This Christmas, I’d like you to drop a sack of coal down the chimneys of all the naughty boys and girls who create hollow buzz phrases and try to pass them off as aphorisms of astounding insight.
‘If someone doesn’t want to share it, you might as well not create it.’
Look at that sentence. To the modern marketing audience, it has everything. It’s succinct, there’s symmetry to it, it rolls off the tongue and it appears to sum up everything you need to know about creating branded content. As with most marketing buzz phrases, however, there’s little to it other than outward form.
This particular gem was part of a presentation given at the CMA’s Content Marketing Summit in November. The presenter punctuated each word, mid-air, with a clenched fist, paused, gave it a moment for the drama to breathe, and then watched as 500 sets of fingers went to work, tapping it into their notebooks. I sat and watched, a sense of unease all about me.
To my mind, this handful of words sums up much that is wrong about creating content for brands. It holds at its core the idea that viral content should always be the goal, and it’s this premise that must be held to account for the sewer of sludge that gets pumped onto the internet every day. ‘Going viral’ is a byproduct of having created good work; rarely is it the reason for making it in the first place.
Plenty of quality content is created without shareability as a central ingredient, and long may that be the case. If I arrive on a financial website looking for information that explains what an ISA really is, I’m looking for an easily understood, informative answer, not something that tries to make me ‘lol' and share with all my bezzies. Similarly, a piece of content that helps me get the most out of my overly complicated smartphone should fundamentally do just that: help me. I respond to it because it serves the purpose I had expected of it, not because it might grab me a few more points on the Klout scale.
Even so-called ‘shareable’ content, done well, has a central, audience-driven purpose to it. Take BuzzFeed, for example. The content exists to distract and to entertain – that’s the reason for its existence. That it does it well is the reason for its shareability. There are plenty of sites that try the same trick and fail miserably, but because BuzzFeed understands its audience perfectly, it is rewarded with the time in the sun that it’s currently enjoying.
In 2014, I hope to see more content creators put their audience first. Branded content works well when you consider who you’re talking to as much as you understand what you’re talking about. It’s about being self-aware. Brands need to understand what it is that they share with their audience – the basis of the relationship – and consider how they can create content that helps to build trust and longevity. They need to learn to talk around their subject rather than blather on about themselves.
So, dear Santa, if it’s not asking too much, I’d like you to coal-sack the naughties I mentioned earlier, and bring me a 2014 in which content marketing conferences feature speakers who have developed a strong understanding of what they’re working with, rather than those who have mastered the art of the empty aphorism.
Lots of love,