These past few weeks I've roadtested via workshops and speaking engagements a theory I have when it comes to the styles of content companies, organisations and individuals can use to help drive sales and build their brand.
When I say 'theory', it's not rocket science or a complicated formula of any kind.
Part of what I do is to help demystify social media and content marketing for people - marketers, communications professionals, entrepreneurs and business owners.
Unfortunately the avalanche of content about content marketing (sounds weird that, doesn't it?) is typically skewed in a particular direction, and that is create media and information that is useful, helpful and solves a problem or need your customer is experiencing.
AND I AGREE! Content used for marketing purposes should reach potential customers at a point when they are seeking answers to questions around a need they might have.
But ring-fencing content like that is only part of the story and from where I sit neglects other ways of producing information that may strike a chord with potential customers.
Here are the three styles I try and get my clients to chew over. Often they will skew towards one style over another but please be aware, they're not mutually exclusive. Indeed, an organisation might cover off all three styles, sometimes in the one content offering (thus hitting the 'sweet spot').
1. Utility-based content
This is the type of content I'm referring to that is helpful, useful and adds value to people's lives. Examples may include:
- An accountancy practice that provides tips on how to legally minimise tax.
- An architecture firm that publishes a free ebook on what's involved in briefing an architect on a home renovation.
- A personal trainer who produces weekly video snippets demonstrating simple exercises you can do during your day-to-day activities.
The content produced by Marcus Sheridan's River Pools is pure utility-based - the story as to how content marketing saved (and grew) his business is the stuff of legend (see this New York Times article).
Bufferapp's blog is crammed with useful stuff pertaining to productivity, life hacks, writing, user experience and customer happiness, all relevant for Bufferapp’s business customers.
Other examples include:
- General Mills (tablespoon.com)
- Pottery Barn
- King Arthur Flour
- Open Wealth Creation
2. Thought leadership content
This is where my PR background (bias?) probably comes to the fore a bit.
Thought leadership content can (and should be) useful, but it plays a different role comparative to utility-based content. It's not better or worse, just different in its approach.
When it comes to thought leadership content, you might not be answering someone's questions or needs; you might not be helping them with an issue they're grappling with, or solve a problem they have.
Thought leadership content, in its purest sense, is designed to provoke thought and potentially inspire people or spark ideas; it might be controversial, or a forceful point of view that 'pokes someone in the eye' (metaphorically speaking, of course).
I would consider this blog post to slot neatly under 'thought leadership'. Again, I might write an article on a new development with, say, LinkedIn and articulate a view as to what it means for the social networking giant (thought leadership) - but in the same article, I might also explain how people can take advantage of the new developments (utility).
Great examples of thought leadership-based content include:
- Mitch Joel/Twist Image
- Schaefer Marketing Solutions
- Altimeter Group
- Cemex (from a corporate positioning perspective)
3. Human content
This is the type of content major companies and organisations really struggle with because, for some reason, having a human side - a personality - is somewhat of a foreign concept. Not really sure why, as people do business with people, not logos. Maybe there's no ROI in people? (Okay, so maybe I'm being a tad facetious, but you get the idea).
Companies large and small focused on pinpointing consumers to target and that create 'down to the letter' SEO-influenced content might not see the value of including the people element.
But smart businesses intuitively use the 'human angle' to advantage; they understand their customers are human beings who relate to other human beings.
Human content takes people behind the 'velvet rope' of your organisation; done well, it is infused with personality of the people involved in the business (this can include customers and partners, in addition to directors and employees) and often centres around storytelling, which as we all know is a hugely powerful form of communication.
T-shirt merchant Johnny Cupcakes is another who has humanised his brand using a combination of content and social media.
Look at how Firebrand Talent's Facebook page is peppered with people-oriented content.
Other brands worth checking out from a 'human content' perspective include:
This content 'troika' is not an exact science and you could argue (if you could be bothered) there is overlap between the styles of content, but that would be missing the point.
The goal is to start getting people to thinking about the type of content they should be producing relative to their goals. In all probability, it will be a combination of two or more of the above content 'buckets'; the key of course is to decide where to proportionately focus your efforts.
(NOTE: There's a fourth kind of content - that of the 'entertaining' kind - but this tends to be the province of major consumer brands with mammoth budgets such as Virgin Mobile and Red Bull. Generating content that's entertaining is critical for products such as beverages and snackfoods (as well as telcos trying to reach a younger market). As a rule however, if a smaller brand or corporate entity produce content that's entertaining, invariably it will be 'human' in nature).