Tag Archives: content

Your Best Content May Be Right Under Your Nose

A version of this article originally appeared on PRDaily.

Escher's Relativity.jpg

Content marketing has become one big M.C. Escher painting – people create content about how to create content, which creates more content, forcing more content about creating content that rises above the content everyone else is creating.

8 Super-Simple Tools You Can Use to Create Better Content

“How To Create More Content In Less Time: A Science-Backed Guide”

“13 Tools to Automate Your Content Marketing”

“15 Habits of Highly Effective Content Marketers”

Here’s what drives me nuts about this. Your priorities are backward. Brands are making the same mistake that newspapers and other media publishers have made. As Quartz put it in a recent article, “humans are losing the battle against Kardashian-loving algorithms for the soul of new media.”

“Analytics and algorithms have emerged as key weapons in capitalism’s brawl with journalism across the web. And the struggle has real consequences for all of us.”

This has led to media publishers cutting journalistic staff in favor of algorithms that optimize their web content based on clicks. The AP is using artificial intelligence to automate some of their stories. Facebook famously let go of the human editors curating their Trending Topics section in favor of the newsfeed algorithm. You see, when you’re only concerned with optimizing numbers on a spreadsheet, the machines will always win out. And while that approach may drive more clicks, that’s about all it does. It doesn’t build brands. It doesn’t drive customer loyalty. It doesn’t create advocacy. And it reduces content to its lowest common denominator.

Don’t let your brand make the same mistake. Don’t build a content strategy just to drive more clicks. Build one that will build your brand, help your customers, and increase your employee’s morale. Unfortunately, most brands get overwhelmed by all the content marketing best practices, tools, and gurus and totally miss the resources right under their noses.

  • You are already creating the content your customers want most – you’re just not using it. In the rush to create more memes and GIFs that will drive more clicks, brands are forgetting about the content their customers actually want. Your best content doesn’t come from Photoshop, but from your own offices. Your customers want to hear about your brand’s history, how your products are being used, the “why” behind business decisions, your causes, your culture, etc. If you’re a tool brand, why are you trying to out-GIF your competition? Why aren’t you talking about how your tools are used? About what they can create? This content already exists. It just needs packaged for public consumption.
  • You already have hired most of your content creators – you’re just not activating them. From R&D to customer service to operations, your brand is loaded with expert sources. These sources can give your customer insights into your brand, into your products, and into the category they literally cannot get anywhere else. You tell me what’s more “valuable” – another Valentine’s Day meme or a story about how your latest product was developed? You’re already paying these content creators. Why not leverage their expertise?
  • You already have most of your assets – you’re just not using them. If you’re a car brand, share photos of cars. If you’re a tool brand, share pictures of your tools in action. If you’re a restaurant, share photos of your food. It’s why Honda’s Instagram strategy is all about sharing photos of cars. And why Stoli’s is about bottleshots. And why GE has created an entire magazine that dives into all the aspects of the company’s business. This isn’t rocket science, but it does require access, creativity, and storytelling.

So take a look at your content strategy. Are you creating and sharing content for your brand? For your customers? Or are you doing it for the clicks and likes? While you’re spending all your time and money on external experts, influencers, and content creators, you might be surprised to find out that the insights, products, and content your customers actually want have been hiding inside the walls of your company this whole time. You just need the right people who can tap into these sources and tell the right stories. You know what? I did hear that there may be some journalists out there looking for a new career now…

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Create Content for Humans, Not Machines

Let me preface this post by saying that I’m the current Director of PR and Content Integration at an agency. I’m telling you this so that I can tell you this – I really hate content marketing.

Well, let me rephrase – I hate what marketers have done to content marketing. Content marketing used to represent the new era of marketing – a less offensive, less intrusive, and more useful way of advertising. Brands realized that interrupting what their customers were doing only to shout at them with CTAs were getting their ads blocked and fast-forwarded with increasing regularity.

