“The biggest missed opportunity in content is playing it too safe.”

And so goes the opening volley of Ann Handley’s outstanding webinar, Quality vs. Quantity: A Fight for Sore Eyes. Handley, a world-renowned content expert, is passionate about her craft. She believes that content professionals should focus on producing content that is direct, gutsy, and honest—a leaner/meaner variety that clearly stands apart from the safer “canned” versions. She mentions how quality alone renders the polarization of “quality vs. quantity” a moot point or “false choice;” and how only bold and edgy content can differentiate itself from the sea of noise that engulfs our content space.

Image: B2B Content Marketing Survey
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
Handley starts off by citing a few statistics from a recent B2B study she conducted with Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute. Among the organizations surveyed, a large majority stated that they planned to significantly enhance their content efforts in 2016. 76% plan to produce more content, while 51% plan to spend more on content.

Producing scalable quality content is always a good idea. The problem, however, is that only 30% of the B2B organizations were confident that their content was effective. In fact, for the last five to six years, the top challenge cited by these B2B orgs has always been to create engaging quality content. Producing and spending more on content whose effectiveness is uncertain is simply a “cart before the horse” blunder. Considering the time, effort and capital wasted on such a project, the negative effects can be quite significant.

Contrary to the organizational impulse to out-produce, out-trend, or out-spend rivals in the content space—that is, the production of even more “noise”—it seems to make better sense to figure out how to create engaging quality content to begin with.

Ann Handley’s advice:


Why Bigger, Bolder, Braver?

  • BIGGER stories puts your products and company in the larger context of what people care about.
  • BOLDER marketing is about tackling relevant issues head-on and in a way that most other companies might be reluctant to try. Or telling a different story from a unique angle or point-of-view that reflects who you are.
  • BRAVER tone means differentiating yourself (your content) by stating who you are and what you do in a strong tone of voice that expresses the rawness of your corporate culture or personality.

Handley provides a number of great examples demonstrating what she means by going bigger, bolder, and braver. I suggest you watch the webinar to listen to Handley explain each point. For the remainder of this post, instead of touching upon the main points, we will trace a few of the unifying concepts that implicitly drive the main ideas.

Although Handley’s solutions are spot on and pragmatic, the implications, on the other hand, are a bit tricky and incongruous: they go against the grain of common assumptions that most companies hold regarding their role in the marketing process. Let’s take a closer look.

Image: Think bigger
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest

A BIGGER story displaces the role of the company/marketer

Let’s re-think marketing—namely, the force that drives it. However you choose to define the practice of marketing, it is essentially the process of producing or funneling desirability toward a product. There’s just one problem: desirability is in the domain of each individual customer, not the marketer. The most a marketer can do is to deliver content that resonates with the type of customer who just might desire the product.

The quality of your product or content does not drive desirability.

Kathy Sierra, author of BADASS: Making Users Awesome, is right in stating that customers who desire a product badly enough will tolerate any imperfections or inconveniences that are built into its design. In other words, a customer who needs your high-quality product may or may not find it desirable enough to purchase. If this is true, how do you go about marketing a product?

Handley makes a great point in stating that companies need to place their products in the larger context of what their customers care about. It’s about understanding what kinds of powers you want to give your customers. It’s also about realizing that the idea of “great marketing” or a “great product” is merely a secondary effect to what’s really happening. You don’t market the product. That’s the wrong POV. Instead, you market what that customer can “become” as a result of your product.

Harkening back to Kathy Sierra, when a customer says “this product is awesome,” they are really talking about themselves and what they have become thanks to the product. That is the BIGGER story; it’s not just “about” the customer, it actually belongs to the customer. And it’s important for every company to know its place in a customer’s narrative.

Using the 3 B’s to convert customers into your squad

“You can use your bigger, bolder, braver content to convert more people into your squad, to align them with your company on a level that’s bigger than what you sell or what you do.”

Brand tribalism has been a popular theme in the marketing space for some time. A concept evolving from a number of academics in the late 1990’s, it was most recently popularized by marketer and bestselling author Seth Godin.

Handley doesn’t use the term “tribe,” but she talks about converting customers into “squads,” finding ways to “lead” them, and situating them within the context of a product culture. This is essentially brand tribalism. However, she talks about this process in relation to an open and fluid sense of corporate self-perception.

First of all, inspiring a brand/product tribe movement is a great idea. But from what position would a company lead? The tribe model is a point of view or framework used for operational convenience. A customer on his or her deathbed will not reminisce about the brand tribes s/he belonged to. It’s because the customer probably doesn’t see it that way.

Take for instance, CrossFit. It’s more than just a fitness service with a strong brand. It’s a culture; a way of life for some. And people take pride in belonging to it. But their pride as a CrossFitter is not necessarily invested in the financial and operational well-being of the company. They are invested in themselves first and foremost. Should a competing company offer a better service, the customer might as easily join that “tribe” as well.

Customers lead themselves. Preferred products just happen to be a part of their arsenal. So what is a company’s leadership role within its own internally-perceived tribe? Companies lead by making products or producing content that gives power to customers who are their own leaders.

Image: Brave man jumping over mountain crevice.
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest

BOLDER approach and a BRAVER gutsier tone—displacing the common notions of “professional” presentation

Having the gumption to affirm who you are, why you do what you do, and what you are like to deal with, is far better than using canned speech. As Handley points out, such an approach will attract the like-minded and repel the timid. This approach brings to mind a maxim written by the ancient Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu, in which he states that campaigns are won long before they are fought.

By disengaging from the more common practices of corporate self-presentation, you not only differentiate yourself, you assume the risks of “authenticity.” You win over people who essentially have already been “won,” and you repel those who matter very little to you.

By consolidating your “true” customer base, you can intensify your content efforts with laser-like focus; powering it from a source that is truly your own, and delivering it to an audience that truly wants to be there.