Content is not an End in itself, it’s a Beginning

Better than Free

Content strategy is the writing equivalent of information architecture: a necessary framework to help you right size structural requirements and functionality for a multi-screen and multi-site/network world.

Design of user experience and the parameters for governance, refreshing, and updating the content should be baked into it.

The part we often neglect to address appropriately, even and especially in conjunction with a large site migration or replaforming project, is the question of content creation.

How frequently, stylistically, and by whom is content going to be written, edited, published, integrated, shared, and retired or upcycled?

The big content shift

In many instances this still remains an open or difficult question for brands. By now most marketers understand the need to help their companies publish more on the brand's site(s), in fact with the adoption of social communications to become media companies themselves.

However, there is (still) no money in content creation.

Many businesses face the challenge of planning for and funding the content creation machine. Because for brands, the lion share of budgets is still allocated to promotion through other media: i.e., ads, publicity placed in various third party channels. Some of the very channels that have been in the content creation business from the start: TV and publications.

Media and entertainment companies have the infrastructure and relationships to create compelling content, and will continue to be able to sell ads against it for this reason alone.

With social, the promise of going direct for brands comes with a big caveat: as long as the content is not just and only promotional and gimmicky.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

When you start a relationship with your customers through content, you'll be able to glean information about what resonates and what doesn't, what you need more of, what you can cut out.

This is good, and has a big upside and even (potential) bigger payoff.

The bad part is that it takes time and resources to get it right. Experimentation on formats should not distract from consistency and from the very act of creation.

A sustainable publishing process and a method to diagnose, test, deploy and measure assets are a frame within which you still need the art of solid communication and storytelling.

Effective channel outreach opens the door for further spreading the ideas, and for that to work, organizations and brands need to learn about, experience, and adapt to the culture and social norms of the outposts or social presences they join.

While good content is a solid calling card, things can get ugly fairly quickly# with a lack of understanding of the situational nuances in social.

Brands are not in the content business

While the content business is a long game, most brands are not in the content-as-business-model business. They are in the business of selling advice, services, products, expertise, and so on.

Content is not an end in itself, it's a beginning — the new door opener, a basis for attracting, connecting, and converting. By storytelling in another form, showcasing enough expertise and research to start a conversation, being useful, providing value and entertainment, teaching, learning, and so on.

Providing an experience through content is a proxy for providing and experience through service and product. These days, the holy grail of direct-to-customer contact is engagement — everyone wants in on the action.

Discovery is a distant second objective, and yet content (and by proxy product and service benefits) discovery is all important to success. Two components to discovery:

  1. social — we are human, and just like people, brands become interesting when we see or learn about someone we respect, admire, value, or like talks about or uses them
  2. appropriate — even then, we might merely make a mental note, unless we find ourselves in a situation when that is exactly what we need, or the right here, right now factor

Both underscore the importance of helping the content get found and shared.

Marketing communications remains a core competency for brands, and even if content is not an end in itself, with the right mindset and execution, with the customer-driven ability to go direct, it can become better than free# by providing immediacy, personalization, interpretation, authenticity, accessibility, embodiment, findability, and the opportunity for patronage.

Kelly makes an important point about findability:

The giant aggregators such as Amazon and Netflix make their living in part by helping the audience find works they love. They bring out the good news of the "long tail" phenomenon, which we all know, connects niche audiences with niche productions. But sadly, the long tail is only good news for the giant aggregators, and larger mid-level aggregators such as publishers, studios, and labels.

The "long tail" is only lukewarm news to creators themselves. But since findability can really only happen at the systems level, creators need aggregators. This is why publishers, studios, and labels (PSL) will never disappear. They are not needed for distribution of the copies (the internet machine does that). Rather the PSL are needed for the distribution of the users' attention back to the works.

Attention has a price — in time, energy, and it is still largely traded with money.

So when you plan your next campaign or program in social, think carefully about content creation, because although it is not an end in itself, it is a beginning. Make it worth it: from conceptualization, to writing, from distributing to socializing and learning what makes it appropriate.


[image from Better than Free manifesto]


Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effects on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.

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