There’s been much debate over the past month concerning the efficacy of content marketing.
What started as a Marketing Week article calling into question its relevance as a distinct marketing discipline, has expanded into a more wide ranging analysis of its effectiveness.
Fingers have been pointed and careers called into question.
Which I find rather odd.
You only have to look as far as YouTube to find evidence of content’s usefulness at building large, engaged communities of consumers.
And while there may be few brands that have found success as publishers, there are numerous examples of businesses that have grown from the distribution of well intentioned, consistently high quality content.
Their success is driven first and foremost, by a desire to serve their customer’s content agenda. Selling comes second. Albeit, extremely well strategised selling. They never give anything away without knowing why or how it moves a sale forward.
Perhaps a better question, then, is how can you follow suit?
If 19 out of 20 pieces of content gets little to no engagement, there’s clearly a problem and it’s likely one of quality. Shouldn’t this be the focus of debate? Not the marketing industries penchant for buzzy titles and giving existing disciplines new names.
When your content isn’t hitting its mark, rather than blaming the tools of your trade, doesn’t it make more sense to look at what you’re making with those tools?
5 Ways to Audit the Quality of Your Content
What follows is a number of angles from which to investigate the quality of your own content creation. Far from an exhaustive list, it is more a reflection of key attributes I’ve found in content that consistently gets high levels of engagement.
- Does your content have an authentic voice and point of view? Does it have a personality that people can get behind? Or is it me too? At best regurgitating the thoughts of others and at worst, tearing chunks out of your brand’s credibility.
Look at any corner of YouTube and you’ll find a cacophony of critics, commentators and consumers for almost every topic. I’m a gamer and for me there’s one voice that stands out from the brutal mosh pit of voices vying for attention. Jim Sterling (warning. he swears…a lot).
While I’m sympathetic to his views, he shines because of his total commitment to his brand. The dialogue, the character and staging all come together to create a complete package. One that’s authentically him. He won’t be to everyone’s taste but isn’t that the point. He knows who his audience is, what they want and he gives it to them.
- Does it deliver real value? Or is it thinly disguised selling in a fake moustache and glasses?
What is real value? It’s content without an ulterior motive. It asks for nothing in return, save that the reader walks away enriched, wiser and ready to face the day.
How do you know you’ve delivered it? Your audience will tell you in the comments section. In the number of shares and likes. In their continued engagement and ultimately their custom.
You’ll know when your content is focused on your agenda because, despite covering a range of topics, it will only ever answer one question — ‘why should you buy my stuff?’
Great content does the exact opposite. It seeks to understand what’s on the mind of the audience. It then drives its worth through the relatable, personal experience of the writer. The relevance of the challenges faced and the insights into how they can be overcome.
There’s no doubt the word story is overused. It has gone from a useful tactic to a hackneyed term full of cliché. Which is a shame because stories sell. Not brand stories. Brands don’t tell stories. People do.
Good stories hold up a mirror and help us to see our own situation through the lens of somebody else’s experience. Vitally, by showing rather than telling, they enable the reader to play out scenarios they are personally engaged in and asses the outcome of different actions without the risks.
Great content does three things. It engages us through its relevance to our own situation. It educates us with valuable insights that help move us forward in our lives. And most important of all, it entertains.
It has too. No matter how deep or relevant the insights. If you’re audience doesn’t find the content interesting, they will turn to something else.
Some Home Truths
None of this is easy. It takes time, patience and a desire to see the world from someone else’s perspective. It’s a game of trial error. Of putting yourself out there and seeing what sticks. Like a deep water drill, sometimes you’ll come up empty and at others you’ll hit a rich seam of content that you can mine for some time.
What’s more it’s not compulsory. You can decide whether to take part in this activity. If you don’t see the value in it, that’s OK too.
Personally, I embrace the point of view from the anti-content marketing/social media camp. It’s right that marketing’s feet should be held to the fire. Content for contents sake is a huge waste of everybody’s time, money and effort.
Perhaps the backlash is a much needed wake up call. We have to get better. It’s not that people don’t want content. They just know bad content when they see it.
Originally published at 9mmpr.com on November 1, 2016.