Late last month, I was fortunate to take some time off to head up to Splendour In The Grass in Byron Bay with a few friends.
It was quite the event, with 40,000+ people all converging in one bigass field outside of Byron for 3 days of music and drinking.
There were probably 100+ bands playing over the 3 days, and we went and saw a good number of them
Whilst always fun, the problem with this is that you end up going and seeing bands that you only partially like. You know maybe 2-3 of their most popular songs, and the rest you have either never heard of or only vaguely know.
You find yourself in this weird sort of up and down state, where for the songs you know your jumping around going crazy while the others your kind of just standing there trying to look like you know whats going on.
It was during one of the songs I don’t know that I realized content marketing is kind of like a rock concert. How you ask? Let’s dig in to find out:
You can’t always create epic content
I think one of the most over-used lines in content marketing is ‘create great content’.
But what the hell defines great content? How is one supposed to know whether a content piece is great? And doesn’t ‘great’ differ depending on your goals, organization, content type, etc?
I recently stumbled across an article by Gregory Ciotti who put forward the concept of ‘white bread vs wheat bread’ content which I found really interesting.
The idea is that white bread content is that really snackable, shareable content like listicles that will tend to get shared a lot, but doesn’t really do a lot leave a lasting impression of thought leadership and authority on your brand.
A recent example of this is an article I wrote on the Campaign Monitor blog titled ‘8 free sites to get amazingly beautiful images for your email campaigns’.
Our design team did a great job of the visuals on the post and it was quite a hit, attracting a ton of visits and shares. At last count, it had about 10x the number of shares then we’d see on an average post.
However, despite the extra shares and traffic, the post did not perform any better in terms of signups and probably did very little for us in the long run. Majority of new visitors came from social media and likely either clicked through to the featured sites or just bounced away. Very few people subscribed and most people would be more likely to remember and have a favourable brand affiliation towards the stock photography sites then they towards Campaign Monitor.
Compare this to ‘wheat bread’ content on the contrary, which are those more in-depth, deep dive articles you do on a particular topic. They don’t get shared around nearly as much, but those who do read them genuinely learn something.
A good example of this kind of content from the Campaign Monitor blog is ‘How to use social proof to get more subscribers and convert them into customers’
This post is an in-depth look at social proof from an email marketing perspective, it presents research on the importance of social proof, offers actionable advice on how to apply it to different aspects of your email marketing, has screenshots and examples and even presents a number of interesting do’s and don’ts related to implementing social proof.
In short, it was the kind of post a reader would genuinely learn a lot from and could serve as a reference for the topic in the future.
In comparison to the 8 free sites with beautiful images post, this article got far fewer shares and views. However I am confident that the people who read this article came away from it having learnt something valuable, which builds authority and thought leadership around the Campaign Monitor brand and makes readers much more likely to signup for our product in the future.
In my time running content at Campaign Monitor, I’ve also noticed a 3rd type of content which I’ll call ‘Multigrain bread content’ to keep with and build on Greg’s work
Multigrain bread (named because it’s still whitebread, but it has grains which makes it a bit healthier) is the kind of in-between content.
A good example from the Campaign Monitor blog is the post ‘This little-known copywriting formula will increase your email click-through rate’
This post still has elements of white-bread content in that it has a ‘link-bait’ style headline and is quite short and shareable with really immediately actionable results. However, it also has elements of ‘wheat bread content’ as well, it isn’t just some listicle or a roundup of other people’s content… It’s actually something a person could learn from and apply to improve their email marketing.
Multigrain bread is kind of like the happy medium. Posts should still be snackable and visual which leads to elevated sharing activity, but it still needs to teach readers something that they can apply and get results from in order for it to leave a positive impression of authority and thought leadership on your brand.
So how does this all fit into the rock concert analogy? I’m getting there.
Why your content marketing should be like a rock concert
As I mentioned before, rock concerts tend to have a lot of highs and lows. You end up jumping around and loving the old classics, but then you are a bit more mellow during the band’s new stuff that you don’t know yet.
You should aim to have a similar rhythm to your content marketing. Each month you should aim to produce a little bit of white bread content that gets shared and drives traffic, as well as aim to produce some more wheat bread content which deep dives into a particular topic and really teaches the reader something.
The rest of the time, you should aim to produce multigrain content that is somewhere in the middle. Still really great and valuable content, but content that is a little less in-depth and slightly more snackable and shareable.
How to apply this to your own content marketing
If the big 1400 word analogy wasn’t clear enough, let me lay it out straight.
Everything you publish online should be great, but don’t always think everything has to be epic.
It would be extremely difficult to always be producing well-researched, wheat bread content on a daily basis. Don’t be afraid to mix your content up between those kind of pieces and the more light-hearted listicles or round up posts that are easier to produce and get shared more.
The key is maintaining the balance and realising the need for wheat-bread content, despite what your analytics may be telling you. Although it’s super easy to look at your analytics and share count and say we need to be producing more and more white-bread content, are these the metrics that really matter to your business? And at the end of the day is this really the best kind of content to build your brand?
I think the best example of this is the PetFlow blog. In case you don’t know, PetFlow is an online pet retailer that sells pet food, supplies, etc.
If you removed their branding from their blog, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was BuzzFeed or Upworthy. They basically take the most popular content from around the web (mainly YouTube videos) and post it on their blog in the hope of driving traffic primarily from social sharing. As you can see below, they smash out the curiosity gap headlines and the content has no real theme or strategy.
Now I’m not privy to their analytics, but I have enough experience to understand that posting this kind of content probably requires very little effort and drives them a bunch of traffic from social sites like Facebook.
On the surface it would seem like a great deal. They likely have some intern doing it and the sharing stats probably look great.
But what does it do for the real metrics that matter to their business like sales & revenue? My guess would be very little. In no way has their content taught me something or improved my life, and in no way do I look at their site with any sort of authority or trust as a result of reading their blog. I have absolutely no brand affinity towards them, and I am in no way more inclined to buy from them than any other pet retailer.
So the message here is simple, balance the types of content you create. Don’t feel that you need to create epic, amazing blog posts every time as you’ll kill yourself, and don’t be afraid to create a little bit of white-bread content once in a while to generate some shares and help boost awareness.
Just make sure you don’t get caught up in the vanity metrics of white-bread content, as you’ll end up fat on visits, but skinny on customers.