What's your endgame?
You won't be surprised to know that so few brands actually have an answer to that one, specific, question. Without an answer to that question, you wind up getting the type of branded content that we're all being inundated with, day in and day out. It seems like a never-ending slew of silly questions, random polls and worse. Brands are, sadly, playing it safe when it comes to content and, while it is authentic, it lacks any form of life. So, with that, it comes off as a subtle version of advertorial content. Nothing more.
Don't offend anyone.
That's the main issue that brands will face when it comes to publishing content. They embrace apathy. Long ago (back in my music journalism days), I remember Gene Simmons from KISS saying something like: "people either love KISS or hate us with all of their guts, and that's the way we like it." His point was that apathy is plain. It's vanilla. There is no spark. Apathy is death. When was the last time you read a piece of content and it moved you? Moved you to share it? Talk about it? Blog about it? Send it to someone? It probably happens on a daily basis. I see people sharing and commenting on all sorts of compelling content in places like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and on their own blogs, etc... I also know that there are many people who read my blog postings just to laugh at it, be snarky or think that's it dumb. None of that bothers me, because I too (like Gene Simmons) don't embrace apathy. The majority of my content is opinion. My opinion. I have the humility to recognize that my opinion will not be shared by one and all. Brands don't want to offend. Brands want their content to resonate with everyone.
The goal of appeasing everyone is a testament to how quickly it will fail.
Quick: name a song or movie that everyone loves. For every classic you can rattle off, there is an audience (potentially of equal size) that simply thinks that its overrated. The classic line that if you want to please everyone, you wind up pleasing no one is somewhat true in this day and age of content marketing as well. Brands need to embrace the edges. They need to go out and work with people who can create genuine content for them that will resonate with an audience. Not the entire global population, but their, specific, audience. Wanting to speak to teens or moms or divorced dads is not enough. Those segments are now too massive to breakthrough. You need to find those edges (again). We live in a day and age when the content that is created is now all indexable, shareable and findable forever. It's all stored in digital bits and bytes forever for the world to see. Content doesn't just find an audience anymore... now - more than ever - consumers are seeking out content that is relevant to them.
Work from the end.
Go and review all of the content that you're creating and sharing as a brand. Spread it out on the virtual table and take a cold, hard look at it. What do you see? Do you see a legacy or do you simply see a random splattering or varied pieces of content that are being used as a pawn in a game to collect likes, followers and friends? Is this too harsh? It may be, but in a day and age when any brand can publish in short and long form in text, images, audio and video, why is it so challenging to come up with a myriad of examples where brands are creating content that is as compelling as the stuff that Wired, Fast Company and The New York Times puts out (let's not forget about the thousands of excellent independent blogs and podcasts).
The best publishers think about their legacy. They respect their brand name and masthead. They want to ensure that whatever they publish will stand up to the test of time. They hope to honor those that were publishing before them and hope to increase readership and engagement with each and every piece of content that they publish going forward. Do we really think that brands are putting that type of thought and dedication into the content they're publishing? I'm not so sure. The beautiful thing is that it's still early days. A brand can still look at that virtual table filled with their content to date and stop the insanity. They can make some harsh and decisive plans to get serious about what they're publishing. They can stop and realize that there really is no reason why they can't provide something unique, a different opinion and another perspective. If all they're trying to do is sanitize the media or turn a press release into a story, they're missing one of the biggest opportunities that they may ever have: to actually create something that people will seek out and share which, in turn, should make them that much more loyal to their brand.
Content is not about marketing. Content is about the brand legacy that you will leave.