building content

Building a stronger house out of content

In Ideas by Peter Gearin

There’s one sure-fire way brands can ensure they’re running quality content — by employing people who can produce quality content.

You’ve decided it’s time to renovate your home. Who do you speak to first? A builder, who knows a lot about bricks and timber and how to fit them together? Or perhaps the handy bloke next door, who knows a fair bit about renovating and can do it for a good price?

This is the spot many marketers find themselves in when they get the opportunity to invest in content. Many choose an SEO specialist or technical boffin who will make sure safe and bland copy is crammed with search-gobbling keywords. Or they’ll find a PR expert, copywriter or maybe someone in-house with half a day spare to come up with content they’re sure will take on the world.

Despite content marketing becoming one of the sharpest tools in a US marketer’s shed, it has failed to have a major impact on marketing plans in Australia. Content marketing director at Cirrus Media, Matt Rowley, even suggested that it has reached a “turning point”. Many brands say they are doing content marketing – and there are many successes, including ANZ BlueNotes and the Qantas AWOL youth-oriented site – but doing content badly is often worse than not doing it at all.

At its best, credible brand publishing delivers enormous benefits for small or large businesses. It allows them to tell stories using channels that work best for them and reach current and prospective customers in an authentic way. Over time, this leads to greater brand awareness and sales leads. I like government content marketing expert David Pembroke’s take on this in Mumbrella: “If you want to earn a share of their scarce attention of the people you need to connect with in order to achieve your objectives, you had better make sure your content is useful, relevant and valuable”.

The problem is that much of the content being produced in the name of content marketing is pretty horrible. It may be either breathless PR material that readers pass over as “sales gumph” or an immature blog that reads like a bad Year 10 essay. It may be something that’s ungrammatical or illogical. It may be something that has nothing to say, or doesn’t add to the topic of conversation. It’s not what is supposed to be on the tin: superior storytelling.

This, however, is just one part of the failure equation. What is equally difficult to understand is producing content that is lame and has no audience in mind. It’s then sent off with a kiss and published on social media (hey, anywhere will do!), without a thought about measuring its impact or considering its role in any masterplan. What hope does it have to be effective?

I spent decades as an editor and writer at Australia’s best magazine and newspaper organisations, most recently The Sydney Morning Herald. Being surrounded by creative and talented writers, artists, photographers, videographers and editors, who are publishing on print and digital platforms, is a humbling experience. It also makes you realise what it takes to reach an audience, with quality and authenticity at the centre of everything that’s done. Every single day.

It also leads me to ask why marketing experts or business owners would leave the task of producing branded content to some poor office sod (who already has a full-time job). Or an agency that produces poor quality or immature blogs and commissions copy at 17 cents a word. I think some so-called “content agencies” specialise in propagating mediocrity and bullshit.

Just as an architect helps a homeowner figure out the best way to renovate a home – judging the best way to angle the roof to take advantage of the aspect, or suggesting where the windows should be – a content specialist advises and produces material that accurately suits the client’s needs. It is planned, measured and repeatable. It becomes a business asset.

No doubt agencies that deal in SEO, public relations and advertising have their place, and that is within their speciality. Clients would be best advised to leave content ideas and generation to content experts.

Links & references:

Matt Rowley in Mumbrella
ANZ BlueNotes
Qantas AWOL
David Pembroke in Mumbrella

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About the Author
Peter Gearin

Peter Gearin


A former senior editor at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun-Herald, Peter is managing editor of Brand Tales and director of Sydney-based content services business Top to Tale Media. He specialises in helping in-house content teams achieve better results.