December 20th, 2011
I was excited today to see Gary Kim at Content Marketing News take on the key issue I see facing Movable Media and content marketing in general (he calls it “brand journalism,” which I generally don’t really care for since it connotes hard news, and I don’t think in general that brands should be in the business of hard news). But we are talking about the same thing: content created for brands.
The issues that Gary raises are these: when will branded content earn credibility as an alternative to publishers, and more importantly, what level of quality should brands need to produce content.
Relatively few folks are talking about this subject, so kudos to Gary for bringing it up. Gary comes down (lightly I think) on the side of creating content for brands that is “good enough to attract an audience”. I found his perspective interesting, since I held the same opinion four years ago when I launched a custom content business at Associated Content (now Yahoo). We created a number of custom articles at a very reasonable price for a well known e-tailer’s blogs — our very first customer. And the content, by and large, was ok—it was “good enough” to do what we hoped it would—create an audience, inform a little bit, and drive traffic from search engines.
But I wouldn’t do it again. I think the approach was appropriate for the time, but likely a mistake now. The tide is definitely turning against “good enough” content for brands, for three reasons. In fact, I noticed that the brand has more or less buried some of the content we created for them.
Here is why I would argue firms should aim for great content, and emphasize quality over quantity.
1) Great content actually out-performs good content from an ROI standpoint. At least with our approach, great content comes from great writers anyway, and these days they are not only reaching the right audience, but can move that audience to a branded environment. When we engaged with Man of the House we found our “content with an audience” actually outperformed the “good enough” search content by as much as 500%. And by the way, that content wound up doing much better in search.
2) “Good enough to attract an audience” content simply isn’t good enough. That content doesn’t reflect well on a brand. Most brands are not in the business of converting eyeballs into cash, they are in the business of building and maintaining business relationships. And nothing speaks more loudly than the content you choose to represent the brand. Your content is likely your first interaction with a customer, and it either makes a good impression or it doesn’t. If you think you can create inexpensive content at high quantities that is extremely helpful to your users and builds an audience, good luck with that. But don’t kid yourself: if it is cheap and easy, it has already been done. There is just no way you are going to beat Demand Media and their ilk at their own game.
3) Trying to win the search game is such a risky, moving target. We are now in the post-Panda era– where relevance and domain rank is increasingly less important to search engines than engagement, social sharing, and authorial credibility. If the content brands create is perceived by Google as “farmed”, it might actually hurt other results on the domain.
4) Finally, big picture: In the post-publisher era, who is going to create great, researched, thoughtful, fact checked, engaging content that serves the reader? Because the demand for that content isn’t going away. The quality level for many publishers keeps slipping, because except for mobile and tablet environments, digital advertising fails in most cases to effectively monetize content. Brands have the margins and the opportunity to change the game here, so why encourage “good enough content”? Brands, set the bar high! Elevate branded content as a *more* effective model for creating quality content.
And finally, to elevate branded content, we not only need to change the mindset of the brands, but also the writers who write for them. Many writers today have been seriously burned by the pay-per-post era—and they worry that when they write for a brand that it will be perceived as “shilling”, or a “work for hire”—so they may not take the same risks they would for a publisher.
But all of these obstacles can be overcome. Our customers, like General Mills’ Tablespoon, are creating content destinations that not only compete, but in my opinion surpass the competition from traditional publishers (some of which, like the wonderful Gourmet magazine, have been shuttered due to a broken advertising model).
See Gary’s article here: Brand Journalism in Perspective – Content Marketing News.
See my first take on “good enough” content here: Trimming the Content Mullet
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