Content. It’s the marketing strategy catchall.
Content is new, and like the “related” slider at the base of Facebook video viewer, ever refreshing. It’s the promise of three-to-six sunset-soaked snapshots of beach hopping youths with every third scroll or swipe of a social feed. It’s a smiling face with a logo slapped over its crow-footed eyeholes.
There seems to be some kind of self-deception currently plaguing the industry, as if the notion of people engaging with advertising of their own volition suddenly makes it not advertising.
Content strategy and traditional ‘hard sell’ ad strategy have become two sides of the same coin. With consumers more sceptical of big business than ever, reframing how the industry operates has become almost necessary. But when this starts affecting the type of research that firms are doing in the field, it’s an issue.
Look at the Content Marketing Institute’s latest release. The bulk of the research is based on primed surveys, interviews with those already invested in the field, and leading questions in favour of taking a ‘content marketing’ approach. “More is better” seems to have been the running theme for the past three years.
It can be argued that any conclusions the Content Marketing Institute draws about the effectiveness of content will be about as surprising as a study on the health effects of soft drinks as commissioned by Coca-Cola. It’s still an interesting talking point though, because of one very simple rule of research that such institutes are not adhering to.
The research should influence an industry’s way forward, not the reverse.
Biased research is of little benefit to anyone other than those who are doing the biasing.
This is expected with companies like Coca-Cola. They have an agenda. They want more sales. So no one is surprised when one of their studies conveniently concludes that exercise is far more important to overall health than diet, despite that being total bollocks.
Content marketing research, though, is a little more nuanced. The agenda of advertising will always be to bypass the scepticism of jaded consumers.
There’s a reason why TV still dominates; why the old-fashioned, disruptive, hard sell still delivers strong sales. All the picturesque panoramas and orchestral crescendos in the world will never outdo a good value proposition. Many would argue that value remains the strongest motivator, and if it comes bundled with convenience, then the Fogg checklist of persuasion is ticked in full.
So what about branded content?
What branded content is not, is a 90-second, carbon copy, millennial-infused tearjerker with a three-second logo tacked onto the tail end. Harvey Norman ads that literally shout at you through the screen are more effectively branded and certainly more memorable. They’re irritating, yes, but that’s the emotional response they evoke. They work their zone and they’re totally unashamed of it.
The hard sell is dirty but effective because it shoves the brand and the product and all of its benefits directly into your face.
The hard sell is the greasy, balding, Saab salesman who says the brand name five times in the first minute of the pitch and throws in tinted windows at no extra cost. You’ll feel a bit used, but you won’t stop thinking about Saab the whole drive home (provided you’re not already in one).
Content marketing is more akin to the polished, panhandling, indie princess pitching for Charity X outside the local artisanal coffee shop. She’s nice to look at, but she doesn’t stand out from the crowd and opens her pitch with a story about an endangered species in some never-thought-of part of the world. No one’s really sure what she’s selling or which charity it’s being funnelled to.
And that’s the point. It’s every advertiser’s dream to have people volunteer to watch their work, but without a laser-cut positioning strategy and a certain degree of hard sell sleaze it won’t break through the digital noise.
It’s not enough anymore to simply create emotional content and expect people to do the legwork of tying it to your brand. It’s unnecessary mental energy. People are not going to allocate those resources to interpreting a campaign.
Any sales strategy should revolve around what works, and not just what is shiny and new.
Consumers are out there right now making real-time decisions based on whatever they’re feeling in the moment. And though they are certainly sceptical of advertising, it won’t pay to fall into the trap of smothering a campaign with layers of fluffy emotional deception.
Do the legwork for your consumers. They’ll thank you for it.