Step Away From the Publish Button

Step Away From the Publish Button

By Mitch Joel

Mitch Joel is president of Twist Image, a digital marketing agency. Excerpted from CTRL ALT DELETE: Reboot Your Business. Reboot Your Life. Your Future Depends on It. ©2013 by Mitch Joel. Reprinted by permission of Business Plus. All rights reserved.

In this world where anybody can (and does) publish content in text, images, audio, and video instantly for the entire world to see, we have to start asking ourselves this very difficult question: At what point will the proverbial levee break?

Marketers are busy telling their clients to start producing content or suffer the wrath of becoming irrelevant. Confession: My head is bowed down in shame for I am, without question, one of those marketers. Content needs to be created for a captive audience, and we may very well be selling a bill of goods here. We're asking a lot of individuals. We're telling people to create content. Short content (be on Twitter!) and long content (blog! And blog often!). We're telling brands to make videos (post them on YouTube and Vimeo, and they don't have to only be sixty seconds long!), and we're telling brands to start their own radio shows (podcasting—still a massive opportunity for brands!).

Let's back up. What is the point of advertising? Advertising's function is to create awareness. Consumers need to know when a new type of toilet paper is on the market. If we trusted that they'd look at every product on the toilet-paper shelves on every visit to their local merchant, we wouldn't have to advertise. But that doesn't happen. As such, we need to make our message stand out and have its own unique space. This new type of toilet paper must be distinctly unique from other toilet paper. Beyond that, is there any additional information to share? Is it the toilet-paper company's fault that other brands, products, and services have also come to the realization that they need to capture your attention—if only for a brief moment—to inform you that they exist?

Do you need a Facebook page for this? Do you need a mobile app for that? Content is a great way to create awareness as well, but this type of awareness needs a special kind of meaning and depth. Why? Because the same consumers who are inundated with advertising are also being inundated with content. That's a lot of messaging.

Also, in a world where a brand is not curating content, publishing content, and serving as a media entity unto itself (check out Red Bull Media), it's critical that we—the business leaders during this moment of purgatory—take one step back and ask ourselves: Are we asking too much of our consumers? Beyond that, are we asking even more of those who aren't even our consumers yet? This is what happens in a world where anyone can publish their thoughts in text, images, audio, and video instantly. It becomes a game where brands are jumping in the pool simply because every other brand is jumping in the pool.

What does that get you? Mediocrity at best, but junk is the more likely outcome. Prior to the social Web, how many advertorials did you read that were so captivating that you could not help but rip them out of the magazine (or newspaper) and share them with friends and colleagues? Admit it—it's not easy to recall a scenario like that. There are few companies that will admit that the quality of their content can't match the quantity that they are producing. Have you ever walked to the back of a conference hall and seen the bags and dumpsters of corporate white papers, testimonials, and articles that are left shortly after the trade-show floor shuts down? You can blame bringing too many copies along as one excuse, but the sad reality is that the content just didn't captivate the audience.

So what do we do? We kill the content. You heard me: Kill the content.

Step away from the publish button and take a breather. Instead of looking at your content calendar or barking at someone in your organization to tweet more frequently, take a fifteen-minute siesta and ask yourself this one question: What great stories can we tell? Stop thinking about content as the endgame and consider that the true value is the stories you tell.

You can condemn a company like Apple for not being all that social, but you can't deny that their brand and products tell a wonderful story. The same is true for other brands we highlight as success stories. Zappos tells us great stories about creating happiness. Red Bull makes us believe that human beings can do impossible things. Disney creates worlds of wonder and delight for children of all ages. And, as you can see by the current state of these brands, it's not always easy to stay relevant and compelling to your audience.

Marketers will often say that the best ads are the ones that tell stories. While you can easily shoot back with a “Duh, tell me something I don't know,” take a cold, hard look at all of your marketing collateral and ask yourself if you're telling a story worthy of being told—or are you telling a story just to get something sold? Personally, I think that brands and content and great stories are only beginning to get good. Now, because they have the tools, channels, and distribution platforms, real magic can happen (and you don't even need to buy ad space to let the world know). What's my hope? That brands start reinvesting in great stories instead of investing in people to simply blog, tweet, and update their Facebook page.

It's not all about content. It's all about stories. It's not all about stories. It's all about great stories. It's a tall order, but if you're looking to create a true mark and to get people to remark about everything that you're doing, you only have one major mission when it comes to marketing yourself and the business that you represent: Go out there and create some great stories. Please.

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