Right, that’s it, pens down. Everybody stop what you’re doing. We’re done. We’ve hit peak content.
At least that was the tentative conclusion sprouting from 4A’s Transformation conference in Texas last month. By the way, that’s 4A’s as in the American Association of Advertising Agencies, or AAAA. I must be honest the greengrocers’ apostrophe doesn’t bode well for a conversation about good content creation, but there we go.
The warning from the advertising conference’s delegates was that, just as we have all developed ‘banner blindness’, as online consumers grow gradually weary of display ads, so too will ‘content blindness’ take its toll. In other words everybody’s tiring of the abundance of content on the internet and will eventually, completely switch off.
Basically there’s just no point in even trying anymore. You can’t get a competitive edge; there isn’t an edge to get.
Blind or short-sighted?
So far, so defeatist. I’ve heard the phrase ‘content blindness’ bandied about lately and I have a slight problem that stretches beyond my grammatical pedantry. Primarily, it’s the presumption that everybody digests web content in the same way they do advertising, which sort of skirts over the fact that outstanding content for the most part does everything in its creative power not to be an advert.
Trust is content currency
The results of an Economist survey of 1,500 marketers, c-level execs and millennials about business-related content revealed a couple of telling points. Firstly, 75% of marketers think that content should frequently mention products. On the other hand, 60% of respondents (which presumably, therefore, includes the marketer contingent) said that they would turn away from content that sounds too much like a sales pitch.
The conclusion of this bit of the conference was that perhaps web users don’t like being sold to. Well, stop the presses. Here’s a better analysis – stop salespeople creating your content.
This is a business of building trust and establishing relationships, which we tend not to get from the sales assistant that eagerly follows us around the shop when we’re just browsing.
The net isn’t full yet
The internet has been around for a while now. It’s chock-full of content and getting exponentially chock fuller. We haven’t reached capacity yet; this universe will, for the moment at least, keep expanding. Yet it’s only last year that content marketing transcended from being something the world’s leading corporations ‘should probably do’ to an essential practice for anyone with a digital presence.
Nobody’s blinkered to ways of the web: users recognise the difference between being advertised to and being offered content of actual value to them. In other words, people aren’t going to magically switch off all of a sudden – if that didn’t happen by now I’m willing to bet that it won’t do in the foreseeable future. The only way you get content blindness is by providing content that no one wants to look at.
The trick is in giving your product legs that carry it beyond the next sale
The fact that apparently some marketers are aware that no one likes being sold to yet still insist on selling through their content tells me they’re still playing the short game, while the savvy and innovative brands find new and engaging ways of connecting with their customers using 360-degree stories. The best content creators are running marathons, not sprints. And that’s exactly why digital marketing budgets now eat directly into advertising budgets – the moneymen are moving the money to where it pays.
Banner blindness, or to be more accurate, weariness, happens because people don’t like things shoved in their faces. The foreboding of content blindness feels very much as if it comes from a B2C perspective. If you’re selling a product to a customer, then yes, it kind of makes sense to put that product in your copy. The trick, of course, is in giving that product legs that carry it beyond the next sale.
Values-driven brand stories
Good brand storytelling is values-driven. It’s directed by the needs of the clients, customers and users, not by the next sale. Clients look to brand stories as a resource: for insights and ideas. In short, people like being told a story; they don’t care who tells the story, but they’ll listen if it’s good.
Forgetting the B2B contingent
The idea of content blindness assumes that every industry – B2B or B2C – has reached some sort of peak. Yet there are still many industries, especially B2B, that are yet to embrace just where their content can take them – often out of the realms of boring, where sales tends to preside.
A prime example is in the legal profession, which is only just beginning to take on longer-term content strategies. Here there is a need to sell services, of course, but that coupled with a need to demonstrate trustworthiness – in terms of reputation and specialist knowledge.
There’s a fundamental difference with banner blindness. A banner ad pushes information in front of people, whether they want it or not. Usually, not. Great online content doesn’t need to push or be interruptive – it pulls in those people that can use it. It lets people make up their own minds about whether to like you or not.
What these observations obviously overlook is that ‘sales pitch content’ erodes trust in a firm. Trust is content currency. You don’t play a long game to sell; you play the long game to engage, to be the conversation starter, to set the tone of the voice of your industry, to be the thought leader, to set yourself apart from your competitors and be the firm that customers and clients come to first, without being prodded.
This is a business of building relationships, which we tend not to get from the sales assistant that follows us when we’re browsing
Content blindness is a myth perpetuated by salespeople looking for a quick buck; a better description would be content short-sightedness. While the conference findings suggest that advertisers are only just getting better spectacles, I’d suggest finding creatives with altogether better vision.