Why Creating Content is a Waste of Your Time

Last year, Beckton, a software company involved in marketing optimisation, published a damning report on the state of content marketing.
Entitled, ‘Marketing Truth or Marketing Hype’, it concluded that 5% of all content garners 90% of consumer engagement.
That means for every piece that gets attention, there’s another 19 sitting alone at a dark corner table, nursing a warm pint.
When you consider the scale of content creation, that’s an enormous amount of wasted time, effort and money. And with odds like that, it’s likely it’s your time, effort and money being wasted.
But before you call it a day and hang up your pens, pencils, computer keyboards, camera’s and other tools of your trade, it’s important to understand why and what you can do about it.

A Question of Quality?

According to the authors of the report, quality is a major reason why audiences are turned off.
Which sounds plausible. With so much content created daily, chances are, a fair amount of it is crummy. But is it really possible, the vast majority of our efforts are so poorly produced, they deserve to languish unloved in the dark vacuum of cyberspace?
Personally, I’ve got a problem with the word quality. It isn’t a useful measure for improvement because it doesn’t direct you to a place where you can create better content.
Like beauty, quality is in the eye of the beholder. It’s subjective. There are those who’d say Big Brother is ‘quality’. Their perception and likely definition of what constitutes quality is clearly very different to mine.
And besides, something doesn’t have to be ‘quality’ for people to want to consume it. If it did, McDonalds would have gone out of business long ago.

What’s Really Going On?

Let’s get down to brass tacks. If your content is failing to engage your audience, it’s because it’s useless. In that, it has no use.
Let me explain.
In 1980, marketing experts Ronald Frank and Marshall Greenberg, published their ground-breaking research, ‘The Public’s Use of Television: Who Watches and Why’. In it, they transcended the recognised demographic framework of segmenting audiences by establishing a connection between viewing habits and the interests/needs of people watching.
The research helped to bust common TV watching myths. For example, young, blue-colour workers watched less sport than every other group. According to the research, they mainly consumed media as a form of escapism and to complement personal interests and hobbies.
We can see similar patterns in our own media consumption.
Consider your favourite Netflix shows. The ones you binge on. That you can’t put down because you’ve got find out what happens next. They are typically fulfilling some need. The need for escapism, a thirst for useful knowledge that moves you forward or a desire for social inclusion.
Now think about the shows that don’t engage you. Those that fail the 10-minute test or don’t grab your attention at all.
They’re not necessarily bad shows. Nor are they poorly produced. They just don’t meet your criteria of must watch TV. So why would you waste your time? You only have a certain number of bingeworthy hours in any one week and you’re going to invest them wisely.
The same is true of your other content choices.
To find an audience, content has to be meaningful. It has to be useful, engaging and compelling enough to keep people trucking from start to finish. After all, your audience must be willing to give up their precious time and energy to consume it.

Getting to the Root Cause of Crummy Content

Content doesn’t turn out bad. It starts out bad.
When investigating ideas, we tend to start with our own agenda. We want more customers and believe getting them means making a good argument for what makes our particular brand of stuff a must have. This leads us to ask, ‘why should people buy our stuff?’
We then investigate the various features and benefits of our products and services, which results in content like:

  • How to save money using our stuff.
  • How our stuff helps you to create efficiency.
  • Why your business needs our stuff.

Sound familiar?
To be fair, this type of content comes from the right place. You want people to buy into your products and services, the same way you have. You know it has value and you want others to see its value too.
Problem is, it isn’t compulsive viewing for your audience.
Because it’s not a priority.

How to Make Your Content Matter

Think about your work life. Most of us are horrendously busy. Our full attention is on dealing with the immediate issues. The stuff that needs doing right now.
The key to compelling content creation is knowing what your audience can do on their own and identifying the stuff they are struggling to do.
If you want to break into someone’s consciousness, you must answer the questions they are asking right now. The important questions. The ones they can’t answer on their own.
The ones that burn because they threaten forward momentum and the realisation of their goals. Momentum is key. Because in many ways, it defines the quality of our lives.
When you have it, life feels good. The day flies by. No obstacle is too big. No mountain too high. When it’s lost, our lives take on a darker hue. We feel frustrated, become hesitant and can lose our confidence.
It’s why, momentum is such fertile territory for content creators. Because it’s so highly valued and we value those who can help us regain and maintain it.

A Useful Exercise

If you want to produce meaningful content that engages your audience, you need to tune into their needs. Look for where they are getting stuck, why they are getting stuck and the advice you can offer to help them regain momentum.
For this, you have to flip your content creation process. Rather than looking at your products and services first, start with your audience.
Ask yourself:

  1. Who are they?
  2. What do they want?
  3. Why do they want it?
  4. Why aren’t they getting it?
  5. What do you know that will help?

You don’t have to give all the answers. Just enough to help your audience move forward. Because when you help them clear one hurdle, who do you think they will come to when they want to clear the next one?
It’s a question of showing your value. About making a meaningful difference in their lives today, so they’ll come to you for help tomorrow.
This article was first published on Businesszone on July 3rd, 2017.
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