Saturday, April 23, 2011

Is Content Marketing Making Us Dumb?

Writing on his rethinc.k blog last week, Jason Wilson posted “Content Marketing Will Kill the Law.” Not a question, mind you, a declaration.

Wilson, vice president of Jones McClure publishing in Houston, likens much of today’s “content” in the legal field to a golf course, “overrun by trees, grasses, and weeds clumped together in patches.”

Wilson is describing what he perceives as a dearth of those “weighty tomes” that, traditionally, feature a substantial body of analytical material. “Now, thanks to the Internet," he says, "lawyers spend their time writing SEO pieces. Lawyers are no longer scholars organizing and explaining the law, but brand developers and managers.”

I can’t disagree, but I am compelled to point out the competitive jungle out there. What’s an ESQ to do?

Wilson acknowledges that his detractors say lawyers are producing more content than ever. He remains skeptical. “Where is the insight, how far does it extend?” he wonders. “You use terms like content, curation, and real-time as if these are the Three Kings that will lead us to a new era of knowledge and understanding. But I’ve actually tried to understand areas of the law using only the content marketing I could find, and it has failed me up to now. Have you tried to practice law from it?”

I wouldn’t argue with Wilson. Not a bit. In fact, I applaud him. But I do need to underscore that content market is just that: marketing. It's a way for people "in the know" to connect with and influence prospective and current customers.

Let’s say it again. Content marketing is, indeed, “information,” but it need not be “analysis.” It can be statistics and definitions, case studies, and opinion. It can provoke thought and even probe, but its purpose is to offer the reader an overview, a synopsis, a round-up, and a quick look. In short, content marketing is a lot closer to public relations that it is to education. Those of us who do content marketing know that.

To his credit, as Wilson moves through his blog, he acknowledges this point. But he makes another poignant observation that actually scares me. “The end result of the shift from weighty tomes to content marketing is this: the disparity between the haves and the have nots is going to grow. Large law will compensate for the dearth of comprehensive analytical content by creating its own and using it in-house, or selling it to others at a steep cost.”

I fear that as much as Wilson does. Sadly, I think we’re already seeing this trend in areas both inside and outside the law. The deepest research – the most detailed, investigative, and diagnostic – is saved for those who can afford it. For-profit outfits like Gartner, Forrester and even MarketingSherpa (to name only a few), give away information in executive summary or teaser form, but reserve the complete deal for folks who can pay $499 and (way) up. That’s not a criticism at all. It’s the reality of economic survival in a capitalist society.

Besides, hasn’t this always been true? Haven't the best educational resources always been primarily for those who have money – the elite schools, the brainiest professors, the costliest books, the in-depth research, and the pricey trade associations?

We experienced a bright shining moment there for a while, when the middle class was finally gaining access to some of the educational perks traditionally reserved for the rich folks. But the economy has exploded that populist notion. Meanwhile, the volume and speed of information – thrown at everybody, all at once – has nurtured the trend to shallow. Filling in the gap, at least partially, is the Internet, with its free “content.”

The legal field may have some peculiarities, but I think Wilson’s concern about content marketing is a scapegoat for more serious issues – namely, society’s move from a growing to a shrinking middle class, along with a decline in thinking, analysis, and self-examination replaced by the quick fix. That worries me, too.

Nobody so far seems to have a solution for the dumbing down of society, but it’s probably a blessing that content marketers are available to help overwhelmed attorneys – and the rest of us -- stay in the race.

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

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