Survival Strategies for the Great Digital Content Race
Picture the scene: You’re at the starting line of a 1890s land-run back in the American West. Packed around you are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of other prospectors just waiting to claim their piece of land. You are all tightly bunched together in nervous anticipation of the challenge that lies ahead. Suddenly, a shot is fired. Everybody starts moving but there is so little space to maneuver. People all around you are pushing, shoving and banging horses and carts into each other. Trip or breakdown now and you risk becoming a permanent feature of the landscape. You thought you would have a chance to get off to a fast start, but then again, so did all the others. You are now all crammed together trying to match each other’s pace so as to not collide with the prospector in front of you. The only thing you see ahead is the back of hundreds of heads and wagons. Hardly the most auspicious start to a most epic adventure.
And so, perhaps, the same could be said about digital marketing and the mad rush for content creation. If 2012 was just a warm-up, then 2013 marks the beginning of the online brand-building Olympiads. Just about everyone is participating in this perilous race whether willingly or not. And so begins the mad, mad rush for content creation. The world is about to be hit by the single largest collective creation of content wave it has ever seen. Everybody is getting on the bandwagon – whether they are good at it or not. Makes no difference as long as you are producing stuff to fill your blog or website. Right?
Wrong. Imagine if you will a giant tsunami of drab, pointless, stale and unintelligible content that is about to sweep across the digital world. We are all about to be assailed by an unprecedented amount of crap that companies are hastily throwing together in a desperate effort to rank higher in searches and to become self-proclaimed thought leaders. It’s a noble fight but one that few companies have trained for, are equipped to handle and have the stamina for.
Looking at this from the customer’s perspective, they will be inundated by countless blogs, articles, webinars, e-mail campaigns and videos. How will they react? How would you react when faced with a barrage of mediocre content?
Flight to quality
In the stock market, almost all companies benefit when there is a bull market. A rising tide of positive sentiment lifts most ships. When things start turning sour, however, there is a natural shift or flight towards quality stocks. These are the type of firms that haven’t always been ‘sexy’ performers but which have delivered small yet steady returns through good times and bad. These are the companies that stand to benefit the most when the market froth and speculation have abated. Call it a flight to quality or a flight to safety, this is where people go when uncertainty looms large and the mad exuberance starts turning into a hangover or a nightmare.
The same is about to happen for digital content marketing. Faced with a barrage of unending, low quality content, customers (i.e. people like you and me) will inevitably cut back on our consumption. We will instead begin to focus on fewer brands and sites which distinguish themselves by providing exclusively high quality content. There are only so many hours in the day and we will inevitably have to cut back or concentrate on trusted content providers who consistently deliver the 3 key ingredients for successful inbound marketing.
So what is a firm to do as it considers entering the “race?”
Think like a customer. Always do a sanity check by asking yourself the same questions that customers would when selecting a trusted source of content and information: Is this quality or crap?
Audit your marketing spending. How much are you spending today on digital content? Chances are you are investing too little which can impact both the quantity and quality of your content. Pick your battlegrounds for customer share-of-mind (e.g. Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter) very carefully and then commit. Avoid spreading yourself too thin across too many platforms. This is a case where less can be more.
Bring more work in-house. If you are relying almost exclusively on outside parties (agencies, freelancers, etc…) for your content, you are probably paying too much, not conveying the right conviction/genuineness and not tapping the internal competencies within your own organization. Worst of all, you are not developing the internal competencies that will see you through in the long run.
Tap into your passion or common cause. To stand out in a crowded field, you need to be genuine and passionate. Customers can easily pick up on this and if they share your enthusiasm, they will become loyal to your cause/message (although not necessarily to your Brand!).
Practice. You won’t get this right the first few times. The sooner you start practicing the sooner you will discover what makes for quality content.
Set high standards. Don’t settle for acceptable. Don’t publish when you have nothing new or interesting to say. Don’t write because you have to fill a quota. Don’t let crap or mediocrity filter into your output. Do become strict and regularly edit/rework content your team produces.
Regularly train your team. Content is continuously evolving. Make sure your team stays current and develops their writing skills. Also, typos, slang and bad grammar need to be avoided at all cost.
Share best practices from within and outside your industry. Look at what others are doing inside, but especially outside your industry. Find novel ways to apply what works in other industries. Don’t just replicate, put your own spin on things.
Pick the right metrics and watch them closely. Closely monitor your performance and optimize your offering. Regularly adjust your titles, article lengths, frequency, tone, style, topics…etc based on what the metrics suggest.
Become agile and continually adapt. Don’t let yourself become stale. To stay current and relevant, keep changing and experimenting.
Take risks and innovate. Don’t merely try to follow others in your business. Don’t just publish more stuff than they do. Push yourself to become an original in your field. Be daring. Be creative. To develop thought leadership you have to take chances and experiment. Make mistakes – a lot of them. And learn. Create an environment that encourages and rewards innovation and risk taking. Create content that is original in terms of what it says, how to say it and where it is shared.
Invest for the long haul. Above all, remember that digital marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t get into this if you don’t have the wherewithal to sustain this effort and the quality over years, not months.
Be consistent and disciplined. To become a trusted content creator you can’t blow hot and cold. You can’t be erratic. You have to adopt a certain routine or structure that people can count on, just like an athlete in training.
Be transparent and genuine. Don’t lie, pretend or fake your way. Relationships are built on trust. If you messed up, then admit it, apologize and move on.
Invite outside experts and community leaders to contribute. Mix things up a bit by inviting engaged and/or respected members of your virtual community to regularly contribute or comment.
Think multi-dimensionally. Create content that appeals across platforms, geographies, languages and cultures. Don’t just think Google, US and english. Pick topics, images and storytelling that have universal (and local) appeal.
Separate selling from engaging. There are right and wrong times to push your products & services. Be sure you know when and where to do these.
Look sharp! Make your content visually appealing and easy to navigate. Alternate between text, images, audio and video. But don’t overdo anything! Keep things organized, inviting and well put together.
Optimize for mobility. Ensure that what you produce can be consumed across multiple platforms and modalities. Mobile is big and continuous to account for a growing share of all digital traffic (currently 13%).
Hire the right profiles. With marketing starting to look more and more like journalism (through writing, commenting, editing and curating), be sure to bring in talented people whose skills and backgrounds support your digital marketing strategy.
Content marketing is in essence a massive land-grab for share-of-mind, just like TV and radio before. Companies and individuals are all jockeying for their piece of the action. The trouble is that there are far too many content publishers out there chasing a dwindling share of their customer’s attention. Once the novelty wears off and when customers start tuning out, only a few will retain a privileged position in their mind. This position will have to be earned by applying some of the strategies and practices mentioned above.
Got any thoughts or ideas on what will differentiate quality content? Share a comment.