Content saturation is a very real problem for any business trying to stand out in the online space. With a seemingly endless sea of stuff to watch, read or interact with out there, online audiences have become increasingly reliant on the content feeds and recommendation engines of their own social networks for content discovery. Whilst traditional publishing formats like websites and blogs still maintain loyal readerships, we do seem to have entered an age of social media where the viewer has become both content curator and content promoter.
All this has lead digital marketers to put a lot more stock in the creation of genuinely exciting and engaging content. Whilst the skills and planning of market activation has been in no way diminished by this consumer-driven content revolution (in some ways it has made market research and strategy more important), the potential for great content to create a huge buzz has never been bigger.
In this article, I’m going to explore the difference between good content and great content and why it’s so important to always aim high.
Know your Brand, know your Audience
Part of the content creation process is about generating ideas and themes that fit with your brand’s identity; it’s personality if you like. Whilst establishing and fleshing out this identity is an organic and constantly evolving process, a general sense of how you want to present your brand should be always be established from the outset.
Many people turn to the idea of brand archetypes when thinking about their company’s identity and how they want to portray it. These are a set of twelve pre-defined characters with traits that some up certain brand identities (such as the jocular jester, the intrepid explorer or the wise sage).
Brand archetypes provide a relatable framework that helps companies map out the kind of brand they want to be. This means looking inwards at your company values and culture as well as outwards to your core market demographics. It’s not uncommon for companies embarking on these exercises to find that their perceived company image is very much at odds with the values shared by their core customers. If this is the case, then it’s important to remember that everything starts and ends with your customer.
Although brand identity is to some degree a two-way process (ie the kind of content you create will shape the identity of your brand and vice versa) consistency is crucial here if you are to forge a recognisable and appealing brand voice amongst your target audience. It is through a sense of familiarity that a brand is born and a sense of trust and loyalty can be established. Having a split personality is likely to confuse people and turn them off your brand entirely so when you settle for something stick to it.
Sell your brand, not your product
According to Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute, “your story travels further the less you mention your brand.” To anyone outside of the content marketing world, this statement might well seem counter-intuitive but there is an important truth at the heart of this dichotomy.
What differentiates content marketing from more traditional forms of advertising is not that one is trying to sell you something, whilst the other isn’t. The difference lies in what they are trying to sell. Great content marketing is customer-centric, not product-centric. By putting the audience at the centre of the content ideation process, you may well end up relegating your product or service to a more subtle or less obvious role, but that’s not a bad thing.
If you can entertain, inform and captivate your audience you have the opportunity to sell them your brand, as well as your product (and the two should always go hand in hand). This concept is the foundation of inbound marketing. By flooding people with so-called ‘interruptive marketing’ the internet witnessed the birth of what Seth Godin referred to as ‘permission marketing’. Branded content that’s so good that people not only stick around to watch it but actively seek it out and share it amongst their peers.
The Four Pillars of Great Content
I want to turn our attention now to what I see as the four pillars of great content. Before we do though, I want to stress that there really is no magic bullet here and tapping into the zeitgeist and creating the next big viral video sensation is as much about the vagaries of social trends and collective psychology as it is about insight and planning. That being said, if you’re prepared to put the effort in then the potential rewards are substantial and long-lasting.
- Originality: We’ve already talked about the problem with content saturation to content marketers. It’s this that makes originality such a powerful trait in brand marketing. In my last post, I mentioned the power of brainstorming to generate ideas but there are a number of other methods such as looking at marketing in a completely different industry to see if you can find different angles to well-trodden subject matter. Coming up with original content will undoubtedly take a lot more time, effort and ingenuity but if you can create something that entertains or educates in a truly original way then the payback is potentially huge.
- Identity: Deciding on what brand archetype your company fits is only the beginning of the challenge of building your brand identity. Creating an identity that people immediately associate with your brand means creating a sense of familiarity between your audience and your content. This requires targeted and well planned multi-channel marketing, but it also requires consistently good content with a distinctive voice. Creating characters, using specific styles and colour themes all help to establish this but tone and consistency are key.
- Story: The days of just telling someone how great your product is have long gone. Internet users can easily bypass or switch off from this type of ‘interruptive marketing’. Truly great inbound marketing means telling compelling stories and this means developing narratives that often extend across platforms and channels. Whether the story is about your company or a completely fictional character, it’s important that the story feels relevant, whilst never straying into the territory of the hard sell. Walking this line is the subtle art of brand storytelling.
- Emotion: The power of telling stories lies in the emotions they evoke in us. Emotional storytelling can tap into our so-called ‘system 1’ thinking, which relies on feelings and associative impressions that are formed very quickly. Studies have found that this perceptual way of thinking can prove far more effective at influencing decision making than more rational and considered ‘system 2’ thinking. When it comes to driving brand awareness, association and finally loyalty amongst your core audience, content that evokes emotions – whether they be joy, wonder, awe, pride or even sadness – trump the rational approach every time.
It’s worth emphasising that no one of these four prerequisites come easy. I’m afraid there really is no magic bullet to creating genuinely brilliant content. Some of the most memorable brand content you’ve seen is probably the result of relentless trial and error. What’s more, the creative spark can come out of the blue. Tethering creative flair to carefully planned marketing objectives is a tricky balancing act but get it right and you have the ingredients to create branded content that really shines.