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Matt Williams: a lot of ‘content’ talk may be bullshit but customers actually like being informed and entertained

At least once a week I get someone look at my job description and say “so you’re a ‘Content Editor’, what does that mean then?”

I usually respond with some pithy, self-deprecating remark such as “I really have no idea,” or “I just try and look busy and hope no-one notices I’m mucking around on Twitter all day.” Partly because I can’t be bothered to go through my daily routine, but mainly because I don’t want to have to get into that age-old ‘what is content?’ debate.

Dave-Trott-wades-into-data-debate-300x268But following a tweet from Dave Trott (left) earlier this week, which exclaimed: “Einstein said “If you can’t explain it to an 11 year old you don’t really understand it’ – I’d like to hear ‘content’ explained like that,” I thought it time to give my perspective on where content sits into what agencies like mine does.

This is perhaps a rather stupid move. Because a weak explanation will not only expose myself as a fraud, but you can probably count on one finger the amount of people who have managed to successfully answer back to Dave Trott.

But here goes. Now, I’m certainly not here to play the ‘content is everything’ card. That’s a cop out. It demeans the talents in our industry, and it demeans the product that we offer to our clients.

And I’m not going to go into the ‘traditional advertising is dead, content is king’ argument, because that’s a conversation that could fill an entire conference, not a blog. Oh, and it’s bullshit.

For me, ‘content’ created by agencies (in terms of how we label it today) is an additional part of the communication offering, not replacing anything already in the marketing mix. It’s an opportunity for agencies to create added value.

It’s the worlds of publishing, entertainment, social media, search and broadcast coming together to find new ways for brands to use their existing channels to create output that will inform and entertain their customers.

I know people get uncomfortable with such an ambiguous definition, because in terms of channel and concept that could mean anything from helping a brand use its website to house informative films to rewriting mundane welcome packs to providing entertaining extensions of a current brand campaign that members of the public would actually want to consume.

In marketing speak, you get to devise and execute wonderful experiences that connect people with brands, creating things that are useful, personal, shareable and meaningful.

But just because this new industry definition of ‘content’ comes in many forms doesn’t make it any less valid. In fact, I’d say it makes things more exciting. It takes this ideal of “don’t give me a brief, give me a problem,” that agencies strive for, and makes it that little bit more tangible.

It’s creating communications that really allow you to define a brand’s tone of voice. To take a brand positioning that an advertising campaign has already established and generate additional activity that’s genuinely relevant to it and the customer.

It allows you to make some mischief. To do something unexpected, but always effective.

I’ve heard agencies recently refer to content as their ‘wildcard’. And I like that expression. It’s not that agencies can get away with not answering the traditional brief. And I’d doubt they’d want to anyway – as I said, I’m not here to validate or take to task the effectiveness of traditional advertising – but it can provide that added edge that wins a pitch, takes a campaign from good to great and turns a mildly interested customer into a loyalist.

And the reason we’re talking about this now, the reason content is such a hot topic, is that clients not only recognise this, but customers do too. In fact the customers are a couple of steps ahead. They don’t just accept it but expect it. And are very much willing to embrace it.

Who’s responsible for this content is a discussion for another day (but if its heart isn’t in the creative department, then I’d suggest you’re doing it wrong). And as I’ve written before, it’s also broadening the types of creatives that the industry needs to attract.

But surely that just makes it all the more exciting? I’m certainly enthused by the opportunity it presents. Otherwise I wouldn’t have spent the best part of 700 words arguing over a definition – something I’m always loath to do in an industry obsessed with inane terminology.

And whilst this may not have been the best way to explain it all to an 11 year old (I certainly wouldn’t have used the word bullshit earlier, for a start), I do hope Dave Trott would at least partly agree.

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About Matt Williams

Matt Williams
Matt Williams is head of content at Partners Andrews Aldridge.
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