What if brands treated content like a product?

What if brands treated content like another one of their products, not as another way to market their existing products?

Framed this way, it completely shifts how to approach a successful content strategy. Focusing on what real people actually want or need, rather than another way to market existing products or creating content for the sake of it.

Image: Via TopDesignMag

What is Content? (Or the million dollar question)

When talking about content, the industry speaks about engaged audiences and building audiences. This is what content can do. (Good content, that is). Traditional advertising at its best can communicate complex ideas around a brand/product/service in such a way that it not only articulates what it does but can also evoke an emotional response in the viewer. It advocates the benefits in a way that resonates.

Cheap and abundant media, matched with very high quality tools for creation of content is allowing any company, brand or individual to create content which has as much chance as finding an audience as anyone else (media spend aside). To actually standout in this vast sea of content we have to be creating value. You need to create value for someone in order for them to connect with you. I don’t think the aesthetic quality is the main issue here, it’s about making something relevant for the brand/platform/audience. And this is where I think many people can’t get their head around content, it’s about finding and embracing a niche.

Embrace the niche

Brands have to discover and then embrace their niche. Full unashamed wallowing in your chosen subject/topic/product. By truly connecting with an audience, no matter how small or big, you create value for all involved.

If I visit a brand’s YouTube channel, what is the channel about? What do I find? Their TV ad, an interview with the CEO and maybe some walkthroughs of how to use the website? Not many people will subscribe to that. When you visit BBC1, Dave or Film4, you have a clear idea of the kind of content you’re going to get. This is no different to a YouTube channel.

Red Bull, GoPro and Dove have all adopted a niche which allows an audience to quickly understand what they are about and know what kind of content they can expect from them.

Find your niche and deliver on that.

The solution for many brands should lie in utility. If I’m a beer company, it seems highly sensible to me to have an app to find the most interesting bars in my area. Entertaining is so hard now because there is so much stuff. We should be looking to help people, to provide value, and offer them some sort of service.

Tom Goodwin writing in NewsCred

I would agree that entertaining is hard, but when it works it will really make an impact. You just have to go into it with your eyes open. Utility, as Goodwin says, is a great way to harness content to provide value to people.

Content as Product

So the idea of creating value, at its core, has led me to settle on content as product. Traditional advertising is promoting a product. What if we treat content simply as another product from that company, rather than the promotion of another product?

In marketing, a Product is anything that can be offered to a market that might satisfy a want or need. Wikipedia

So what if we approach content to satisfy a want or need of real people? It certainly places it in the frame of thinking audience first doesn’t it?

Some of the worst content produced (outside of general quality and executional issues) can be exposed with one simple question: “Who is this for?” When it is seemingly impossible to say so, from just watching it, it’s safe to say it’s just stuff made for the company producing it - whether to satisfy their product team, CEO, board or even the agency that made it.  

A (good) company would have a very clear idea about who the market is for their product or service. They would then develop, test, iterate and release the product to the public, and if the product created value in the eyes of the market it would sell and be a success. Content has to do the same thing, it’s out there in the wild and the value it creates determines its success. Like a product, a positive outcome will benefit the company that created it.

Agencies should embody that approach when creating content for their clients, and of course they do when promoting the products of the client, but when it comes down to creating something original that still embodies the client’s values, it’s no wonder the industry has collectively scratched their head at delivering on this.

Building your own little production factory as the content arm of the agency does nothing to solve this either. It’s not about making stuff cheaply or even efficiently. You have to make something that resonates with a particular audience.

Another interesting parallel with product, is the idea of generating revenue. Most advertising is obviously not designed to generate revenue for the company selling the product. But some companies have been able to do this with their advertising. The LEGO Movie is probably the ultimate example of content as product, with gross revenue currently at $468 million. Guinness World Records is also a company using content as product. They sell licenses to TV companies globally to produce locally relevant TV shows featuring the abundance of records featured in the book. Both these examples have treated content with as much respect as their core product.  

The Google Creative Lab have always seemed to take this approach too. They create complementary or new products that are in line with Google’s main consumer products. They are creating new content using Google’s platforms for real people. A walk through of Abbey Road, a Chrome game which syncs your mobile and computer to play Super Sync Sports, an interactive music video using Arcade Fire’s ‘We Used To Wait’ as a soundtrack to an evocative trip to your hometown using Chrome & Streetview in The Wilderness Downtown. These are fantastic examples of delivering people value through content.

A brand wouldn’t just make any old rubbish to sell to people, they wouldn’t stay in business very long. So why is so much content made in this way?

This is our chance to act like product managers with the content we create for our clients. It’s time for people who say they make content to be held to the same standards as the product sold by their clients.

It’s time to make content people want to watch.