Comment: the power of creative content

To communicate clearly in a content-rich world, brands need an innovative approach to awareness and trust, says Martin Cloake

We live in complicated times for the written word. The copy that journalists once wrote has become content. And the word ‘content’ can give the impression of just another commodity, some stuff to fill space.

As someone who writes for a living, I’d love to be able to prove that finely crafted prose attracts and engages more readers and has high value in its own right. But there’s no metric to prove that beyond doubt; all there is to go on is a mixture of anecdotal evidence, experience, and gut feeling.

However, lest you be tempted to dismiss this blog on the basis of that last sentence, ask yourself if you’re really prepared to take the chance that any old words will do when you’re looking to promote engagement with your business.

They did not want to be bashed over the head with a message. They wanted to be engaged. And this is where it became necessary to get really creative

From the late 1990s onwards, when the consumer magazine boom began to peter out, some creatives began to move from apparently sexy mainstream titles into the world of customer publishing. What many of us found was that we had more freedom to create than we’d had in the increasingly formulaic consumer sector – where magazines that didn’t have similar cover lines and stories to those of their competitors were frowned upon by publishing executives. And there was a simple reason for that.

The consumers of customer publications were more likely to know they were being sold to. And so more work had to go into attracting and engaging those consumers. Magazines such as the one produced by BMW had just one stipulation – there should be no mention of BMW. Brands wanted to project an image, and doing so depended upon understanding that consumers were intelligent, well-rounded, and multi-faceted. They wanted to associate with products that projected the values they wanted to be associated with.

Most of all, they did not want to be bashed over the head with a message. They wanted to be engaged. And this is where it became necessary to get really creative.

One of the most frequent conversations we have with clients is about the value of creating space for discussion. The suggestion that everything published on their behalf does not need to be strictly controlled invariably elicits a look of alarm. But we explain that being the place where people come to discuss relevant issues and explore new ideas helps to build brand authority. And it creates a deeper sense of engagement with readers, because they don’t feel patronised, preached to or otherwise sold at.

Readers did not need to be convinced that the MPs’ expenses scandal or the Snowden revelations were a story – it was self-evident. But they are more sceptical about most other content – especially in these media savvy, commercially aware times. So the value of good content is, I’d argue, greater than ever.

It can engage and retain an audience, and build trust and respect for a brand at a time when the competition for consumer attention can seem to throw up a wall of babble. As marketing guru Avi Savar said in his book Content to Commerce: “In order for brands to succeed in today’s socially connected world, they must think like publishers and act like media networks.”

It may be the kind of homily that prompts a grinding of the teeth, but he’s got a point. An engaging, creative approach to content, rather than an approach that treats content much as those faux traditional pubs treat the books they purchase by the yard to line their shelves, can still pay off. If you doubt that, you risk going the way of the traditional consumer publishers who thought giving customers what they already had was the same as giving them what they wanted.

Martin Cloake is group chief sub-editor at Progressive Customer Publishing

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