Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
April 12, 2012 8:09 PM

The Drug Of Content

At what point will the proverbial levee break?

Marketers are busy telling their clients to start producing content or suffer the wrath of becoming irrelevant. My hand is raised and my head is bowed down in shame. Content needs to be created for a captive audience and we may - very well - be selling a bill of goods here. Should brands act more like publishers? Yes, they should but we have to monitor this situation very closely. We're asking a lot of brands. We're telling brands to create content. Short content (be on Twitter!) and long content (blog! and blog often). We're telling brands to make videos (post them on YouTube and Vimeo and they don't have to be only sixty seconds long!) and we're telling brands to start their own radio shows (Podcasting! Still a massive opportunity for brands!).

We're asking even more of consumers.

What is the point of advertising? Advertising's function is to create awareness. Consumers need to know when a new type of toilet paper is on the market. If we trust that they'll look at every product on the toilet paper shelves on every visit to their local merchant, we wouldn't have to advertise. Instead, we need to make that message stand out and have it's own unique space. This new type of toilet paper must stand out from the other toilet paper. Beyond that, is there any additional information to share? Is it the toilet paper company's fault that other brands, products and services have all come to the same realization that they need to capture your attention - if but for a brief moment in time - to inform you that they exist? Do you need a Facebook page for this? Do you need a mobile app for that? Content is a great way to create awareness as well, but this type of awareness truly needs to have a special kind of meaning and depth to it. Why? Because the same consumers that are inundated with advertising are not being inundated with content. That's a lot of messaging.

Why does your content need meaning and depth?

Because, in a world where a brand is now curating content, publishing content and is a media entity onto itself, it's critical that we - the marketers - take one step back and ask ourselves: "are we asking too much of our consumers?" Beyond that, are we asking even more of those who aren't even our consumers yet? This is what happens in a world where anyone can publish their thoughts in text, images, audio and video instantly and for free to the world. It becomes a game where brands are jumping in the pool because every other brand is jumping in the pool.

What does that get you?

Mediocrity at best, but junk is the more likely outcome. Prior to the social web, how many advertorials did you read that were so captivating that you could not help but rip it out of the magazine (or newspaper) and share it with friends and colleagues? Admit it, it's not easy to recall a scenario like that (if you've had one, please feel free to share it below in the comments section). There are so few companies with the levity to admit that the quality of their content can't match the quantity that they are producing. Have you ever walked to the back of a conference hall building and seen the bags and dumpsters of corporate white papers, testimonials and articles that are left shortly after the trade show floor shuts down? You can blame bringing too many copies along as one excuse, but the sad reality is that the content didn't captivate.

Kill the content.

You heard me: kill the content. Step away from the publish button and take a breather. Instead of looking at your content calendar or barking at someone in your organization to tweet more frequently, take a fifteen minute siesta and ask yourself this one question: what great stories can we tell? Stop thinking about content as the endgame and consider (even if but for a moment) that the content is the container, but the true value is the stories that you tell. You can condemn a company like Apple for not being all that social, but you can't deny that their brand and the products tell a wonderful story. The same is true for the brands that we highlight as success stories with each passing day. Zappos tells us great stories about creating happiness. BlendTec makes us laugh by telling stories about how the things we love can be destroyed in their blenders. Dell doesn't just try to sell you a computer, they have people online helping you get better at using (and understanding) technology.

Even the ads can do it.

Marketers will often say that the best ads are the ones that tell stories. While you can easily shoot back with a, "duh, tell me something I don't know," take a cold hard look at all of your marketing collateral and ask yourself if you're telling a story worthy of being told, or are you telling a story just to get something sold? Personally, I think that brands and content and great stories are just beginning to get good. Now, because the have the tools, channels and distribution platforms, real magic can happen (and you don't even need to buy ad space to let the world know). My hope is that brands start reinvesting is great stories instead of investing in people to Blog and tweet, simply because everybody else is doing it or because someone told them that it's all about content.

