Bright Lights Project: CMO (dot) com

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I’ve had another experience that reaffirmed my belief that the content creation approach to marketing is not only downright irritating, but fatally flawed.

CMO (dot) com is a digital newsletter created by Adobe that aggregates links to legit media stories and various blog posts under the headline “Digital Marketing Insight For CMOs.” It inserts interstitial ads between clicks and stories, for which it must get paid, but the real benefit to Adobe is that the newsletter is a content-driven tool for reaching out to existing or potential customers. It owns Ominture, which sells software to deliver and manage content-driven online marketing like CMO (dot) com.

The premise of all such efforts is that folks don’t want to hear old-fashioned sales messages from brands — the outdated “here’s something you might want to buy, and here’s why” nonsense that worked for the past few thousand years — and instead would rather receive stuff related to their work or play but without any apparent sales purpose. Think of it as fly paper without being sticky, or samples without anything inside the box or wrapper.

The premise also presumes the widest possible distribution, since more people receiving such stuff increases the statistical likelihood that someone will make the leap from reading it to deciding on their own to buy something. This is where the newsletter came into my life: Since I write about marketing, I made the mistake of subscribing to CMO (dot) com and a few other similar electronic newsletters.

And then I couldn’t unsubscribe. I tried a few times to use the link provided for such purposes at the bottom of the emails, but nothing happened (aren’t you suspicious that those opt-out links are really just confirming to the spammers that you really exist and that you should get more crap?). Anyway, I finally had to write two emails to them threatening to expose their relentless deafness to my wishes before I was taken of their list.

But it really got me thinking about how stupid the entire strategy can be, so I came up with a few thought-starters on how CMO (dot) com could do better. I say learning to actually respond to customer requests is a given, and I’m more interested in the the newsletter itself:

  • The world doesn’t need more content — I can’t help but laugh out loud when anybody talks about “content” like it has some innate value, when it’s really just a placeholder on a slide for whatever bits a technology can deliver. It’s like calling a restaurant menu “food” or American democracy “government.” Not only does it have no meaning, but nobody wakes up in the morning wanting more of it. So Ominture, Adobe, and the very vocal lobby promoting free content as a marketing strategy are really selling clients a bill of goods. Just because you can send stuff to people doesn’t mean you should. CMO (dot) com should figure out what it’s truly throwing at its targets.
  • The world needs better, not more — Of anything, actually, only we’ve willingly thrown away the old institutions and mechanisms upon which we used to rely for making such distinctions, so it’s harder (if not impossible) to know anymore. I know that it sounds cool and feels great to talk about consumers being in charge, but throwing people into an abyss which has no boundaries, guides, or observable rules isn’t so much freedom as it’s chaos. What if CMO (dot) com exhibited editorial judgment (gasp!) and had transparent criteria for article selection that told readers why its content was better than other content?
  • Better usually requires utility — So we’re all too busy to think anymore, which is why most of the content in CMO (dot) com mirrors the “top 10 list” content that appears everywhere else. We want to fast-forward to to-do lists (I can’t tell you how many times I make thoughtful presentations and the first question from the audience is “Can you name an example so we can copy it?”). If CMO (dot) com had obvious editorial purpose it could define immediate uses for its stories, giving readers not just a menu of regurgitated blather but truly must-read stuff.

Again, it’s kinda funny that so many brands are working so hard and so creatively to engage with consumers in order to have nothing to say to them. If CMO (dot) com spent less time chasing readers (or ignoring their requests to be left alone) and more time working on establishing objectively true and meaningful reasons that people should read it, perhaps it could get out of the content business and back into the business of marketing?

What do you think?

(Image credit: Surprise, there’s an app for that!)

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