Howard Sewell with Spear Marketing recently published a blog post titled, "Has Content Marketing Made Branding Obsolete?" He argues that most B2B companies don't need "branding." Sewell writes, "If generating leads depended even in small part on how consumers felt about your company, branding might still have a role to play. But successful demand generation today has little to do with your company, and much more to do with your content."
I agree that content marketing is now an essential component of B2B marketing, perhaps the single most important component. However, I disagree with the argument that content marketing makes branding obsolete. Here's why.
Branding is one of those marketing terms that is used in a variety of ways. In one sense, branding refers to the process of creating the name and symbols (logos, etc.) that will be used to identify a company, product, or service offering. Branding can also refer to several kinds of advertising and marketing programs that are primarily intended to (a) raise public awareness of a company, product, or service, or (b) create and maintain a positive perception of a company, product, or service in the minds of prospective customers. When marketers engage in these types of advertising and marketing activities, they often say they are building the brand.
Building the brand is a marketing objective that can be pursued using a variety of marketing tactics and methods. Traditionally, the most prevalent brand building tactics were "mass advertising" activities such as TV/radio/print ads and various kinds of public relations activities.
In the B2B world, content marketing is a marketing tactic or method that emphasizes the use of educational and primarily non-promotional content to capture the attention and interest of prospective customers. Content marketing can be used to achieve multiple marketing objectives, including both lead generation and brand building.
The important point here is that a marketing tactic or method will never render a legitimate marketing objective obsolete. To say that content marketing makes brand building obsolete is like saying that charcoal grilling makes dinner obsolete.
Building the brand is still an essential marketing function for B2B companies. No sale will occur until the prospective buyer accepts and "believes in" both the relevance and credibility of your brand promise. What has changed is that traditional brand building methods and tactics are far less effective today than they once were. Business buyers are quick to tune out promotional marketing messages so what companies need is a more effective method for building the brand and communicating the brand promise. For most B2B companies, content marketing is now the best way to build the brand.
It's true, as Mr. Sewell writes, that most good demand generation content is not usually about a company or its products or services. Today, the best content focuses on business issues or challenges that are relevant and important to a company's potential buyers. But, even when a content resource is not about a company or its products or services, prospects will inevitably associate the content with the company that produced it. After all, the resource itself will be branded. If the resource is a white paper or an e-book or a case study, the company name and logo will almost certainly appear somewhere in the document. If the resource is a webinar, the company name and logo will probably be on every slide.
The point here is that your company, your brand, will be closely associated with the content you publish. The relevance and quality of that content (good or bad) will have a major impact on how prospects view and define your brand.