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Why Content Marketing isn’t a Marathon

One of the metaphors that seems to run rampant in our field is the comparison of content marketing to running some kind of race - a marathon, a relay, what have you. It’s an unsurprising choice given the clarity and universality of using distance as a benchmark, but for people us, who see the width and depth of content marketing ROI on a granular and birds-eye level alike, it feels limiting. The concept of successful content marketing shouldn’t have a set start and finish (or, worse, run elliptical around a track and end in the same place it started). These efforts and investments are creative, wide-spanning and, with the right tools and insight, subject to constant variation and iteration. Marketing is not a race, it’s a game.

No, not a “game” in the sense that it’s trivial. Rather, content marketing is more akin to the great goal-oriented sports (soccer, basketball, hockey…) that continue with energy and grit even after said goals are scored and spoken for. It is creative, tactical and usually runs within timelines that aren’t dictated by the content itself. In a footrace, a split-second lag eject you from the contender pack in moments. Elite distance runners often elect not to finish major races once they realize they’re out of contention to conserve their bodies from injury, and sprinters can lose their shot at victory with a miniscule stumble at the block. Content marketing isn’t like this - as with games, a mistake early on presents endless opportunities for redemption, for optimization. A soccer game-winner can be scored in the first or ninetieth minute. It’s no coincidence that the term for a run at a sporting title is commonly referred to as a “campaign”.

Perhaps we’re biased, given that Knotch is predicated on the idea that seeing results of branded and owned content campaigns in real time provides the ability to improve outcomes before they are set in stone. But even a cursory glance at the content marketing landscape makes it pretty clear that these brand and consumer journeys are rarely, if ever, linear. Seasonal campaigns run over evergreen efforts. Publishers come and go. Target demographics change and entire companies pivot. Marketers are constantly sent back on their heels to defend oncoming challenged, and then pitched forward towards desired outcomes. There is no set distance to overcome at which point the work is simply done.

For example, we’ve seen campaigns - expensive, labor-intensive campaigns - completely miss their target demographic due to something as frustratingly small as routing through a slightly mis-chosen referral site at the wrong time. Post-mortem, this can feel like a disaster. However, once armed with that information, the game goes on and that mistake is unlikely to be repeated. Choosing referrers carefully becomes a priority, and suddenly audiences are more precisely targeted than ever before. Engagement increases, perhaps conversion spikes, and a strategy has been optimized. Redemption is not only fully possible in the content game, but the process of redeeming a content investment often leads to a better outcome than the one originally envisioned.

It might seem like the messier, more difficult option - much less cut-and-dry than a comparison to racing, which feels manageable in its linearity. But we see it as a blessing. Marketers are, above all, creative. They’re strategists, artists, fortune-tellers with finely honed reflexes. Those qualities are wasted in following a straight line. The beauty in the chaos of the content marketing environment is that it offers endless opportunity for its participants to create and improve; to score goals and always have the chance to come back when goals are scored against them. Marketers run for fitness - but they come to the game ready to play.