Last month, I was lucky enough to attend Creative North, an exciting new conference for copywriters and content marketing professionals in (you guessed it) the north. This venture aimed to offer an alternative to London-centric industry events, and bring expert speakers to the UK's second city.
The overarching topic for the day was a broad one - the future of content. We heard about the reasons why content marketing is changing, how we can prepare for the disruption and what will delight our clients. Here's what I learnt...
Know who you are
Co-host of Creative North Martin J Williams introduced the idea that in a world of fake new, statistics just aren’t as valuable as they used to be. It’s not that factual content is less relevant - it’s less powerful. Consumers are all too aware that facts can be dressed up in various different guises.
As a result, authenticity, empathy and even vulnerability are the new kings in town. Rather than promoting your brand as the best thing since sliced bread, be realistic, foster trust and acknowledge your limitations. Share personal content, even secrets, and details of that time you got things wrong. Take your brand down a peg or two, and position yourself alongside rather than above your audience. It shows that you’re human, and humans want to buy from other humans.
Williams also urged marketers to be honest about the role and relative importance of a product or service. Most people have an excellent bullshit radar, and nothing will turn them off faster than insincerity. If you sell accounting software, for instance, your product may have the potential to really benefit accountants within the confines of their working life. But let's not imply that it can also solve climate change and achieve world peace.
Last but not least, be honest with yourself about the role of your brand in the market, and play to your strengths. If you’re a challenger brand, you can’t take on the dominant market player in a face-to-face showdown. Instead, identify how you differ from them and find an audience who cares. Similarly, if you’re a legacy brand, startup marketing techniques may not be for you. And that's OK - do what works for you.
Don’t fake it (it won’t work)
Technology, and by extension marketing, has an inherently social and political impact. Just look at the free the nipple movement, a socio-political and feminist campaign shaped by image censorship on Instagram. Dr Francesca Sobande, Cardiff University lecturer in Digital Media Studies, introduced me to ‘femvertising’ - the concept of feminised advertising, or the capitalisation of feminism. Brands are becoming more ‘woke’ all over the place, but what can we learn from this?
Just as fast fashion brands churn out cheap clothing, content marketing has become a commodified product. With so much content out there, 'different' sells - and not always to the different. Disruptive content also serves a purpose to differentiate, to shock, to spark conversation, and to shake off old and outdated brand identities.
However there’s a tension between activism and commercialism. Sobande warns against ‘woke-washing’ your content marketing - brands don’t need to bring up current events if they’re not relevant in some meaningful way. No dry shampoo brand can lay claim to influencing election turnouts, for instance, and to my knowledge no soft drinks have meaningfully contributed to improving police-protester relations. Naming no names, Pepsi.
Tell your story
When you break it down, content marketing amounts to storytelling in some shape or form. So says Tolani Shoneye, a writer, influencer and co-host of The Receipts podcast. She emphasised that in an age where everything is up for interpretation, digital content provides a huge potential for niche dominance.
Demographics are dead, and there’s something out there suited to everyone’s interests. As a result, it’s really difficult to be a successful generalist. Our ability to find and self-identify with niches means that buyer personas and target audiences are no longer set in stone. As we've discussed previously, Netflix all but abandoned demographic targeting when they realised teenage boys watch Dance Moms sometimes, and that plenty of older women love Breaking Bad.
Her advice? Embrace your niche, and don’t feel the need to be all things to all people. This means not taking pains to explain yourself to people outside of your audience. They’re not the right people to be talking to anyway. So if you’re targeting a niche demographic who use specialist terminology, speak their language!
Offer genuine help
According to Peter Stephen, B2B copy specialist, we like websites that help us choose. There are too many choices on offer as it is, and we want helpful and relevant recommendations to make our life easier. No wonder calculator tools are so popular.
Bearing this in mind, however complex your product or service, you need to create an elevator pitch. If you don't have a clear value proposition and can't instantly communicate the offering to your audience, you don’t know what you’re selling.
The internet, at its core, is simply a discovery tool for analogue products, services and experiences. It’s just another channel which we can use to communicate, and content marketing plays a crucial role in this. Focus your efforts on making the consumer's life easier, and you're onto a winner.
Live (and write) your beliefs
Culture turned inward is product, says Anna Pickard, Head of Brand Communications at Slack. Culture turned outward is brand. Deep, right? With this in mind, meaningful content marketing should reflect your broader company morals. For instance, if your cloud software tool promotes education and collaboration, make sure that your content is similarly informative and supportive. Develop a strong brand voice and prioritise connections over just creating a 'buzz'.
Pickard also discussed the importance of showing up when the going gets tough - something content marketing can often struggle with. It's all very well patting ourself on the back for a job well done, but it's crucial that we pay attention to the negatives as well as the positives. She advised marketers to show up in times of heightened emotions, and treat frustrations with empathy.
Talk to Six & Flow about content marketing
If this blog has caught your attention and worked up an appetite for content marketing, why not talk to Six & Flow? We're inbound experts with plenty of experience across paid, social, content, video, sales enablement, chat - you name it, we've written it. Alternatively, keep feeding your research bug with our helpful guide below.