Content marketing should put audience first, brand second – or else you’re doing it wrong

Suz TuckerToo many content marketers put the brand rather than the audience first argues Suz Tucker.

Advertising’s most handsome fictional sage Don Draper once said of his tradespeople: “People tell you who they are, but we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be.”

Traditional advertising can be beautiful or clever or really expensive, but it’s also always about something the brand wants us to want or need.

On the flipside, content marketing is about creating something that responds to – or intuits – what the audience wants or needs. Maybe that something is practical grooming & life advice for the hirsute gentleman or an unprecedented vantage point of the world’s coolest fish.

That’s probably the key understanding required by brand managers and content marketers in order to score in the content game – and to no one’s surprise it’s still the hardest thing for brands to wrap their heads around and embrace: considering the needs of the audience first – not the brand.

The brand comes a close second.

Agencies are pulling folks like me from the publishing world with increasing regularity to help them move from just “doing social” to being more editorial in their approach to wrangling content. The reason publishing deserters are generally good at it, is simply because we’ve been programmed to provide the readership (or audience or consumer or whatever you want to call them) with stories they need to know or want to know. (Notwithstanding the myriad instances of media brand agenda-pushing, of course.)

In my years working as an editor and writer, every editorial decision, big and small, always comes back to the value each potential piece could offer the audience.

Three questions basically acted as a litmus test as to whether or not a news story or feature piece would get the go-ahead:

Are enough people interested in this topic to make it worthy of investing our time into the story?

In content marketing terms this basically translates to: what’s the ROI on this piece? This is where the value of SEO and data really come to the fore.

Has the story already been covered by someone else? If so, what unique angle or approach can we provide here?

There has to be a point of difference in either the content (the ‘what’) or the delivery (the ‘how’ – is it an animated short, a comic strip, a GIF, live-blog, journal entry, photo essay, etc?) to cut through. This is where brilliant creatives really bring value.

Does it deliver new information or bring a new perspective to light?

How can we leverage influencers, experts or even the community to create something that’s original and exclusive?

Then there’s an essential fourth question that needs to be layered into content strategy, which is: does the content support or reinforce the brand’s purpose and core beliefs?

It can’t be a sales message (or you’re talking about an ad, not content), but it should still contribute – in a cohesive relevant way – toward building the brand.

That’s the trick: bringing the brand and audience together.

In our global offices we work with clients to develop an Editorial Vision – just like any publisher or media property would work toward. It frames content with an audience-first perspective and acts as a sounding board to keep both our clients (and ourselves) honest.

The ultimate goal is to have the audience (and, by extension, the customer) seek your content out or find their way to it – and not the other way around.

The best way to do it is have five million dollars, a crack team of geniuses and all the time in the world.

The second best way is to know what your audience wants and deliver it at the right time, in the right way.

Personally? I’m more than happy to work with both.

  • Suz Tucker is Editor-in-Chief at AnalogFolk Sydney

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