keeps happening.

Why? Data. This trend signals two things about the state of the “meta” content marketing industry:

  1. Content marketers are using data to make observations and insights to inform their content strategy.
  2. Content marketers fail to implement deeper insights and actions into their content.

Plenty of meta content marketers and B2B brands are relying on data more than ever before—a good thing, if you ask me. A lot of that data, in fact, is search related—keyword research. Now, if we turn to Google Trends’ Explore function, we can find out a lot about what people are searching for and how. Let’s use recent pop culture phenomenon Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the biggest movie of 2015.

We can see from the chart below that interest for “star wars” peaked somewhere around May 2005 and December 2015—the months the films Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens came out.

Here’s a closer look between November 2015 and January 2016 for The Force Awakens:

Pretty high in the search queries. It trended on Google Trends that month and was one of the most searched terms on Google in 2015 with over 155 million searches.

That’s a crazy good number, and it makes sense that brands saw that trending search term and decided to create content from it. To be clear: it’s a good thing that brands rely upon data to inform and shape their content strategies. They should. Delving into keyword research and the content landscape can help them determine where they should and should not focus their efforts better, ultimately leading to plenty of traffic or lead surprises.

What isn’t good, however, is when brands piggyback on the success of that term. What I mean is when brands create content for content’s sake because a term is trending, regardless of whether they’ve given any business or creative thought to it. There are brands who can pull off “What the latest pop culture phenomenon taught me about X” and there are brands who cannot. The ones who can often are approaching the content in a very specific way because they made an observation (Star Wars is trending!), created an insight (traffic to be gained from writing about Star Wars) from it and took action. That action is a content idea, one that the best brands are executing on another level—either in content ideation, production, distribution, strategy, etc. The ones who aren’t on that next level create half-hearted attempts chasing trending keywords.

At Quietly, we’re all for data. We live and die by it—as long as we can interpret and understand it well. As long as these observations, insights, and actions answers questions.  How does writing this help the brand? Does this appeal to our target audience? Do we have strong enough creative behind it?

In the case of fleeting pop cultural phenomenon content, I don’t think it does many favors for many brands. Too often, I’ve read mediocre content that tries to capitalize on the success of trending pop culture. But this does teach me something about the state of content marketing. While brands are getting smarter about data, they still need an editorial manager’s judgment to shape observations and insights to create content ideas that go beyond the standard data chase .

So the next time a pop culture phenomenon occurs—e.g. your Deadpool, your Mr. Robot, your latest Marvel Cinematic Universe flick—remember to take the time to create something of value. Something that isn’t disposable or quickly forgotten about until the next pop cultural phenomenon pops up.

Image credit: Disney/io9.gizmodo.com

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