Content Marketing – the view from a rock star

26 Feb

By Jonny Cameron

You may have heard of Radiohead? A British band formed in the early 90s, they’ve gone on to sell over 30 million records through harnessing the anxieties of misfit lead-singer Thom Yorke and later evolving and experimenting with a far more challenging sound that is unrecognisable from their earlier work (but people still take notice because it’s Radiohead).

Frontman Thom Yorke has gone on to become a poster boy for political disaffection with polemic views on the Iraq war, Tony Blair’s government and an album (Hail to the thief) that was named after his misgivings about the American Electoral system, which saw George W Bush sworn in.

What’s this got to do with content marketing you may ask?

In a recent interview with the Observer Yorke made the following provocative comment about content marketing:

“They would show us letters from big media companies offering us millions in some mobile phone deal or whatever it was, and they would say all they need is some content. I was like, what is this ‘content’ which you describe? Just a filling of time and space with stuff, emotion, so you can sell it?”

Whilst not being derogatory about content marketing as an industry, he does (inevitably) see the concept of creating something solely to sell as deleterious.

Let’s face it, marketing is about selling and content marketing is no different.

Whilst he is primarily a musician, Yorke is also (unwittingly) a very clever content marketer. It’s also, I’d imagine, slightly easier to espouse the “art for art’s sake” ethos after selling £30 million records and building up a loyal following of fans.

I don’t doubt that Thom Yorke is creating music for music’s sake first and foremost, unlike being commissioned to write a song for a mobile phone advert. But he’s clearly never had trouble writing music that sells.

Stimulating emotion

The keyword that stands out in Yorke’s quote is “emotion”.  As content marketers the vast majority of what we are doing is building relationships and authority through providing content on social media networks, blogging sites and email, that is both relevant and valuable. We’re generating content for existing customers and potential customers through prolonged engagement.

If your content is all about you or your products and services, the vast majority of people are going to struggle to be interested.

The Non-Promotion-Self-Promotion

For years Thom Yorke has been the master of the non-performance performance. The slightly aloof, avant garde enigma whose musical prowess can never be doubted because of its constant evolution. He could make a fortune by filling stadiums and playing songs from the mid-nineties, but he doesn’t. Why? Because he doesn’t need the money, perhaps?

Let’s also assume that being avant garde is in itself a good marketing strategy (As previously mentioned Radiohead have already sold in excess of 30 million albums, so they’ve been doing something right).

While everything that the band stand for points to being anti-establishment in some form or another, the reality is that capitalism (the sort of capitalism where content is a commodity) defeated the avant garde long ago by accepting it as another genre (not my words, someone else’s, but I’ve forgotten whose).

There is a vast audience out there for Thom York and Radiohead; of people who like politicised music; of people who admire an artist’s cantankerous approach to the media, giving every interview, appearance or public comment an even greater scarcity factor. It’s an approach that, for some, is the perfect antidote to the clean-cut, box-ticking and hoop-jumping that the endless churn of reality TV pop-stars go through.

It’s still a content marketing strategy

But, this approach is nonetheless a marketing strategy. The starting point is the music (the content) that in its own right is challenging, emotive and (in my opinion) pretty damn good. But the promotion of this content is something else.

Marketing techniques have ranged from giving albums away online and asking customers to pay only what they think it’s worth – to interviews, like the one at the weekend, where we (the Radiohead fans) relish the opportunity to see what our hero has been up to; to see what knew, noble cause he is adopting; to hark at his collaboration with other big artists as he spurns stereotype and continues to rip up “the rule-book”; to admire the description of him enjoying anonymity, despite the location for the interview being a busy Shoreditch café.

This newspaper article is a great piece of content marketing for Yorke, it is content marketing at its finest and while he may never admit it – one result will be that it will help him sell more things.




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