The internet is a perhaps the one true egalitarian medium available, where anyone and everyone can have their say. Whether through a blog post or simply in reply to an article, we can all have our voice heard. Not too long ago we relied on the permission of a magazine, newspaper or book editor to publish something. Now all we need do is click the publish button.
Sure, there have always been ways around this problem – you could further your ideological agenda by setting up your own publication or, after years of your great work of literature making its way through the publishing houses to no avail, go down the self-publishing route. But these solutions require money, and sometimes a lot of it.
So we have the internet, bringer of conspiracy theories and bringer down of dictators – and everything in between.
We all want to be heard, to a lesser or greater extent. Some spend hours writing great political tracts, others are happy to simply tweet about their favourite celebrity. We must, as they say, ‘publish or perish’.
To publish is to remain relevant, and nowhere is this more important than in the sphere of content marketing. It is imperative that the message, the brand, the product is discovered and, hopefully, embraced.
Yet, like the Internet in general, there is a glut of sub-standard content that searchers must fight their way through every time they type a term into a search engine. That is to say, there is too much content that does not add value – whether to the one reading it or the one producing it.
This is the price we pay for the freedoms afforded us by the Internet, although Google’s algorithms have gone a long way in weeding out the complete crap.
We as content marketers attempt to understand how and why the content we create is used, read, shared. Publish to remain relevant, but publish what is relevant.
Ah, if only it were that simple.
What is content for, other than selling a product or idea? Internet users seek out information for a myriad of reasons. Content can be everything from a problem solver to a conversation starter and, in truth, it is hard to know for sure which will turn out to be which.
Take Clay Shirky’s succinct example from his book Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age.
He describes McDonald’s efforts to improve sales of its milkshakes. They hired researchers to find out what customers wanted. “Should the shakes be thicker? Sweeter? Colder?” One researcher however decided that rather than focus on the product he would focus on the customers’ behaviour.
The researcher, a man called Gerald Berstell, found to his surprise that many people were buying milkshakes early in the morning on their way to work. They were using the milkshake not as an enjoyable treat, but as a quick and convenient form of nourishment as they rushed to work in the morning.
A great deal of time and effort can go in to crafting a product – in our case content – but ultimately the consumer of that content will decide what is or isn’t relevant to them or their needs, even if it has been designed to appeal to them. Digital marketing has become more sophisticated but so have consumers.
As with the milkshakes, the why is as important as the what. We publish, giving the consumer what they want – or what we think they want – but perhaps not understanding why they want it.
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