3 Ways To Make 60% Of Your Marketing Content Less Crap
Would you bet your money on a 3-legged horse?
If you are from the UK and watched the TV show Bottom, there was an episode where the two main characters, Rickie and Eddie bet all their money on a 3-legged horse called Sad Ken.
Yes, Sad Ken lost the race and Rickie and Eddie lost their money.
And it turns out that when we invest our money and time in creating marketing content, we’re backing our own 3-legged horse, our own Sad Ken.
Recently, I’ve spent time stepping away from the popular articles about what makes content marketing make money for a business.
And the answers are more interesting that I’d imagine.
Recently, more insight about what makes content ‘work’ has come to light and it is quite different from what we normally hear.
Interestingly, the answer doesn’t involve clever backlinks or affiliate programs, or SEO backlink tactics. Instead, it goes much deeper than this: it means going back to the fundamentals of great marketing, a time before ‘content marketing’ left anyone’s lips.
In fact, this story has taken me on quite a journey over the past few weeks, and this is how it started.
It all start one Tuesday morning when I stumbled on a post whilst sipping on my mint tea. This post was written by marketing author Gerry McGovern about how to write better content and in it he talks about how removing old content from a website has actually increased inquiries. That sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Isn’t more content better to have than too little?
Here are some of Gerry’s findings copied from his article:
“Telenor of Norway deleted almost 90% of their pages. Conversions went up by 100%. Support requests went down by 35%.
The Norwegian Cancer Society removed almost 90% of their content and saw extremely positive results.
The US Department of Health deleted 150,000 of their 200,000 pages. Nobody noticed.
Columbia University of Chicago deleted 97% of their pages. Student application inquiries went up by 80%.
Liverpool City went from 4,000 pages to 700 on their website. Support requests went down and online reporting went up.”
I thought that that these must be anomalies.
Isn’t the standard advice out there to produce high frequency of high quality content?
Maybe these pages were poor quality and served no purpose. But surely the US Department of Health wouldn’t produce over 150,000 pages of useless content when people’s lives are a stake?
All this sounded odd, so I dug a bit deeper and Google gave me an answer.
I found a report from Pittsburgh Consulting in which they wrote a controversial post in 2017 called “4 Small Business SEO Tips I Ignored to Grow Traffic”. It showed that by producing less content you can actually grow the traffic to your website. In Pittsburgh Consulting’s report, they take on some content that producing less content to get more effect:
Here’s what they say:
You don’t need to regularly produce lots of fresh content. Instead, it’s better to improve what the content that you have.
You should promote your content (people won’t find it on their own).
You should produce in depth quality content that will be useful, and don’t go for quantity, unless you can.
If you are running a small business with a team of only a few people, this realisation is useful: you can focus on producing less, in more depth and enjoy the detail that customers can get their teeth into.
It all sounded intriguing, but then I again I thought ‘maybe I’m just finding the information that I want to find’ (We all do that nowadays when it comes to Google, don’t we?).
So, I started to dig deeper to find more examples and here’s what I found:
Marc Pritchard, Procter & Gamble's Chief Brand Officer, is now talking about how P&G has fallen victim of the ‘Crap Trap’, and how they need to focus on quality of creativity and not producing lots.
And it was this last quote from Marc Pritchard that got me. A brand the size of Unilever recognises the poor quality of content out there and it’s not driving ROI for their business! Instead, Marc says that Unilever and marketing needs to do something different, and reintroduce quality back into the work it produces.
I then realised that it wasn’t just one off blog posts about small businesses that were saying this, but the Head of Unilever!
It should come as no surprise, then, that Havas Meaningful Brands report identified that “60% of content produced by brands is declared as poor, irrelevant or failing to deliver.”
That is, out of every 10 pieces of content produced, 6 are a crap, and a waste of time. If I were a betting man and following what other people do, then maybe I wouldn’t so much. Maybe 6 out of 10 of us are doing it poorly and only 4 are doing a job that is average or even better than average.
Right now, we are facing a new challenge in how we produce content that drives actual business results, and doesn’t just fill the online void.
