The drug of content

This is a guest post from Mitch Joel — President, Twist Image and author of “Six Pixels of Separation.” His new book “CTRL ALT Delete” was released in May 2013. See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on his blog.

At what point will the proverbial levee break?

Marketers are busy telling their clients to start producing content or suffer the wrath of becoming irrelevant. My hand is raised and my head is bowed down in shame. Content needs to be created for a captive audience and we may — very well — be selling a bill of goods here. Should brands act more like publishers? Yes, they should, but we have to monitor this situation very closely.

We’re asking a lot of brands. We’re telling brands to create content. Short content (be on Twitter!) and long content (blog! And blog often!). We’re telling brands to make videos (post them on YouTube and Vimeo and they don’t have to be only sixty seconds long!), and we’re telling brands to start their own radio shows (Podcasting! Still a massive opportunity for brands!).

We’re asking even more of consumers.

What is the point of advertising? Advertising’s function is to create awareness. Consumers need to know when a new type of toilet paper is on the market. If we trust that they’ll look at every product on the toilet paper shelves on every visit to their local merchant, we wouldn’t have to advertise.

Instead, we need to make that message stand out and have it’s own unique space. This new type of toilet paper must stand out from the other toilet paper. Beyond that, is there any additional information to share? Is it the toilet paper company’s fault that other brands, products, and services have all come to the same realization that they need to capture your attention — if but for a brief moment in time — to inform you that they exist? Do you need a Facebook page for this? Do you need a mobile app for that?

Content is a great way to create awareness as well, but this type of awareness truly needs to have a special kind of meaning and depth to it. Why? Because the same consumers that are inundated with advertising are now being inundated with content. That’s a lot of messaging.

Why does your content need meaning and depth?

Because, in a world where a brand is now curating content, publishing content, and is a media entity onto itself, it’s critical that we, the marketers, take one step back and ask ourselves: “Are we asking too much of our consumers?”

Beyond that, are we asking even more of those who aren’t even our consumers yet? This is what happens in a world where anyone can publish their thoughts in text, images, audio, and video instantly and for free to the world. It becomes a game where brands are jumping in the pool because every other brand is jumping in the pool.

What does that get you?

Mediocrity at best, but junk is the more likely outcome. Prior to the social web, how many advertorials did you read that were so captivating that you could not help but rip it out of the magazine (or newspaper) and share it with friends and colleagues? Admit it, it’s not easy to recall a scenario like that (if you’ve had one, please feel free to share it below in the comments section).

There are so few companies with the levity to admit that the quality of their content can’t match the quantity that they are producing. Have you ever walked to the back of a conference hall building and seen the bags and dumpsters of corporate white papers, testimonials, and articles that are left shortly after the trade show floor shuts down? You can blame bringing too many copies along as one excuse, but the sad reality is that the content didn’t captivate.

Kill the content.

You heard me: kill the content. Step away from the publish button and take a breather. Instead of looking at your content calendar or barking at someone in your organization to tweet more frequently, take a fifteen minute siesta and ask yourself this one question: what great stories can we tell? Stop thinking about content as the endgame and consider (even if but for a moment) that the content is the container, but the true value is the stories that you tell. You can condemn a company like Apple for not being all that social, but you can’t deny that their brand and the products tell a wonderful story.

The same is true for the brands that we highlight as success stories with each passing day. Zappos tells us great stories about creating happiness. BlendTec makes us laugh by telling stories about how the things we love can be destroyed in their blenders. Dell doesn’t just try to sell you a computer, they have people online helping you get better at using (and understanding) technology.

Even the ads can do it.

Marketers will often say that the best ads are the ones that tell stories. While you can easily shoot back with a, “duh, tell me something I don’t know,” take a cold hard look at all of your marketing collateral and ask yourself if you’re telling a story worthy of being told, or are you telling a story just to get something sold?

Personally, I think that brands and content and great stories are just beginning to get good. Now, because they have the tools, channels, and distribution platforms, the real magic can happen (and you don’t even need to buy ad space to let the world know). My hope is that brands start reinvesting in great stories instead of investing in people to blog and tweet simply because everybody else is doing it or because someone told them that it’s all about content.

It’s not all about content. It’s all about stories. It’s not all about stories. It’s all about great stories. Go create some great stories. Please.


About Mitch Joel

Mitch Joel is President of Mirum — an award-winning Digital Marketing and Communications agency. He is also a blogger, podcaster, journalist, speaker, and the author of "Six Pixels of Separation" and "CTRL ALT Delete." Mitch is frequently called upon to be a subject matter expert for BusinessWeek, Fast Company, Marketing Magazine, Profit, Strategy, Money, The Globe & Mail, and many other media outlets.

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  1. Simon Gornick

    These are flat out brilliant questions. They need to be asked far more by any and every company.

  2. Jayne Jaudon Ferrer

    THANK YOU. We are awash in drivel. There are few enough people reading these days; those who do should be rewarded with well crafted, insightful, grammatically correct content, not the literary equivalent of “wham, bam, thank you, ma’am.”

  3. Simon Nicholas

    Nice. Brings to mind sayings like ‘less is more’, ‘white is the new black’, ‘Thursday nights out are the new Saturday’; differentiating yourself through story-telling, how you make it better, faster, easier, ironically it’s what job seekers are constantly reminded they should do!

  4. James

    Love this loads compelling reading. Reminds of 5 years ago before I started having children. Looking forward to reading the next offering.

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