Brands still don’t know what content actually is, says Danny Blackburn, content director at Stickyeyes
“What is content?” pondered a LinkedIn post. What followed were several hundred responses, from the great and the good of the marketing world, all with their own take on that rather open question. What was telling was that of all these responses, no two were alike.
It cast a spotlight on one of the fundamental problems with content marketing. While most of us understand that content is powerful and most of us commit significant resources to creating content that works, most marketers still don’t know why it is powerful, how it works or what, in its essence, it actually is.
While the reasons are varied, much of the uncertainty surrounding content has its roots in the way in which many of our organisations continue to be structured and how their marketing operations are co-ordinated. It doesn’t matter what our job role is, content has become an even greater part of our respective remits.
The branding team uses content to build the brand, the marketing team uses content to bring a product to life, the public relations team uses content to tell a compelling story and create a buzz, the media team uses content to build new partnerships, and the paid team uses content to close a sale. Even your customer service team will be using content to serve your customer’s needs.
That’s where much of this confusion comes from. We all have different ideas of what content is because we’re all using content as a means to different ends. The problem is that it means brands are taking a very incomplete approach to content.
Tribal teams, each working to their own key performance indicators and priorities, result in glaring gaps in a brand’s content strategy. It could be why, according to the State of Content Marketing Survey, 55 per cent of content marketers believe that content marketing in their organisation is not aligned to wider business goals.
So how do we fill those gaps? How do we go from “incomplete content” to this mindset of “Complete Content”?
A more commercial approach to your content
Digital transformation is an oft-discussed concept as more and more organisations look to adapt their existing processes, constructs and cultures to be more relevant to both the challenges and opportunities presented by the growth of digital. Content undoubtedly has a role to play in that transformation, but the concept of Complete Content does not, in itself, have to be so transformative that it becomes impractical to implement. Complete Content is not about fundamentally changing how a business works, but about changing how it thinks about what purpose content serves for that business.
This concept is designed to join those multiple and competing demands for content strategically. By moving away from a culture that sees different departments creating content for their own ends, at their own pace and inadvertently creating those content vacuums, organisations can start to think about the true commercial purpose of content in whatever form it takes.
By moving away from a culture that sees different departments creating content for their own ends, organisations can start to think about the true commercial purpose of content
Commercial content comes under one of four definitions. It could be functional content or advertising content, which is designed to be a very direct form of messaging around the brand, product or service. At the other end of the spectrum is informational content and engaging content. This content adds value to the user, but is not specifically about the brand or the product.
Not only does understanding these forms of content and the roles they play enable organisations to determine the commercial objectives and the tactical role of their content more effectively, but it also guides brands on how to approach that content. It can guide both the nature of the message and how that message is promoted. Some content will need to be pushed hard, while other content will naturally be more discoverable.
Not all content will be grandiose creative campaigns that generate enormous social brand reach and traffic. It doesn’t have to be. Effective content could be something as simple as a frequently asked questions page that reduces call centre volume – a simple piece of content that has a clear and measurable commercial return. As a concept, Complete Content is about understanding the content needs across the whole business as it looks to deliver its goals and objectives.
Completing your approach to content
At the heart of this process is your audience and market insight. Who are your audiences, what are they looking for and how is your organisation positioned to meet those needs? What content do you currently have to fulfil those needs and how effective is it? How visible is it?
These questions will dictate what blend of the four Complete Content types you are going to need. You may need to lean heavily on one type or require a more balanced blend of all four. Your ideal blend will come from your understanding of how your audiences behave throughout the dynamic user journey, and their wants and needs at every little micro-moment.
And it is in the understanding of this blend that brands can better realise a return on their investment in content. They can see their content investment as a much more holistic, customer-centric use of resources, rather than a departmental “arms race” where every business function is knocking on the chief marketing officer’s door, requesting resources for their own ends which, while good intentioned, may not align with overall business objectives.
Complete Content is a model that allows marketing chiefs not only to make that investment work much harder for the consumer, but it also encourages all teams and stakeholders to remove their respective blinkers. It forces them to think much more about the overall commercial value of their content, about the needs of the audiences they are trying to reach, and about the overall objectives of the organisation.
It’s time to move away from departmental vanity metrics and towards a Complete Content solution that has your audiences at its heart.
Find out how to do just that at