Why most content strategies are a waste of time

There are two types of content strategy: content strategies that work because they provide consumers with the content that they want, and content strategies that don’t work because they serve-up the content that marketing people hope consumers want.

The difference between the two is that effective content strategies see the production of content as a real-time process that matches brand answers to consumers’ questions, whereas ineffective strategies see content as an output, designed to fill up all the digital channels that are now available.

Content and content marketing has become all the rage recently.  We are seeing brands investing huge amounts of money hiring journalists and creating brand newsrooms in order to pump out industrial quantities of ‘stuff’.  Coca Cola, for example, has stated that it believes the future lies in moving from creative excellence to content excellence.  It is not hard to see why this is happening.  It is happening because producing content is easy and non-disruptive.  Brands have always produced content, it is just that this was a difficult and costly business.  The media channels the content had to live within were expensive and therefore the content brands produced was very restricted and focused.  Now, however, it appears that the restrictions have gone away because the new digital channels are numerous and free.  What was once an expensive and difficult business has seemingly become easy and cheap, so everyone is pilling-in.

But in this headlong rush to fill-up the channels, almost no-one has stopped to ask consumers whether they actually want all this ‘brandfill’.  And when you do stop to ask them, it turns out that content is pretty low on the list of what consumers expect from brands.  The international PR agency Edelman has recently produced its’ Brandshare report that looks at what consumers from around the world actually want from brands.  The results were quite striking.  Top of the list of what consumers wanted was information and response.  They wanted brands to listen to them, answer their questions, respond to their requests and be open and transparent about their products and how they were made.  And then they said they wanted brands to demonstrate what it is that they stand for: to have a clear mission and purpose, to use resources to drive change in the world and to take a stand on issues consumers care about.

This takes us back to the start of the article.  If you want your content strategy to be successful it has to be based around creating a process that matches brand answers to consumers’ questions and concerns in real-time (i.e. consumers’ time, not editorial publication schedule time).  Like a conversation, you cannot sit down and plan your content in advance.  At any one time your content has to be defined by what it is your consumers are asking, right now.  It is not really content, it is better described as information, which is why I would proposed that all content strategies should be re-named real-time information management strategies.

And if you don’t have such a process in place, you are almost certainly producing brandfill: pouring money into a meaningless exercise that is doing little more than filling up holes in an ever-expanding digital space.

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