A common pushback against attempts at innovative thinking is that “new” is unoriginal, that there are no new ideas under the sun.
Fine. But is any idea more tired than that?
I read an article yesterday from TechCrunch called “Everything the Tech World Says About Marketing is Wrong.” It made the rounds on Law Twitter, so it caught my attention. And I don’t get it.
I’ll start by saying that the article specifically targets tech, an industry I’m not part of, but showing up on Law Twitter implies some lawyers believe it should apply to us.
It was the retweets that concerned me most.
Here’s the short version of the article: we need to get back to marketing basics, and the buzzwords we use today (like “content marketing”) are really just the basics dressed up as new ideas.
See if you can follow that logic: buzzwords are bad because they distract from the basics, but they also are the basics and people are using them. I’m not sure I understand the bad here.
Favoring Old Ideas
In the article, Samuel Scott details the basics of marketing. Business school stuff: “The four Ps. The promotion mix. Communications strategies. SWOT analyses. The five forces. Building brands.”
Scott then specifically calls out Joe Pullizi for creating the term “content marketing,” suggesting he did it in an attempt to sell something.
The use of these and other buzzwords has caused a new generation of marketers to enter the field without knowing even the basic terms and practices that underpin our industry.
Misuse Of A Term
First, “flooding the Internet with spammy ‘content,'” as Scott puts it, is a total misuse of anything Joe Pulizzi has ever taught.
If you can find one statement in which Joe says something like “Make a lot of words, whether they’re useful or not, to drive traffic,” then I’ll issue a public apology on this blog that no one but my mom reads.
Or, to pull in the other big voice in content marketing, take a listen to Joe’s interview on Brian Clark’s show. There are some interesting nuggets in that interview about how the term “content marketing” came to be:
You go with ‘custom publishing at Custom Media,’ nobody wants to buy anything from you.
So I was like, “How can I get these chief marketing officers at least interested in what I’m talking about?” I tried everything. I tried ‘branded content,’ ‘custom content,’ and I’m throwing it all at them, and then I started using ‘content marketing’ in the pitch, and I could see the reaction change. Like they were, “Oh, hey. I’m a marketer. We do content-y type stuff. Maybe that’s what we’re doing.”
Pulizzi specifically says in the podcast that he wasn’t trying to create new methodology, just a term that could better communicate what marketers were already doing, if imperfectly. “Old stuff.” The basics.
I think Pulizzi would say that consumption of media, and the way we should call attention to our business, has totally changed. But that is a shift in framework, not the fundamentals of persuasion.
It seems odd to me that a marketer would begrudge a two-word phrase that conveys an idea better than a list of marketing basics does. Brevity is the soul of Pulizzi’s wit here, and I’ve never seen him suggest that anyone abandon the principles of good marketing.
What Does This Have To Do With Lawyers?
Transitioning from Scott’s target industry (tech), to mine (law), I’d make one observation: a whole lot of non-professional marketers are now heavily involved in marketing. Without a new, simpler language, few lawyers will embrace quality marketing principles. We won’t be going to business school.
Bad marketing has certainly been disguised as “content marketing” in the legal industry. Findlaw is the easiest example. (Here’s an old review from Gyi Tsakalakis, and they haven’t improved much since.)
I can’t name the firm without betraying confidences, but I know of one law firm that pays Findlaw $4,500 per month for the following: a template-based website, one general blog post per month, and “SEO services.”
A single monthly blog post on how to collect child support is not content marketing.
Yes, that is using a piece of content to attract attention, but not remotely what people like Joe Pulizzi and Brian Clark teach. The term “content marketing” has been so misused that those who do it correctly are trying to come up with another term, just to distinguish it.
Classic Marketing Isn’t Even Very New
It’s possible marketers in tech, as in legal, are misusing the term. But the answer is not to shame those marketers into using terminology and frameworks that are themselves variations on millennia-old themes.
How many marketing textbooks call back to Aristotle’s modes of persuasion? Are the four Ps anything more than a clever categorization meant to render ancient rhetorical know-how more accessible to users?
Don’t Let Others Make Your Excuses
The biggest hinderance to progress is a lack of execution. Knowledge is such a small part of the equation, and excluding terms like “content marketing” in favor of variations on the same theme contributes little. Inasmuch as doing so shames or confounds content creators into inaction, Scott is doing more damage than he probably intends.
If tech nerds are loading up the Internet with crap, they should listen to Scott, if only to explore what “content marketing” really means. But few lawyers have taken the time to understand what quality content marketing looks like. It would be counterproductive to dismiss the practice now.
Publishing, making something awesome, is the surest path to building the kind of authority that lawyers need to differentiate themselves in a noisy market, whatever you may call it.
My concern is that this article is being touted as proof that “old” legal marketing is okay, that we don’t need to refine the way we promote our businesses. I disagree entirely, and if a new term catches your attention and makes you think, I’m all for it.
Don’t let word-shaming slow you down. Go write something and put it out to the world. It’ll be imperfect, and someone on the internet will call you an idiot. Do it anyway.
There’s no shame in that.