It’s never been harder for brands to build trust
You might have heard commentators and media use the phrase “attention economy” to describe the notification-laden state of the internet. Every website, app and platform in our online worlds are competing for our attention.
As a result, the internet is structured not to prioritise the truth but rather what is most compelling. Enter clickbait and fake news. More engagement = more ad clicks = more money. So between doomscrolling through Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok, watching Netflix and YouTube, people don’t have much attention left for your brand-led content.
The growing awareness of how “we are the product” has led to scepticism about brands and corporations, especially when it comes to content marketing. The phrase ‘tough crowd’ comes to mind. Amid Netflix exposés and vapid brand activism, it’s harder for businesses to please and gain real trust.
This is especially true when you’re competing with creators. Consumer-creators tend to have deeper, more direct relationships with their audiences than brands. It’s hard to compete with someone who feels like a friend. This counts for classic influencers but also individual operators with paid newsletters (take a look at passion/creator economy). You’re not just up against other brands, but with individual creators at-large.
Getting people to engage with your content is more difficult than ever, and building authentic relationships with your desired audience is also harder than ever. But with some creativity and a focused strategy, it’s still possible.
- Define your brand
- Define your audience, set objectives and determine success.
- Pick your channels and your tactics.
- Produce fantastic content
- Distribute, measure, and repeat.
1. DEFINE YOUR BRAND
Defining your brand is important work you should do before starting or scaling up your content. Having clarity on your brand answers important questions like “What do you stand for? What do you believe in? What is unique about you? What conversation are you trying to push forward? Whose attention are you trying to capture?”
Without doing this, any content you produce is unlikely to be consistent or sufficiently differentiated.
You won’t have any guidelines when it comes to determining the type of content you should be creating. And anything you do produce won’t feel like you and won’t help you develop long-term brand equity.
But this isn’t an article about brand strategy. If you’re at ground zero, I recommend Ana Anjdelic’s newsletter ‘The Sociology of Business’ and Jasmine Bina’s Medium.
2. SET OBJECTIVES, DEFINE YOUR AUDIENCE, AND DETERMINE SUCCESS
Three things to think about here:
- Who you’re trying to capture (audience)
- Why you want to do more content (objectives)
- How you’ll measure success (KPIs/success metrics)
Defining your audience
O.G. marketing man Seth Godin writes: “When you tell a story to someone who wants and needs to hear that story, eyes light up, pulses quicken, trust is built and action is taken.”
So, your first priority should be understanding who you are trying to reach with your content. Ideally, you’ll have built some personas as part of your brand development (or earlier customer development).
If not, here’s a quick steer:
- Speak to people you think are your target audience. Get to know them and their problems. Scroll through their social media feeds. Ask what makes them tick.
- Define your audience’s psychographic traits (personality, beliefs). They tend to be a lot more insightful than their demographic traits (age, gender, location)
- Outline their goals (what they want to do), interests (what they like), and pain points (what they no longer want to do), and where they spend time.
An emerging idea is taste communities. The idea acknowledges that humans are inherently social creatures, so focusing on them as individuals – as personas tend to do – is redundant. Rather, focus on the communities they belong to. The relationships people hold and the recommendation networks they’re a part of say 10 times more about how they’ll buy than what they believe.
Now, onto the why. Brand-led content efforts should be rooted in a high-level business objective. If not, you’ll lack a decent business case for doing more content. It’ll also be hard to unlock spend (on a marketing team) or justify spend (as a founder). For an e-commerce business this could be:
- Increasing new orders
- Increasing repeat orders
- Improving search visibility (SEO)
- Growing an engaged community
When it comes to measuring whether you’ve successfully achieved your desired objectives, make sure to choose the right metrics. Measuring standard content metrics not clearly linked to your objectives (such as page views) is an easy trap to fall into. If you’re measuring and reporting on page views, you may be incentivised to produce a high volume of clickbait content. But that won’t contribute to an objective of growing an engaged community.
There may be some supporting metrics that are useful to track. However, as the Yes Optimist team points out: “The key metrics, or KPIs, should be directly related to your ultimate desired outcome.” Here’s an example.
Objective: Grow an engaged community
- Conversion rate from blog to mailing list
- Email click-through rate
- Number of organic mentions (or specific #hashtag use) on social media
- Number of attendees at virtual events
- Number of engagements on social media
- Time spent on blog pages
3. PICK YOUR CHANNELS AND TACTICS
You’ve got a differentiated brand that’ll help shape content decisions, and clear objectives and success metrics that’ll guide your efforts to reach a specific audience. Now it’s time to get to the actual content activities. Specifically:
- Where you’ll reach your target audience (channels)
- What you’ll do to achieve your stated objective (tactics)
To start this discussion, I’d like to introduce you to the hero-hub-hygiene framework.
The hero, hub, hygiene framework
The hero-hub-hygiene framework is one I lean on heavily, because it forces me to take a holistic approach to content. As a result, I get the most out of it.
Originally, hero-hub-hygiene was a video strategy designed and recommended by Google for YouTube publishers. It laid out an approach not indexed around chasing short-lived viral moments, but on building long-term loyalty.
Its principles apply to all forms of content, and I’ve found it so helpful for structuring content activities.
Hygiene ‘pull’ content
Hygiene content is designed to pull users in based on their searches or interests. Well-performing hygiene content drives discoverability. Examples include: FAQs, how-to videos, educational guides and testimonials.
