I know you won’t like this, but I have some news for you: Nobody is sitting around waiting for your content to appear.

Many businesses who are betting on acquiring and retaining customers with content act as if the whole world has been waiting for it—as if it were inherently bound to get attention once it’s made available for public consumption. Eventually (and inevitably) this mindset leads to frustration.

When businesses decide to put content at the core of their strategy, the vast majority of their resources are put into planning and creating said content. Then they hit “Publish” and hope it goes viral. “Of course it will! We are so interesting,” they think to themselves.

But readers of this publication will know that it takes a lot more than that.

Over the past few months I’ve experienced this mentality time and time again during workshops and conversations with managers. Apparently I’ve been in the content marketing silo for too long, thinking that by now everybody gets it: The consumer is at the core of marketing communication — not the brand, not the product, not the company. But the truth is that most managers still think modern marketing communication goes like this:

How NOT to market
Graphic via HBR

When it should actually be like this:

The RIGHT way to market
Graphic via HBR

Customers Don’t Care About Your Brand

A few weeks ago I was conducting a workshop and we were developing the brand story that we thought should be told. But we kept hitting a wall.

“We need to say how reliable we are. We need to communicate our unique selling point and position our brand,” the workshop attendees kept insisting.

Sorry, but this is a crime against content.

Having a strong brand is still important in our fast-paced world; there is no denying that. However, some things have changed. A strong brand (especially in B2B) is shaped by usefulness. Or, as Jay Baer puts it, youtility. When you communicate, getting attention isn’t enough (sorry clickbait fans). You have to think beyond the click.

At the very moment you grab a visitor’s attention with content, you are taking their time away from them, so you better make it count. Be useful to them and it will be a positive experience. Multiply this by many potential clients and your brand starts getting into shape.

Brands are shaped by usefulness and the customer experience—not by you shouting as loud as you can about how awesome you are with your multi-million dollar image campaign. If you help someone, you’ve got their sympathy and they feel inclined to reciprocate. If you waste their time, you are annoying to them.

Traditional marketing is telling the world you’re a rockstar. Content marketing is showing you are one. – Robert Rose

If you embrace “Show, don’t tell” as a fundamental principle, it will help you create better content. Distribution begins with the content itself.

Don’t Rely on SEO Alone

For a lot of people, the thinking goes like this:

“We produce a lot of amazing content and make it available to Google for crawling and indexing. They know about online content better than anyone and they’ll figure out that we are just the best at this, and after a while we’ll rank at the very top. That will bring us a lot of traffic and customers. Let’s do this!”

This is plainly and simply negligent. And yet there are so many still doing it. Think about the differences between search and social media. People don’t “discover” content by looking for it; it finds them through the attention it’s getting from conversations others are having about and around it. On social media, serendipity is king.

For blog posts, I recommend writing separate meta data for search and for social so that you can optimize for both channels. The best content not only creates conversations, it’s also shared—on both “visible” channels and dark social channels.

Let’s sum this up:

  • Stop wasting people’s time with your brand drivel and put youtility at the center of your content.
  • Don’t take attention for granted. Optimize your content and distribution tactics so that you exceed readers’ expectations.
  • Always take into account the context in which content will appear to your audience. Don’t just post a link; make it relevant to your audience for the setting in which they will stumble upon it. Empathy is more than a buzzword.

As a project manager, I like to advise clients and contacts to remember that every new content piece is a project in itself. You have to plan distribution before hitting “Publish” and you can never take attention for granted. Once you have really gotten into this new mindset, you’ll find distribution a whole lot easier.