It's not all about content. It's all about stories. It's not all about stories. It's all about great stories. Go create some great stories. Please.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Sheila Gregory
    Mitch Joel

    I think comedy in video still works even when there isn't much of a story. Just saw the latest Blendtec video with the Harlem Globetrotters. That whole campaign really is an amazing story. My prediction: More and more content will be video - less text.

    Reply
  • Posted by Eric Ungs
    Mitch Joel

    Brands are becoming publishing companies for the sake of becoming a publishing company. Why? Because as you state above everyone else is doing it. I think the core, the foundation, for any brand becoming content creators is purpose. If you can articulate your brands purpose in everything you do stories are made. You nailed it saying its not just content. It might not really be about content at all, content is just a facet of your purpose, its one of the means to share your brands stories.

    I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.

    Thanks for the insightful post. Definitely got me staring off in space thinking.

    @EricUngs

    Reply
  • Posted by Tony lewis
    Mitch Joel

    I have a winery in bc and recently hosted an event for a business cub sultans company. The big boss gave me a copy of your book. It it a copy of what I do offline... I am so inspired to take my brand to the same level on line. Please keep doing what you are doing and I will be a loyal customer and sales rep for your work, thank you. Word up

    Reply
  • Posted by Tom Asacker
    Tom Asacker

    Create great stories, stories others want to share. Exactly! Keep exposing the reality of the marketplace Mitch.

    Reply
  • Posted by Kevin Dubrosky
    Mitch Joel

    Another well-written article, Mitch.

    Thanks for the hard work you put into it.

    Your comment near the end that "Marketers will often say that the best ads are the ones that tell stories." is accurate, but reflects the weak and ineffective typical ad agency mindset:

    "Exposure equals success."

    The express purpose of any agency or marketing expert must be to move product.

    Telling stories is only smart if it results in sales.
    Using digital media is only smart if it results in sales.
    Creating content is only smart if it results in sales.

    Marketing and advertising must be measured by sales.

    Not goodwill.
    Not eyeballs.
    And not the quality of the stories.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    I blog for a start-up in an established industry. We have a product that can compete with more mature companies, but under a different business model that benefits the consumer. For the last year a large part of my efforts have been to cultivate an audience using social media tools like our blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.. I can tell you that breaking through the torrent of "content" that is being created and shared in the eContent space is extremely difficult. Most, not all, but most people are not extremely selective on who they follow, unless you are a pro in this field. So, the B2B folks I am trying to reach are follow 100's, maybe 1000's of people. The posts, tweets, etc. just fly by. Mine included. Now that everyone has the ability, not everyone should be creating content. Re-tweeting and re-posting content just multiplies the problem many fold. You article resonated with me and certain pulled me up short to rethink my own strategy. Thanks for the insight that helped me confirm what I was observing and experiencing.

    Reply
  • Posted by Kevin Behringer
    Mitch Joel

    I got through the first paragraph of this article and said, "YES!" (Well, in my head at least) That is why there's so much crap content out there and why we're so overwhelmed - because we're telling brands/marketers/you name it, that they need to create content.

    Content, content, content.

    True, creating compelling content is a great way to build a brand, but it's got to be compelling. So many put out content just to put it out, and then wonder why it's not successful. They never bother to look at the fact that they essentially just put 500 more words in an ad that people were already ignoring and published it to their blog.

    I think a lot of this gets back to the decision makers thinking they'll be "with it" if they start developing content or "do social," but apply the same tactics they used in traditional advertising - proving that they don't understand the medium.

    I've long been a proponent of finding how you fit in a market with your content - and it may not be your product. It's giving people what they want, not what you want to tell them. Marketing with content is not about shoving messages down peoples' throats (as you so rightly point out). It's about providing them with something interesting - something that they wouldn't have seen if it weren't for you or your brand.

    As @unmarketing says, "People spread awesome."

    Kevin

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    This post comes on a day when I'm about to lead a discussion around whether blogging is still relevant. When asked, most of our attendees say time and lack of ideas around content are what's keeping them from blogging more.

