I was recently catching up on a favourite YouTube channel of mine, MoreConsole, which dissects the world of video games in straight-talking, information-packed shorts. Signing off, Alan (the YouTuber), mentioned how more likes on his videos would permit him to create more ‘content’. While the concept made sense, it seemed a strange choice of word – why not ‘videos’ or ‘stories’? It just felt a little bland – and MoreConsole is usually anything but.
It seems that this way of generalising ‘content’ is ubiquitous, as if everything we create has merged into a single, homogenous stream of ‘stuff’. ‘Content’ encompasses everything, from stunning, eye-catching photos, to detailed, thought-provoking stories. By using the umbrella term ‘content’, the shine of each individual facet is dulled, the ability to create a lasting impression replaced by an indifferent expectation for more of the same. We marketers are in part to blame for this, because we made ‘content’ king – in becoming content-obsessed, we’ve taken the magic out of our marketing activity.
Ever since the seismic shift from link-building to earning, brought about by Google’s sequential algorithm updates, we’ve been investigating new ways to create organic visibility. Naturally, this has directly contributed to the growth of content marketing as a channel. This isn’t entirely detrimental; our clients are apportioning more budget for a channel that is less about the direct response and more about growing long-term customer affinity. But we’re rapidly falling out of touch with what makes content successful in the first place; its value to the user.
The issue is simple; with more brands investing in organic search, the rise of digital-first publishers and the blogging revolution, key SERPs are becoming far busier than ever. This means it’s ever harder to be, and importantly, stay, visible for any consistent period of time. To keep providing results for our clients, we marketers switched our focus from taking a risk on a small number of high-value terms, to seizing a competitive advantage on a wider portfolio of lower value keywords. This was validated by moves from Google to reward content-rich websites and penalise those that offered comparatively less variety to their audience.
Out of this sprung the extensive content hubs, providing solutions to every question asked; rich veins of information for any niche or sub-topic that existed. With each new piece, more search territory was claimed. But in making so much available, our audiences became inundated with a wealth of new information. Paradoxically, with this much choice, their attention waned.
So let’s circle back to this idea of ‘content’ being a generic synonym for anything creative or compelling that exists on the web. As users become more advertising-savvy, it’s more vital than ever for brands to build that genuine connection if they want to thrive. But when all that’s created is designated as ‘content’, it’s hard to achieve that. So, how about we drop the term, and start thinking about what really drives the emotional bond we want to have with potential customers?
How do we go about this? First of all, we need to stop publishing for the sake of it. An unexplored niche may prove a good opportunity to be visible for something ahead of your competition, but this ‘filling in the blanks’ approach is likely diluting your brand. While you may be the first to market with these areas, the breadth of content needed to capture a meaningful amount of traffic is probably going to impact the quality of the work. And when a key competitor does move into the space, it’s likely that their answers to the questions will resonate better with users, because they’ve taken more time to formulate their response.
That said, being relevant remains a crucial objective. With the rise of personal assistants, voice search, and other technological developments, we must not underestimate the importance of being able to provide answers at the fingertips of our users. But emphasis in semantic search is shifting from having one specific answer per page to solving the needs of the people you want to reach holistically as an entity. There’s no value in having the answers ready if people don’t care about what you’re saying.
Secondly, we need to resurrect inspiration in a world where virtually (and digitally) anything can be captured and shared. We have the technology to bring consumers into the forefront of everything we do, both metaphorically, by using advanced sets of data to work out what people really want to see, and literally, by creating connected, cross-device and multi-sensory experiences where users can quite literally join in the action live from wherever they are in the world. Crucially, this is only going to get easier to achieve. But such power must be used with restraint.
And with this, we arrive at the final point; despite an abundance of opportunity, we need to tie everything back to a single, key question; how does this benefit the user? With the commotion of content that’s out there, brands will need to truly understand the key ‘moments’ where they can offer true value to consumers, and ensure they arrive visibly on the scene with a story, video or picture that captivates the user on an emotional level.
Ultimately, our audience’s time is rapidly becoming the most sought-after commodity. As the content competition hots up, the opportunities in which to develop a lasting connection are becoming less frequent, and more intrinsically linked to long-term success. As each point of interaction becomes harder for marketers to access via paid activity, we need to turn towards crafting experiences that will drive excitement across our owned and earned channels. It’s time to create compelling stories, relatable moments and unforgettable experiences and not simply, ‘more content’.