Marketers make great loud-mouths.
We flood your social media pages with listicles and blog posts. We grab our phones in the middle of the night to write down the perfect email subject line. We have a hundred and one reasons why our brand understands you, and will also end world hunger, stop global warming, and bring balance to the universe—oh, and here’s an infographic that shows you exactly how we’ll do all of that.
For years, this has been the name of the game for social media marketing. At first, this resulted in hastiness, with brands rushing to post every five minutes and marketing blogs raving about the destructive power of “decay” to Facebook EdgeRank. Given some time and moderation however, today we arrive at a sort of elitist split. Some pages continue hectic posting schedules and get labeled as focusing on quantity over quality, while other more “reserved” pages prefer to post infrequently, citing their focus on quality.
This is a common encouragement for marketers today—make better content, not more of it. Certainly true. But what if the disconnect between quality and quantity isn’t just about the frequency with which you post, but rather about how much your brand is trying to say?
The first key factor affecting this conversation is a general acceleration that has been happening to content marketers. The more audiences become plugged in, turned on, live-updated-about things happening on the Internet, the more marketers feel the need to keep pace with their own material. It seems a natural progression that as the world goes online people’s appetites for digital content should likewise become hungrier, right?
Well, according to a couple of studies by TrackMaven and Nielson, this perceived hunger for content may actually be an assumption on the part of marketers—and an incorrect assumption. In essence, marketers are trying to measure their audience’s desire for content based on how much content is produced in the brand’s space. But saturation isn’t tied to audience interest, it’s tied to market competitiveness—whether two brands or fifteen are trying to compete with you for the attention of a similar audience has nothing to do with audience desire.
So what does this mean for us busy content marketers?
For many brands, it means churning out ever-growing amounts of material for ever-diminishing returns. It’s an easy trap to fall into, and one that Trackmaven notes we’ve historically seen happen to television. It’s a nasty, self-perpetuating cycle that brands encourage in one another. So how do you break it?
There is a story about Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner that speaks beautifully to this situation—all the way back from a time when books, newspaper, theater, and radio were the primary forms of content. So it goes, Faulkner had just received some critical acclaim and commercial success for one of his books, and as a result, he became something of a news item. On one occasion, a journalist asked Faulkner to compare his work to that of his contemporary, Hemingway. Faulkner obliged, and somewhat haughtily proposed that the reason his work was inherently better than Hemingway’s was because Hemingway never used words that might “send his readers to a dictionary.”
Hemingway was later interviewed and asked about this comment. His response: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”
Replace polysyllabic musings with blog posts, social media updates, newsletters, and all sorts of other content and social media marketing, and you’ll find that the same idea still holds quite true. Audience engagement doesn’t happen by inundating your viewers with content for content’s sake—it happens when you understand exactly how much your brand should be saying.
An easy way to do this is through a concept called the “The Ten Percent Rule.” It’s an idea that copywriters and creative writers are quite familiar with, and it speaks to the natural way that people latch onto stories (as well as to the way content creators sometimes wrongly feel they have to create their material).
Start with your brand’s story—its message. It’s an amalgamation of inspirational thought, visionary direction, promises, aspirations, ideas, memories, and a thousand and one other experiences that you’ll want to try and convey to your audience to get them to believe in your brand. Many marketers feel like it’s their responsibility to convey all of this through their material—that if the whole brand story isn’t told, then their audience will gravitate toward other “Faulkner” brands. And so the content creation rat race begins.
But if a marketer was ever theoretically successful at conveying all of this, then what reason would a viewer ever have for buying into your brand? Something of the brand experience has to be left out by marketers for an audience to be able to eventually make a next step. There must be an element of suspense.
The solution, then, is to just tell the top ten percent of your brand’s story—the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Stop thinking about whether your brand is producing for quality or quantity. For some brands, ten percent may translate to much more content and sharing than for your brand, or vice versa. This doesn’t mean that keeping up the pace will help your brand in any way; all it will do is serve to make you more similar to the competition. Test what content and experiences engage your audience, focus there, and leave out the “big words” of constant content creation. When some responsibility for understanding your brand’s story is left to the viewer, it forces a level engagement that converts in truly powerful ways.