The main challenge with content is that our drive for short-termism to drive quick sales and tick a box in a content calendar is harming growing a business.
However, there is hope about a way forward to producing content that is less crap.
In WARC’s Content Strategy Report 2017, Lessons From The 2017 Warc Awards, they found that content marketing that had one idea that ran for more than 6 months is considerably more effective than content that lasts for the short term.
That is, content that chops and changes ideas and topics week in week out in a scattergun style, hoping – oh, just the hoping – that one piece will be a success is less effective than content that has a strong idea at its core and runs for ages. In fact, content that runs for many months is 89% more effective vs content that just runs for the short-term which is 58% more effective. Crazy.
So, what if we got brave and paused our content marketing efforts even for a week to think about how to create better content that has an idea and lasts for a long time?
What if we stopped churning out article or video for the short-term?
What if we paused and planned content that could run for months around one story or one theme?
What if we spent 1 month producing one amazing 10k word blog post and stopped churning out x4 mediocre posts a month?
In other words, how do we create content that is far more effective at driving traffic and sales without filling the digital space with just more noise, and stop stressing ourselves out?
How do we do this?
To find out the answer, we need to take a step back in time before Netscape Navigator and MSN messenger, a time long before the term content marketing became a thing.
A time before online social videos and targeted Facebook ads, when ‘content’ had a strong idea at its core.
Let’s look at a famous ad for a UK snack brand called Nik Naks in 1993 that made me chuckle then, and buy their snacks for my teenage years, and is cited as an outstanding piece of marketing in the food & drink market to this day.
Why am I showing you this old TV advert when the subject is about modern content marketing?
Well, the story behind this 30 second TV advert contains the three fundamental ingredients that make great content, and avoids the landmine that is causing 60% of content to be ineffective.
Let me tell you the ingredients that made this ad so successful that it doubled their market share from 2% to 4% in 1 year.
1). Nik Naks challenged convention about how communicating a snack can be done.
Back then competitor crisps had uniform shapes, like Pringles, Wotsits and Space Invaders. To take on the convention of snacks and be the odd one out was brave. But at the time Nik Naks had only 2% market share and after running this TV ad, its market share doubled in size. If you open a packet of Nik Naks, you’ll see how ugly and misshapen one is and is quite at odds with better shaped crisps. However, it’s by challenging this convention and dramatising a product feature that Nik Naks stood out from the crowd.
When it comes to content marketing in 2018, how often do we really ‘take on convention’, and how often do we mindlessly create content because a keyword tool tells us to?
2). This Nik Naks ad is built on an insight that competitors couldn’t copy and their audience loved: its rebelliousness.
What’s so clever about this is that it is true to the product and is something their 15-year old audience liked too. Their audience at the time (which is me too don’t forget) were into rebellious music like Nirvana or Pearl Jam and anarchic TV like Bottom. By understand their audience’s rebellious nature and matching it to the unconventional crisp shape, they knew they had a winning angle. But how often do we spend time researching into our audience to make a connection that will turn our audience’s brains on even before we thinking about the channels we’ll distribute our content on?
3). Instead of rushing the idea into the market, Nik Naks took its time to make the content great.
Remember, it’s not just us who are under pressure to ‘get content out there’: Nik Naks were under-pressure to increase their sales (just like we are), which meant that rushing it wasn’t an option if their content (or TV ad) was to have a meaningful impact on their bottom line. Instead, they ran focus groups and got to know their audience and tested two options with them. They spent a lot of time making sure that every second of their 30 second TV ad counted.
Sounds boring, doesn’t it? That’s just not how ‘digital’ works, nowadays right? Just post it up and see how it goes, yes? Well, that’s short-termist thinking. Instead, how often do we take time to plan content, to write it, get feedback from customers, let it air and increase the chances of it driving more attention, traffic and sales?
In the rest of this piece, I’m going to move from 1993 to 2018 and look at more modern examples of ‘content’ from similar food & drink brands, who – just like Nik Naks have successfully followed these three principles:
Great content challenges convention
Great content is built on listening deeply to customers
Great content needs time to be great
Let’s look at the first of these:
1). GREAT ‘CONTENT’ CHALLENGES CONVENTION
If you live in the UK, you might have heard of this food and drink brand called ‘Oasis’, (it’s owned by the big boys Coca Cola).
