If content is king, why are the peasants not noticing?

I used to love the Wizard of Id cartoons. The King was totally out of tune with his subjects. One day, a peasant pointed him out as he floated past in a hot air balloon, saying "Look, there's the royal windbag." The reply was pretty obvious: "What's he doing in a hot air balloon?"

So it is with much of the so-called 'content' sourced from agencies and blown out across the corporate landscape without so much as a second glance as to alignment with brand values and audiences. Standing in the fields below, nothing is clear and almost nothing sticks. Just another bag of wind demanding no consideration.

In my corporate life, I hear from a lot of content agencies offering a veritable conveyor belt of material for as little as a few hundred dollars a month. God only knows what the copywriters are being paid, but it cannot be much and the standard of material provided often reflects this.

I love technology and what it brings to communications science, but I think it is also the cause of much angst about the frequency of contact with audiences. It is easy to think that just because you can communicate every week or month, that you must do it.

Nothing is further from the truth and, with a few possible exceptions in high-engagement-high-volume categories, your customers probably don't want to hear from you anywhere near as much. It is far more likely that they want to hear from you when you have something important and relevant to tell them. 

Technology is not the sole driver of this urge to communicate come hell or high water. The old quarterly newsletter or magazine was one of the worst culprits, so much so I urged every employer and client to drop the idea in favour of irregular bulletins driven by tactical need. 

The regular newsletter was the bane of the communications team. It sat like a cat waiting for a mouse at the end of each publication period, with its insatiable appetite for small rodent-sized articles to fill those blank pages.  

Here are a few of my thoughts on the pitfalls of some of these syndicated services:

  • They prey on the need to feed hungry automated marketing and CRM platforms. The key thing to remember is quality trumps quantity every time;

  • Copy from these sources has to be generic. External providers cannot afford at the prices offered to fully immerse themselves in your business or life in order to reflect your strategy and priorities in their copy. It's simply not possible;

  • They usually do not provide content that is relevant and timely, adding value to the lives of your target audience. Anything that is irrelevant or out of step with your audiences' needs is spam.

The question is: If what you are presenting is not unique to you and your brand, why publish it at all? If you are buying the syndicated stuff, then any number of your competitors, disruptors and others working on the cheap are running the same material. No differentiation and, just as an aside, the risk of slipping down the Google search rankings on your SEO.

Of course you can adjust the base copy, perhaps top and tail it with your own message, drop in your name and/or brand and "Hey presto ... I'm different!"  At least you have done something to overcome the obvious flaws in common sourcing with your competitors, but it's seldom enough to cut through the clutter of sameness from people competing for attention in your space. 

Frequency is often the enemy of effectiveness. I argue that when it comes to investing in content, whether that be copy or visual content, you are better investing in a few well researched, tailored and insightful pieces than churning information out because you feel you have to.