The 2016 presidential election is a story of outliers. Whether you’re heartened or horrified by the success of this year’s grassroots and self-funded candidates, there’s no denying something unprecedented is afoot. Pundits say many Americans are tired of the status quo, mistrustful of the political class, open to alternatives who are running on the promise of change.
Meanwhile there’s a content marketing analogy to be made here. Heading into spring, into Q2, a few months into our collective marketing plans and editorial calendars, now is the perfect time to make it. Because despite content’s ability to drive major bottom-line returns, sometimes the single worst thing we can do as marketers is to keep following our mainstream examples. There are at least three reasons why…
But first, what do I mean by mainstream content marketing? I’m talking about the ideas and activities that are standard practice in your marketing department: tools, processes, goals, etc. And what do I mean by voting “no”? I’m not suggesting we throw the entire discipline out the window. Far from it.
Just like giving your vote to a new kind of candidate doesn’t mean you have to reject all the policies of his incumbent, a referendum on content norms only requires opening the door to a fresh outlook—maybe a few new experiments… Ready to hear my talking points?
1. Your Comfort Zone Is Growing Cobwebs
Remember that painfully awkward exchange wherein Chris Christie called out Marco Rubio on his canned debate language? We all know politicians memorize lines, but in that moment, suddenly, it seemed like maybe everything was a repeat performance—a series of memorized sound bites without much substance behind them.
Marketers are guilty of borrowing and recycling successful routines, too. After a while, these trends have the same effect: everyone uses them; marketing campaigns start to look and sound the same; audiences zone out.
Think of how Papyrus font now represents everything from hair salons, to pizza parlors, to mortgage companies—and therefore represents nothing at all. How adjectives like “killer” or “shocking” have gone the way of “awesome,” thanks to millions of blog titles denominated by blog title generators. Even the effectiveness of infographics is in decline, if you believe Neil Patel’s research. (And just when we were all starting to get really good at them…)
As HubSpot’s Shannon Johnson writes, “The moment you feel like you’ve got content all figured out is the moment your brand becomes stale.” She illustrates her point with an example. “We were getting a lot of traction on blog posts that contained SlideShare presentations. Then we started doing a ton of them. Now they don’t get nearly as many views or shares, because the novelty is gone.”
One of the unspoken rules of content marketing is that we must keep pushing ourselves to learn new tools and technologies all the time. We should aim to be ahead of the curve, and unafraid to rethink an approach or update existing pieces when it becomes apparent that we are not. If you’re using the same formulas or formats (or blog title adjectives) reflexively, you’re shortchanging the substance of your message. Great content is sometimes expensive and sometimes risky, but it’s also the best way to solve individual marketing challenges.
2. Credibility Is Queen (and She Is Soooo Much More Likeable)
Whether you like Hillary Clinton or not, you have to admit she’s got a trust problem. According to this recent Gallup poll, respondents chose words like dishonest and liar to describe her. Ouch.
In marketing, as in politics, trust is everything. Ah, but mainstream content often pulls our attention/energy toward strategic benchmarks and quantifiable goals—traffic, leads, sales. No question, these are important to your business. But what about to your prospects? Sometimes we’re so focused on pumping out new material and hitting our targets, we forget to look at outward perception.
According to a B2B survey conducted by KoMarketing Associates, you could be destroying your own credibility right now, by making one of these mistakes:
- Lacking contact information (sort of a no-brainer, but is your Contact Us page all it could be?)
- Lacking a clear, upfront message (visitors can’t tell what your company does)
- Using stock images instead of real-life photographs taken of your team/office
Research shows that a genuine smile can build levels of trust between negotiating parties. How many genuine smiles live on your brand’s website or social media profiles? (And remember, “smile” doesn’t have to mean the literal representation.) A friendly tagline; bright, personable CTAs; informal videos on your thank you pages; even an affable Error 404 page: these are all good ways to look like a brand that cares about people and is legitimately human.
3. Audiences Respond to Passion, Not Planning
Do you think presidential candidates follow prescriptive rules when speaking at rallies? The smart ones don’t, contends Ilya Somin. “Most voters are poorly informed, passionate, biased, overconfident, and tribalistic.” Hence, Somin concludes, politicians frame their messages in ways that appeal to these passions and biases.
“Passions” and biases may be harder to leverage when developing an inbound marketing campaign for, say, commercial roof repair. But just by reminding yourself that audiences feel strongly about some aspect of the buying journey (confusion about whether to repair or replace, frustration over inflated quotes, concerns heading into hurricane season, etc.) you can stop obsessing over six or twelve-month calendars that keep you working, head down.
Every content creator knows that moment—during research, or a SME interview—when a kernel of critical/surprising/previously untold information is revealed. Marketers need permission to throw out the plan whenever that kernel materializes. Suddenly you’ve got the substance for an in-demand eBook, a webinar, perhaps the brightest star of your entire content galaxy... Throw your full effort behind it, and see what it yields.
Breaking the rules is often a prerequisite for growth. Inbound marketing, we all know, was once antithetical to the “best practices” of traditional, interruption marketing. At the same time, marketers (in particular, those manning small departments) need rules/priorities in order to scale their efforts and ensure reliable outcomes. Every day can’t be a groundbreaking, pioneering expedition. Every project can’t be outside-the-box inventive.
So in the end, it’s probably not a question of voting yes or no, but supporting a kind of mixed ticket: established content strategies alongside a willingness to explore uncharted or unconventional ground on a regular basis. Today, that could mean finally getting started on smart website content. Next week, it might mean an updated content calendar that starts with input from your sales department, or a commitment to focus on more customer-centric goals, even temporarily. (When was the last time a prospect thanked you for all that helpful information you’ve been publishing?)
Mainstream content marketing is smart and dependable, no question. In small ways, with key choices, you can elect to make it work harder for you—instead of the other way around.