Content Rules – But Which Content Matters?

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, we’ve entered the era of “content marketing.” Content marketing budgets are going up; companies are falling over themselves to hire journalists to write stuff for them; and so on. But while everyone is rushing to produce content, do they know which content matters?

There are as many definitions of content as there are pundits. Here are a few

  • Paul Dunay: Things that can be shared socially, like blog posts, e-books, videos, podcasts and research reports
  • Bob Buday: Material companies create and market to educate their target audiences about how to solve an issue
  • Junta42: Relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience
  • Content Rules: Anything created and uploaded to a website [curiously excluding the book it’s written in]

All of these of course describe content, but they are all different. And there are many more. However, I don't think it's hard to propose a simple classification of content which includes everything and tells us how valuable each is. In my schema (for B2B content) there are just three buckets:

  1. Promotional: Promotes your product or service e.g. brochure, TV ad, banner ad
  2. Informative: Objective information about your offering e.g. data sheets or product specs. Also, objective information on broader issues, but which says nothing that hasn’t been said elsewhere already e.g. training videos.
  3. Insightful: Offers substantive new insights on a problem or opportunity e.g. report, article or post based on original research and/or insights

This sequence represents increasing value to the customer, viz:

Promotional : This material—as we all pretty well understand by now—is of low value to the customer and therefore also to you. For instance, it is now very hard to reach customers with promotional advertising online; the user is largely in control and she will click on your expensive banner ads on only 0.2% of the occasions she sees them. Chris Anderson of TED has calculated that the value of an online user to advertisers is less than 10 cents per hour.

Informative: This content populates two sub-categories. If it’s about your product or service (and it’s truly informative e.g. a data sheet, as opposed to promotional), it’s a utility and you must have it. If the topic is more general, the point of view has been published by a thousand people already. If for instance you want to write a blog post on the 7 steps to a social media strategy, note that a search on "social media strategy" rules OR steps OR things yields several million results, most in the vein of “5 Steps To a Successful Social Media Strategy.” BTW, seven is the most popular number, but the range is three to 10. You can pad a blog with posts like that, but you can’t cut through the clutter—or build a following. (Or if you can, so can nine million other people, which doesn’t compute).

Insightful: This is increasingly the content that matters most because it adds most value for the people who consume it. My advice therefore: Ignore those who promise you e.g. “25 Ways to Use the Web to Find Content for Your Blog” and write stuff that’s original. If you’re selling high tech equipment to Fortune 500 companies, that original material will require research and/or the extensive participation of your subject matter experts. If you are a marketer, or an artist (for instance), and you are naturally insightful, you might be able to thrive on observations and insights from your everyday life (like Chris Brogan).

But in any case, the most important thing is to say something new; anything else is spam.

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