Talk to people who use content, and you will hear complaints about it being too hard to find what they want, about having to deal with extraneous content, and about corporate content sounding like “marketing speak.” Such complaints reflect a sense that the content people encounter is not relevant to them. Too much of the wrong content, too little of the right content.
Making your content relevant involves matching what you offer audiences with what audiences want from you. That sounds simple, but there are several dimensions involved. Let’s consider how content can match, or mismatch, audience needs.
We will start with a few assumptions to keep the discussion manageable. We will assume that your brand serves one or more audience segments, but for now we will focus on your relationship with a single segment. We will assume that the audience segment, while comprised of individuals having multiple interests, can be treated as homogeneous in having a similar set of needs and expectations relating to the content they seek from you.
There are many ways audiences and brands can overlap, both imperfectly and productively. This can be illustrated in the following diagram.
Looking at overlap
The worst outcome is when brands are largely out of touch with their audience. Audiences feel estranged when they are interested in many things a brand might be able to talk about, but the brand chooses to talk about other things that have little interest to the audience. The brand could be a trusted source of information on a topic, but instead talks at the audience and offers little content of actual value. The situation is common, especially in the area of professional services: a bank, rather than provide genuinely helpful suggestions in the context of their products and services, instead promotes messages from the chairman and newsletters about their community involvement.
Another common situation is when audiences use a core of the content you offer them, but ignore the rest. Audiences are serviced but not engrossed when they value a brand for narrow utilitarian content only. People will say: “I just want to get an answer to my question; I don’t want to see all this other stuff.” They engage with the product support content, but not with the content about the brand, because the brand content hasn’t been created in a way that matches the underlying needs of the audience. People go to their local government website for a schedule of recycling, but ignore articles about public hearings related to the recycling program. If the audience is not thinking about other things they might potentially want from your brand, you need to rethink your approach to building audience engagement to make your brand feel more inclusive.
People sometimes want more content from a brand than the brand is prepared to offer. Audiences feel underserved when they need content from a trusted source, but the brand only wants to provide minimal factual content to support sales. Ordinary people are not experts on tires, water heaters, or many other aspects of life, and want to understand how their situation or behavior will influence product performance in the long term. But brands may offer only limited specific information, rather than relationship-building content.
Audiences feel supported when there is lots of content available that is relevant to them. The brand has done a good job translating what it knows into content that speaks the language of the audience and addresses their needs. From the audience perspective, most of the content seems relevant; from the brand’s perspective, little of the content created is wasted. Achieving this happy state involves creating compelling audience centric content, where the brand qualities play a supporting role to the content itself. By having content responsive to audience needs, the brand can build its audience, and have permission to talk about itself where appropriate.
A final possibility is when audiences become obsessive about your brand, and want your brand to take the lead in the relationship. For brands it is a wonderful position to be in, to have adoring fans who want you to talk about yourself, rather than talk about the humble needs of the people who are interacting with your content. For these brands the chief challenge is regularly creating highly original content that will impress your fans. While this fandom brand situation clearly does exist, it is comparatively rare. Fan-based brands require long term development, and tend to arise in exceptional situations, where extraordinary brand differentiation and identity has been achieved. While brands should be cautious about directly pursuing this route, it may be possible to incorporate elements of this approach with certain lead customers provided the primarily audience already feels fully supported.
Reshaping your content
To broaden the overlap between audience interests and brand content, shuffle things around. Enlarge the range of the relevant content:
- identify and understand the full range of audience interests through audience research and analytics
- build audience curiosity for content that addresses other topics of potential mutual interest by holding content exploration sessions followed up by content testing
- create quality content that address these audience interests
Generally this process involves moving toward the audience, away from self-referential content. Ideally, relevant content is about “us,” but to get there, one needs to address the “me” in the audience before one can talk about “you” the brand.