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Idea: Blind Men, an Elephant and Content Marketing

Ask several “content marketing experts” to answer the question, “What is content marketing?” and you’ll be reminded of the ancient fable from India about six blind men who describe an elephant after touching different parts of the animal. “It’s a snake,” says the blind man who touched the tail. “It’s a large leaf,” says the man who touched the ear. “It’s a tree,” says the man who touched the leg. And so on.

Like the six blind men, each content marketing expert will describe something that is based on their individual backgrounds, experiences, expertise, biases and points of view. You’ll hear them describe content marketing as everything from publishing a million-dollar corporate-branded magazine to having the CEO use Twitter. And like the six blind men, they all will be accurate in their description—at least as it pertains to that part of content marketing they’ve touched personally.

Some versions of the Indian fable end with the blind men combining their individual understandings into a shared awareness of a greater truth. Other versions have the blind men going to war with one another over their differences.

Here’s our suggested ending: After the first five blind men describe an elephant, the sixth blind man steps forward and declares, “From what I’ve just heard, it’s obvious that no person can describe an elephant merely by touching its different parts. So let me describe an elephant, not by what it is, but by what it can do. I have heard stories of the elephants who crossed the Pyrenees with Hannibal and conquered the Romans. I have heard how elephants help the farmer grow crops and the merchant transport  their treasures to distant lands. So an elephant must be a large and powerful creature who can be tamed and trained to do great things that change the world.”

The moral of our story? It’s time to stop trying to understand content marketing by the narrow descriptions made by the myriad of experts who define it from their vantage points as software vendors, traditional media companies, self-anointed gurus, consultants, buzzword creators, content generators, aggregators, et al.

Instead, focus on your company’s destination, challenges, objectives or goals. Then seek to discover how the elephant’s power can help you meet those.

(Photo: N. Feans via Flickr)

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