As many of us have noticed, the internet seems to be awash with content. “5 Easy ways to increase revenue”-type headlines seem to be almost a tongue-in-cheek cliche, and let me tell you, we never would have thought of number 3. It’s true that these types of headlines are somewhat akin to psychological crack, and even I indulge in them despite knowing that I’m likely to be left feeling disappointed, and somewhat ashamed. The worst are multi-page “slideshow” articles that require clicking through pages of ads to read snippets of the article. This is called pagination, and it’s for things like 1,400,238,382 Google search results, not articles about the 25 ways your cat is trying to kill you. The pages usually load slowly, have popups that don’t pop up until you’ve started reading, and sometimes are even unreadable on a mobile device due to stylesheet problems. For a good summary of the problem, read this article: http://www.vandelaydesign.com/google-should-penalize-multi-page-articles-heres-why/
One of the most egregious offenders of this type of content strategy is your local newspaper. Pressured by decreasing readership and increasing competition from internet sources of content, newspapers struggled to adapt their subscription/advertisement business model to the internet. The result is a terrible user experience: just try reading this article on your phone. I’m not singling out the Rexburg Standard Journal; this is a systemic problem within the newspaper industry. Limiting the number of articles a non-subscriber can view, filling the pages with “sponsored content” from Outbrain and similar (if you haven’t clicked on one of these before, please don’t), even phishing attempts from ads delivered by local news sites are completely destroying the user experience, access to news, and credibility of newspapers. The newspapers have been so afraid of losing money that they’ve lost their focus, chasing any potential revenue stream regardless of its impact on their vision.
Meanwhile, publications like Le Canard Enchainé in France are turning a profit on sales alone. What’s the difference? Le Canard Enchainé is hyper-focused on one thing: finding humor in the powers that be. They aren’t worried about pleasing advertisers. They aren’t worried about having enough subscribers. They aren’t worried about the classified ads, events, sports, etc. that other newspapers have added as a “more is better” strategy. Their website isn’t even that great. All they worry about is maintaining their focus, living their vision, and they’re the best at it because of that.
Intercom recently released an article called “Why we’re dropping the term ‘content marketing'” and it’s all about the pains we experience with content on the internet these days. Intercom is a messaging platform that helps businesses connect with consumers. They’re all about communicating better, and so they flipped the “traditional approach” (if there is such a thing in digital content marketing) by putting the reader at the center of everything they write. Here are some of my comments on the article:
Our experience has been that by focusing on the content first [instead of the marketing], you can be far less aggressive trying to convert visitors.”
You can be less aggressive because you’ve already qualified your visitors with your content. Looking for someone to tell you that you need to outsmart your competition and come up with a flashy logo? If you read this far, probably not. But even so, you won’t subscribe to my email list because you don’t believe in what I do. And that’s perfect for both of us.
We followed up that off-site with the recent decision to change our job titles to reflect the editorial and publishing work that our team does. So now you’ll see us advertising for editors to join the team rather than content marketing managers.”
Intercom is spot on. Words matter, and can influence your perception of the world. I have a friend who runs a small business. Yes, it’s an MLM, but don’t judge; she’s good at it and she believes in the vision. One day I asked her what she does, and she said “I’m a distributor for _____”. Ok, you’re a crazy person sucked up in an MLM. But she had her own company name and branding and a pretty decent revenue base. I had her start introducing herself as “I’m CEO of _____ and I help people live healthier lives.” Wow, that’s cool. Note that this isn’t misleading; if you truly believe in your vision, in your products, and in yourself, then let people know. Trying to cover up your success with feigned incompetence might be more comfortable, but it’s less genuine.
If we were driven by marketing considerations rather than editorial ones, we probably would never do things like publish a 120-page hardcover book and then sell it at a loss. But by focusing on the quality of that publication, rather than marketing hacks to get readers to download something of poorer quality, we’re attracting more than enough potential customers to make the whole exercise worthwhile.”
This is where it’s at. Sell a product at a loss?! This is all about adding value to your customers’ lives first, spreading your vision second, and making money a distant third. Intercom might not know the ROI on this book (but they might), but it doesn’t matter because it’s brought a ton of value into their customers’ lives and it’s spread their vision. Long-term, this probably has a positive ROI.
Now let’s look at a magical fairy tale land where people create content, give it away, and then people subscribe to them and get almost nothing in return.
Over on Twitch, streamers and casters deliver hours of live streaming content- usually, it’s them playing video games. Yes, other people watch them playing video games. It’s free to watch a stream and there’s a chat on the stream so that viewers can interact with the streamer and each other. Twitch has 9.7 million active daily users watching an average of 106 minutes of content per day. In 2014, Twitch had more viewers than CNN and MSNBC, and almost as many as MTV and TruTV.
Streamers who have enough viewers can become Twitch partners, and earn revenue through ads (these are minimally invasive, usually a minute before loading the stream, and usually highly relevant to the audience) and subscriptions at $4.99 per month. Subscribers receive benefits like special chat emotes, access to previous streams, and priority chat access when the chat is highly active. There are other benefits, and even a Twitch Prime option (Twitch is owned by Amazon since 2014), but for the most part subscribers are paying out $4.99 a month (or more) because they believe in what the streamer is doing.
Take, for example, Twitch streamer Wintergaming. Winter plays Starcraft II primarily, and has a dedicated following. What’s his mission? To get others started playing SCII, improve their skills, and enjoy the game. The game, to him, is more like creating a work of art than playing a game. His passion is evident in everything he does, and his viewers love it. They aren’t paying for emotes, or ad-free viewing, or even to watch him play. They can do that for free. They pay because they believe in what Winter believes in- they pay for his passion, and what it inspires in them.
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”- Simon Sinek
So, here’s the idea I’ll leave you with: What can you create that will inspire your customers? Forget about the cost, forget about what kind of revenue it will bring you, forget about whether or not someone else is doing something similar. What will inspire and add value to their lives? How can you create and deliver that in a way that expresses your vision? And what’s stopping you?