Content Is Crap

Greg Satell’s HBR Content Is Crap post is so important (for content marketers and online merchants) I’m going to riff my comments in BLUE below. Found Greg’s post from #mustfollow curator Cendrine Marrout’s G+ page.

Greg’s Post with Curagmai Comments in Blue

Greg’s Post

Until fairly recently, the options for marketers were relatively limited. Mass media — TV especially — offered the opportunity to reach millions, but only in the form of short ads sandwiched between lots of other stuff. Other tactics, such as trade shows, offered high engagement, but low reach.

Digital technology and social media have offered the best of both worlds — the ability to reach, and engage, millions of people. Nike videos on YouTube routinely attract more than 10 million views. Coke has nearly 100 million followers on Facebook. Red Bull has its TV channel.

Yet despite these scattered successes, there is mounting evidence that most marketers’ content efforts are failing.  The Content Marketing Institute reports that although the majority of B2B andB2C marketers have some kind of content marketing program, less than 40% find those efforts effective.  Clearly, things need to improve.  Here are four places to start, based on the most common mistakes I see digital marketers make:

Curagami Comment

Not a HUGE surprise most content marketers aren’t satisfied with results. When you talk to yourself about yourself no one CARES and frustration sets in.

“Why aren’t customers listening or engaging,” frustrated marketers used to  instant fixes provided by how we USED to market well described by Greg’s introduction think. Two things are always true: your customers care more about THEIR needs than yours and yet they have that strange human desire to JOIN something bigger than themselves.


Greg’s Post

1. Recognize that content is crap. 
The idea that content is king, in its current usage, comes from a remarkably prescient 1995 essay by Bill Gates in which he called the internet — still an emerging technology at the time — a marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products. He then proceeded to make failed investments in Encarta, MSN, andMSNBC (MSNBC became profitable after he divested).

Think about that. Bill Gates, a man of extraordinary talent and fortune, who succeeded brilliantly in just about anything he has ever done, saw with remarkable accuracy how the future would play out, put his money behind it, and failed spectacularly.

The problem is that content isn’t king and content is crap.

We never call anything that’s good “content.” Nobody walks out of a movie they loved and says, “Wow!  What great content!”  Nobody listens to “content” on their way to work in the morning.  Do you think anybody ever called Ernest Hemingway a “content creator”?  If they did, I bet he would punch ‘em in the nose.

Yet while content — a commodity to be acquired, distributed, and leveraged — remains a fiction in the minds of business planners, digital technology has given marketers enormous opportunities to publish and produce. To take advantage of those opportunities, marketers need to shift their mental models and think more like publishers.

Curagami Comment
I agree! I would go Greg one better. I wrote a popular piece for – Red Bull’s Branding Lessons – We Are All Media Companies Now. Red Bull is more than a publisher. Red Bull is a COMMUNITY of like-minded extreme sports artists and content creators brought to a common MOVEMENT – the desire to push limits and impress one another. Create such a community and curation becomes how you publish. Curation means you’ve built relationships that matter. Curation means people love you, your content and want to be part of your “movement”. 


Greg’s Post

2. Hold attention, don’t just grab it. After decades of creating advertising, many marketers have built up strong skill sets in some content-related areas. Most have learned their way around the design studio and the video production set. Many have built up web development and user experience capabilities. So creating engaging content doesn’t seem like it should be much of a challenge.

The problem is that content is not a long-form version of advertising. Marketing campaigns are designed to “cut through the clutter” and grab attention. A witty gecko lizard with a cockney accent, a talking tiger, or even just a snappy jingle can raise awareness and sell product. But that’s no longer enough.

Today, marketers need to build an ongoing relationship with consumers and that means holding attention, not just grabbing it.  To get people to subscribe to a blog, YouTube channel, or social media feed, you need to offer more than a catchy slogan or a clever stunt. You need to offer real value, and offer it consistently.

To do this, brands need to start with a clear mission and think seriously about the experience they want to create.  Success will not come from putting a clever spin on facts, but rather by uncovering powerful stories and telling them well.

Two thoughts here. Connecting with your WHY, the reasons you started your company, brand, product and service in the first place is critical to content creation. This is why your About Page is arguably the most important content any online marketer ever creates.

