The Art of Content

What qualifies as “great business content?”   

If you ask a movie studio head, a television executive, or many content marketers, they’ll tell you it’s content that attracts interest from the biggest audience. In other words, quality matters less than popularity. The success of reality television shows like Big Brother and Keeping Up With the Kardashians are walking, talking examples.

If you ask educators or “auteurs,” they might say that good content simplifies the complex, transfers knowledge to the audience, or illuminates a universal truth about life. These content creators want to teach something, inspire someone, or expose some deeper human condition – popularity be damned.

Are those of us who work for commercial businesses destined to have to choose between these two types of “great” content? Many of us increasingly face tension between the romantic idea of popularity – virality, views, clicks, positive comments, shares, etc. – and a depth of substance or distinct point of view that some people in our audience may find inaccessible or objectionable.

If we define content quality in terms of its substance, will we have to settle for less popularity?

If we define quality one way, we may find ourselves always chasing after blockbusters. If we define it another way, we may find ourselves settling for creating the equivalent of critically acclaimed movies that nobody sees.

The tension between popularity and substance reminds me of the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. One of the book’s many great ideas is the folly of defining quality in terms of just one thing. A quality motorcycle ride, for example, isn’t as simple as being in the moment, enjoying the wind in your hair as you fly along the highway. This romantic aspect of motorcycle riding may be what makes it popular, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

The motorcycle must be kept in great shape—greased and oiled and other unromantic things that require deep knowledge and practical behind-the-scenes analysis and expertise. “Although motorcycle riding is romantic,” Robert Pirsig writes, “motorcycle maintenance is purely classic.”

You can’t have a quality ride on a motorcycle that hasn’t been properly maintained. At the same time, without understanding the joy of riding, there’s no purpose to maintaining the motorcycle. A zen approach is called for. Quality isn’t either-or.

The choice between popularity and substance is a false choice.

Every piece of content is an opportunity to become part of an audience’s experience – the motorcycle ride. If you want people to have the kind of outstanding ride that leaves bugs on their teeth, you have to care about clicks, views, comments, and shares. That’s how more people get to have the experience.

At the same time, you also have to care about delivering sufficient depth, breadth, accuracy and distinct point of view. That’s what makes the experience outstanding in the first place. It’s a balance.

Here’s another way to say it. If you aren’t interested in appealing to as wide an audience as is practical, you have no reason to pursue depth or substance. Conversely, if you aren’t willing to deliver appropriate depth, substance, and point of view, your content won’t reach as wide an audience as you might like.

What kind of ride are you giving your audience?

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Robert Rose
Chief Strategy Officer at The Content Advisory
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS.

Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.
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Author: Robert Rose
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS. Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.

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