The library in the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria, built in the third century CE, is thought to have held as many as 400,000 papyrus scrolls. In the late 1980s, the United States Library of Congress had 85.5 million items. In 2009, Google had indexed 3 trillion web pages. A few years later, that number had grown by over 4000% to 130 trillion pages.
So… do we really need more content? Our world is dominated by pages, pictures, videos and podcasts that superficially talk about a subject without actually saying much at all—it’s that “sea of sameness” we’ve heard so much about, and it’s rooted in the fear that details of any kind will cause the reader to resign in confusion.
Is there even anything more to say?
But we still have plenty to say; you just have to say it in a way that slices through the sameness and truly stands out. Humans are expressive creatures—we love telling and hearing stories. Done well, stories provide organizations with the means to engage with people, build their credibility, educate about products and services and make life easier, better and more delightful for their audiences.
Even with the best and most strategic of intentions, it’s too easy to produce lackluster content that doesn’t break through the noise and find an audience. If you’re going to take the time and spend the money to put pen to paper, you’d better take a cue from master marketer Seth Godin, who emphasized in his 2009 book Purple Cow that, “[Your audience is] open to hearing your story if it’s truly remarkable; otherwise, you’re invisible.”
What can you do to maximize an investment in content? Here are five tactics that top-performing content organizations apply to produce remarkable content.
1. Purposefully Provocative
In 2009, Domino’s Pizza noticed a trend on social media: Their pizza wasn’t faring so well. Comments ranged from “pizza was cardboard” to “mass produced, boring, bland pizza” and even “microwave pizza is far superior.”
Domino’s had arrived at an impasse. They could either accept these claims, dispute them, or take action to render them invalid. They opted for the latter, and the “Domino’s Pizza Turnaround" campaign featured real employees tweaking and testing new recipes until the pizza lost all of its bland, cardboard-y taste.
Domino’s recognized the wisdom of design and brand consultant Marty Neumeier’s oft-repeated saying: “A brand is not what you say it is. It’s that they say it is.” In tackling widespread negative sentiment about their product, Domino’s demonstrated how to be a brand that listens to its audience and takes action. They made a promise to the market, and then they kept it. But just as powerfully, they did something most marketers would never consider: They took negative sentiment and used it to spark a conversation.
The results of this intentionally provocative campaign speak volumes. While it’s tough to demonstrate causation between marketing and share price, the correlation is impressive: One year after the campaign launch, Domino’s stock price doubled from six to 12 dollars a share, then continued to exponentially rise—roughly 27 dollars a share in 2011, 35 in 2012 and reaching more than 450 in 2021.
2. Embodying Expertise
Nothing conveys generic forgettability quite like a broad content topic we’ve encountered a million times before: Absent of context or opinion, pieces of content such as trend forecasts, event recaps and product recommendations are worth about a dime a dozen, if not less.
Let your subject matter experts be experts, even if their expertise is niche. It may seem counterintuitive to lean into specifics in an attempt to capture audience attention, but better to be read by a small but mighty and devoted customer base than mostly ignored, or skimmed, by everyone.
Look no further than Rightpoint’s blog for an example of how to elevate your experts. Want to geek out on NFTs and D2C? Justin Kaufman has you covered. Curious about the future of hybrid work? Check out Juliette Connolly’s piece. How about the implications of Apple’s recent privacy updates on the Facebook Conversion API and the Magento e-Commerce platform? Max Chadwick wrote about it back in April. (Honestly, I had never even heard of the Facebook Conversion API. Thanks, Max!)
It’s OK to get in the weeds. Your audience is smart and hungry for knowledge. Give it to them.
3. Creating Connections
Great storytelling doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists among people, and content has the capacity to transcend its form and substance to forge lasting connections.
Bharat Anand, a Professor of Strategy at Harvard Business School, wrote a provocatively titled book called The Content Trap with a provocative thesis. He writes:
“[Companies] are advised to focus and singularly specialize on the products they already have. They are told to base their decisions on the best practices of others. Focusing on content—making it better, charging for it, learning from others—is not inherently unreasonable. But miss the role of connections—user, product, or functional ones—and that focus will fail.”
