Content is still king. But methods and media have changed.
When I first got into this industry back in 2012, larger sites were still gaming the system with high-volume content stuffed with keywords. Google was engaged in an ongoing war with link farms, which used backlinks at scale to inflate rankings. I always found it scummy; maybe that was sour grapes, since most of the content writing I could find didn’t pay enough for me to support myself. I framed houses instead (at least, until the algorithm changed … but that’s another story).
In some ways, we haven’t gotten past the problem. Social and search alike give access to so much content that it’s hard to stand out. Here are four keys to setting yourself apart from the pack.
As pioneering content marketer Seth Godin puts it, “Marketing is storytelling.”
People love stories. Stories attract our attention, get us engaged and induce us to take action — all keys to great marketing. If you have the ability to tell a good story to your audience, you’re essentially “future-proofing” your marketing.
Think about it. Even though there are gatekeepers like Google, YouTube, Facebook and TikTok, it’s in their best interests to serve people content they care about. If they don’t do that job, people stop engaging with their platform. The gatekeepers only make money when people stick around.
To minimize gamesmanship, platforms change the rules. Google recently updated its search algorithm to add an extra E for experience to its search quality acronym E-E-A-T (experience, expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness). The easiest way to show that experience is to tell stories.
AI content tools are advancing rapidly in both usage and quality. They’re basically hyper-advanced autocorrect; they predict what content should look like based on their database of material that already exists. That makes them good at doing the things that Google is de-emphasizing — and bad at creating the content that ACTUALLY BUILDS ENGAGEMENT.
AI can write a story. It can’t write your story and prove your value to your audience. Sure, you could churn out lowest-common-denominator posts aimed at the latest loophole in the algorithm. Or you could take the time to do what the platforms want you to do anyway and give your audience something that stands out.
That’s not easy or cheap in the short term. The smart play rarely is.
Authentic Video Content
Remember “pivot to video” a few years ago?
A lot of companies moved to video too early, based on misleading statistics from some of the big platforms, primarily Facebook. But we’ve finally reached the tipping point.
Let’s look at the stats. Wyzowl has been running its video marketing survey since 2015. This year saw its highest percentage of businesses using video for marketing (91%). A vast majority (over 80%) say that video has helped them with user understanding, brand awareness, traffic, leads, sales, time on site and general ROI.
One of the biggest areas of expansion is short-form video — TikTok, YouTube Shorts and Instagram Reels. Some of our clients have seen explosive growth when they moved into short-form video. Live streaming too — it’s as easy as opening your favorite social media application and hitting “Go Live.”
The best thing about it is that you don’t need high production value to connect; when your audience is looking for a snack, there’s no point in force feeding them a five-course meal. Authenticity matters. Give your audience content that serves their needs and aligns with your message and brand values, even if it’s just you talking into a camera. The marketing ROI will come.
The formula for successful engagement used to be authority plus authenticity.
That’s not enough anymore. Now you need to add connection to your community.
Prior to the explosion of social media, most communication between a brand and audience was one-way: the brand spoke and the audience listened. Social media changed that. Audiences now believe they have a real connection with the brand — regardless of whether the conduit is an individual, a thought leader or a company. The conversation goes both ways.
And there’s more. Instead of two-way communication being confined to a phone line, letter or face-to-face meeting — all one-on-one affairs — much of it now takes place out in the open where anyone can see and engage. This allows for rapid, organic community formation.
The line between sales and marketing and operations and support doesn’t exist anymore; you’re all one entity to your audience. From the CEO to the college intern, you must know and share the same story.
Smart brands are building their own spaces where communities can grow together and flourish — spaces like Facebook Groups, Discord servers and subreddits. Create those spaces and nurture them.
If you ever watched the Coen Brothers movie “O Brother Where Art Thou,” you probably remember George Clooney’s character Ulysses Everett’s favorite pomade: Dapper Dan. The self-proclaimed “Dapper Dan man” refused to use other products in his hair — but that was the extent of his relationship with the brand. There was no Dapper Dan Discord, no loyalty program, no fanbase coming up with their own spins on the formula. And Ulysses Everett had no idea whether Dapper Dan supported the latest social issues or not.
People have long formed “parasocial” relationships with celebrities (a belief that you and a person you only know through mass media have a personal and reciprocal relationship). They form deep connections without ever meeting the object of their affection in real life. We’re starting to see that thinking bleed over to brands as well.
People form passionate connections to brands that support causes they believe in and embody the values that they hold dear. On the flip side, when brands do something that their audience feels isn’t authentic to how they think, feel or believe, they react strongly. We’ve seen a move away from slickly produced, impersonal content and toward more frequent, less produced, personal-feeling content.
Smart marketers will focus on content that emphasizes the values they share with their audience. Show and share, don’t just tell. And make sure you stay consistent, because it’s easier than ever to get caught out. The risks are great, and the rewards are greater.
Out With the Cold, In With the “You”
There’s a central thread running through this piece, if you haven’t noticed yet.
Impersonal, passionless, bland text stuffed with SEO terms is out. Marketers are using a lot of the same media as they have the last couple of decades, but the way they do it is different — content is now focusing on personal, unique content that connects with a community.
Be consistent, personal and trustworthy — that’s how you get ahead. And if you need a hand, we’re here to help. Just drop us a line, anytime.
Rainmaker Digital Services