The authors, thought-leaders in content marketing, define how marketing has changed, and what drives it now
I just had a life changing content-marketing experience in Yosemite National Park. And although the experience was primarily about rocks, it was a beautiful—and I mean beautiful—expression of what Robert Rose and Carla Johnson are talking about in their book Experiences: The 7th Era Of Marketing. Are you confused? Skeptical? Curious?
Lean in. Let me tell you the secret.
Because I was there in the Yosemite Valley, and because I didn’t really know where to start with all this majesty, I turned up for a ranger tour about the geology of the area, and was lucky enough to land Shelton Johnson as a tour guide. Shelton is a bit of a Yosemite rock star (check him out on YouTube). He promised by the end of his talk, we would all see the world in a different way.
The tour he gave was all about how the sheer cliffs of plutonic igneous granite are actually growing, moving, breathing—but doing so in geological time.
He talked about how everything in the valley comes from the rock—the rock makes the dirt, which grows these particular trees, which attracts this particular fauna.
He spoke of the thunderous sound made by the two most recent rockslides, and he described how the granite dust blacked out the sun as it roared across the valley. And at the end of the talk, as we stood in the middle of the meadow in the middle of the valley, he asked us to close our eyes and describe what we could hear now.
We heard the birds tweeting, murmuring voices, and the quiet hum of traffic. “That sound,” he said, “is the silence at the centre of thunder.”
Are you still with me? Do you get it? Afterwards, it wasn’t just the majesty of Yosemite that I raved about to everyone I knew (and wrote about on the web). It was the experience of the park through Shelton’s talk. It was as much the content as the product, that I was compelled to share.
Without the content, I was spending a few days in a nice valley filled with impressive rocks. With Shelton’s talk, I was a speck at the centre of time itself.
Content, as Rose and Johnson will quickly convince you, is a tool that, when used properly, can sit at the very centre of everything a company does. As well-known thought leaders in this space, have used this book to go a step further and identify why content marketing and experiential marketing—both of which have been around for a long time—have come together now to sometimes complement, sometimes challenge, other traditional, “top-down” methods of communicating and selling.
Experiences: The 7th Era Of Marketing, adds both intelligent analysis and hands-on working suggestions as to how businesses can best use this tool.
This isn’t just a book on how digital has changed customer behaviour, because the reader it targets already know that. It’s about how marketers can change their tactics in a holistic, iterative, measureable, and valuable way to respond to customers now.
What’s the big idea behind it?
Okay, the authors say, we’ve all heard about the various eras of marketing, each lasting about 20- to 30-years, from the Trade Era in the 1850s to the Relationship Era, which they say is ending right now, this year, about five minutes ago.
Companies are no longer “creating a customer” through distinct campaigns, but have to “evolve a customer utilising differentiating content-driven experiences as the driver of that evolution across the entire lifecycle.”
They set out to prove that marketers must not only describe the value that has already been theoretically created in the product or service for sale, but also begin to create differentiated experiential value that is separate and distinct from that product or service.
What’s more, they add, “brands are beginning to realise that it’s NOT the product or service that the customer values, or that keeps them loyal—it is the experience that they have at every stage of their journey with that brand. Content marketing, and creating content-driven experiences, has proven to be an extraordinarily powerful new way for marketers to create this experiential value for business.”
But to achieve that, they write, marketers must transform themselves and what they do from a subservient department that creates content only to describe the value of a product or service, to one that is at the very centre of everything a company does.
Want to march into your CEO’s office now and tell her that?
Can they back it up?
One of the challenges facing a book like this—that is sitting at the start of a new wave of practice—is there isn’t a lot of scientific, tested, systemic data backing it up. Arrgh! the authors may say shaking their fists, data!
In his weekly podcast, This Old Marketing, Rose frequently pokes fun at his co-presenter, Joe Pulizzi, who questions a lot of the data and methodologies that marketing folk come up with to make us look more scientifical and stuff.