In 2014, Oasis was struggling with its sales, and their core audience was (and still is) getting older and wrinklier. Oasis had relied on short-running marketing activity that hadn’t driven sales for the long-term with this core audience. And to make matters worse, there wasn’t much budget (even for Coca Cola) to create content for newer, younger customers, who listen to Taylor Swift, overuse emojis and unnecessarily upwardly inflect at the end of sentences (okay, that’s me showing my age now).
However, Oasis sales went up a lot – (sadly Coca Cola won’t share those figures, but I’ve been informed that they went up a lot!) – because they started to do something different.
So, what did Oasis do that was so different?
Well, the Oasis marketing team and their ad agency got clever. Oasis decided to challenge the normal conventions of how other drinks are sold by trying to be too clever.
By talking to their teenage customers, Oasis realised that teenagers can easily tell when brands are trying to sell. To them it feels like it’s a parent talking to a child and if you’ve ever been a teenager (which, of course, you have) or if you’ve got teenage children, trying to act like a parent or pretend to be cool, is not a wise thing. So, if Oasis played by the normal rules of creating content and being ‘salesy’, they’d be running into the same barriers that their competition was.
Instead, Oasis decided to be different, and be overtly shameless about selling to teenagers (which worked terribly well for their sales).
Here’s some of the content they produced for Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat…
And Oasis isn’t one of the only businesses in recent times to have made terrific content marketing this way.
Since about 2011 Chipotle, decided to ‘Cultivate a better world’ and to stand against the normal convention of processed and planet-harming food.
This one belief has made them famous with Back To The Start in 2011, The Scarecrow in 2013 and , and Love Story in 2016. Chipotle’s Instagram account in 2018 reflects their original idea from 2011 to stand against mass produced food and, today, Chipotle is still one of the S&P 500s best performers.
And there are three big benefits in creating content around one idea that goes against convention.
1). It gives you a basis to create multiple ideas of content based around one theme. If you have one theme or idea, you don’t have to think every week ‘what shall we post about?’ Instead, you have an idea that you can run for months at a time and do different ideas from.
2). Standing against something also makes you famous (and we know the effect that fame has on a brand). Fame generates PR and free attention to the public (and that’s good if you don’t have any advertising budget.
Brewdog, a Scottish craft beer brand, were once very small, had much less marketing budget and choose to be famous by standing against the morn. They instead decided to stand against the bland mass-market beers of the day, like Carling or Fosters.
As a startup, they showed that how a being unconventional can get a lot of free attention by the mass media and give you reams of content ideas, without having to panic-think your way to writing a 'good piece of content’.
In 2010, Brewdog held the world’s small protest by placing a dwarf with a placard outside UK’s parliament arguing for 2/3 pints to be introduced, so British beer drinkers would savour rather than guzzle their beer and realise that craft beer takes nicer than the mass market beers. That got them started.
Nowadays, on 2018, Brewdog has matured and now Facebook is a key channel for them to post images, and the odd video with the founders to ask fans to be partners and investors in their business and so continue their ‘anti-mass brewery’ stance.
3). When you stand against convention, it motivates you too! It is this energy that can’t help but seep into the content you produce for your audience. When you deeply care about what you create, and what you’re saying, your customers can’t help but be infected by your energy.
Yes, getting angry and challenging convention is indeed one very useful principle to creating content that is less crap.,
But not every piece of content needs to stand against something. Sometimes that same content that gets the most awards and drives actual business results needs to do something different: it needs to tap into precisely what moves people emotionally.
That’s why we need to look our second content principle: Great Content Creates Emotional Acupuncture.
2. Great content Creates Emotional Acupuncture.
What is ‘emotional acupuncture’ when it comes to creating marketing content?
Emotional acupuncture is your ability to create an idea for content that strikes a nerve with your customer and gets an emotional reaction. And getting an emotional reaction is important, because, emotional communications creates twice as effective as rational communications, according to the IPA’s research into 1,400 marketing campaigns.