What are your users searching for? What are some questions that most of your users tend to ask? What do they need help with?
Any content that answers these questions is hygiene content. This is where SEO-driven content lives. Jumping into a keyword search tool and mining for high-volume, low competition queries will be brilliant for ideation. Hubspot does this well, with its classic hub-and-spoke approach.
Hygiene content is also table-stakes content that exists to explain. Well-performing hygiene content also sets the right expectations. Examples include website copy, customer service emails and product pages.
You want to ensure these spaces are branded and set the tone for the customer-brand relationship that will follow. Communicate who you are, and what you believe in in an authentic differentiated way.
It’s easy to ignore hygiene content. Try not to. At some point in the user journey, a user will interact with it. And if they land on something sub-par after interacting with a beautiful, well-thought piece of hub content, you could lose them.
Hub ‘push’ content
Hub content is engaging content that is pushed to your audience, based on what they want and need. Well-performing hub content drives engagement, and shareability. Examples include blog posts, product-led demos, newsletters, interviews with influencers, and always-on social media.
The bulk of your ongoing content efforts will be dedicated to hub content. This is the content that has a consistent cadence (daily, weekly, monthly) and is aggressively targeted to your primary audience. This content should keep your audience coming back, and incentivise them to engage (subscribe, follow, like).
Hero ‘pow’ content
Hero content is your less-frequent, multi-channel, go-big-or-go-home content. It should be seen by the masses, and will probably cost something. Well-performing hero content drives differentiation, and brand awareness.Examples include conferences, reports, documentaries, books and product launches.
Hero content is the bigger-budget brand activations that should happen regularly, depending on resource. They are high-risk, high-reward efforts, and should engage the full spectrum of B2C content marketing channels – owned, earned and paid media.
Make sure to understand what the hook is. Ideally, you should also use it as a means to funnel people towards your existing hub content (or create some new hub content) in order to sustain/capture uplift.
Channels and tactics
Table-stakes hygiene content (such as website copy and transactional emails) is key for every business. But how much hero, hub and hygiene content you do on top of that depends on your objectives. For now, let’s assume we only have one objective:
Grow an engaged community
To achieve this, we’ll need to primarily focus on hub content, on channels where our audience tend to hang out. We’ll use tactics that are highly engaging and involve our customers. For example:
- A mini docuseries on a topic highly emotional/inspirational and tangential to your product. For example, as a hair growth brand, you could give a voice to those with alopecia. As a sportswear brand, you could explore the challenges of being a woman in sports (supported by paid media and partnerships).
- Host weekly conversations with a specific hashtag (tactic) on Twitter (channel)
- Host monthly fireside chats with your most stylish customers (tactic) on Instagram (channel)
- Craft an always-on social media calendar that focuses on styling tips, sharing UGC, and funny memes (tactic) on Instagram (channel)
- Hold giveaways (tactic) that’s exclusive for your newsletter subscribers (channel)
- Branded website copy and transactional emails.
This framework is the most universal, regardless of objectives. However, there are other frameworks, especially some that are more suited for objectives oriented around search visibility/SEO. Read about them here.
4. PRODUCE FANTASTIC CONTENT
The most important filter for deciding whether to produce something is asking: “Is this something my audience would want to share?” Another to ask is: “Is this something that is going to make people want to come back for more?” If it’s not, don’t do it.
Here are some more tips to guide your production.
- Get organised
- Think outside the box
It’s impossible to give blanket advice on what you should produce, but as a general rule of thumb, think outside the box. Can you offer a new perspective? Can you take standard information and put it into a new, interesting format? Can you use your industry insight to curate existing information? Get creative.
There is a diminishing amount of space for middle-of-the-road hub content. It’s easier to get cut through with snackable, short content (such as Twitter, TikTok, meme culture). Or, at the other end, longer-form, rich, nuanced content (The Skin Deep, Vogue 73 questions, podcasts, New York Times exposés.) Most content that goes viral or garners a lot of organic conversation lives in one of these two camps.
In a similar vein, try to work with multiple mediums. Social media algorithms favour image/video/audio over the written word.
- Creative is just as important as words
Think of blog banners, meta images, and social images as a form of marketing for your content. Commissioning illustrators, turning your podcast into a visual social snippet, or creating infographics is a great tactic to increase engagement.
- Keep your finger on the pulse
The more you know about the space you’re operating in and the customers you’re trying to reach, the more relevant and valuable content you’ll produce. Follow the tastemakers and futurists in your sector and see what they are talking about. Spend 30 minutes scrolling through Twitter each day. Subscribe to good cultural digests and medium publications. Keep up with your competitors' comms. Watch your customers’ YouTube videos.
5. DISTRIBUTE, MEASURE AND REPEAT
Conventional content wisdom says that you should spend the same amount of time distributing content as you do producing it. The 50/50 rule is the benchmark.
For each piece of content, you should have a short ‘distribution checklist’, such as:
- Post content in online communities (Reddit, Quora, LinkedIn groups, Facebook and Slack)
- Broker content-sharing agreements with other brands
- Embed it into your social/email calendar (and promote it at least two to three times)
- Encourage your team to engage with social media posts to boost visibility
- Turn it into a Tweet thread
Monitor the response, and see whether it’s positively contributing to your KPIs. Sometimes, content needs time to marinate. I’d recommend monthly retrospectives where you review the metrics to determine what’s working, and what needs to change for next month.