Content Is (a Misunderstood and Diverse) King(dom)

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Content: Do it right.
Content: Do it right.

“We are all about content.”

SurePayroll Vice President of Marketing Scott Brandt shared that point—numerous times—when we spoke about the ways his software-as-a-service business, a subsidiary of payroll software company PayChex, manages the customer experience to enhance customer loyalty. [Watch for “Are You (Customer) Experienced?” to be posted on April 1.]

Brandt is hardly alone in touting the importance of content; what sets him apart is the sensitivity and precision with which he and his team define, manage, and share content with their customers.  Brandt constantly describes content with qualifiers like “relevant,” “timely,” “targeted,” and “aligned with our strategic messages.”

Too few marketers make or manage these distinctions. Content-thirsty marketing functions that define and manage content in a clunky manner are, at best, missing out on major opportunities; at worse, they're turning off customers and likely driving them to competitors who have a more refined publishing touch.

A mindful content approach recognizes the following concepts:

  • Content is a proxy.

Whenever I hear a desperate-sounding marketer clamor for content, I immediately ask “Why?” And if they reply, as they often do, by saying, “To build a community,” I repeat my question. Why are you building a community? What type of community? To what end? One perfectly valid answer is to generate more revenue. Another perfectly valid, and longer-sighted, response is to build trust.

  • Content is for consumers, not creators.

Sunil Gupta, the head of the Harvard Business School's marketing unit, laments that the bulk of marketing content on mobile devices is as incongruent (and ineffective) as early 1950s TV commercials that “featured narrators reading what were essentially radio advertisements.” In his March 2013 Harvard Business Review article on mobile advertising, Gupta reports that mobile users spend 42 percent of their device time on games and entertainment; that's why, he argues, Red Bull's mobile gaming apps are far more effective than shrunken banner adds. Red Bull is giving its content consumers what they want. Are your case studies, blog entries, white papers, e-newsletters and tweets doing the same?

  • Content comes in many value variations.

I have a friend who shall remain invisible that makes a tidy living ghostwriting for leading services and software firms. As the B2B business magazines that these firms' leading thinkers used to be cited in thin out, these firms have built their own publishing operations, putting out how-to columns, articles, webcasts, podcasts, and whitepapers that show customers and prospects how to manage various risks and leverage various opportunities. The most effective of these content vehicles are devoid of any advertising or direct marketing. Their purpose is to build credibility and trust, which they apparently do quite well. My friend no longer needs to advertise because so many companies approach him for his content strategy and writing services each week. I have another acquaintance who makes an even better living through his firm's search engine optimization (SEO) offerings. The SEO guy pays his writers (most of whom are based overseas) less than $10 per hour to churn out, in his words, “[stuff] you'd never want to read.” My ghost-writing buddy, who charges by the project, earns a lawyerly $400 per hour for his expertise. The problem arises when companies use the content famers to try to produce higher-value forms of content or the elite content-producers to pen high-volume content that could be farmed out for a fraction of the price. 

There are many more content misconceptions, as well as some blatant missteps.  A year ago I spoke to an accounting software COO who counted his fast-growing firm's need for content among several pressing challenges, including software piracy. When I pointed out that his site contained several copyrighted articles purloined from an industry publication's website, he shrugged off the legal and reputation risk, saying, “If we get a cease-and-desist, we'll take those down.”

In our “everyone can be their own publisher” era, it has become increasingly valuable to understand content like SurePayroll's Brandt does. Cultivating this understanding starts by producing a thoughtful definition of content—what it means to you and, more important, what you want it to mean to your audiences. 


reelance writer Eric Krell has several other invisible friends.


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