The content marketing revolution was upon us! Brands came to understand that if they started creating really useful and entertaining content, people would not only stop avoiding it, they would even (gasp!) search it out. This led to brands creating everything from full-blown magazines to films to video games to how-to videos. Life was good. Brands stopped shouting at customers and started delivering more of what their customers were looking for.

Unfortunately, just as marketers did with commercials and TV, spam and email, banner ads and the Internet, we’ve reduced content marketing to nothing more than yet another way to score some impressions, views and likes. Rather than solving problems, telling stories, and collaborating with our customers, we’re poring over analytics and algorithms to figure out ways to optimize clicks and shares.

Engineers, analysts, and data scientists have wrested control of content marketing from the creatives, writers, and storytellers. We’re letting Facebook’s, Twitter’s, and Google’s algorithms decide what to create and when and how to share it. And like a Las Vegas casino, those algorithms are put in place to help the house, not you the brand, and surely not the end user. And so on we go feeding the machine, creating and sharing more and more content, all in an attempt to get these algorithms to smile down upon us with the occasional huge payout.

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CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5709790

We’ve even gone so far as to remove humans entirely from the process. Chatbots are taking over customer service (oh good, the digital version of “Press 1 if you are having an emergency”), blog posts are being written by machines, even native advertising is being standardized and placed programmatically.

Here’s the problem. In our big data haze, we’ve forgotten the whole point of content marketing. How much of the content we create anymore is truly for our customers? How much of it actually builds our brand? How much time and money are we spending on creating content that serves another platform’s goals more than our brand’s business goals?

Creating content for a social media platform is a lot like feeding the slot machine – put in a lot of cheap coins to trigger an algorithm and hope for a jackpot. Instead, let’s start creating content for people, not machines. Let’s take back control of our brand’s story from the social platforms. Let’s get back to creating content that benefits our customers. Let’s get back to using data to enhance our decision-making, not make decisions for us. The data that we have access to now is exponentially more powerful than it was even just a few years ago, but rather than using that data, we’re just abdicating our decision-making to it. Data should be used to help us identify what our customers actually need, not just what they’ll click the most.

Sure, that video interview with your head of customer service may have taken a lot more time to create and probably won’t get as many likes as that cat GIF you shared the other day, but it was probably a hell of a lot more effective at telling your brand’s story and educating your customers about who you really are and what you can do for them. I’m guessing it’s also a lot easier to justify the time and expense of creating a customer service video than a series of cat GIFs.

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Who Owns Content Marketing?

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Rather than rushing to plant your flag in content marketing, invite others to participate.

For more than 12 years now, I’ve worked at companies that have been committed to integrated marketing. That has given me the chance to work with a really diverse group of really smart people who are experts in their field. I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate on really big integrated marketing campaigns and to tap into industry-leading expertise and experience. I’ve always said that the actual integration is the best and worst thing about working in an integrated agency. The people in these agencies tend to be both simultaneously very competitive and very collaborative.

Most of the time, this works out just fine. There are mutual feelings of trust and respect and everyone’s pretty collaborative. There’s a lot of open dialogue, a lot of drop-by meetings, and a lot of “take a look at this and let me know what you think’s.” Sure, there may be some disagreements over the creative idea or budget allocations, but at the end of the day, everyone trusts each other to do what they do best and get the job done.

But any time there’s a new trend, tactic, or channel, this collaboration turns to competition. This happened with websites, with social media, and it’s happening again with content marketing. We continue to make the same mistakes we did before. Open dialogue gives way to back-channel alliance building. Drop-by meetings become scheduled status meetings. “Take a look and let me know what you think” turns into “here’s what we decided.” All of these really smart, really competitive people suddenly have all the answers and instead of collaborating, they compete against each other for ownership over the new toy.

  • Who owns websites? IT? PR? Marketing? Agencies?
  • Who owns social media? IT? Agencies? PR? Marketing? Legal?
  • Who owns content marketing? Agencies? Brands? Publishers? Marketing? PR? Social Media? Creative? A dedicated content marketing team?