In place of the traditional model of producing content and hoping for it to be “a hit” (or “go viral,” in the words of too many marketers), Anand offers the idea of holistic creative and business ecosystems in which content is always in service of enabling connections among audience members, products and functional aspects of the business.
The recent partnership between Tasty (Buzzfeed’s food vertical) and Cuisinart is instructive. The two brands partnered to create the One Top, a smartphone-enabled induction cooktop product powered by Tasty recipes. In the context of a pure-play digital environment, the content is the product: The recipes attract viewers (“eyeballs”) to webpages, and the resulting interactions are monetized via ad sales and other tactics. With the One Top, the content simply becomes an ingredient in a larger product and brand experience.
At Rightpoint, we are currently exploring how customer-centric content strategies can become the foundation for a Fortune 100 company. This involves modernizing the operating model for how content is created and deployed across multiple functional teams, so that messaging is cognizant of where individual prospects are in their journey and what information they are most likely seeking. With a new model defined, this client will be on the path of creating better, more meaningful connections with customers across channels. The goal, ultimately, isn’t just to deploy consistent messaging. It’s to use messaging and content to create momentum for action.
4. Dialing up the Design
It’s tempting to think that investment in design is just a nice-to-have. After all, there are plenty examples of content platforms where visual design takes a backseat—Wikipedia and Medium leap to mind. Today’s social platforms are full of content that is aesthetically rough around the edges, and yet garners the kind of engagement most marketers would kill for.
But there are two problems with misunderstanding the importance of design. First, simple design that borders on the invisible is incredibly hard to do. To make a content-first design that’s pleasing-yet-unobtrusive and still just works requires significant talent and effort, and it can be frustrating when a design dream team falls short. Second, the level of polish that’s appropriate for a solo content creator knocking out TikTok videos on their iPhone is likely to read as untrustworthy and unprofessional coming from an established brand. After all, brands are still rewarded for exuding an aura of trust, authority and uniqueness.
A great case study here is Google. Though not primarily a publisher, content sits at the core of their products and services. Prior to Larry Page resuming the office of CEO in 2011, their design values were underwhelming. Since then, the organization has made significant investments in design talent, and put in the work to create a world-class design system that’s applied to all aspects of the look, feel and functionality of their applications and content.
Premium design signals that you hold a leadership position within your industry. And brands are taking note. Many of our clients come to us concerned that their brand is being inconsistency represented across digital channels. They realize that beyond causing confusion or looking shoddy, this undermines the brand’s integrity and any promise of quality. In these scenarios, often the solution is to establish a design system and governance that powers the brand’s image easily, consistently and much more impactfully across channels.
5. Test, Learn, Measure, Return
The American poet Allen Ginsberg famously said: “First thought, best thought.”
That may be fine advice for poets, but for the rest of us that’s complete nonsense. Hitting the publish button in your CMS isn’t the end of the line when it comes to content creation. In fact, you’ve barely started.
To maximize the impact your content will have, you should be measuring key aspects of it, both relative to itself and relative to the rest of your content library. How does its format perform compared to other formats? Is the subject matter driving interest and engagement? Do some variations on the headline work better than others? These are just a handful of the kinds of questions that can inform the ongoing iterations of a piece of content to increase its value, utility and, ultimately, remarkability for your audiences.
At Rightpoint, we believe in offering a culture of experimentation to our clients. Our work features a measurement strategy and Test & Learn agenda, ensuring that content and creative are continuously improving through the use of comprehensive, granular data collection beyond simply targeting KPIs. Experiments, or testing, aligned to your content objectives and considered at a deep level, direct us to small changes that can further elevate the overall experience.
These are some of the most powerful ways we’ve seen our clients and leaders across industries create content that’s a cut above the competition. But the important takeaway isn’t the list of tactics itself. It’s the commitment to treating your organization’s content as a set of purposeful, creative and iterative assets in order to maximize their ability to deliver genuine utility, differentiate your brand and drive business performance.
Learn more about how to successfully navigate the content sea of sameness by getting in touch with Rightpoint today.