It’s awards season in Adland, a time to squeeze into the tux and applaud the latest big-budget campaign. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some great work being done out there, but the celebration of all things ‘hero’ highlights a contrast between a lot of the content strategy theory I hear bandied about, and the work actually being created.
Here’s the thing: for some time now, the sensible response to the question ‘what kind of content should I make’ has been ‘customer-centric content’. Creating content that enriches the life of the consumer in some way seems like the right-headed way to ingratiate yourself with them without simultaneously adding to internet decibel levels. Do it often enough over time and you’re on your way to gaining some small level of trust – and it’s that trust that the content strategists increasingly pinpoint as their holy grail.
“Your customers’ lives don’t work on a campaign basis, and if you’re truly customer-centric, neither should you.”
So why, then, do brands insist on chasing the ‘hero’ pieces, and why does the ad industry keep celebrating this stuff and pushing it on the customer? The answer has everything to do with money and back-slapping – an understandable response, given the industry we’re in, but also one that fails to take the longer game into account. Unless you’re planning on being a flash in the pan, surely it makes more sense to focus your budgets on something sustainable? I hate to use the phrase ‘always on’, because it implies something specifically social, and I think that social should be one part of an overall, organic approach; ‘continuous’ is a better word – an approach that doesn’t start and stop with each campaign, but keeps the conversation going. Your customers’ lives don’t work on a campaign basis, and if you’re truly customer-centric, neither should you.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that hero content should become a thing of the past. Far from it. It has a huge role to play as a beacon – something to attract new customers and re-engage existing customers. But without the ‘hub’ content to support it and keep the conversation going, it exists only in isolated fits and starts.
As always, this is nothing new. Google’s much-touted ‘hero, hub and hygiene’ content strategy has been around for as long as publishers have been publishing. You can most easily see it in the magazine industry, where a front cover story and its accompanying main features were the ‘hero’ pieces (attracting readers both new and old), the ‘hub’ content was represented by the regular sections and occasional supplements that kept the loyals coming back (and hinted to new customers that they were joining an established community), and the ‘hygiene’ content was the letters pages, customer feedback and the market research that helped the editors plot their next few issues.
The essential word in that last paragraph was ‘community’, and I think that in the modern world of Facebook and Twitter we tend to forget that communities have always existed around successful publications regardless of the existence of those websites. Communities can exist in silence, too – you can log on to your favourite newspaper website everyday for ten years without commenting and still be sharing in the interests of the community. What keeps you there is the regular publishing of content that interests you.
Brands that want to engage with their communities through content have to accept that it’s that mix of regularity and quality that keeps readers coming back. Rather than overlook it in favour of the flashy stuff, ‘hub’ content should be placed at the centre of a continuous, well-thought-through, organic content strategy. Doing so can result in your customers spending quality time with your brand. Sticking to ‘hero’ content may mean that their time is short.