Friday, June 27, 2008

Why content is king

We've all heard it and can sing it by heart: content is king in the online world. But why? I believe it's so we have something to talk about. It's like going into a cocktail party without a story to tell or comment to make. You stand around the edges and hope no one approaches you. You have nothing to say. When we come to the party with a story, we welcome interaction. We want to share what we know and solicit the feedback of those who converse with us.

If it's important at a cocktail party, it's even more important when a business wants to interact with customers online. Even so, I see company's making two primary mistakes over and over again, they try to tell the perfect corporate story and they only tell stories about their products and services.

When it comes to the company line, marketing executives have become expert at getting the story down and policing company leaders to read their lines correctly. When these firms go online, they take that perfected story with them, creating websites and online content that's just...well, boring. It's like you're being forced to listen to one of those little, website talking cartoon heads that only spouts company information as if it was preparing a recording for the music-on-hold system. Doesn't work.

Even if you copy all of your written material to the Web perfectly it won't be received by your audience in the same way it would in print. As Patrick Tucker points out in the current issue of The Futurist, the 21st century writer is using an entirely different toolkit, that includes multimedia and a whole lot of "reader" input. This is being driven by the 21st century reader.

And that's fine. Company stories don't have to be told the same way every time. They can be rewritten, reworked and sometimes even messed up. The sooner companies realize they aren't in control of every aspect of their story anyway, the better off they'll be. See this great blog entry from Liz Straus for more on being effective by not being perfect.

The other mistake companies make is acting like all their customers could ever want is embodied in their products or services. That's never true. Prospects may come to your site because they are seeking a solution, but if they stay its because they've found something that interests them.

Here's a great example from National Mortgage News, my old employer. This company is in the business of providing mortgage industry information, perhaps not the most exciting offering for most folks, but they realize that the people they serve are real people. This column from editorial director Mark Fogarty, which has nothing to do with the mortgage business and everything to do with what turns on real music lovers who also happen to be in the mortgage business, is a great example of what content can do to enhance relationships.

Content is king because it opens up a communication channel to those people you need to communicate with. So quit scanning in the corporate brochures and post some material that will attract folks, then talk to the people that show up.
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