Collateral Damage?

Do you have a content strategy – or a collateral strategy?

This is a question I find myself asking more and more. Think about why we call brochures, sell sheets, leaflets, bill stuffers, websites, emails, and other materials we create to support sales “marketing collateral.” When you look at the dictionary meaning of the word “collateral,” you have three basic choices:

  • a) something pledged as security for repayment of a loan
  • b) a blood relative who is not your ancestor: a cousin, niece, nephew, aunt, uncle, sibling, etc.
  • c) something additional but subordinate; secondary

Let’s see. Marketing collateral is most certainly neither a nor b. That leaves c.

Additional. Subordinate. Secondary.

That’s the heart of it. Marketing collateral is secondary in nature. It supplements or stands in for a conversation with sales. Marketing collateral serves as a subordinate substitute for a salesperson communicating the virtues of a product or service.

And that is the only value it delivers.

I’m not saying that all marketing collateral is bad. It’s, of course, necessary. And frankly, sometimes it’s better than the salesperson for which it’s substituting. But companies shortchange themselves when they use marcom departments to do nothing but crank out collateral. I worked previously with one large enterprise financial services company whose entire mandate for the marketing department was to create more and more collateral at the beck and call of sales. They were amazing at it. Their stuff was beautiful. They produced hundreds of PDF’s per quarter. They had their process down to machine precision. And yet, they wondered why their organization didn’t consider their function strategic to the business.

In fact, their function isn’t strategic. It’s secondary.

As content marketing grows in popularity as a way for businesses to deliver value, it risks becoming another kind of collateral machine. I’ve watched it happen.

For example, I worked with a technology company last year that was frustrated because the so called “content marketing group” was being subsumed back into the demand-generation team. These content marketers had originally been broken out to create thought-leadership assets to support strategic goals. Over time, as analysts prescribed new demand-generation methodologies that powered the marketing machine, it became clear that the “content marketing group” was good at doing this kind of work. So this group was commanded to create assets with, you know, that “thought leadership thing” in support of (can you say “secondary to”?) the demand-generation group. What started as a potentially strategic move – creating an independent content team capable of serving the company’s long-term goals – devolved to another exercise in pumping out collateral. Eventually, a VP asked, “Why do we have a separate group creating this marketing collateral?”

Good question.

At the heart of every effective content-driven marketing strategy is a  opportunity to deliver differentiated experiences to a customer, experiences that are separate and distinct from those of the products or services. That means that every asset created builds value in its own right. This kind of content is an integrated, aligned, primary part of the strategy, subordinate to none.

A great, modern marketing strategy produces more than collateral – those pieces that do a quick job (subordinate to some other function) and then fall by the wayside. A great strategy also produces valuable media assets that deliver increasing value over time.

The more we content marketers think of ourselves as contributing directly (not secondarily) to corporate successes, the less likely we are to be seen as collateral-making machines and the more likely our content is to be worth so much that it could be pledged as security for a loan.

One Response to “Collateral Damage?”

  1. David Butler September 28, 2016 at 12:10 pm #

    Brilliant! Thanks for telling the story for why product telling and storytelling and content need to become strategic

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