Content Is More Than King – Content is Currency

Posted: October 12, 2010 in Content, Search, Social Media
Tags: , , , ,

Most people don’t realize that I started my career in the music industry. Prior to my ventures in the digital marketing industry, I founded and managed a couple of independent labels and also ran a division of one of the larger independent distributors in the US. I learned many valuable lessons about business back then, but the one lesson that has best stood up to the test of time is that content can be a currency. This was is true for music, and it is true for web-based content today. But just what do I mean by “Content is Currency”?

Content in the Attention Economy

As marketers, we must understand the attention economy. As media fragments, attention becomes scarce. Content becomes the conduit to earn consumer attention – it becomes the currency, if you will, that creates the marketer’s side of the value exchange.

The cries of Content is King have reverberated through the halls of agencies and media companies forever. However, sometimes, content value seems to be misinterpreted by marketers as production quality, clarity of the marketing message or brand voice.  At the very least,  the definition of “high quality” content has become such a given that it is  not properly planned for, thus resulting in content that can easily have little relevancy or value to the consumer.

While  compelling content buys attention in all media, digital media presents the opportunity of discoverability, one of the unique  and most valuable attributes of the web in general. Most notably, search and social media play the largest roles in consumers discovering brand relevancy and value via content.  Search explicitly matches consumer interest and demand with content and products. Social media  on the other hand implicitly facilitates discoverability via sharing. Social media both further fragments attention and facilitates discovery of relevant content through the social graph at the same time. When consumers find content relevant and compelling, the psychology of human interaction and the  mathematics of network theory facilitate sharing. At a certain scale the content “goes viral”. Folks, viral is a result and not a tactic, but the goal should always be to produce compelling content that consumers value.

Do You Have a Content Strategy?

When planning your company’s content strategy, here are a few vital elements to not forget.

  • Frequency: if content is a currency, you might as well have a lot of it. More importantly, develop an editorial calendar for your different types of content across owned, earned and paid media.
  • Relevancy: for content to be compelling it has to be relevant to the consumer. Content should also be somewhat related to your product category or the lifestyles in which your product is used. Don’t forget that for some channels, like email, elements of relevancy come in the form of personalization.
  • Voice: without getting into the specific type of content (videos, blogs, tweets, mashups, or any other experiential content type), every brand needs to develop a voice beyond that of the brand voice. Are you going to be funny and witty, serious and informative, irreverent and unexpected? A little of each? This will tactically drive the content. Of course, there are some givens – like, humorous content often facilitates sharing. But it all has to be on strategy.
  • Authenticity: consumers want to see the personality behind the contrived brand voice. A little human authenticity goes a long way. Marketers are human too – at least most of us are. There is a place for the brand voice – know where it belongs and where it doesn’t.
  • Transparency: Consumers want to feel like they can trust your brand. They want to know more about the inner workings of the companies they chose to support. Consumers know that they are being marketed to in all facets of media, don’t hide the fact that you still want their business, but prove that you are willing to earn it. We all make mistakes, consumers want to know that you acknowledge that when necessary and that you learn and apologize. They’ll support you, within reason.
  • Immediacy: consumers expect an immediate response to negative news, as well as rampant and even individual customer service inquiries or complaints.  The immediatecy response plan needs to include all owned media (ie: your website or blog, social spokes like Facebook or Twitter, and CRM channels). This is a prime example of how PR, customer service and general marketing communications have all merged.
  • Discoverability: take the time to map out the distribution channels of your content and optimize the discoverability of each channel. Blogs, for example, provide excellent search engine visibility; Facebook’s open graph and api’s from all of the popular social platforms make sharing easy; while a recruitment and engagement strategy for specific social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube build a base of consumers with an interest in your brand who are potentially willing to share it across their social graphs.

From a strategy perspective, prioritizing content just may be one of the most cost effective, albeit unsexy, line items on your next marketing plan, if it is not formally there already. Content as a currency creates the value exchange for consumer attention, which marketers spend billions of dollars for otherwise. Social media and your content strategy are not replacements for advertising and promotions, but part of a holistic marketing mix,  boosting brand perception and  trust, which doesn’t come easily these days. Additionally, the discoverability of valuable content can help reach consumers who are light users of other media.

