The Million Dollar Content Question

One Million Dollar bill
The question of the day, I suppose, because we are on a constant quest to prove and disprove – which in and of itself would be a good thing.

Except for it seems all the proving is focused on one direction and all the disproving in the other – mostly, pointing away from the source of the pseudo-research. Analysis would require the proving/disproving to be part of the research process.

Me? I love perspective and good old fashioned thinking out loud. So I'll start this post by referencing Om Malik's brief recap of his take on the Facebook's $2 billion bet on Oculus: billion dollar dart throwing#.

The question he asks about the spate of recent acquisitions:

[…] is it that both Google and Facebook realize that there is only so much they can do with web-based advertising and ensuing revenue stream?

Resonates with the eventual glass ceiling in advertising as we start to move away from content consumption mainly on the desktop and toward chunking tasks onto smaller screens/apps, under compressed time frames, and under divided attention conditions. They have a billboard for that in San Francisco#, or they will soon.

And staying with the billboard visual for a moment, I once bought a billboard ad for exactly the same reason Malik cites. Part of the reasoning is probably doing cool things for the company to please both the market and the employee base, both emotionally sensitive.

General Colin Powell seems to have done okay with using a combination of data and human judgement. ChiefMartec Scott Brinker says#:

He’s a vocal advocate of leveraging technology and incorporating data into decisions. “I am a glutton for information,” he said. However, when it comes to making decisions with data, he stressed the importance of human interaction and judgment. “It is the human element that looks at the data and asks, ‘Does this make sense?’”

Brinker himself is not afraid to confront the facts and new information and to use his experience to ground his take on convergence in marketing, technology, and the modern enterprise. You may remember his contribution to Marketing in 2014.

That rigid approach will cost you; self-serving research will cost your clients.

In a white paper titled Marketing Gurus and Fads – how to avoid them, Dr. John Dawes explains how “Marketing abounds with ‘fads’ – which over-promise and under-deliver. Courtesy of Aite Group senior analyst Ron Shevlin#, we now have a handy reference point. 

My money is on the following quote by Shevlin himself:

They’re not willing to accept the fact that marketing is hard. It’s a science (or could be) and an art (or should be). Not willing to accept the fact that human behavior is complex, and that defining, designing, and executing marketing strategies that seek to shape and capitalize on these complex behaviors is hard.

Making the product better is hard. Making the experience better takes work. Simplifying takes more time than filling up the screen, etc. etc. etc.

Hope me quoting people who are alive and working is not a turnoff, after all we much prefer to share wisdom from the people who fought their battles at a safe distance of decades or centuries and who are often very dead.

Unless of course, a new research study is published#. Then we dive in like flies to honey and go from zero to opinion without questioning the data. Foremski knows better. This is what he says:

The results paint a poor picture for the performance of content marketing by brands, and new trends such as native advertising, which seeks to look similar to trusted content. Here are some of the findings:

– 85 percent of consumers regularly or occasionally seek out trusted expert content — credible, third-party articles and reviews — when considering a purchase.

– 69 percent of consumers like to read product reviews written by trusted experts

– 67 percent of consumers agree that an endorsement from an unbiased expert makes them more likely to consider purchasing.

I don't have all night so I'll just point out a couple of obvious parts to think about. The study is about consumer brand awareness.

How many experts do you talk to before you buy toilet paper? Arugula? Tortellini? Chewing gum? It's a legitimate question, apparently 85% of consumers do it "regularly" or "occasionally" (I highlighted the words to help you notice them) – which one is which?

Now I am curious to find out what the rest of consumers do. Do we/don't we trust experts? Might we skew in favor of our experience for some things and data for others? Just thinking out loud here…

And yes, I have been reading Malik, Brinker, and Shevlin because they do ask good questions and do the proving/disproving bit as part of the process. Of course, our points of view differ – we do have different experience, after all. So do your customers', by the way. Hence why marketing is hard work.

The Million Dollar Content question stands

For that, I will refer to a recent post by Faris Yakob#, because he asked the question well:

I just don't think content, or any thing, should be the only thing we consider, when looking to solve problems, or reach people.

[…] For digital things, the distinction has becomes super blurry […].

And for non-digital things, marketing should be about making better products, and fixing stupid ecosystems, as well as making  stories that stir the heart and get spread […]

Digital utilities and products as a kind of proxy for when marketers cannot fix the experience readily or while they are.

I have sat in that chair for many years, I know the cold, hard organizational reality is often at odds with the desire and ambition to make the product better.

It is a constant negotiation – especially when talking about trying something. Which is why the most-asked question is "who else is doing this?" Innovators are labeled as such later, in retrospect, connecting the dots, as Steve Jobs once famously said.

They are prepared to look at the question differently, and to use their experience to test hypotheses. Brinker, a CTO, calls it agile marketing, borrowing from agile software development, I call it "responsive strategy" borrowing from responsive design and my years working alongside UXD pros talking to customers and to brands in our research to prove/disprove.

Yakob's experience informs his thinking:

The true promise of this newly talking, broadcasting, collective of unique individuals that we call consumers, is being felt in the kinds of businesses that are being built in the stream, as it were.

The kinds of businesses and brands that keep their promises, despite the various temptations to cut corners, believe in incomplete research that infers conclusions from high level behavioral trends, react to buzz, virality, and the mirage of a silver bullet.

This is a quick take to connect a few threads form the Interwebs – a source of useful, educational, and entertaining content of all kinds.

It is filter failure when we fail to make sense of what we read.


My thoughts on what makes a good blog.

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