Andrew Susman is president of Studio One, a content marketing management company. 

Low-quality content is a disease that has the potential to damage the effectiveness of content marketing for everyone, including the marketers who are executing it well.

Content marketing, well executed, provides great value to both brands and users. However, as Jack Marshall brought up in a recent Digiday article, content marketing has a major quality control issue. The problem is that when users click on what looks like a promising link, only to find it is just a disguised marketing pitch, they will increasingly turn away from anything that looks similar. In effect, they develop an immune response to all forms of sponsored content, no matter how good it is. They write of all sponsored content as being a waste of their time.

We have seen this problem before, the abuse of a marketing tool degrading its effectiveness. The rise  of so-called “content farms” led to the creation of Google’s “Pando” anti- linkbait  algorithm. The creation of spam led to spam filters. Overuse of telemarketing led to federally mandated do-not-call lists. In a cautionary note to “native advertisers” the FTC  ruled that Video News Releases (VNRs, essentially corporate press releases) that were once widely used in local TV news programs, must be clearly identified, which greatly curtailed their use.

There are plenty of precedents for marketing abuses annoying consumers to the point that the government steps in. But even short of that, there are good reasons for the industry to deal with the problem of low-quality sponsored content head on. Marketers need to think about long term. For now they may be able to measure a rise in clicks, but they may be missing the more important measure of long-term damage to the brand as users associate a negative experience with branded content. Granted, some of the purveyors of low-grade content don’t have much brand image to be concerned about. All the more reason for marketers who want to get the most out of content marketing to find a way to dissociate their brands from the sludgy stuff.

The real issue is defining “quality.” There are many gradations between aviation fuel and sludge, and it’s hard to set objective standards. Unfortunately there is no magical review board to provide a “seal of approval” for quality branded content, so it comes down to marketers and publishers respecting their consumers. That means marketers need to commit to presenting only useful and/or entertaining content to their audiences and also clearly disclosing their sponsorship role.

If brands and marketers don’t start being more consistent in their production of valuable, interesting and useful sponsored content, then content marketing will become as exciting and useful as the banner ad.

Image via Shutterstock

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