However, many food and drink brands are known for competing on whose product is superior by focusing on what the product contains.
It’s not that this doesn’t work, but it also leads to drier, and rational communication, which means there’s less hope for creating emotional acupuncture with your target audience.
However, Knorr (the stock food company) managed to create content that created some very strong emotional acupuncture and increased their market share by 2.4% at the same time.
How did they do this?
Knorr decided not to do anything radically unconventional.
In fact, they interviewed their audience, but took their time to talk to a lot and really get under the skin of what their biggest emotional acupuncture points was.
Knorr’s customer data showed that Millennials, (who are 18-35) spend 7 times of their income on food but not big brand food, who talked about their own product too much. Instead, they were spending a lot of their income on smaller, independent food and drink brands.
So how what did Knorr do?
Instead of Knorr following the norms of big brands and advertising their own product, they decided to connect their product with what their young target audience care about: dating.
Through the simply talking with customers, Knorr found that food is much more than just about function and taste. In fact, when it comes to finding love, people are attracted to other people who share similar food tastes. Interesting.
So, Knorr decided to create a campaign that showed 14 Millennials with similar food tastes be paired up on a blind date. On their blind date, they fed each other food and, apparently, sparked an awful lot of flirting and chemistry.
Knorr created a 3-minute online video on YouTube, which people found via GIFs on social media and short, teaser videos that drove people to the main YouTube video…
The video then directed the target audience to a flavour profiler app where they could get their own flavour personality.
At the same time, targeted online ads served Millennials personalised recipes which encouraged them to go into store and buy some Knorr. Clever.
The important point here is that Knorr would never have been able to get this content without talking with their audience and understanding their world. They wouldn’t have understood how important that somebody’s food choice is when attracting a partner.
If you’re a small brand, or a big brand, talking to your customers isn’t hard.
You might not have the budget for an app, a video and advertising budget, but you do have the time to talk to customers. It doesn’t need to be expensive, and it can be free too (if you ask customers nicely). So, get out there and get talking to customers.
But if you’re not so keen on talking to customers, you can always resort to a bit of Google research and still get a good idea for great content to make.
Yes, I prefer talking to customers, but understanding what’s trending online and what people are searching for can give you some useful ideas that create emotional acupuncture and business results at the same time.
And to paint a picture of how this can work, we need to take a trip to Malaysia
Have you ever seen a Millennial eat a beef burger in Malaysia?
If you have, the odds are that it’s a McDonald’s burger. Now McDonald’s is an issue for KFC – they both sell burgers. However, KFC had their own new chicken burger and wanted to win over Millennials.
Their approach was to look at the top 25 trending YouTube videos to see what their customers were into that week and link it to their product: their cheesy chicken burger. The cheesy burger told cheesy pick-up lines to Millennials in 15 second YouTube Pre-roll ads.
And knowing how much Millennials use dating apps, they also created a profile on the dating app Tinder for its Hot & Cheezy burger! Their market share went up by 20% and increased weekly sales by 16%. All because they did their research first and created content that tapped into what their audience were feeling emotional and excited about.
Without spending time listening to your audience, you’re shooting in the dark with the content you create.
It doesn’t take much time to listen to your customers and hear about what is exciting or bugging them, before creating content that really speaks to them. If you create content that shouts ‘buy from me’ but doesn’t link your product to your customers’ worlds and create some emotional acupuncture, why should they pay any attention to you, let alone buy from you.
Yes, KFC Malaysia Burger ad was driving short term sales of its burgers, and Knorr were doing long term sales. However, both didn’t do any obvious content that talked about why their products were so great. Instead, they researched into what moved its audience emotionally and played it back to them like a mirror. A mirror with their product conveniently embedded into it too ;)
So, do research, be a mirror: it doesn’t need to cost the world. In fact, the process of talking to a few customers, doesn’t need to cost anything at all.
3. Great content needs time to be great
Good wine goes up in value if you don’t drink it for a long time.
A good cheese tends to mature with age.
