In 1929, a fellow by the name of Frigyes Karinthy, an iconic Hungarian storyteller, developed an understanding of the world that no human had ever thought before. He believed that everyone in the world is six or fewer degrees away from one another. Meaning, everyone in the world is connected to everyone else through their relationships. If Mary knows Sue, and Sue knows Beth, and Beth knows Sandra, hypothetically Sue is connected to Sandra. Still following?
This concept should sound familiar to marketers. In 2008, Facebook announced “friends of friends” as part of its privacy settings, allowing users to share content with not only their immediate friends but the friends of those friends, greatly extending the reach of a user’s audience. Marketers have tried to duplicate and measure the ROI for this theory of separation by launching word-of-mouth marketing campaigns and tracking the share of voice a brand is able to capture in social media conversations.
The degrees of separation are clearly at play in social media, but does this theory apply to your content marketing strategy?
In content marketing, the degrees of separation equate to the difference between the marketing message and the content. In other words, the marketing message usually provides reasoning for why a product or service is valuable, and the content speaks to consumer needs and wants. Many times, they are not one in the same. The degrees of separation are what lies in the middle. Unique content is what pulls it all together.
For example, let’s say an outdoor active apparel brand is planning their marketing strategy and their content strategy in parallel. The marketing strategy may include highlighting how the material in one of their jackets keeps someone warm in the winter. That is maybe one or two degrees away from the core brand values. Their content strategy could include articles like “10 Outdoor Trips for Winter.” That content is several degrees separated from the marketing message and the brand. Both are useful to the audience, but the latter isn’t solely about the product—it’s more about what customers can potentially do with the product.
Many brands take the safe route and develop a content strategy with one or two degrees separation from their brand message. This is a mistake. The further separated a brand’s content strategy is from its brand message, the better the chances of reaching, building, and retaining an audience. This concept shouldn’t be perceived as a risk to brands, but rather an opportunity.
To validate this opportunity, here’s an example using the same outdoor active apparel brand, considering their content strategy approach and how separated their editorial strategy should be from their brand message.
It’s clear that by only focusing on topics closely related to outdoor clothing, this company is severely limiting the audience it’s attempting to reach with its content. Alternatively, by extending the degrees of separation to outdoor lifestyle topics, the audience size increases substantially.
The question brands need to ask is: What does my product or service allow my customers to do? Create a list of those interests and break it down even further. If a certain jacket allows someone to climb Mt. Everest more effectively than someone without the jacket, that’s a value proposition. For the content strategy, we can go even further and assume that someone hiking Everest in this jacket would also be interested in climbing, food storage, and water sanitation. The content strategy can talk about these things whereas the marketing strategy cannot.
For the outdoor apparel company, building a content strategy solely focused on clothing is not sustainable or effective. By expanding the focus of topics to lifestyle interests of people who purchase or are interested in outdoor clothing, opportunities increase to connect with an audience based on their needs and interests. Patagonia, for example, sells outdoor clothing and gear. But on their blog, The Cleanest Line, they write about social good, environmentalism, and conservation, because that’s what their customers are interested in (besides well-made clothing).
Every brand should analyze their audience, even further than this example. Once the content strategy is developed, content teams should create an editorial mission that will drive every aspect of the strategy. The mission informs the type of contributors and creatives that are recruited, the writing style, the content categories, the content angles, even the design of the website.
For brands that are new to the content marketing space but are interested in creating truly unique content, remember this: There are degrees of separation between your brand message (what you want to say) and your content strategy (what your audience wants to hear). If you figure out what those degrees are, you will have a successful and unique content marketing program.
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