Content, as all good marketers know, is about providing value. In the digital world that, in turn, can mean two things; the value the audience get intrinsically by reading or viewing what your brand has created, and the value they get by passing it on. There are four key ingredients to generating that value (all underpinned by a fifth, but we’ll get to that in a moment): Entertainment, Information, Monetary and Utility. The first three are well-known to brands as they’ve been the mainstays of marketing campaigns for decades. The last has been thrown into sharp focus by the onset of digital (although, in truth, digital has created more options for all four of these approaches).

Entertainment

Pre-digital (and even today), advertising was the key to entertainment: both comedy and drama are immensely effective tools to entertain the public. But with digital, and particularly online video, there are new ways to deliver content that entertains. The written word certainly works (Buzzfeed-style listicles are everywhere these days), but video allows brands like Asda to work with vloggers to offer a Mum’s Eye View of the world or Evian to show people in a Baby & Me dance-off against their much younger selves. It can be humorous, or heart-warming, but if content entertains then we appreciate it. Then we share it so we can be associated with those qualities to our friends and family. The value of content that allows for personal positioning should never be underestimated.

Monetary

As entertainment value is often associated with advertising; monetary value is traditionally offered through sales promotions; special offers, coupons, incentives and competitions. The value of getting something for less than expected, or better still for nothing, is obvious to everyone. Digitally, content with monetary value usually follows the same route. It could be special offers distributed through Facebook or competitions run through Twitter such as Bombay Sapphire gin’s recent campaign offering the chance to win a personalised bottle.

The intrinsic value is self-explanatory, while the sharing value is again often about personal positioning and kudos or perhaps as simple as wanting to help a loved one save a few pounds.

Information

B2B brands are well aware of the value of information, thought leadership and white papers have long formed the basis of their marketing campaigns. Pre-digital, however, consumer brands didn’t really offer this type of content upfront. There was often a wealth of post-purchase material available, direct marketing, brochures and manuals, often used to create loyalty and up-sell, but crafting the real estate to reach consumers ahead of purchase was tricky in the pre-digital era. Now, however, brands possess a range of owned media they can use to convey informative content; pages on their websites; facts and figures; even advocacy content showing how their products were used successfully by other people. Infographics are a major growth area here, as are other forms of data visualisation.

And informative content can still be entertaining and/or playful; Perrier’s Mixology page being a great example. Consumers can gain value from using the content themselves; or by passing it on so they can seem ahead of the curve and grab a bit of kudos from their peers.

Utility

This is perhaps the type of content that existed the least pre-digital (and especially pre-mobile): content that helps the consumer do or accomplish something useful. Digital technology has allowed brands to cost-effectively create technology, algorithms, and particularly apps, that can help consumers redesign their living rooms or find the best hiking trails. This type of content works for brands that think in terms of their customer journey; if they know the barriers that are stopping people from buying their products, utility content can help overcome those barriers in a way that keeps the brand front of mind and perhaps even while the consumer is on their website.

In fact, utility is where content and product crossover the most, as the former can be seen as part of the product itself. Consumers who buy a luxury supercar may expect the mobile app that monitors fuel consumption and tracks the vehicle from afar to be part of the overall package. The blurred lines may also be why many brands are struggling with this form of content in particular; is it a tool for marketing, sales, product development or something else entirely?

What lies beneath

A piece of content doesn’t have to be just one of these approaches, the best campaigns often offer a blend of them. And perhaps most importantly, all four of these pillars are underpinned by emotion. If content is going to seize the attention of consumers and engage them, it has to be emotive. Even the most seemingly utilitarian app or page of dry data can add value if it inspires and delights its intended audience. So the lesson for businesses is that if your content doesn’t tick at least one of these boxes and engage people’s emotions, think long and hard before offering it to the world. Sometimes brands create content solely because it has the right messaging and is ‘on brand’, which may appease the CMO, but doesn’t automatically mean it provides value to its audience.

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