Focus On The Content Why, Not The What


In the documentary The Story of Content: Rise of the New Marketing (26:54 mark), River Pools & Spas Co-Owner Marcus Sheridan shares the following about their turnaround from near bankruptcy to becoming the global leader in fiberglass pool education:

“The moment we stopped saying, ‘We’re pool builders’ and started saying ‘We are the best teachers in the world about fiberglass pools and we just happen to install them as well,’ …that was one of the most prosperous days of our lives.”

Before this, River Pools was like every other pool company – they installed pools.  What became the difference in River’s success was moving the product from primary to secondary in the mission.

What Do You Sell?

Most likely, what you sell is primary to your company’s mission, which is then passed down to your content marketing mission and strategy, through to your social media strategy, blogs and white papers.  Do you know what this creates?  Self-serving content.

Self-serving content does little for your audience and is a waste of time and resources for your brand.

Let’s consider a large enterprise like 3M.  Over the next five years, the majority of 3M sales will come from new products.  If 3M were to focus their content mission around their specific products and services, it would not only be impossible (3M provides thousands of products), it’s always changing because the products change.

3M’s mission is all about helping people live a better life through advancements in science.  This becomes a noble mission and purpose on which to base the direction of the content… focused around the needs of the audience with a specific content tilt (around science).

More Than Ourselves

This explains why most marketers are so terrible at content creation.  The “why” for most marketers is driving demand and selling more widgets.

Kirk Cheyfitz, CEO of Story Worldwide, says that “like a decent human being, brands need to be about more than themselves.”

It seems too simple, but yet almost all brands get this wrong.  We focus on what our organizational goal is, and then we create content we believe drives that goal.  This works in advertising, so why wouldn’t it work in content marketing?

Sadly, it doesn’t.

Sure, the organizational goal is important (sales, savings, or customer loyalty), but to hit that goal, we have to focus on the needs and wants of the audience.  How can we be useful and impactful to the audience outside of the products and services we sell?  Are we creating value outside of what we sell?  Answering that question hits at the very heart of what content marketing is and can be.

For your content and messaging to work, the primary goal has to be focused entirely on the audience, with the business goal being secondary.  Or, maybe better said, you can’t reach your business goal without first serving the needs of the audience.  Once we deliver consistent value to our audience, and they begin to know, like and trust us, then we can extract value from that relationship.

Most brands simply don’t do this, and that matters.  It matters because the effectiveness rate, according to Content Marketing Institute / MarketingProfs research, hovers at around 30%.  We need to do better.

Do you want a better lead generation program?  Then focus all your energy on building ongoing subscribers to your content, and THEN create leads from your subscriber base.  We’ve worked with hundreds of B2B companies in the past six years, and literally no one does this.

Let’s take CMI for example.  Our mission is to advance the practice of content marketing so that enterprise marketers can be more successful in their job-getting buy-in for the practice, showing return for the investment, organizing around the approach so they are successful.

That’s the primary focus.  How do we “show” return for our efforts?  CMI focuses on building an audience of subscribers to the content itself.  Once we build an ongoing relationship with them (around the needs of the audience), and they begin to know, like and trust us, then (and only then) do we present products in front of them that help our bottom line.

Solve the audience need – build a relationship through content for that audience need (through subscription) – then present products that are in line with that audience need (like our event, Content Marketing World).

Marriott believes that if they can solve their audience’s travel problems consistently, that audience will be more likely to stay at a Marriott.  Indium believes that if they can solve their audience’s needs around industrial soldering equipment, they’ll be more likely to buy their soldering equipment.

Your Why Affects Your What

When people talk about their content marketing, they talk about the WHAT… their blogs, podcasts, videos, events, and social posts.  But the WHAT doesn’t matter if the WHY is lacking.

Nobody cares about your products or services.  If your WHY is based on selling more shoes, consulting services, or routers, your WHAT will have no soul.  Your content will be wanting.

The “why” you exist is not your product.  Your “why” is the problem your product solves.

The Next Steps

Changing your WHY is a cultural shift, which always takes time.  It’s desperately challenging.  BUT IT MUST BE DONE.

Start slowly – but begin now.  Implementing a visual content audit could be a solid first step.  Just place samples of your content in front of your executive team and have them engage with it.  Is the content in line with your deeper mission, or does your content exist for the sole purpose of pitching your product?

You may discover that some of your WHAT should cease to exist until you can get your WHY straightened out.  Good luck!