If Content Is King, Who Is the Heir?

Five questions to keep in mind for your next content marketing initiative.
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Five questions to keep in mind for your next content marketing initiative.
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“Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet.” - Bill Gates, 1996

It’s hard to believe Bill Gates coined the phrase “Content is king” only 18 years ago in a 1996 essay about the Internet - at a time when most people weren’t even online yet. The phrase is such a familiar saw now that marketers are starting to argue for other heirs to the throne including “context” and “distribution.” While it’s unlikely anything will unseat content, it’s an interesting discussion to have. At a recent Cynopsis Digital Monetization Summit, Steve Bradbury, COO of Zazoom conducted a panel discussion that included audience members in an exercise to fill in the blank, “Content and _________ are King.” If we concede that content is king, then what is the next most important element that helps content rule the marketing kingdom?

The audience came up with 18 options, with “consumer” coming out on top. What did this exercise teach us? Content on its own can’t succeed. Far too often brands have a Field of Dreams approach – if you build it they will come, as if it were a birthright. It’s honorable that they’ve committed to creating content, but content alone simply isn’t enough. Brands have to take into consideration just what content they’re creating, who they’re creating it for, how it will affect the audience emotionally, how it will be distributed and more. Just as the King has his court, content needs other elements of a marketing strategy to give it the best chance to succeed.

With that in mind, here five questions to keep in mind for your next content marketing initiative:

1. Does it move me? Not all content is created equal. Not even close. When it comes to content that is most likely to be shared or go viral, it’s the content that resonates with the audience and moves them emotionally that is best positioned for success. Content that is unique, creative and useful will also strike a chord within your audience members, persuading them to share. If your content isn’t hitting some emotional chord—as loudly and provocatively as possible—it will be difficult for that content to succeed.

WestJet’s award-winning real-time giving campaign (and subsequent work with the Ronald McDonald House Charities Canada) wasn’t just impressive, it was incredible. It was so moving during the holiday season that people were compelled to share.

Buzzwords: Emotion, Resonance, Creativity

2. Do I care? Some pieces of content are so good that they transcend the boundaries of age, gender, race and wealth. But most content targets a specific audience, unique in its own way. They are consuming a specific type of content at a specific time on a specific channel. They have their specific wants and needs and concerns. If your content ignores any of these elements, then it’s more likely to be ignored by the target because it doesn’t matter to them. Without the right context and timing, there’s no relevance. If the content isn’t relevant, the audience will simply move on.

Newcastle did a great job with their latest “Independence Eve” campaign, creating content that fits perfectly within the context of Britains least favorite holiday, Independence Day.

Buzzwords: Context, Relevance, Timing

3. Who is talking about it? If you look at the marketing content that has been the most successful over the last few years—Old Spice, Oreo, Kony2012, Newcastle—they all have one thing in common: people just had to talk about it. Content that compels people to talk and share will drive social contagion. Without it, it’s just another piece of content.

In the case of Old Spice, a real-time YouTube response campaign targeting influencers (at first) helped fuel the distribution of the content, which was time sensitive (people had to immediately know that it was happening in order for it’s real-time nature to be effective and impressive). Getting the right people talking and sharing is what made it such a success.

Buzzwords: Influencers, Word of Mouth, Conversation

4. What do you want me to do? Ultimately, all content must have a purpose. It seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many brands will create content simply because they think it’s a great idea and not because it’s tied to a real business goal. Whether it’s to grow a social following, solicit donations or drive purchase, the content must compel a user to take action and engage. If you simply want your content to reach as many people as possible, are you giving your audience call-to-action to share? Are you incentivizing it in any way?

The Human Rights Campaign’s equality sign campaign struck gold in 2013 when they gave a simple call-to-action to equality supporters around the world: Change your photo to a red and white equals sign. Ultimately around 2.7 million people changed their Facebook profile picture.

Buzzwords: Engagement, Call-to-Action

5. Where did I see it? We’d all love to know the recipe for viral success. Then the only thing we’d spend money on is creating the content and it will be so good the audience can’t help but share. Unfortunately, that recipe doesn’t exist. And with such an alarming rate of content—videos, articles, e-books, games, experiences & more—being created on a daily basis, the signal to noise ratio makes it even more difficult to draw eyeballs to your specific content. That’s where distribution comes in. With an effective distribution strategy, even just to initially seed the content; brands can have enough of a spark to light a fire. Just make sure to focus on funding the production of quality content first.

In an unorthodox move, President Barack Obama joined comedian Zack Galifinakis on an episode of Between Two Ferns to publicize the Affordable Care Act and Healthcare.gov. The video was an instant viral success and helped put what is commonly seen as a dry topic (healthcare reform) in front of an elusive millennial target.

Buzzwords: Distribution, Cash

There’s no question that content can’t rein as king all by itself. Emotion, context, distribution and more, are also essential to its success. What elements did we miss?

Jon Thomas is a Senior Digital Strategist at TracyLocke and frequent contributor to Say Daily. Follow him on Twitter @Story_Jon.