Be brave and bold

Tom Goodwin, Executive vice president and head of innovation at Zenith Media, discusses why quality journalism is so important to tell the story that brings a brand or business to life.

Advertising is losing its edge. Not only are people overwhelmed by the number of ad impressions trying to reach them, they have lost faith in advertisers’ messages. This collapse in trust is fueling the shift to the “content” strategies of native advertising, branded content and influencer marketing.

The digital world has created a generation who are thirsty for a sense of direction and search for material to help them think in different ways. They have a great hunger for advice about their professional lives, as well as intellectual and practical matters. This opens the way for businesses to use their expertise to offer original thinking that inspires and guides.

“You probably don’t care what BMW thinks about interior design, but you may care what the head of interior design at BMW says about it.”

But many businesses are struggling to achieve this. Too much B2B content is bland and pointless, from telecoms companies writing indistinguishable pieces about the internet of things, to cyber-security firms saying the same old stuff about data breaches. There is so much stodgy, clichéd groupthink to wade through that the good stuff risks getting lost. If content isn’t truly outstanding, it just won’t get read.

To cut through, businesses need to be brave and have a high tolerance for risk. They need a willingness to stand for something and not be afraid to have a voice. If you look at most of what is written by management consultancies, their writers clearly don’t feel confident in expressing an opinion because it might get them into trouble.

An area where many businesses go wrong is promoting their corporate entity rather than an individual working for that company. You probably don’t care what BMW thinks about interior design, but you may care what the head of interior design at BMW says about it. After all, humans relate to other humans.

But promoting individual executives can be risky. The glory may reflect on them rather than the corporate name, so businesses need to create clearly branded content hubs. There is the risk that they give away valuable information. Thought-leadership pieces need to reveal just enough of the business insight to get people interested, but without giving up the thinking customers pay for. That is a tricky balance to strike.

“To cut through, businesses need to be brave and have a high tolerance for risk.”

Persuading the in-house experts of the need to work with writers to brainstorm ideas, tell stories and create great content is vital. Every company needs evangelists who understand their business and industry, and can work with writers and producers to create the content that reflects their expertise.

There is a lot of talk of artificial intelligence taking the place of writers and cheaply producing engaging, relevant content. There will be more complex and more creative writing from AI; the idea of content marketing that is personal at scale is in theory a good AI challenge. We need to be careful because great content performs strongly, while content that is a bit “run of the mill” or expected completely bombs. I find it unlikely that great content will be written by AI for some time.

It is better to employ good storytellers; people who can tease the nuances out of other people. You need to be brave enough to let them loose inside your business, to speak to the gurus and to tease out the stories.

Content is the future. But journalistic skills are so important. Companies will only succeed when they find an editorial voice or opinion that is original and striking, and carries sufficient weight to cut through the bland multitude.

Tom Goodwin is the Head of Innovation at Zenith Media. To find out more about how to make your content stand out, access our full report on content marketing cut-through here