    You and many others, myself included, believe in the value of creating content. Yet here you're also saying what I and so many others experience. Content for its own sake may or may not have value.

    I know I'm not listening to as many podcasts or reading as many blogs as I have done in the past. I'm certainly not blogging as much as I used to. But when I do blog, there is more intention behind it. This post seems to indicate that just creating content isn't enough. It needs to be interesting.

    I fear that many will see this further as another reason not to be in the practice of creating content so that it can become better over time.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    I agree with the idea that publishing great stories trumps content; however, I think the people that preach "publish content" are commenting more on the idea that--despite the numbers--brands are not as involved as they should be with content creation.

    Money is spent on the core strategies--PPC, e-mail, direct mail--because these projects are systematic and easily quantifiable. When you start getting into brand equity and the actual costs of creating content (much less the difficulty), companies deter to what is comfortable and known.

    I think there is something to say about regularly saturating all channels in which your customers participate. There may be industries out there consisting of those that are more influenced by omni-channel messaging than having to seek out the stories of a brand.

    Great post,

    Evan VanDerwerker
    http://www.evanvanderwerker.com

    Reply
  • Posted by Dave Young
    Mitch Joel

    Story is king. I agree wholeheartedly. Getting a CEO to tell a story is a so powerful. The problem is that so many of them simply don't have time, can't seem to make the time, or don't have the skills to write...seriously, many CEOs have incredible leadership and delegation skills to compensate for things such as dyslexia or just poor spelling and grammar. That's why we use a podcast model to generate the raw content...the podcast ends up as a by-product because we have professional editors who re-write the story as if the CEO wrote it. But, the CEO ends up only spending about an hour per month to generate 1,000 words per week in expert story content.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jeff Ogden
    Mitch Joel

    Kind of wondered where you were going with this, but your advice of slowing down, thinking and telling GREAT stories struck a cord with me. MarketingProfs found that most companies struggle with creating engaging content. But those same companies create a flood of mediocre content.

    To tell great stories, find great story-tellers.

    Marketing Made Simple TV premiers on May 1, by the way.

    Jeff

    Reply
  • Posted by Sachin Dabir
    Sachin Dabir

    Great stories create impact and help achieve the result that is intended. But not everyone is great storyteller.
    FB, Twitter, Blogs are the tools that encourage creating contents giving the feeling that you are making efforts to reach out to people.
    It is very true that too much of so called content is being generated, but I feel we are seeing just the beginning of it.
    The challenge of 'being heard' and 'being taken note of' would be compounded multifold in coming days.
    Just generating Great Stories would be good enough or would we need something more ?

    Reply
  • Posted by Mikel
    Mitch Joel

    Great post!

    I work with a lot of small local businesses who just want to sale without a story. What is interesting is the brands that focus on the story are making more sales!

    This is great, glad I ran across it.

    Thanks.

    Reply
  • Posted by Brian Crouch
    Mitch Joel

    Everything you said is true, but there's a balance. Relevant content can have value even if not widely disseminated, if it helps a potential contact to find you via search. That said, even that search-focused content should deliver value and a story, and should be created with humans and not just searchbots in mind.

    Reply
  • Posted by Tod Hirsch
    Mitch Joel

    Thank you for articulating so well, what needed to be said!

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    Apple is always a good example Mitch, I use them all the time for this simple reason: stories. They don't sell, they don't tell, they show. They don't play lip service to looking different or seeming different, they actually are different. They live and breathe different; the products, services are the story they tell, great ones. People connect to those stories, relate to how those products can help them with their own stories (work, play) and they sell. FWIW.

    Reply
  • Posted by Rob Mac Neil
    Mitch Joel

    Great read if I understand correctly: quality over quality. Although I was a bit confused by the statement, "... this type of awareness [content marketing] truly needs to have a special kind of meaning and depth to it. Why? Because the same consumers that are inundated with advertising are not being inundated with content. That's a lot of messaging." It seems like you meant to say, 'are ALSO being inundated with content', did I misread the context?

    Reply
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