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It’s great when you’re straight(forward) – yeah!

Bakery

Last week Lauren gave a presentation at Brighton SEO, pleading the case for ‘bread and butter’ content. Lauren’s key point is that brands should focus on straightforward content about their products and services, the ‘bread and butter’ stuff, rather than chasing viral spikes, or ‘jelly beans’:

The beauty of bread and butter content is that there’s no restrictions – it’s something everyone has the potential to do brilliantly, and actually, it’s something I think we all have an obligation to do brilliantly; an obligation to our customers, clients, employers and colleagues

I thoroughly agree with Lauren, particularly on the obligation front. As trust in brands is low (despite plateauing since last year), and the need for transparency increases, it’s critical for organisations to tell the most basic of stories about themselves. That said, viral content is satisfying for a short while, will win awards, and is arguably more fun to think about if you’re a marketer or agency type; who wants to tell the boring truth when there’s a fantasy tangent to create?

As someone with a relatively short attention span and a high desire for ‘fun’, I wanted to capture some of the reasons I think straightforward is the way to go when approaching content:

 

It’s easier

If you’re a bank, brainstorming random and wacky ways to dress up money is hard. Creating content hooks out of sponsorships, seasonal holidays or anything else not entirely related to your products and services is a bit like wrapping a jumper around your knees and putting shoes on your hands – it’s a bit pointless. I’m not dispelling the power of brand association, but in a world increasingly fraught with messaging and media seeping from previously unconsidered sources, who wants to see anything more than absolutely necessary?

It’s more rewarding

Whether you have marketing, PR, social media or any other comms type word in your job title, chances are you’re painfully aware of the unrewarding side of working with content. Measurement frameworks that take months of deliberation only to be instantly forgotten, and strategy presentations that seem like badly photocopied versions of the last one – these are often sad realities of an industry that should be vibrant, fun and transformative for both brands and their users (I’ve moved on from ‘audience’ or ‘customers’ following this excellent Almighty paper).

Imagine a world where you admit the jelly beans aren’t good for you, and instead you’re going to tell stories about what your company actually does. Imagine the meeting where you boo the Old Spice Man and cheer the FAQ. It sounds odd but it shouldn’t – translating core company information for those who need it most should be priority number one for anyone working in comms.

It’s what people want

I don’t need to quote a survey to tell you that people want clarity and helpfulness from businesses, and yet if you visit the social profiles of many major brands you’ll find odd content that does everything but (although it does make good fodder for mockery). It’s sad that brands still attract plaudits for doing something as simple as Twitter customer service well, five years on from the service first attracting major attention.

Social media allows for conversation, and so the smarter brands that listen will do best. I’d happily bet money that if you asked your user base on Facebook for what they wanted, none of them would ask for a app that turned their social graph into a clever video, or a repackaged meme.

So if I’m so smart and the above it true, why is anyone bothering with any other form of content? Why chase the viral unicorn? Well I think three things are at play:

1. Short-term-ism

Businesses work in annual cycles, and within this quarters and months feature highly. Stakeholders, plans and agencies are measured, evaluated and replaced often faster than is ideal for anyone to truly grasp what the end-users want or need, and so there’s a maddening chase for glitz. Why would you focus your attention on getting decades of legacy product information sorted and made usable, when you could commission a sexy video and win an award nomination and a promotion?

2. ROI-ism

Internally and externally stakeholders and suppliers are typically measured using age-old models, built for print and broadcast. These models are typically truncated further to fit high-level business objectives, and before long the tail wags the dog so to speak; everyone measures activity to tell the story they need to tell, and eventually activity is created with measurement in mind, rather than user need.

3. Presentation-ism

This is a more minor point, but one that I believe is significant. Bread simply isn’t sexy. It’s not as appealing to stand at a conference and explain how you understood the needs of your average user and then redesigned the IA on your product pages accordingly, when you could be showing impressive download stats of a mobile app created with a spurious campaign in mind. Likewise when sending round the measurement report at the end of the quarter, would you rather tell stories of incremental shifts in customer satisfaction through a social customer service portal, or report a massive spike in ‘engagement’ caused by some zeitgeist-y activity and a chunk of paid advertising?

Hopefully the above will give you some confidence to embrace the more ‘everyday’ side of content. I’ll admit that I’ll always take some joy in seeing the newest and coolest viral smashes, but look forward to a media landscape with bread is equally celebrated.

Image used under Creative Commons license, courtesy of Flickr user caveman_92223


3 Comments » for It’s great when you’re straight(forward) – yeah!
  1. Jason Ryan says:

    Great post Ross.

    Relevant to all your points, but particularly to Presentation-ism, it is great to to see GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) winning the Design of the Year award.

    (http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2013/apr/16/government-website-design-of-year).

    This is a great example of simple, user-focused, bread and butter content and it is a great achievement.

    It is very encouraging to to see this approach being recognised.

  2. amayfield says:

    Good thinking, Ross.

    Straightforwardness says confidence and customer focus. It says you’ve got your priorities straight.

  3. Thanks both – I was just reading about the gov.uk award. I love the folliowing: The site’s structure is guided by 10 design principles, including “start with user needs, not government needs”, “be consistent, not uniform” and “do less” – seems like good advice for anything in digital.

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