Why content is your enemy and experiences are your friend

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Isadora Becker

Isadora Becker as Marge Simpson

By Mark Schaefer

I recently had an interesting conversation with my friend Jeremy Floyd, the CEO of FinWorx, and he made a provocative comment. “When we create material for our customers, we never call it content,” he said. “Content has become the enemy.”

He had my attention!

“Content is like a food buffet that feeds Google,” he continued. “If Google wants corn this week, we feed it corn. If Google wants steak, we feed it steak. Maybe we try to create better steak so Google will choose us, but it’s still a content buffet that benefits Google, maybe more than it benefits us. I’m in the personal services business. I wonder if serving that buffet helps us or hurts us in the long run?”

Our discussion continued along the lines of the food analogy.

“Instead, I wonder if we shouldn’t be serving up some sort of gourmet entree that becomes our specialty, some dish that only we are known for? When they see it, they know … it’s us. Maybe the key is something highly, highly specialized. Maybe it is an experience.”

The Economist lesson

experiences

Jeff Pundyk

This debate made me think of a recent interview I did with Jeff Pundyk of The Economist. I was doing research to learn how traditional publishers are dealing with the forced march into the social media news stream and talked to a number of publication editors. All of them expressed various shades of fear, confusion, and dread.

Except The Economist.

This is what Jeff said:

“In order for us to succeed in this content revolution we have to control the environment.  We’ve created a thought leader salon. It’s an experience. The magazine was founded in 1863 and if somebody from back then saw it today, it would feel familiar. I think that is an advantage we have … the experience of the content.

“I don’t see the print publication going away any time soon. We still have millions of print subscribers and they love it. Even when we talk to millennials they like the print version. We are in good shape today because our content is an experience.”

In the space of two short paragraphs, Jeff used the word “experience” three times. He’s not serving the content buffet. He’s cooking up an experience. And in a world where the traditional news magazine is dying, The Economist is thriving with their “experience” mindset.

Should that be our goal? Forget about content and create a unique experience?

Branding versus experience

Perhaps the idea of “experience” over content is just another term for solid branding.

I used to work in the packaging business and I was on a team challenged by Coca-Cola to create an aluminum can that was shaped like a Coke bottle. This concept tested the limits of physics but Coke was relentless. “We want people to know our product by touch,” they said. “We want them to know it’s a Coke even if they are reaching into a dark cooler and they can’t see a thing.”

Essentially, Coke is surrounding their colored sugar water with an experience. And eventually, they got what they wanted.

experiences

Here’s another example of experience as brand. In my book KNOWN, I have an awesome story about Isadora Becker. Isadora records cooking videos. How many people in the world do that? A bajillion. Really. I looked it up.

But Isadora stands out and became known in her native Brazil by delivering an experience. She cooks famous recipes from the movies and TV, and dresses up like the characters from the shows. At the top of the post you saw her as Marge Simpson (making Homer’s donuts). Here she is as a Ghostbuster:

Isadora Becker

When Isadora creates her cooking videos, she never thinks about keywords, SEO, or a content strategy. She is delivering a fun and unique experience that has become her brand. And now, she is known.

What are your thoughts? As we strive to stand out in an increasingly competitive and information-dense world, should we create content, or create experiences?

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.

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  • Love this — “If Google wants corn this week, we feed it corn. If Google wants steak, we feed it steak”. Which means that in any given week, we’re all giving the Google the same food and hoping that our corn looks like steak. I look back on my most popular and most visited posts and when I consider the inspiration behind them, it was NEVER because I was trying to load up the buffet for Google, but rather for myself and my readers. Love, love, love this POV.

  • Steve Woodruff

    To put it another way – are we going to create machine-optimized or human-optimized media? The former is tempting (create “content” for the almighty algorithm), but I think the latter wins in the long haul. Google doesn’t buy stuff. People do.

  • Mark, your Post solves all problems of Content Creation. Also, the content based on one’s personal experience will be unique & authentic. Thank you!

  • Bravo Mark! “…experiences are your friend”
    Helping others helps me since my passion
    is helping others’ wounds of the past!

  • Thanks for commenting Dr. Rae!

  • I’m not sure it solves ALL problems … but it’s a start : ) Thank you for the kind comment!

  • Well said Steve!

  • Yup, exactly. Optimizing for SEO works AGAINST viral. Appreciate you Kristen!

  • Mark, I like your comment that “experience” over content is just another term for good branding. Experience takes the blancmange concept of “content” – whatever the hell that is – and personalises it for a target audience.

  • Always my pleasure Mark!

  • Ha! I like that Peter. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and add your view.

  • I agree. While we can say there’s nothing new to write about, everybody has a unique set of experiences behind their stories and that’s what they have to draw on when creating their “content.”

  • Excellent commentary Neil, and I agree. I did not have time to read these references today but I will do so later this week. Thank you!

  • Pingback: Shonali Burke Consulting | "I'm not a Millennial" and Other Myths F'ing up Your Career()

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