Is content marketing a sustainable strategic advantage?

Unless you’ve been under a completely internet-proof rock, you’ll have heard that marketing has become more complex. The fragmentation of consumers across so many technology platforms and channels has created a disruptive, chaotic and challenging atmosphere for companies to position and differentiate their products.

Perhaps you’ve also heard that content marketing as a means of creating strategic competitive advantage is also a fairly hot topic. Well-known brands have notably employed this method to drive business results.

But is a content marketing strategy truly differentiating? And is it sustainable?

The end of competitive advantage
In Rita Gunther McGrath’s book, “The End of Competitive Advantage,” she says that all competitive advantages are transient. She asks, “So why hasn’t the basic strategy practice changed?”

Most business managers today, even when they realize that competitive advantages are ephemeral, are still using strategy frameworks and tools designed for achieving a sustainable competitive advantage, not for quick exploitation and moving on.

Even though the world of our consumer has become much more complex, fast, fragmented and technology-driven, we are still trying to apply the same old frameworks and tools to our efforts. Marketers currently think, “How do we change content to fit marketing’s purpose?” Instead of, “How do we change marketing to fit our content purpose?”

Content will never be a sustainable competitive advantage or differentiator because all competitive advantage/differentiation is transient. Instead, we need to understand that our ability to change the process of marketing is the competitive advantage.

Our ability as a team to be dynamic and fluid, and to move in and out of “arenas” (as McGrath calls them) and create temporary advantages will be critical to success.

From a strategic content marketing perspective, we should ask ourselves if we truly believe that compelling, engaging, useful and dynamic content-driven experiences will ultimately move the business forward.

If our answer to that is “yes,” then the strategic value is in our ability to repeatedly create and recreate the valuable stories and not in sustaining any of the channels where we tell them.

Businesses that want to become strategic with content must:

■  Stop organizing and scaling new marketing teams based on platforms, technologies or an inside-looking-out view of the customer’s journey.

■  Stop looking at content as a campaign that supports a marketing tactic or initiative and start looking at marketing as a function that increasingly supports the fluid use of content to create and support better customer experiences.

■  Start examining ways to constantly reconfigure marketing efforts and manage a portfolio of content-driven experiences.

Content is the one thing that must change all the time. A company’s abilities when it comes to content reflects its relevance to the culture in which it lives. This is content strategy in the world we live in as both marketers and content marketers. Change is the standard to which we should strive.

Robert Rose is chief strategy officer at the Content Marketing Institute