In our latest of interviews exploring the intersection between content, marketing, and culture, Geoffrey Director, SVP of Intelligence and Head of Brand Strategy and Analytics at content marketing agency Manifest, expounds the importance of quality over quantity when creating content and finding the sweet balance between what the audience values and what the brand stands for.
Content is the bridge between you and your audience. How do you anticipate and then integrate the right topics for your audience while maintaining a consistent brand voice?
The fundamental question in content strategy is: what can your brand uniquely offer that your audience would truly value? It’s a simple question but it can be very hard to figure out. Once you can answer it, you’ll know what content to make and what not to make.
It’s intuitive that if you only base your content on some unique things your brand can (or wants to) say, and forget to bring genuine value to your audience, it will be tantamount to advertising – they’ll ignore it. But the reverse is just as much of a problem: if you chase anything the audience seems to need or solely focus on the same obvious search queries that all your competitors use to drive content, it will be undifferentiated and likely not connected to any particular brand equity. The game is value, not volume.
Make less content, make it count, and make sure it answers a fundamental need that your brand has the authority to address.
What role does branding play in content marketing?
Branding can play an enormous role in content — when it’s done right. But it’s often downplayed under the guise of journalistic integrity or commitment to be “audience first.” But let’s not forget that content marketing is still marketing. The internet doesn’t need another generic source of filler, but that doesn’t mean your logo needs to be slathered across everything either. Branding can be present through design, tone, experience, and smart copy.
We believe that content is the soul of your brand – the real substance that you share with the world. It’s your website, your social channels, your shareholder calls, your job postings, TV ads, product manuals, and everything else. It’s not just branding – it is the heart of the brand.
Not everything can be advertised the same way, which can require a different approach across clients. How does content affect the way something is marketed and how do you pivot to treat this?
You must be very specific about which marketing objectives you seek, and how you will structure your content program to meet them. Whether your metaphor of choice is a journey, a funnel or something else, the advantage that content has over advertising is that it can address every part. Content can tackle everything from the broadest awareness play to the most minute conversion tactic. That’s because you can shape content in so many different ways for so many different channels. It’s not a tool, it’s the toolbox.
At Manifest, we focus not on journeys, but on barriers. You don’t really need a map of the 200 steps your target takes in a purchase decision, nor could you effectively position content against them all anyway. You just need to figure the 4 or 5 most important behavioral or perceptual barriers that prevent the desired outcome or action and use content to overcome them.
Without giving away your secrets, what are some things that are integral to your internal checklist when creating content?
First, take a deep breath and survey your content program in totality from 30,000 feet. Now, what is your “content value proposition?” What is your content program bringing to the world? You should codify your value proposition, make sure everyone in your organization agrees on it, and then use it as a filter for every asset you create.
Secondly, we actually do have a checklist at Manifest. Every employee has a printed copy. It contains 5 questions we ask ourselves while we create everything we do. I won’t give away all 5 of our secrets, but here’s my favorite one: Have I applied provocative rebelliousness or am I content and careless? If you pronounce it the wrong way, content just means satisfactory. And in a world that creates 5 exabytes of content a day, that just isn’t good enough.
How do you strategize for the way audiences will want to interact with content in virtual realities, Web 3.0, and the metaverse? To what extent do you involve influencers and consumers in creating the brand narrative?
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Strategically, whether you’re writing an advertorial in a newspaper or creating a virtual world, you need a good insight and a compelling idea, both of which come from hard study and smart research. Of course, you will have to learn new things about how platforms work and the behavior of different audiences on those platforms, but that’s always been the essence of the job.
Whether we are creating native social content, branded programming, or an immersive content experience, we think about 2 things - first, who are we talking to and how can we bring them value, and then, as the strategy begins to take shape, how do they expect or want to be engaged in this specific platform. If we’re meeting a Gen Z audience in TikTok, we know that entertainment, or edutainment, is paramount. If we’re creating an episodic series in YouTube Kids, we know the content needs to be engaging, and “bingeable”.
We always meet the audience where they are with what they’ll want because humans love a good story, period. Books have gotten longer (not shorter) on average because of e-readers. The average podcast length is around 30 minutes, which means we’re essentially back to listening to radio shows. Technology has simply given us a more wide-reaching and convenient opportunity to tell great stories.