At this year’s Social Media Marketing World conference in San Diego, attendees had the opportunity to hear from Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs. Handley gave a great talk on the essential role of content in marketing, effectively saying that mediocre content is dead. We cannot go on creating absolute crap. When it comes to content, it is a “fight for sore eyes,” as she puts it. In other words, people are tired of seeing the same old thing, and it’s hard to get that cut through for boring content. It is always a matter of quality vs. quantity.

Ann emphasizes that as marketers, we need to be bigger, braver, and bolder. We need to up the ante. One of the biggest opportunities missed in marketing happen when we play it too safe. For example, Instagram is a great platform, and it can be used to tell the big story. However, it can seem at times that everything has been heard before, and people may comment just because no one else did. The problem with this is that its effectively one big ad split into different elements and shoved onto social media. In the end, there is no risk or step outside the norm.

In a noisy world like ours, an ad does not does not count as a story. According to Ann, 77% of B2C organizations plan to produce more content in 2016, and 50% of B2C organizations plan to spend money. What does this mean?  “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” I hope that this bigger boat however, isn’t going to be filled to the brim with stale, uninteresting content.

To add to these stats, she mentions that only 38% of B2C businesses actually know their content is effective. The reason that number is low is because having engaging content is a top challenge for many businesses. Ann argues that it takes more braids than budget to win this game.

Bigger Content

When it comes to being bigger, Handley explains that a bigger story puts your business in the context of what people care about, and then uses this to convert more people into your squad. She uses the example of Blue Bottle Coffee. Blue Bottle Coffee created a class on SkillShare called “How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Coffee.” But what did this offer? They offered something that made Ann a smart customer, and as a result, she bought and subscribed to it. The class session was real. It had an actual curriculum with engaging information.

To Handley, the best thing you can do as a marketer is to educate your customers into needing your product. Smart companies do not follow shifts in culture—they lead them. It’s not about getting on some hipster tech network and writing something to an audience on no one. Ann clears up that it is about creating more value for your customer. Lead your best prospects. Tell them a story with depth and breadth that doesn’t currently exists. The question is, how do you grow that audience?

Bolder Marketing

As we gathered from talks throughout the conference, storytelling is key to marketing, and Ann reaffirms this, saying we need to tell bigger stories. She mentions Slack, the fastest growth B2B company ever, and its variety pack which is about business, innovation, tech culture, and people and their purpose. Effectively, it is the top of the funnel awareness for people. One every few weeks, people create two things: the first, sliders (small, edible content/ slack single servings) and the second, your big degustation. For example, for Old MacDonald has a farm, they have stuff on farming and drones and how it is creating efficiency. Slack says it’s like the most effective landing page ever—it’s a great first experience. Also, it’s a huge story that breaks barriers for your users.

What’s the other way to be bold? Ann suggests disrupting the fairy tale, and references how the Humane Society Silicon Valley disrupted the fairy tale of people and their adopted pets. They say that it’s about a mutual rescue—not just a dog rescue. Handley tells us that with this bold style of marketing, they eventually gathered 375 #mutualrescue stories. So, you must ask yourself, are you are trying to deliver great content for your audience? Are you making it shareable? And do you have your own POV?

Braver Experience

Ann stresses that the tone of your voice is your gutsiest and bravest assent. Voice is not about grammar. It is about who you are, why you do what you do, and what you are like to deal with. She gives us a formula: Tone of voice = culture x story x empathy.

If the value of any of these is 0, then you have nothing.

Your brand voice will attract the right people, and repel the wrong ones. So, stop saying you are “friendly, reliable, and honest.” These are your everyday cutlery. Sitting edge? Revolutionary? Bleh. Your tone of voice is the best way to show your personality. When thinking about your tone, think, when you cover your logo, would you recognize yourself? Ann stresses that your tone should be just as much a part of your identity as your logo, because no one is going to match your passion. No one is going to tell the same story as you.

Handley leaves us with a great quote for some food for thought: “A ship is safe in harbour. But that’s not what ships are for.” – William G.T. Shedd

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