But it’s true—there are legitimate questions that can be raised about some research and data created about both digital and traditional media. So there’s an onus on people working in this field to hunt down and use only really solid, un-biased, independent research—a far greater onus, I would argue, than if we were just working in a university or government.
So while the authors draw on interviews and case studies that illustrate their points perfectly… and while I agree with what they’re saying, and it aligns with my values and beliefs and experiences… that’s not the same as a double-blind study.
Now to be completely fair, I don’t even know if that data exists. And the authors do counter this argument, that we (and they) should be producing content that is meaning-driven, not data-driven… that it is more important to “ask insightful and honest questions—and look for the data to substantiate or disprove the hypothesis”.
But if you’re going to march into your CEO’s office and tell her the marketing department is going to be central to everything from now on, and here’s the book that proves it, you want there to be plenty of weight behind it.
What’s good about Experiences?
As a call-to-action, Experiences is hard to beat. I agree with virtually all of it, and I think the few bits in the book that made me raise an eyebrow were more to do with pinning down terminology—which is a problem with a lot of public thinking about marketing and publishing anyway, that sometimes we use different words to mean the same thing, and the same words to mean different things.
But when I was reading it, it felt right. It tallies with my experience in content marketing and in publishing. I found myself muttering “Yes!”, then furiously trying to figure out how to make notes in the Kindle version of the book, then trying to figure out what to do with those notes once I’d made them.
And it goes a long way, quickly—there’s a lot to take in, and all of it is gold. From redefining what marketers can and should be doing with content, to redefining the buyers funnel to something more like the McKinsey Customer Decision Journey (which seems to be a more accurate reflection of customer behaviour to me too), you’ll sit reading this book and nodding, even as your view of what’s possible with content marketing slowly shifts around you.
I also particularly like their idea of content archetypes, which tries to muscle you out of thinking about funnels and journeys and stuff anyway (because we all know we can’t really control that), and forces you to think about the substance of the content. To get your marketing brain off medium and distribution, in other words, and get your “expert” brain making useful content for any stage in that journey.
Just like that Yosemite talk I mentioned at the top of this review: You’ll look up from this book and realise you’re seeing the world in a different way.
What’s frustrating about it?
It seems like a really minor thing, and it won’t effect the impact of the ideas the book presents, but the lack of formatting of the kindle e-book which I got from Amazon was a real pain in the arse.
I assume a glitch happened in the production stage, but the table of contents, while there, wasn’t functioning; the note reference marks weren’t linked to the endnotes in the chapter¹; chapters just sort-of ran into one another; and the hierarchy of headings is a bit confusing.
And the formatting problems really effected tables, particularly in the second-half of the book. By the time I got to the tables for the matrix for the story maps in chapter seven, my head blew up.
None of that is a problem if you buy the print book (which you can dog-ear, fill with post-it notes, and drop on colleagues desks rather than summarise in a review).
But given that many of us in the world of content marketing are embracing digital formats, messing up the functionality of the e-book does impact some readers. And the ideas in the book are so good and so useful, it seems a shame to not use technology to make it easy to spread and share them.
What are the lessons I can take away from it?
So much. There are three books worth of value here for those who need to redefine and focus their digital marketing. Firstly, Experiences will help you understand your own role when it comes to content marketing, which is a different beast to what many marketers have been trained to deal with. It will also help you frame how much control you have over customers and their experience with your brand or products.
It will also give you a new way of understanding your audience—one that is based on how they want to interact with you, rather than how you can just push messages to them. And that’s important for what else the book offers, which is a number of ideas about how to create value with content, or how to organise it or categorise the content you do have—with the new categories aligning with broad stages along the buyer’s journey.
Finally, it breaks down in detail the process of mapping content-driven experiences, and why you do it, and how to measure it properly.
Where do I buy a copy?
You can pick up a copy at Amazon by clicking here. And if you like what you read, sign up to our newsletter. It’s a monthly email with three original articles on either content marketing, content strategy or content production. Feel free to use them to make your content, and your content marketing, better and more effective than ever before!
- And I do love a good footnote.