I recently was reacquainted with a derivation of the “Rule of 12”:
At 12 feet, I’ve decided who you are.
At 12 inches, I’ve made up my mind.
At 12 words, I’ve written you off.
As a long-time marketer, it struck a chord – a reminder (even a cautionary tale) of how important it is to be relevant to our audiences. But saying it is so much easier than doing it. More often than many would like to admit (me included), we default to “what we’ve always done” or conversely “what everyone else seems to be doing.” Either way, we reach into a box of marketing tricks and hope they still make the numbers.
It’s not because we’re lazy or uninspired. It’s because we’re overwhelmed, which is precisely the argument for why we must commit to (re)focusing on relevance. Just as we’re in self-preservation mode, so too are our audiences. And they’re looking for a reason to say no.
How do we get them to say yes? Enter content marketing.
It’s “king”, remember? At least that’s been the word on the street for a nice big handful of years.
If memory serves (and I’m not even going to look this up – nailing the exact date doesn’t change my point), Content Marketing Fever reached its crescendo somewhere around 2012/2013. Unstoppable torrents of content filled servers and flooded cyberspace. Traditional white papers gave way to interactive eBooks. Everyone and his dog had a blog. “Going viral” became a contrived strategy rather than a happy fluke.
A lot was good. More was crap. But at least everyone got a tad more skilled in SEO, which was and is the special sauce for getting found and getting known by your target audience.
Is Content Still King?
I would argue that it never has been.
It’s important, absolutely. But a fundamental distinction has gotten lost in this latest rush to attract eyeballs and spur social sentiment and increase market share. Here it is:
Content for content’s sake matters very little. Content for quality’s sake matters very much.
How many times have you clicked on a promising link, only to be let down by the result? I’d wager it’s too many to count – maybe even the rule more than the exception. It’s irritating and disappointing and steals minutes of your life you’ll never get back.
It also likely sours you on the brand or product or service … surely the opposite of what the content creator intended.
If we want to turn conversations into customers, we need to stop focusing on quantity and return to what’s tried and true: quality which, by extension, equals relevance.
Quality Comes Home to Roost
As a strategy, creating massive amounts of content was successful for a while, particularly in the years immediately following the “world is flat” digital economy. Globally the playing field became more level, competition increased exponentially in many industries, and consumers readily embraced their new power of choice.
So began the race to attract and keep customers, with “content” becoming the megaphone. (And everyone wanted the biggest, loudest megaphone, right?)
Again, this was not a bad strategy. But with many successful ideas and endeavors, there eventually comes a time when the chickens come home to roost.
In the case of content marketing, there were two big chickens. They both showed up at roughly the same time, probably not coincidentally.
First, consumers became overwhelmed, weary, and turned off. In a nutshell, people’s saturation point was reached; their capacity and patience for continually navigating around copious amounts of information (much of sub-par or outright useless) plummeted.
It’s well documented that too many choices result in cognitive overload, which adversely affects – even wholly impairs – our ability to make a decision. Add to that our (also well-documented) inability to multitask well, and it’s easy to understand how the once-novelty of hundreds and thousands of content options now causes our eyes to glaze over.
In other words, the thrill is gone.
Second, Google drew a line in the sand. With its 2012 and 2013 algorithmic updates (Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird), Google took a hard position on those who were gaming the system: either deliver useful content or face some uncomfortable consequences. Other search engines have followed suit.
This focus on quality is good news for content creators because it gives them the space and permission to pause, regain perspective, and reassess how to most effectively meet their marketing goals.
A side note: A Pew Research Center study illustrates the phenomenon of consumers’ increasing dissatisfaction with content in its 2013 Report on American Journalism. (I’m using this as a proof point because “news” is universally accessed content.) The key takeaway: Among people who’ve stopped tuning into news outlets (reading, watching, or listening), 61% say it’s due to a decline in quality.
So … What is Quality?
It’s the obvious question; the elephant in the room.
I would hope we can all agree that quality content will never include link farms or keyword-packed metadata tags or parking lot pages filled with scraped content from who knows where. (And Google will eventually punish those tactics when their spiders encounter them.)
I hope we can also all agree that content marketing works (it does). But in order to work optimally, the content must be relevant to your target audience … and your target audience is the key because “quality” is a very subjective term.
So quality content can be defined as content that resonates with the needs, desires, and interests of a target audience.
Does that always mean less is more?
No. The goal is to create carefully crafted pieces that establish your expertise and increase loyalty. In the aftermath of the content-creation frenzy, this will surely lead to a decrease in quantity for most businesses. But depending on your industry, niche, product, etc., there might be excellent reason to pump out a hefty quantity of focused content. Just be mindful that the quantity is valuable to both your buyers and your budget.
There are several best practices for creating and delivering content that’s relevant, impactful and valuable to your audiences. Here’s a short list:
Create buyer personas for your key segments and craft content for each, per sales stage
Write for the highest emotional impact
Focus on customer/buyer needs, not on your needs
Pack your content full of substance, not useless fluff
Use lead nurturing to engender trust by provide step-by-step information that matches each person’s interests
Optimize available formats (e.g., eBook, video, podcast, infographic, social post, pdf, etc.) to make content available when and how your audiences want to consume it
There’s a saying that says it takes 15 seconds to make a first impression and the rest of your life to undo it. In today’s business world, “the rest of your [business’] life” can be reduced to a scant few months if your content lacks quality and relevance. Consumers will write you off in a New York minute, and the vacuum always gets filled.
Quality is king. Content is merely the chariot that carries it around (the rook, if we’re keeping with the chess theme).
What Does “Quality” Mean to You?
If you’ve got an opinion about content marketing quality or have examples you’d be willing to share illustrating how quality content looks/works in your world, we’d love to know.
Either add a comment to this post or feel free to send me an email directly: monique(dot)torres(at)act-on(dot)net. Depending on what we receive, we’ll find a way to share the results.
“Translation, No” by Tamirkaden, used under a Creative Commons license.
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