At a content marketing workshop I was teaching for a nonprofit organization last week, an attendee asked, “When might a business create content with no business value?” Aside from the obvious joke answer  – “Isn’t that the way most businesses operate these days?” – it’s a fascinating question.

“Do you mean content for social corporate responsibility?” I asked.

“No. Content that’s created just because it’s good for the soul. You know, like art.”

CMI’s definition of content marketing says that the purpose of content marketing is “to drive profitable customer action.” Could a business ever justify creating content simply for the artistic exercise?

I think so.

In the 19th century, the philosophy of art for art’s sake took root, divorcing “true art” from the productive function. Bohemians argued that art should be created simply for the experience in creating it without requiring an audience to validate it.

This view had its detractors. For example, French novelist George Sand, with whom I normally agree, critiqued the art-for-art’s-sake movement, saying, “If there is in my soul any good or noble sentiment, it is my duty to find an adequate expression to convey it to as many souls as possible.” In other words, art needs an audience.

Creating art for an audience isn’t a foreign concept in business. Businesses have been commissioning art for as long as they’ve been around. We can see modern examples such as Wall Street’s Fearless Girl statue commissioned by State Street Corporation. If you believe that connecting emotionally with an audience is good for business, you’ve made a case for content marketing as art.

Would a business ever want to create art for art’s sake, though, with no expectation of connecting with an audience? What if there were no motivation other than to create an experience of creativity. Would a business ever want to do that?

I think so.

Because creating art is ultimately an act of collaboration. It fosters dialogue and teamwork, something that companies routinely spend tens of thousands of dollars to cultivate. You’ve probably taken part in some kind of corporate team-building exercises, such as people falling backwards into each other’s arms, walking over hot coals, or playing three lies and the truth.

What if your company budgeted for art-related exercises for their own sake? Even if the direct products of the exercises never found an audience, you can imagine your content teams’ capacity for creative work shooting through the roof. It might turn out that what’s good for employees’ souls is good for your business. Creating something with “no business value” from time to time might be the very thing that enables your business to deliver more value.

It’s your story. Tell it well.


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