I’ve been trying to come up with the best way to say this, but the bottom line is that the whole “content is king” adage needs to be put to rest. It’s confusing people. And besides, content needs to take a backseat to the real king, context. Let me explain.
We all know that the vast majority of communication takes place non-verbally. Yes, we use words. Those words are an important part of the equation. But anyone who’s ever heard the line “Does this make my butt look fat?” knows that there’s a clear distinction between what’s being said and what is actually intended.
How you respond is dependent on the context. If you’re a guy and one of your guy friends asks you this question, you’re likely to knock him upside the head a little. If your girlfriend asks the same question, your response to the exact same question would likely be entirely different.
The way people respond to the content you publish also depends entirely on context.
Why blogs worse than yours get better results than yours
Have you ever read someone else’s crappy blog and wondered how this writhing, steaming pile of crap of a blog could be so successful, while your great ideas continue to languish in obscurity? It’s the same thing as the “does this make my butt look fat” question. Two different bloggers could write the exact article, and I guarantee they’ll get two totally different responses. Context is everything.
Guess what. It matters who you are. And it matters who you know. It also matters who your customers are. It really does matter why you wrote that blog post in the first place. For an entire generation now, we’ve been being told to “publish good content”. But that is such a small part of the picture.
Working to publish “good content” is kinda stupid actually
Publish good content, publish good content, publish good content. It’s the mantra of the online marketing world. Sounds great. But have you ever noticed that no one has EVER been able to competently describe what the heck “good content” is? The reason is because there’s no such thing. Content is only valuable in so far as it’s useful to the person reading it. Shall I say it again? Context is everything. Value is relative. Therefore, there’s no such thing as “good content” objectively.
Content on the web works the same way as the conversation we share in person. Yes, it matters what you say. But it matters so much more who you are. It matters so much more why you’re saying it, who you’re trying to help, whether or not you’re in earnest, and on it goes. Context.
Body language 2.0
When you say something to someone else in person, they can read your body language. They can tell if you’re speaking from a place of authenticity. They can tell if you’re, how shall I say it, full of shit. The exact same thing happens online. The content you publish on the web is crucially important to your marketing. It’s very important to realize though, that the content you publish is simply the first step.
You’re initiating a conversation. All the subtext and body language and rapport and everything else that goes along with great conversation still has yet to manifest…and without all that, it’s all for nothing.
Let me share what happens with my own blogging. Hopefully it can serve as an illustration:
- I get a question from a client. Usually via email.
- I think that if someone has this question, there’s a good chance many others have this question too. So I write a blog post to address the issue.
- I respond to the client with a link to the blog post and explain that I wrote an article for them.
- The client reads the article and moves on to great success and total fluidity in all aspects of their life (sometimes).
- Others read the article too. Some of them have comments or questions about that. I receive that feedback. Usually via email.
- I respond to their questions with still more articles. And on it goes. This is why I can literally never run out of ideas for what to write about on my blog. I get all my ideas from y’all 🙂
- Some of the people I end up conversing with due to these blog posts end up asking really fun questions like “Can you build a website for me?” or “Can we hire you as a consultant to help us with this further?” And then those people end up being clients and starting the process all over again.
Really simple, huh? Here’s what most people miss though…if you got the same emails I get, you’d respond very differently. This is where content has served it’s purpose, and from here everything you do is what will affect their buying decision most. All the details matter.
Here are a few details that people factor in, that I’ve literally never heard any web marketing guru talk about. This is the realm where context lies. We’re past content now. This is the stuff that your prospects are really looking at. These are specific examples of the web’s version of body language:
- What others are saying about you – testimonials on your site, social media, public reviews on Amazon and iTunes, Angie’s List, Yelp, etc. You can’t fake or manipulate what others say. That’s what makes it contextual, and that’s why your customers are looking this up and using it as part of their conversation with you.
- Branding – I kind of hate the word “branding”, because it’s so overused and misunderstood. However, it’s 100% true that your design and how you approach content production fit two hugely important criteria for being contextual in nature. First, it’s separate from the content you publish. Second, it greatly affects how people perceive the content you publish. Make no mistake about it. I cuss on my blog sometimes. But if Jon Stewart cussed on his show as often as I cuss on my blog, he’d probably lose his job. And get a new job with Sirius radio of course, right after Howard Stern. My point is if you don’t have someone else’s brand (btw, you don’t), you can’t say what they say and have the same effect. You really do need to do your own thing. The only way I know to come off as authentic is by actually being authentic.
- Attitude – Are you positive and upbeat? Some people will love that, and others will find it cheesy and never buy from you because of it. Are you all gloom and doom? Again…some people will love that, and others will find it cheesy and never buy from you because of it. Your attitude speaks volumes about your brand, and any attitude can be matched up with any type of content. Can you write an economic blog that’s upbeat and positive? Damn straight. Can you write an economic blog that covers all the exact same ideas, while taking a “the sky is falling and we’re all going to hell” vibe? Of course you can. Same content, same subject matter, totally different effect.
- How you respond to email – When you email your list, does it come from “firstname.lastname@example.org”? Guess what. People notice that. And they tend to not reply. Maybe you don’t want them too. Ok. But it significantly affects the dynamic you have with your readers. If someone emails you a question, do you respond with a one word response or a 15 page manifesto? Or something in between? Different types of prospects react differently to how much of a response they get from you. More isn’t always better, but it always has an effect. Do you respond with something salesy? Not necessarily a bad thing, but this factors in. This is subtext. People take it in, and it affects how they react to you. Do you respond in less than 15 minutes? Over a week later? It matters.
- Social – I’m the last guy in the world that’ll tell you that you HAVE to be on Twitter. But if you have great prospects there, and you’re not present then guess how impressed they’ll be with that. Not very. Let’s be real…you cannot be everything to everyone, and you can’t do every damn thing out there. But it pays to be deliberate. Is Twitter worth your time? Instead of dismissing it out of hand, perhaps it’s a good idea to look into it and take a deliberate, strategic approach to using it. 6k+ followers have found me there, and it’s been a great source of business for me. I’ve even met some people that are now good friends of mine. On fracking Twitter. In the Twitter ocean, I’m most certainly a small fish. But it works, and that’s the point. Prospects considering doing business with you have a tendency to soak up as much contextual information as possible, especially as they get close to a buying decision. Are they on Twitter and you’re nowhere to be seen? Or are you the one who introduced them to Twitter in the first place, and you’ve been there for them all along? Guess who wins in that scenario.
What does all this come down to? Content isn’t king, it’s a key. It unlocks the door to real human communication. It’s what starts the conversation between you and your customers, and that communication has many layers. It’s far deeper than the mere content we publish online. Who you are, who your customers are, what others are saying about you, why you chose to be in the business you’re in, not just WHAT advice you’re giving but WHY you’re giving it. This isn’t stuff that the web exempts us from addressing. It’s what actually matters most. Content is just the mechanism that starts the gears turning.