Earlier this week I started this series called "content is the new promotion strategy." Today I'm going to begin with the first question some may have for understanding this promotional paradigm shift...
What is content?
The Wikipedia definition for content is: "information and experiences created by individuals, institutions and technology to benefit audiences in contexts that they value."
For our purposes I expand on this definition a bit to say that online content for promotion is any information, idea, experience, or digital good that will have value to the consumer without the perceived primary objective being an advertisement, offer, proposition, or call to action.
For instance, a series of videos on the website of a home improvement magazine with short "how-to" videos would be content. A banner ad on the same site that simply says, “Order now and save 30%!” is not. This is not to say, however, that at the end of the how-to video there couldn't be an offer to order now to save 30%. The difference is that the content (in this case it's a video) is primary and the offer is secondary. The content earns the attention for the offer. In essence you've given them something now so you can ask for something in return that benefits you (even if you ask it in such a way that you're telling them it's a good deal for them too...like 30% off.)
Content is only as good as its value to another person. High value content is therefore considered high quality content so the opposite is true as well. Low value content is low quality content. The correlation between value and quality is inescapable. The million dollar question then is this: “What is valuable content?”
Valuable content will mean different things to different audiences so an understanding of your target audience is paramount. I was recently talking with a photographer friend about this concept of content as a promotion strategy. At first he wasn't sure it applied to him. He thought it meant he might start a blog about photography tips or something along those lines. Though that's one route he could go (and it may very well be a good one) he could also look at creating digital goods or showcasing his photographs in a form that would be valuable to people who may later be interested in his services. For instance, he could use his pictures as a series of free custom desktop images or inspirational e-cards. Maybe he could take some pictures of children and put music to it to create a funny and touching video about kids. If the video is done well I can just think of all the moms and dads who will want to pass it along to friends/family/coworkers and all the while be promoting his photography in the process. Any of these ideas would be viewed as valuable to people who are potential customers for him and he's promoting himself by giving away content. By giving any of these away, he's not asking for anything in return yet. He just knows he's credited with each photograph that goes out and for now he knows it is more valuable to gain people's attention than to make a hard sell. After all, it's a promotion strategy not a sales strategy.
There are three easy categories to remember for valuable content that can be remembered with this question: Is the content helpful, hopeful, or humorous? This is certainly not an exhaustive list of all the types of content that could be beneficial, but I've found it to be a quick reference to gauge whether something will be perceived as valuable.
- Helpful - Is the content you're going to create going to help someone in any way. Maybe it's going to help give them knowledge or perspective they didn't have before. Maybe it will teach or train them to do something they want to learn. Helpful content helps people. It's not a difficult concept to understand but it could be easily overlooked as a content option. It's not an accident that Lifehacker is the sixth most popular blog in the world.
- Hopeful - Content that is encouraging, touching, or in some other way has an emotional appeal more easily lends itself to being appealing to your audience (assuming this is appropriate for your audience) and then being passed along as well. It's the same thing Hallmark has done for years and more recently Extreme Makeover: Home Edition has been successful with this approach. Kleenex's Let it Out campaign was all over this too.
- Humorous - Let's face it, we've seen more than our fair share of funny online videos, stories, or pictures and we've probably recommended a bunch too. Whether it's some guy dancing around or a baby laughing, humor is one of the easiest ways to create valuable content. Making people laugh is valuable. Last summer eMarketer studied this topic and showed that the most watched online videos are humorous. The band Ok Go got the break of a lifetime with this approach.