Book review: Theory vs case studies - do as I say, not as I do
A view from Mat Braddy

Book review: Theory vs case studies - do as I say, not as I do

Mat Braddy, brand board advisor at Just Eat, reviews Digital Relevance by Ardath Albee.

We’re all guilty of this at some point; working up an idea that excites the team, only for it to meet with a "Meh" from the public once it’s released

There is an admirable bravery in writing a book about how to create compelling content strategies – namely, you’d better make the book compelling. Sadly, Digital Relevance fails in this regard.

It’s positioned as a general guide to developing marketing content; however, its author is far more experienced in the B2B sphere. This leads to a book discussing the world of white papers and webinars, which, while interesting, isn’t relevant to all marketers.

Not as relevant as it thinks

The first half of the book is an argument for being relevant: what this means, how it can deliver a competitive advantage, and how to apply persona-building to the process.

The author, Ardath Albee, makes a good argument for the end of campaign periods, with a suggested move to longer-term marketing continuums.

Her broad thesis is that we marketers assess most content marketing as ineffective. She puts this down to an inside-out approach to marketing – we are too busy answering our own briefs and forgetting to ask: "Who cares?"

We’re all guilty of this at some point; working up an idea that excites the team, only for it to meet with a "Meh" from the public once it’s released.

We nearly bought an island once so we could set up our own government. We spent a few weeks on this before realising only we would find it amusing. It was a shame; I really wanted that secret volcano base. Nonetheless, Albee’s remedy of focus­ing on the personas of the buyers strikes me as the road to blandness.

The book livens up with a discussion of storytelling in which the author highlights how responsive humans are to emotional communication. However, this is only a couple of pages; we are soon back to dry chapters about how we should be responsive marketers.

We are too busy answering our own briefs to ask: 'Who cares?'

There is a lot of "you should do this" in this book, but hardly any case studies to see how these theories play out in action.

Lack of emotions

It does not practise what it preaches about relevancy – there are only two mentions of real-life companies in the first half of the book. When you think of the most influential marketing books, you remember the case examples before you recall the topic the author was discussing. With content marketing, this would be even more illuminating.

The book also makes a mistake in that it talks about customers and their buying behaviour in almost exclusively logical, rational terms. The first time emotions are even mentioned is on page 99, and they are barely alluded to again.

This is clearly due to the B2B bias of the author; however, I find it hard to believe that emotional reactions to content are irrelevant for the B2B decision-maker, yet core when the same human being is deciding what trainers to buy.

As a reminder to me of the B2B marketing world, and how things have changed since I last participated in it, the book was a good refresher and reminder. The tactics and strategies suggested seem logical and well thought through.

As a practical how-to guide, it serves its purpose very well. But for a book about compelling content creation, it really is a bit dull.

Crib Sheet

If you only have time for this… six key points from the book.

  1. Most content marketing is ineffective because practitioners are too busy talking about what they want to talk about, not what their customers want to learn about.
  2. The audience is too busy to engage in most content marketing – it’s crucial to ask yourself "Who cares?" Marketers produce far more content then customers have time to consume.
  3. 86% of B2B buyers don’t see much difference between suppliers – it’s a "sea of sameness".
  4. The book recommends working out your company’s distinct value from deep understanding of your customers. I totally disagree – everyone is trying to do that, which leads to the mushy middle.
  5. Ditch artificial campaign periods and move to a longer-term continuum approach.
  6. Learn to be storytellers, but make your customers the hero, not your product or company.