No, Content Isn’t King for Digital Marketers

No, Content Isn’t King for Digital Marketers

Brad Perry

Digital marketers have been echoing the mantra content is king since the late nineties, often without realizing it’s a phrase appropriated from the tech world—specifically, from the title of a 1996 essay by Bill Gates:

“The television revolution that began half a century ago spawned a number of industries, including the manufacturing of TV sets, but the long-term winners were those who used the medium to deliver information and entertainment.”

Gates was saying that the greatest business opportunity of our modern era was in developing “information and entertainment” for computer networks and building platforms to deliver and share content on those networks. And that there was a ceiling on the business of manufacturing computer hardware.

The meteoric rise of YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitch, Instagram, Medium, etc., shows Gates was right: content did become king, but only from this 30,000-foot view. His point was that the democratization of content distribution would create “a marketplace of content,” and that is where the money would be made because it has virtually limitless scale. It was not his point that writing blog articles and social posts would magically lead to business success. In the marketplace of content, you still have to stand out on the shelf.

And yet many marketers seem to gloss over that important point. Brands are pushing out bland content daily just to check boxes, which has led consumers to start looking for reasons to ignore it when the messaging comes across as insincere, insignificant, inauthentic, or impersonal.

The idea that if you build it, they will come might have worked for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams (or in the early days of blogs and social media), but it doesn’t work for today’s marketers; just because we write something doesn’t mean people will read it. It has to actually make sense and resonate with your target audience.

Content is now accessible to anyone, with any budget, so it’s far from a king. If anything, it’s a common serf, to continue with the feudal system metaphor. Look at the Fortune 500 brands on YouTube getting only double- or triple-digit views, whereas clever teenagers are getting views by the million. What separates them is CONCEPT, which reigns over content as the one, true king of digital marketing.

It’s easy to get caught up in creating content without pausing to ask why anyone should care about it. But without relevant, insight-driven concepts that resonate with a customer’s personal preferences, pain points, and culture, that content is just noise. (Or does content not make noise if no one is listening?)

For brands, this can require some homework, e.g., using social listening, competitor analysis, customer ethnographies, field observation, or motivation-driven personas to truly understand potential customers—and the potential gaps standing between them and conversion:

  • What do their favorite “habitats” look like, offline and online?
  • With what cultural themes are they engaging?
  • How do their passions and interests align (or not align) with the brand and each of its products or services?
  • What do they like (or dislike) about your brand versus your competitors?

The answers to these questions will provide the insights that can drive your strategy and content concepts. You'll be able to see how brand content could connect with what customers and prospects already do and care about by platform (or across platforms). You'll start to formulate how your brand can credibly fit into the types of utility, inspiration, and entertainment topics your audience is inherently interested in, and in a way that is differentiated from the competition

Here’s an example of what that process looked like when Chipotle asked us for a proof of concept illustrating a possible brand presence on Tumblr, targeting teens and young adults.

Rather than taking shots in the dark as to what might resonate on this platform (gifs about their ingredients, coupons, guacamole memes, etc.), we immediately began looking at the conversations this audience was already having.

We found a lot of chatter surrounding Khloé Kardashian taking a private jet from Los Angeles to Houston to eat Chipotle with then boyfriend, NBA star James Harden—but there was something deeper to this than just celebrities and extravagance. The reason it resonated so much with teens and young adults had to do with their own dating lives, wherein Chipotle held a special place as an affordable yet trendy dating destination. It was sort of the modern drive-in for millennials, a milestone between fast-food restaurants and, say, somewhere with cloth napkins.

Once we dove deeper, we found a huge undercurrent on social media – and particularly Tumblr – surrounding the idea of “Chipotle love,” literally and figuratively. Teens eating Chipotle before prom, declaring #ChipotleIsBae (a term of endearment for boyfriend or girlfriend), and giving burritos as a sign of affection.

A frequently-shared Cosmopolitan article 12 Signs Your Boyfriend is Your Best Friend even listed “you don't even need to ask how he wants his burrito” as number four out of twelve.

These are the themes that made the brand “special” to this demographic while differentiating them from the competition, so we gave them Tumblr content concepts that amplified that.

In the end, branded content should do more than latch onto trends or tell a good story—it should true back to confident consumer and brand insights drawn from real-world data. Bake in conceptual relevancy to your content from the beginning, and make your messages count.

Let’s work together to develop an insight-driven content strategy. Get in touch.