My spaghetti Bolognese tastes better after the 2nd day of eating it, not the first.
And content that has time to air, get feedback on a small scale from peers and customers, tends to be stronger for it.
TV ads, websites, computer game, apps, films go into research and long periods of planning because there has to be a great story in it.
But as soon as we call a piece of marketing ‘content’, then something strange happens in our brains: we see it differently, we think that we’ve just got to ‘get it out’ there because our content calendar demands it, and all because the content lorry needs to be filled.
As Dave Trott, the famous Ad Man, said:
"Content is seen as just stuff. The stuff that goes into the space that’s there to be filled. Think of a lorry. A lorry has wheels, an engine and a cab. And a big space on the back to be filled up with something. It doesn’t matter what you fill it with, the lorry is the delivery system. The lorry will do the job of delivering whatever 'content' you put in the back."
The problem with a content lorry is that it is always there ready to be filled and ready to go out to the wider world. As soon as one content lorry leaves, another one turns up ready for more ‘content’ to be put in the back.
Which is terrific on one hand, because you just need to hit the ‘go’ button and then the content lorry leaves with your content immediately.
But like the cheese, wine or my spaghetti Bolognese, just because it can be go live quickly, does it mean that it should be published? If this ‘content’ has to drive business results, what’s the harm in letting content get better behind closed-doors first?
What’s the harm in planning a month in advance to let content ‘air’? What’s the harm in getting feedback and making content to be as effective and long-lasting as possible. Remember what I said earlier: content that is produced around the same idea for many months, is 89% more effective vs content that just runs for the short-term which is 58% as effective. So, planning for a content theme that can run and run, will do you more favours.
However, I’ve only given you half the story.
I’ve given you ideas about how to create one type of content that gets lots of attention and is, well, a bit less crap. Google might call this ‘hero’ content, and whatever you call it, it’s content that pulls on the heart strings and gets the press writing about you.
There is, in fact, another layer of content that doesn’t need to be unconventional, it doesn’t need to be deeply researched, nor does it need much time to be great.
There is some content that just answers the needs of an audience when they’re trying to know more about your product, and it doesn’t need unconventional thinking. That is, content that is less sexy but helps buyers know what they’ll get from your product and answer any more objections that they might have. Something that Google might also call this ‘hub’ content. Others might call it ‘middle of the funnel’ content. Whatever you call it, it’s content that can go on your sales pages, on social media, in newsletters: places where people are wanting to understand more about what you do and offer.
Huel, one of my favourite food brands, gets high views with this type of video content on its YouTube page.
Huel doesn’t produce much video content, but what it does produces is the opposite of crap. It’s useful content that gets a lot of attention. In the picture below, you can see the numbers of views that Huel has just by giving information about how to use its products to create yummy foods, get the best nutrition and stay hydrated.
One of Huel’s competitors, Ambronite, has a clever idea too
It aggregates 3rd party reviews, influencer and customers’ testimonials on its own YouTube page as a tactic to convert more customers. The content doesn’t fit hugely with our three principles of being unconventional, creating emotional acupuncture or giving itself time to be great.
However, just like Huel, it has a purpose which is to move customers further on in the sales process and convince likely customers who might have a list of concerns about ‘why not to buy’.
What does this mean for producing content that is less crap?
Do we only use our three principles and produce content with a big idea that gets lots of traction and some fame for the brand?
Should we forgo things like more product, sales focused content like Huel?
The answer is that we should do all of them, but we should focus most of your time our on the content that fits with our three principles, lasts for months not days or weeks.
We’re talking about doing much better content that can create big impact for a business, and not just firing out poorly crafted whitepapers, YouTube videos and social media posts that have a lifespan of a few days.
That’s why by going against convention, by using emotional acupuncture and giving content time to air, you’re elevating your content out of that 60% which is poor or ineffective to a place where you can make a business that’s worth people’s time.
Like the Nik Naks crisps, ‘content’ for businesses is known for being ugly and it’s about time we added some beauty to it.
Get busy planning early and thinking differently about how to use content for the long term. Do it for your customers, your sales, but above all do it for your pride.