Content Strategy

What Does Original Content Actually Mean?

By Jon Simmons on March 3, 2016

If you're not first, you're...


This is the mentality that dominates the content marketing industry.

Timeliness in publishing has obvious benefits for brands, an important factor in determining how many people will discover and engage with your content. Round-the-clock trending stories are the norm because people are eating them up. It seems like every time I refresh my Apple News feed there are 50 new stories. We send twice as many Tweets per year (200 billion) as there are stars in our galaxy. We place such a premium on promptness that the term "newsjacking"-integrating popular and current news into your content-has been widely suggested as a tactic to boost SEO.

There's a lot of noise out there-as of writing this at 9:00 a.m. on Monday there had already-Monday alone-been over 1.6 million blog posts published. Brands and media sites clamor to be the first to hit publish-and why not? The first bite of pie always tastes the best, and they're ready and willing to serve it up.

But within this big bang of digital content, people are beginning to look for guidance, demanding an original point of view and depth in storytelling. And often, that takes time.

If It's Not Original, Why Publish It?

One of Google's major SEO algorithms, Panda, regards uniqueness and quality as extremely important when ranking content. And when you consider that organic search is responsible for about 64 percent of all search traffic, ignoring Google's emphasis on originality is costly to your content marketing strategy in more ways than one. As a Google spokesperson said of Panda, "Users not only remember but also voluntarily spread the word about the quality of the site, because the content is produced with care, it's original, and shows that the author is truly an expert in the topic of the site."

If you have a story in your queue that 1,000 media sites have already published, do you think your chances of it rising to the top are good?

Take the time to develop unique angles for all of your content. At the Content Standard, that means collaborating with our writers on pitches to make sure each story puts a twist on trends. We encourage contributors to voice their opinions on marketing movements, instead of reiterating and regurgitating for the sake of content.

Original Content + Timely Content = Shareable Content

It's not a shockingly revelatory equation, but it merits content marketers' attention in an Internet packed with much of the same.

At the Content Standard, we've seen this combination translate to higher than average engagement. A recent post on Chipotle's reputation management dilemma quickly became one of our top-visited stories of February when we published it the day after the brand closed its doors for a few hours to educate its staff on proper food safety. Instead of just reporting this news, or taking an angle like other media sites, we opted to cover the story from a Content Standard perspective: How can a sustained storytelling strategy save the brand's reputation?

Had we not planned the publish date strategically or took the time to think of a unique angle for this story, I'm convinced it wouldn't have performed nearly as well as it did. Brands should look to do the same, and always remember to pause for perspective. What can you say that's new?

What Is Originality?

It might seem like a simple question with a simple answer. Perhaps you would point to the classics-like a Picasso painting or a Beethoven symphony, or maybe you'd mention a more modern artist, like Dr. Seuss, or Radiohead. We've watched TED Talks with writers like Steven Johnson, listened to NPR discussions with musicians and producers like Mark Ronson, and read countless other stories published on the topic of originality.

Overwhelmingly, we think of art as original-creativity the cousin of uniqueness-unable to be imitated, unlike anything else. And in our minds, these artists are admirable for their pursuit of originality. We form unwavering allegiances with artists who we believe to be original, because well, we like to like people and things that are imaginative and different. We sometimes even feel offended if others don't share the same opinion... "What do you mean you don't like Led Zeppelin!?"

Dr. Seuss continues to top the list of highest-selling children's books year after year not because he wrote Eggs, a Yummy Breakfast, but because he wrote Green Eggs and Ham, a highly relatable story for both parents and children in which Sam-I-Am tries to convince the narrator to eat his food. It is in the language and the illustrations (translation for marketers: the copy and the visuals) where originality shines.

Twenty-five years after Theodor Seuss Geisel's death (Dr. Seuss), nine of his books land in the top fifty sold in 2015. Staying power is fueled by freshness; originality doesn't fade-because it's original.

How Businesses Can Create Original Content

It's no wonder why people balk at the idea of corporations telling original stories. Historically, business has been the domain of ridiculous stock photos, dry-as-the-Mojave copywriting, and above all, a product-first mentality. And it's no question these connotations still persists in the eye of the public; many organizations still operate with a fit-in-not stand-out-mentality.

Corporate creativity will always have a stigma-after all, businesses need to make sales to keep the lights on, a truth consumers are acutely aware of. Put another way, people understand the primary purpose of marketing, whether it's a blog post or a commercial. For marketers to kid themselves and think this stigma will vanish as they transition their budgets from interrupt ads to content marketing is foolish. It isn't foolish, however, for marketers to recognize that content marketing in the form of sustained storytelling will yield more returning visitors in the long run than interrupt ads. And that's exactly why original brand storytelling works-it's a paradox of sorts; brands tell great stories, consumers seek them out, and maybe, eventually, they wander further down the pipeline and become paying customers. Maybe they even become a brand advocate. A loyalist. Someone who says to their friend, "What do you mean you don't like Snapchat!?"

The scales are starting to tip as the digital world offers consumers a courtside seat to everything brands have to offer.

According to Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, there are two ways brands can be original. Here is her advice:

1. Create content at a depth that otherwise doesn't exist in the market. Even if you think your market or industry is's not. You can find a point of view or perspective to cover at a depth or breadth others aren't.

2. Embrace your tone of voice as your gutsiest, bravest asset. Most brands vastly undervalue their tone of voice as a differentiator. But how you say things can also make you original.

Both of Handley's pieces of advice strike me as having almost limitless power. Yet, it's in her second point about tone of voice that businesses can immediately begin to give their content a facelift. Originality can mean covering new ground and old ground, only this time riding in a brand new vehicle.

Last week my colleague at Skyword forwarded a weekly digest email from InVision, a design company, to the rest of the marketing team members. In her forwarded email, she wrote how she liked the brand's CTAs. What she was talking about was the tone of voice of the CTAs-it caught her attention, and mine, and soon I was browsing InVision's website and blog.

"Chin Up" could easily have been, "Click here." Instead, the tone is crisp, playful, and encouraging. It's what got her to share InVision's weekly digest with our team.

It's the Little Things

Originality doesn't need to manifest in an opus-nor does it need to mean you have to tear your hair out always trying to think of a topic no other site has covered before. Originality in business starts with sounding-across all your brand's digital channels-uniquely like your brand.

Most brands have a long way to go in finding their corner of the digital universe, but as the practiced storytellers of the media industry converge with the analytical minds of marketing, we're starting to see brands publish some amazing, original stories. Now, and into the future, it will be the brands that take time to produce high-quality stories and unique content you can't find anywhere else that will attract and retain new audiences.

"If the label fell off, would you recognize you?" Handley asks. "Or do you sound like everyone else, in both your brand tone of voice as well as your perspective?"

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Jon Simmons

Managing editor of the Content Standard, writer at Monster, Sound of Boston, Trill, and others. Hip-hop producer.