What’s On

Inform or entertain: Is your content worth reading?

Do you hate ads? I loathe ads. I run three separate ad-blockers and another plugin that disables videos, just so I won’t have to run into an ad. If it were not for browsing on mobile or the occasional glimpse of a television, I would not be in contact with ads at all.

There are some amazing ads, but the vast majority just get in the way and frustrate. If I’m trying to watch a funny video, I want to laugh now instead of sitting through 90 seconds about the latest laptop (more like five seconds before I skip the ad). If I’m reading the news, I shouldn’t have to scroll past iPhones and dresses on sale in between paragraphs about the latest developments.

Ads are annoying because they waste my time with unwanted information; because they’re irrelevant; and because they are so desperate to sell me something by any means – often resorting to blanket bombardment of the senses. Does that sound familiar? I suspect you can empathise and agree with me: ads suck.

Does your content marketing suck? Do you produce content that is too desperate to sell or contains unwanted information? Is your infographic or blogpost a thinly-disguised product specification sheet? Is your content worth the time it takes to read it, or just a waste of time?

Don’t waste your own time; produce only content worth reading. Stop content pollution – a very real concern, given the amount of content bring generated by brands.

An adage runs: Nobody wants to be sold to; everybody wants to buy. The content piece you’re pushing on social media or newsletters should not focus on selling; but instead on being buyable – your audience and customers are paying with their time and attention, and they want something in return worth their time.

One of my most remarkable experiences with native advertising/ sponsored content/ product placements was during a Horror escape room experience. In one of the rooms, we put on headphones and listened to a recording of a ghost attack, complete with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. It was all very frightening, but I remember thinking: You can hear every growl, slobber and screech of the ghost; these headphones are amazing! The headphone brand later turned out to be partners, with their logo discreetly but visibly sitting in a corner of all the collaterals.

The marketing content – a practical product demonstration – was woven seamlessly into the game experience and I never considered refusing, avoiding or ad-blocking it, unlike aggressive salespeople or ads served in between paragraphs on an online news article.

In a similar way, content marketing succeeds when the content provides value to the reader. Two simple ways to reward the reader are by incorporating information that either informs or entertains the reader. And what better way to illustrate successful examples of content marketing than by sharing two ads – hateful, evil ads – that I sought out and watched.

Inform: Hubspot regularly provides free toolkits, ebooks and even tools and services, arguably for the low cost of an email address. However, their blog carefully details techniques for digital marketing teams as well as insights based on expanding their audiences’ knowledge and skills base. It’s entirely possible to learn and utilise all of Hubspot’s free tools and knowledge without paying a single cent – but in doing so, the reader is building up an association between marketing expertise and Hubspot, and is being exposed to many opportunities to be sold into their ecosystem and become a paying customer.

Entertain: The Will It Blend series, created to sell blenders, is a YouTube video series started nine years ago blending unexpected objects like crowbars, marbles and hockey pucks. In recent years, it has refined the set and included references to pop culture and recent events including selfie sticks, Apple watches and movies. Visually entertaining, embedded in the video of dangerous science experiments is a humble boast – our blades and motor can blend anything –and is one of the most recognisable blend brands today.

In fact, Facebook has just announced an update to News Feed. While the piece was written a bit before the announcement, the points are very similar:

“Our research has also shown us that, after friends and family, people have two other strong expectations when they come to News Feed:

Your feed should inform. People expect the stories in their feed to be meaningful to them — and we have learned over time that people value stories that they consider informative. […]

Your feed should entertain. We’ve also found that people enjoy their feeds as a source of entertainment. […]”

Reactions to the changes thus far have been mixed, but initial (if cynical) predictions are that this will reduce the organic reach of posts as well as drive up advertising/ marketing costs for brands. What will not change is the importance of creating good content. Brands cannot rely on simply pumping in money to promote sub-par content, nor will ad spend guarantee visibility or reach. Instead, well-produced content that provides value to readers will gain better engagement and thus greater reach, and really sell itself.

A winning piece of content will lean on either of the two pillars. Does your content inform your target audience, entertain or both? Ask yourself: Are you able to inform, entertain, or both with your audience? If so, you’ve passed the first test, and your content is useful and will pay for and sell itself. Otherwise, no thanks – it’s not worth looking at.

Darren Foong

Darren is a Digital Consultant at Text100 in Singapore. He plays in the overlap between digital, content and marketing for brands in the tech, startup and finance services space including Cisco, DBS, Gartner, SWIFT, Lenovo and Alibaba Cloud covering a host of activities across community management, content strategy and planning, ad spend, data analytics and media relations. His work on a LinkedIn campaign for DBS’ Working Capital Advisory won at the PR Awards 2016, the Asia Pacific In2 Awards 2015 and counting. In his spare time, he writes day and night like he’s running out of time on personal creative projects.