There’s an argument to be made for and against everyone. Creative has a claim because for decades, they were the ones responsible for creating things. Digital has a claim because hey, everything is digital! PR has a claim because they have the best pulse on the audience. Social Media has a claim because much of the content is created for social media channels. And so on and so on.

Why don’t we stop competing with each other to build a content marketing walled garden, only to realize that yes, successful content marketing isn’t done in a vacuum? Content can literally encompass everything a brand creates, from commercials to blog posts to online videos. And so if the creation of that content is expected to live in a single department, you’re creating a lot of duplication, inefficiency, and competition that doesn’t need to exist. Can’t we just accept that everyone should have a content creation mindset and skip ahead to the collaboration and mutual trust and respect part?

Brands are creating a LOT of content across a wide variety of media. This is a space we can and should all play in. If you’re in marketing, you’re now a content marketer in some capacity. Congratulations. Now, let’s start working together to create content that people actually want to see.

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Consider the Roles Your Content is Playing Before Determining Its Success

Image Credit: Matt Becker

Image Credit: Matt Becker

“Can’t see the forest for the trees” –> An expression used of someone who is too involved in the details of a problem to look at the situation as a whole.

Remember this scene in Major League (great movie, BTW) when Willie Mays Hays keeps trying to hit the ball out of the park even though he’s the fastest guy on the team? His manager comes over and tells him to hit the ball on the ground and leg out his hits because that’s the role he plays on the team.

Or this scene in Miracle when Herb Brooks says he’s “not looking for the best players, I’m looking for the right ones”?

Makes sense, right? Anyone who’s ever assembled a team – sports, work or otherwise – knows it’s about the sum of the parts, not the individuals. A team of superstars is great for fantasy football, not so much in real life.

Maybe you’re not as big a fan of sports movies as I am. In that case, think about your group of friends. You likely have a friend you go to when you have something serious to talk about. That same friend may not be the person you’d choose to plan your bachelor party. You, like both of the movie coaches above, realized that each player or friend played a different role when viewed in the larger context of your life.

I share these analogies because I’ve had quite a few recent conversations with clients, colleagues, and friends who were obsessing over the performance of an individual blog post, Tweet, or Facebook status. What was the reach? What was the clickthrough rate? How many times was it shared? It made me want to ask about the performance of that lunch meeting with a mentor or that single in the softball game last night. Did you compare that lunch to other lunches you’ve had and kick yourself for not fully optimizing it? Did you swing for the fences your next time up because why accept a lousy single when you can crush the ball over the fence?

Very little in life can be measured in a vacuum. A home run is better than a single right? Then why not fill your team up with huge guys who crush the ball every time up? A crazy weekend in Vegas is better than a night at home playing trivial pursuit, right? Then why not head out to Vegas every weekend? Well, for starters, you’d end up with a team of players who do this and a life that resembles this. But it’s also because the success or failure of anything has to always be considered within the larger context. A crazy weekend in Vegas is great, but sometimes you just want to chill out at home. A home run hitter is great except when you need someone to run down that fly ball in the outfield. 

The same thinking applies to brands and their use of social media. Just because that cat GIF you posted reached more people and had more likes than the post where you talked about your organization’s community service efforts doesn’t mean it was any more or any less “successful.” Just because that Tweet of your staff party wasn’t retweeted 100 times doesn’t mean you should stop sharing that sort of content. Just like the home run hitter and the base stealer, each piece of content plays a different role in your overall strategy and needs to be measured as such. Your goals for that content should be driven by you, not by the social platform. In some cases, you may be trying to drive traffic to a website, or to drive shares of a piece of a content, or sometimes, it’s just to show a different side to your organization. Your social media content and conversations are not banner ads so stop evaluating them that way. 

Continue to be a slave to the metrics these social platforms use and you will soon become part of their business strategy, rather than the other way around.

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