Is there a “content pattern” that builds a brand?

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content pattern

By Mark Schaefer

Everybody wants their content to go viral.

But if you have ever been lucky enough to have something rise up the charts for a day or two, you will attest to the fact that after a short spike in traffic, viral content rarely has a long-term effect on your business.

Instead, you need something more robust, more consistent, to build a real business around your content and YouTube revealed a plan that just might be the answer.

YouTube has been promoting a “3H” video brand strategy and revealed a content pattern that seemed to be the most successful in building an engaged audience for the long-term. The more I have thought about this and studied it, the more I think it is right and I am starting to build this idea into some of my classes.

Can this idea be applied to a business of ANY size? Even an individual blogger?

Let’s look at the 3 H content pattern and how it relates to audience-building.

1. Hygiene Content

It’s kind of a weird designation, but this is the content that serves the daily health of your audience. This is content that gets people involved and helps them connect to you and your company when they need you most. This is the content that might most likely turn up in organic search results, so it is great for building awareness.

In our book Born to Blog, Stanford Smith and I call this your “bread and butter” content. For my audience, this might be how-to articles like “25 ideas for your social media network strategy.”

Here is a great example from a big brand like Home Depot.

home depot example

In this content series, the company teaches techniques that will help a customer use its products better.

Hygiene content usually serves a short-term purpose, answers an immediate problem.

2. Hub content

So Hygiene content might get somebody to your site and Hub content is meant to keep them there. This could be a series of articles about a more in-depth topic or perhaps a serialized story that makes people want to stay on your site.

In my world, this would be “evergreen” content that people seem to love and read month after month. My Hub content offers insights into how I view the world, opinions on marketing and strategy, and perhaps even something provocative that creates a discussion.

Every time I create a great piece of Hub content I see a lift in subscriptions. This is timeless content that builds interest and even loyalty. An example of this would be A Rant: In Praise of the Unremarkable, which had more than 250 comments and still receives steady page views a year after I wrote it.

In this Hub example from Adidas, young rock climber Sacha DiGiulian tells her story and sets a record for the most difficult rock climb (Grade 9A) achieved by a woman. By the end of this video she is ripping bandages off her hands to make it up the last segment and achieve her dream. It is a gripping drama that can easily lead you down the rabbit hole to spend more time with this brand and its athletes.

sasha digiulian

Hub content like this video creates connection and is the most important type of content for building subscribers … and building subscribers builds your business.

Hero Content

Hero content is something brilliant, dramatic, and bold that transcends the normal day-to-day Internet offerings. This is the content that goes viral and demands attention.

Perhaps the most famous example from 2014 is the “Winner Stays” video from Nike. The video playfully captures the schoolyard fantasy of young soccer players who morph into their favorite global stars. Launched before the World Cup, the video has received more than 100 million views.

Can a little guy like me produce Hero Content? Certainly not on the scale of Nike, but occasionally I write a post that gets more than 3,000 social shares and exceeds 10,000 page views. Perhaps that is “heroic” in our little world of digital marketing? In 2014 here are three different pieces of content that did heroically well:

Content Shock – Nearly 5,000 shares. More than 30,000 views. Over 600 blog posts have linked back to this one blog post with commentary on the ideas I presented. Despite the rampage from this post, it resulted in no distinguishable increase in blog subscriptions. In fact, it was a rather normal month. But it did establish my voice on the blogosphere.

6 Questions to Drive Your Social Media Strategy — I think this Slideshare presentation has been viewed more than any other content I have created — 73,000 views, may of them from people who had never heard of me before.

Social Media Explained — Released in March, this has already emerged as the best-selling social media book of 2014. That’s heroic, right?

But did all these views make a difference to my business? Did Nike’s video sell more athletic gear?

Nike KNEW it was creating Hero Content when it spent millions on its video. I don’t have those resources and can’t predict when something will take off, but whether you are a small company or a large one, your goals are the same — create awareness and relationships that lead to loyalty.

Content marketing is a long-term game. All of this effort adds up to a general increase in awareness, and more important, authority, over time. This is how I build my business. There is no shortcut.

So the “3 H’s” seem to make sense. Each type of content plays a role. And you need a balance. I think bloggers who fall into the trap of creating nothing but how-to hygiene content, for example, never rise above to get people coming back or creating a voice of authority.

That’s my take on it any way. What are your thoughts?

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Disclosures: Adidas is a client. Book links are affiliate links.

Illustration courtesy of Flickr CC and Faisal Hamadah

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  • Interesting little buckets you’ve put everything into. I think most content strategists and marketers are able to create plenty of hygiene content, which is why there’s so much of it out there. It’s one category that doesn’t exist on this blog – or even if it does, it’s of a far higher value and quality than you’d find on any other social media blog.

    The good content marketers are able to create some interesting hubs. SocialMediaToday has done a good job with this with regular articles on tools, social start-ups and the like that people like Shay Moser cover. It makes you look out for them, makes you come out for more.

    It’s the hero content, the out of the park content that very few content creators are able to create. In fact – I’d go so far as to say that there are plenty of influencers who have never created hero content. Who have never actually had a thought / an idea so original or so interesting that it would be considered heroic content. It’s incredibly hard to come up with, and as you mentioned Mark – you yourself have been able to come up with them only a handful of times in a long career.

  • You have some very keen insights here Avtar and I appreciate you reading my blog so closely that you can make such accurate observations.

    My blog has evolved. I used to do a lot more “hygeine” content and there is still a huge demand for that. When I do a “how-to” post it is always very popular.

    But the fact is, I don’t necessarily write toward any “target.” I write about trends and ideas that interest me. That keeps bligging fun. While I could undoubtedly build a bigger brand with “how-to” content, I am frankly bored with that stuff and am happy to leave it to others. I am hoping that enough people will also be interested in what I am interested in to come along for the ride (like you!)

    The Hero Content is a challenge. Let’s face it. You probably need high production values of some sort to break through, and that requires a budget. For me, it is probably going to be connected to break-through ideas.

    I usually have at least one post every month that gets more than 3,000 shares and one post per quarter that goes over 5,000 so that is a pretty decent rate since my creative treatments are minimalist! The web is very sensitive to good work. I usually get rewarded for original content except when I so far ahed of the curve people don’t get it : )

    Thanks for the exceptionally insightful comment!

  • Bliss

    Hey Mark, looks like that Youtube 3H document is trying to link straight to your hard drive. That aside, great thoughts all around!

  • whoops. corrected. thanks for pointing that out.

  • Pauline Baird Jones

    I will comment as a visitor, not a blogger for this one. I’ve been mulling this since I read it this morning and realized that is the pattern that draws me back to blogs, so yeah. I like blogs that teach me basic things and blogs that give me aha moments. I remember those posts, too.

  • Thanks for taking the time to comment Pauline. I think it makes sense too.

  • you have again made me realizing the importance of the content pattern as content is said to be the king and making it viral by spreading seems to be the queen. Efficient content only results in effective branding its true obviously

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