Two decades after Bill Gates proclaimed content is king, marketers continue to use these three simple words to justify the production of vast amounts of stuff, in the form of content marketing. Most of it has limited potential to encourage, persuade, or nudge people into action. Content as commonly practiced today is no longer king. It is a commodity with all of the reduced creativity and care that comes with its diminished value.
Why do brands spend so much time on content marketing that few people see?
Brands have been duped into believing that the answer to capturing attention is high volume branded publishing. The theory is that as long as there is content out there, you have an opportunity to stay top of mind.
The truth is it takes a deep understanding of your audience, who they are, what they care about, and the types of stories most likely to draw them in. It also takes a frank discussion with your team about what you are trying to achieve — beyond simple visibility. Content marketing is reaching a saturation point, and the only thing that will help brands cut through the noise is a more refined and thoughtful approach. Not more Stuff.
Sometimes it’s more about showing than telling
When Toronto Community Housing, North America’s largest social housing provider, wanted to shape government sentiment around a massive funding gap for capital repairs of its buildings, they could have chosen to publish financial projections, drafted opinion pieces, and bought ads. In fact, that was their original intent, until we began exploring the issues and options. We landed on the design and development of a real-time reporting tool that opened the doors to the problem.
The tool provided direct access to repair projects planned, repair projects underway, and repair projects completed. The data told the story in its entirety, with no further embellishment required. “Good things are happening, but the task ahead is severe.” The approach was persuasive, and our impact real.
Voice and tone might be more important than publishing white papers
When we began working with software start-up Call Pixels, they described their solution as a disruptive way to help businesses manage customer interactions through some pretty interesting technical wizardry. Their business goal? Build a large enterprise customer base. We could have doubled down on their technical prowess through the usual content marketing tactics with articles, explainer videos, and more. But in interviews with prospects, we discovered the missing ingredient in their story was the customer – someone not in search of new tech, but hungry for human connection at scale.
The real magic of the Call Pixels solution was turning 1s and 0s into people. And, so, Retreaver was born – a character brand based on a loyal family pet – someone to tag along with customers to get to know them better. This reframing of the company’s core narrative – answering why it matters – allowed them to punch well above their weight, becoming a multi-million-dollar venture with clients like Airbnb, Uber, Thomson Reuters, and Allstate.
Before you default to yet more content marketing, find the right problem to solve
Sure, there are plenty of occasions to tell stories in more conventional ways, but these efforts need to be of sufficient quality and creativity to compete in our content-mad world. This is why we don’t talk about content. We refer to the work as what it is – a film, a photo essay, a feature article, a blog post, or a public values campaign. This small shift in the language we use is our internal rallying cry to respect our audiences and the creators who put their hearts and heads into the work.