Is your content “binge-worthy” is our other thought. Greg discusses developing a relationship. Netflix noticed that customers were spending extended viewing on beloved series such as Breaking Bad, True Blood and Game of Thrones. These shows create content so compelling customers spend their most valuable un-renewable asset (time) to consume their content in extended viewing marathons. Addictive content is a level of  “GREAT” few can imagine must less consistently earn.

binge – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Greg’s Post

3. Don’t over-optimize metrics. Marketers optimize their campaigns for particular metrics, usually some combination of awareness, sales or advocacy. For the most part, this is a reasonably good way to go about things. It directs strategy towards action and instills accountability into the process. Clients and executives, understandably, want to know that they are getting a solid return on their investment.

Yet it’s also easy to confuse measurement with meaning.

For instance, a few years ago, over-attention to pageviews drove marketers and publishers alike to use clickbait headlines. The problem, as BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith has explained, is that publishers who are optimizing for pageviews — which are really just clicks — are betraying the reader’s trust. The best headlines, he argues, are ones that offer a promise to readers and then over-deliver.

Marketers have a variety of metrics to evaluate what they publish and produce, including page views, video views, length of viewing, social media shares, and on and on. Yet none of that will tell you whether you have communicated a clear promise and are delivering on it. Optimize for mission, not for metrics.

Knowing how metrics tie to one another, a concept we shared in Make Buffer’s Social Failure Your Success is a CSF (Critical Success Factor) for successful online marketing. Metrics aren’t static. Today’s rising tide metrics can become tomorrow’s seesaw metric. And when metrics move from one state to another, from rising tide to seesaw PAIN usually follows.

No once can determine the dependent relationships your business, website and branding bring. How your traffic is tied to conversions (however set) can be very different than how my team and I set up our Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) when I was a Director of Ecommerce. The real ART and SCIENCE of becoming a great online marketer is sensing, setting up and evolving a site’s metrics so your actions, your content marketing, becomes better faster.  

Greg’s Post

4. Understand that publishing is a product, not a campaign.

Marketers launch campaigns for a variety of reasons, like promoting a new product, driving sales for a promotion, or picking up their net promoter score. These are all valid objectives and traditional campaigns are well suited to achieving them. Yet as I noted above, publishing offers marketers the ability to hold attention, not just grab it.

That’s especially important in a digital environment because every consumer action related to a campaign can be tracked by competitors, allowing them to retarget customers who show an intent to purchase. In effect, if you restrict marketing activity to promotional campaigns, you will end up providing your rivals with a free lead generation service.

Publishing is different. It’s not a promotion; but is more akin to product development. That means clearly defining an editorial mission, identifying benchmarks, and establishing a clear structure.

WOW, those sentences is why I decided to riff Greg’s post. The emphasis above is mine. You may want to read that sentence a few times. You may want to hum those sentences like a mantra. Thinking about content as a product, a product you evolve from feedback, sets your C level’s mindset right.

Thinking of content as if it is an ad or Stimulus-Response slot machine will frustrate. TIME and YOU are the tow big variables. NO content effort worth anything happens fast. Great “binge-worthy” content takes TIME because you (the content creator) need to learn, listen and experiment. Learning takes TIME. As you get better more happens faster, but there is no free lunch. You PAY FOR content marketing with of resources AND TIME. 

Greg’s Post

Unlike a TV campaign or digital, where you can expect an immediate benefit that dissipates almost as quickly, brand publishing establishes an ongoing, trustful relationship with consumers that lasts beyond the present sales cycle.

Most of all, marketers need to create a compelling experience. Again, that doesn’t happen overnight. For marketers to become successful publishers, we need to look beyond this quarter’s objectives or the next campaign and treat our editorial mission as seriously as we do that of our brands.

GREAT post with important insight in how a content marketer’s mindset must change to create “content” customers love. Greg is right. We don’t call things we love “content”. Make no mistake. LOVE is the goal. Love creates the powerful relationships Greg’s post mentions. LOVE sets up the tribal nature needed for a successful online community.

If I have a single bone to pick with Greg’s post it comes in a single word – community. Without at least a nod to a higher purpose even things we love fade. I LOVED watching Breaking Bad until my binging made the template repetitive. I “joined” the movement, but lost that loving feeling over time.

Habituation means even great art, art we love, can become less relevant or valuable to our lives NOW. The ONLY WAY we know to keep “content” moving is to hand creation keys over to tribe members. Moving a team from CREATORS to CURATORS is a difficult but necessary transition few make well and fewer still understand why or when.