Grow Up: Content IS a Commodity

The always-impressive Rachel Lovinger wrote about a recent backlash she is seeing to the word "content."

While I haven't experienced exactly what she is describing, I have seen symptoms of this bigger illness - mostly that "content" is so vague a term as to allow the uneducated or uninitiated to play in the space with subpar results. (Basically the same dynamic we saw a few years ago in terms of unique, quality content versus the content farms online detritus.)

Lovinger deftly sums up the issue:

The core problem seems to be a feeling that the word “content” reduces thoughtful, artistic expressions to a commodity. The websites and apps we develop to elegantly deliver words, images and media experiences are perceived as empty containers, hungry for content to be poured into them. Content marketing campaigns depend on calendars that demand to be filled on a regularly scheduled basis. This may give the impression that an effective approach to content is to churn out generic stuff that fits the size and shape of the container, and meets the deadlines.

Content Isn't Art

While I certainly share a distain for garbage content or even the practices that produce it, it also got me thinking about the other end of the spectrum. There will always be those who try to churn out a crappy product (content, in this case) faster and cheaper. But there are also those on the other end who do as much damage by elevating content to an artistic expression

I fall into the pragmatic center. I tend to agree with Lee Clow that an advertisement is a piece of communication. Content may require someone with artistic sensibilities, but it is not art. Content IS a commodity. 

Why am I so emphatically "reducing" content to a commodity? Because I've tried to sell just an idea to a client. It never works. They might agree, but agreeing to something as imperceivable as an idea is never something that can be approved by a corporation. 

The success I've had with content marketing is, in fact, largely because I can package up content programs into commodities. Looking over current content to see what you can repurpose is a good idea. But a content audit is something a client can buy. BIG difference. 

I see sweet, well-meaning agency folks fail consistently because they simply don't give a client something she could actually purchase.

We work in a business with a lot of vagueness. Even our most concrete metrics don't tell a clear story all the time. (For instance, does time on site mean that a viewer is really interested or does it mean they're confused and can't find what they want right away?) We're at our best when we eliminate vagueness for our client. That's the way to truly become a strategic partner.

Commoditize Your Content Strategy

I'm not a business guy. I'm an English major. I don't get friendly with the numbers side of our business all that often. But I am also a problem solver. And the only way to solve the client's problem is to convince them to do what you know needs done.

So, give your idea a name. Consider additional components that might go into that commodity. Think about how long it will take, what is in scope and out of scope. Outline the goals and what documents you will deliver at the end of the project. 

A client needs to buy a commodity, not an idea. Ideas are great for art. But we're in the business of provoking action. That requires a commodity. And in our case, that commodity is content. Long live content commodities.

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Please share via your social network (links below). Also, stay tuned for part two where I discuss what isn't a commodity: strategic leadership. Fun times!