Content is the new black. Content is the new media. Content is everything. Content is king. Content is over-hyped.
Many of my clients feel compelled to create or curate content as an adjunct to the goods or services they produce. The theory is that content is stickier. Content drives repetitive site visits and purchases. Content provides context. And content differentiates brands one from another.
Distributed content gets more traffic than branded websites. By spreading content around the web or on social media, brands lure consumers with linked pathways back to your site. Jay Baer calls this the dandelion strategy. Seeds are spread far and wide and the website is the stalk bringing everything together. Pharmaceutical companies have embraced this strategy big time. Each one has a mountain of disease, condition awareness and product-related content in virtually every imaginable format. But nobody is sure if it pays off or pays out.
The reality is that too much content is the same. Much of it is not new. And very little is own-able by brands. A look at SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics shows that compared to home pages, product descriptions and deal sections, very few consumers actually use the content that’s being created, syndicated or compiled on brand sites.
And can you blame them? Does anyone really need another wellness tip, recipe, checklist, how-to video, home exercise regimen, infographic, or product diagram? How many links to the same memes, pictures, videos and articles does anyone really want? And does anyone really want this stuff from his or her peanut butter, prescription drug, toilet tissue, fast food joint or bank?
The relentless creation and collection of gratuitous advice leaves most of us cold. Joe Queenan, writing in The Wall Street Journal, captured this sentiment when he wrote, “A major part of the Internet’s appeal is the immediate availability of useful advice on virtually any topic. If people have the right information in their hands, the Web’s evangelists proclaimed, they will make the right decisions. Things haven’t worked out the way they hoped. People still smoke. People still text while driving. People still vote Republican.”
Creating or collecting content is comforting for brand managers even if their customers are ambivalent or disinterested. Content keeps the grubby business of selling at arm’s length and positions a brand, at least in the minds of marketers, as concerned, caring and credible.
But gaining consumer credit requires realistic calculation to understand where a brand can participate in the conversation and what value a brand can realistically provide and own. Generally two criteria apply.
Standing. Brands are sorted into discrete folders in our brains. How you are sorted determines how, when, and where you can enter into the conversation. An athletic wear brand can speak credibly about exercise and wellness or sports. A food brand can talk about nutrition. A fashion brand can assess red carpet creations. But brands need to stick closely to how consumers perceive them.
Brands have less standing than friends, co-workers or family members. The level of credibility, awareness, interest and trust in a brand, determines the aperture you have for reaching target customers. Familiar brands have more standing than invisibles or newbies.
Standing also defines the angle of attack. A complete stranger approaching customers with random content prompts immediate confusion or rejection. Getting good juicy gossip from a trusted friend is the opposite end of the spectrum. Plotting your standing will separate intrusive from credible and invited content.
Posture. The approach to customers is a function of the state of the relationship. In some cases a message delivered by a credible third party has more impact than a direct approach. Posture affects the psychology of your positioning and shapes the tone, manner, language, imagery and attitude of the content you curate or create.
Content can facilitate interactions and relationships. Context can attract new prospects or activate loyal customers. Content plays a role at the top of the funnel. But it’s not an automatic connection or a silver bullet.
In many cases, creating or aggregating content doubles a brand’s traffic-driving burden and budget. Branded content must provide immediate value in utility, information or entertainment. The ultimate measurement is usage leading to a measurable preference or a countable action.