So does your brand have a formal content strategy?

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Comments
  1. Jeff Holly says:

    Great post Jason. This really makes me feel like crap having just finished 2011 planning and having a minor if any content staretgy. You are right about how valuable content is in the new marketing world we live in. Is launching a blog enough to start?

    • Jason Heller says:

      Hi Jeff –

      I’m finding that most clients have not realized how vitally important content is as a conduit to consumers. So, you are not alone.

      A blog is one tactical piece of the puzzle, but definitely worth doing if you are committed to regular posting. Frequency matters. You’ll need to assign a resource internally (potentially even yourself for now), develop a policy/guideline on what you will be blogging about and how to respond to comments, and an editorial calendar would be nice so that you have a roadmap of the content that you will be posting.

      Of course the bigger picture content strategy can use the blog as an [owned media] hub, and over time you can add additional resources to it. The blog will boost SEO and “discoverability” in general, and the posts can be fed or manually shared to your social spokes like Facebook and Twitter. If you have access to or can create video content or assets, a YouTube channel is another additional to that mix, and they all are both interconnected and independent simultaneously.

      Try to develop a plan rather than winging it – but do go for it. Content is your friend 🙂

      • Tom Cunniff says:

        Jason, what you write here makes sense. The challenge is that the world is already drowning in content, and that’s going to get worse — not better. The most difficult commodity to maximize will be consumer attention. How can you make your needle of advertising information stand out in this digital haystack?

        So far, the conventional wisdom has been to generate more content and/or to try to anticipate what sort of content will get attention. But this only makes the content glut worse.

        My guess is that quality will ultimately trump quantity. As usual, perhaps the best advice is the advice our parents gave us when we were very young: “go make yourself useful” 🙂

        More about the content glut is here: http://www.jackmyers.com/commentary/tom-cunniff/84015777.html

      • Jason Heller says:

        Hey Tom –

        Indeed, fragmentation begets more fragmentation, as we seek solutions by creating more content. Totally agreed.

        The moral of this post is best summed up in your line “quality will ultimately trump quantity.” Our parents advice was right!

        Ultimately ads will be ads, not content, although sometimes the line blurs (or so we like to tell ourselves). Most marketers have historically not had to worry about actual content strategies, but with the proliferation of discoverable channels through search and sharing, marketers are being forced to rethink content. I think it’s a step pretty far outside the comfort zone for most.

  2. Tim McHale says:

    Jason,

    Great post. My favorite line is, “Folks, viral is a result and not a tactic, but the goal should always be to produce compelling content that consumers value.” I think the goal is always to produce compelling content, though things go awry in it’s development or it never was relevant to begin with. I agree with you. Your list of elements that go into making content truly great stands out as this article’s real value.

    You are a pleasure to read.

    mchale

  3. Jeff Pundyk says:

    Jason,

    when you talk about content, you need to really be clear about what you mean…if content is explicit marketing material, i.e. about your firm’s capabilities or products, that’s one thing, but if it’s more implicit marketing, i.e., positioning the firm as a thought leader on some relevant topic, then you need to add another bullet point: credibility. It’s hard to resist the temptation to sell, but in this context, that’s a source of credibility, as is pointing to other credible sources, even, dare i say it?, to competitors.

    • Jason Heller says:

      Hi Jeff – GREAT point to add Credibility to this list. But i think that from the consumer perspective, experience sometimes trumps, or maybe even creates, credibility. From the B2B perspective, credibility is more of a prerequisite to the experience in many cases.

      The post was definitely referring to content mainly from the implicit perspective – whereby a marketer is providing information of value or some type of experiential value to the consumer as the conduit to attention.

  4. Jeff Pundyk says:

    very true — experience does create credibility, and fair point about the b2b space as well. I’d add that on the social grid, your network’s recommendations do as much to establish credibility as brand does — and there’s leverage there for those who are thoughtful (and honest) about it.

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