Don’t Be Content with Your Marketing Content

It’s a cliché that I personally dread, but in 2014, content certainly made a strong claim to the marketing throne. It was as if everyone that worked in any flavor of marketing job suddenly thought, we need more content in our lives. We need to produce more. And we need to talk about it more.

One problem. A lot of that content was…well, how can I put this? Not exactly worth sharing. This thing is, with so much content being produced by so many people every minute of every day – the stats are kind of crazy – the bar for what constitutes “good content” keeps rising. Mark Schaefer’s Content Shock concept analyzed the situation perfectly in what must have been one of the most talked about pieces of content on content of the year. And that post was from January 6, 2014.

"You don't need more content, Oliver. You need different content." (Thinkstock)
“You don’t need more content, Oliver. You need different content.” (Thinkstock)

Despite the obvious diminishing margins of return, marketers still wanted more. It was the key to unlocking the value of social media. It would transform SEO. It would engage audiences in new and exciting ways. It was very cool stuff and like Oliver Twist, all you needed was more. Except that wasn’t really the case.

Marketing content had already been increasing like crazy for years. It was just 2014 when it seemed to become vogue. But instead of looking for simply more content, brands should have been looking at things a different way. After all, simply writing more newsletters, automating social media feeds, producing more infographics or launching more company blogs/magazines/YouTube channels/LinkedIn profiles/Facebook pages/carrier pigeon programs (well, that one might work) was never going to be more than a very short-term solution.

So as we enter another content-full year, I wanted to share some thoughts on how we are helping our clients differentiate their content storytelling:

Targeted: Funny how we often miss the most obvious things. And while I know the obligatory goal of any piece of content is to go “viral,” you haven’t got a hope in hell if you start by targeting the masses. All too often sweeping statements are used to describe target audiences – “IT decision makers” and “the C-Suite” are classics – when in reality, we need to really invest the time to understand exactly who we are hoping to talk with. What are they interested in at work? What are their interests outside of work? Where do they go to find information? Who do they trust? What makes them laugh? By answering those kinds of questions, you suddenly have a wealth of information to inform your storytelling.

Real: I was going to call this authentic, but that in itself felt a little fake. As if the aim of your content is to engage an audience in some way or another (in other words, the aim of 99.999% of all content marketing), then it has to be like a real conversation. That means the content won’t have marketing messages masquerading as stories. It could reference interesting data/insights your competitors have shared. It will be designed for the real world rather than your executive suite and it may not even refer to your company, product or service at all. Crazy? Maybe. Interesting, different and shareable? Definitely.

Visual: I might be dipping back into clichés, but simply put, a picture tells a thousand words. You can no longer afford to ignore video and other visual assets. In an increasingly mobile and social world where your story might have a solid five inches of real estate, they are now the price of admission. And don’t just think infographics. Think instead about the cool content you share with your friends – everything from gifs and Vine/Instagram videos to video-embedded content and video storytelling. A couple of great examples are GE’s cool #6secondscience and #GravityDay campaigns and the YouTube Rewind series.

Integrated: Yes, it’s cheaper. Yes, it’s simpler. Yes, it’s faster. But just producing standalone pieces of content is, in most cases, a waste of time. Content now needs to not only integrate visual and written assets, but also be a fully integrated part of your social, SEO, PR and advertising strategies. Don’t just think in terms of “one-offs” and instead take a leaf out of the HBO or Showtime book and think of entire series. That gives your audience something they can rely on, a reason to come back. And what’s more, developing content should be a core part of your team’s skills, because with so much integration required, outsourcing content to separate departments or teams is counter intuitive at best.

Part of It: Don’t be the person that walks into the bar and immediately tries to change the conversation. Listen, watch, care and ask. We have talked a lot about the power of the right question, but great content is about more than just that. It needs to be in the right voice, be relevant to popular culture, timely and something that people not only find helpful, but also enjoy. A tough ask, but we now have the listening and measurement tools that give us unprecedented insights into our audience’s likes and dislikes. By using that information correctly, content can be constantly fine-tuned.

That’s right. It’s a lot of work. But when we get it right, the payback is huge. And of course, telling a story that gets people talking is the really fun part about our jobs, and with all the changes that have taken place in PR, we now have more opportunity to do that than ever before. So rather than just focusing on “more” content in 2015, think bigger and look at how you can produce “different” content. It will lead to a very different year.