The Intrinsic Value of Content
- October 21, 2019
- Posted by: Robert Rose
- Category: Content Strategy
Why do you create the content you create?
We all want to think that there is true meaning in the work we do, but what is the motivation behind doing meaningful work?
Researchers and philosophers generally define two main motivations for our tasks. With extrinsic motivation, we are inspired to complete a task because we will earn a reward or avoid punishment. We do the dishes because we get yelled at if we don’t. We rewrite the copy in the email so that more people will respond to our offers. We read the book so we get a better grade on the test.
With intrinsic motivation, we take on a task because it’s personally rewarding. Put simply, we believe the task to be valuable, whether it is or not. We do the dishes because we like an orderly kitchen. We write poetry because it makes us feel good. We read the book to enrich our minds.
The terms “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” also appear in terms of financial value. Intrinsic value refers to the value of a thing without reference to its market value. Extrinsic value is the external value placed on a thing. So, put simply – intrinsic value is what my classic baseball card collection is worth to me, and extrinsic value is what the market is willing to pay for it.
Researchers have found that focusing on intrinsic motivation is a better way not only to motivate but also to get more value from teams. A Yale University research study explored the motives listed by 11,000 West Point Academy military cadets over 14 years. Those who entered West Point because of intrinsic motivators (for example, the desire to become an officer) were more likely to graduate, become commissioned officers, receive promotions, and stay in the military than those who listed extrinsic motivations (such as getting a good job). This discovery has led to new thinking in terms of how to recruit workers and keep teams motivated on long-term projects.
I believe there’s an interesting benefit for how this finding helps in an approach to broader content and communications strategy.
I recently met with the content and publications team at one of the oldest brands in the United States. This company has a legendary consumer-facing content brand that has been the face of many of their publishing efforts for at least 80 years. The question on the table at this meeting: “Should we keep the publications or kill them?”
The arguments went back and forth and included a discussion of how much return on marketing investment the publications get (or could get) and the amount of money that would be saved by killing it.
I suggested they look at something different: What is the intrinsic value of the existing content brand and publications?
In other words, what do we believe that content brand’s value is to the company – even if just to its heritage? The publications’ production cost is, ostensibly, a rounding error against the total marketing budget. And, they’re beloved by audiences and internal teams alike. There’s more at stake than proving a direct correlation between the publication and incremental sales.
I advised that one consideration absolutely should be whether it serves as a key motivational factor to the team? As it turns out, one of the primary reasons many team members stay with that company is because they’re proud to work (and write) for a brand with such a rich heritage. This content brand may indeed have more intrinsic than extrinsic value. It might just be the company’s favorite keepsake.
In every company, there should be some things we hold in such high regard, that it doesn’t matter that they’re not “assets” to the business. The intrinsic value comes from the belief that we’re doing something enriching.
Stories live because people want to gather around and listen to them.
Sometimes there may be more of us gathered around than of our audience. Sometimes the stories we tell are more important to our teams, (and, we hope, our audiences) than they are to the (extrinsic) bottom line. And, guess what? It’s okay if a few of our stories aren’t for sale.