Is it true? Is organic content marketing really dead?
That’s the question on a lot of minds as of late.
We’re going to answer that question in a sec, but first, isn’t there a more interesting question here:
Why are so many ready to write the obituary for organic content marketing?
“Build It, But They May Not Come”
Creating high-quality organic content won’t guarantee anyone will see it, lamented an article last fall in Venture Beat. It turns out many people have caught onto content marketing, and there’s a lot of decent content out there now. However, the size of the potential customer pie hasn’t gotten any bigger. Brand competition is just increasing.
In fact, in some cases, content and engagement are on opposite trajectories. A 2016 TrackMaven report found an 800% increase in branded content output over the last five years — but an 89% drop in organic social shares of branded content over the same period.
A report from Beckon showed an even starker picture. You’ve heard of the 80/20 rule — the idea that 80% of engagement goes to the top 20% of the content. Well, the Beckon study found a 90/5 rule. 90% of total consumer engagements were going to only the top 5% of the content.
With figures like these, you can begin to see why discussions like this are taking place all across the marketing world. There certainly is a top tier of content marketing that is doing very well and the rest? Not so much. But does that mean the organic content is headed for the compost heap?
Wait, What Is Organic Content Anyways?
There’s another way to look at this problem, and it involves taking a step back. Maybe “organic” wasn’t the best word for our industry to come up with here. Organic implies something natural, living, innate. But there’s not much that’s innate or natural about marketing. Marketing is an action, a process that has to be enacted.
Think of it another way. We could compare organic peppers to non-organic peppers. There are two vegetables, produced by different means, and one has a cultural value judgment of being better.
But organic content doesn’t really work like this. Without splitting hairs, all marketing content is created in much the same way, organic or not. You can’t tell by looking which content is “organic.” And while account managers may prefer the low-cost, high-return organic content, there’s not so much difference between the quality or value of organic and non-organic pieces.
Organic Content: This Isn’t Even My Final Form
Another look at the word “organic” might be the key to solving this problem. Elemental, fundamental, and primary are another set of terms associated with organic, and maybe here is where we should focus.
Organic content marketing is just your high-quality, carefully constructed content — before you take up the task of marketing it to customers. Sure, a particularly magical piece of content may just market itself, still in that larva stage and before you begin a paid ad campaign. But for most of your content marketing efforts, in today’s crowded content market, your organic content will need help to reach your customers.
So does this mean that “organic” content is in fact dead? Far from it. Organic content is the seed. Without it, you wouldn’t have any content to promote. Beckon calls this organic seed content non-working media — resources are needed to produce this content, and working media (paid promotion) is needed to get your content in front of customers where it can do its job.
There’s another discussion to be had about the balance between the cost to create content and the cost to promote it. A strategy has to have enough of both to be successful. In some ways, we have lost something of organic content. It’s a mature marketplace now, and a simple blog post isn’t as likely to go viral across the globe as it once might have. But content still matters. Increased web traffic, sticky brand awareness, good ROI, and consistently higher conversion performance remain very good reasons to create great organic content and use paid promotion to reach your full potential.