Matt Williams: content is only truly innovative when there’s a real itch to scratch

Recently a colleague of mine has started up a podcast called The Innovation Ramble. It’s a podcast about – you’ve guessed it – innovation, but with a particular bent on innovation in advertising. In my opinion it’s well worth a listen, and it seems others agree – it’s already been number one in iTunes’ New & Noteworthy Business chart.

Why’d he launch it? Well when he, along with industry friend Tom Ollerton from We Are Social, wanted to consume as much content as possible about brand innovation, he checked out various sources. And one of those sources was iTunes.

But the podcast offerings on innovation, tech and advertising were few and far between. So few, in fact, that the guys realised that the best option to aurally fulfill their brand innovation needs was to actually create a podcast themselves. If no-one else was doing it, then why not they?

This, it seems, is how a lot of the best podcasts have started. Talented media-savvy types have gone seeking great content on subject matters applicable to them, come away empty handed, so have decided to start something up of their own accord.

They’ve then gained in popularity for two key reasons – one because it fills a gap in the market that more people than just they wanted filling, and two because if they have the passion and entrepreneurial vision to be the first to start a podcast on said subject, there’s a good chance it’s going to be entertaining and applicable to a wider audience.

I’ll use a more mainstream example. One of my most entertaining hours of the week is listening to The Football Ramble. This, as you also may guess, is a podcast dedicated to the beautiful game. And the concept is very simple. Four blokes, sitting in a room, chatting about the week’s football news. The show’s not co-funded by a broadcaster. It’s not heavily branded (although the odd sponsor message pops up from time to time), and although all four guys are very entertaining and have gained further media work off the back of it, they certainly didn’t start out with any particular profile.

They, like many, started out because they enjoyed doing what they were doing – sitting around talking football – and didn’t feel that there was anyone providing the content that they required. So they did it themselves.

Now, the Football Ramble is one of the most popular podcasts in the UK. And inevitably there have been hundreds of imitators. But none have taken their crown. Why? Because the new competitors are going over old ground, trying to replicate, not innovate.

I see that being a talking point for a lot of the next 12 months or so. As the concept of ‘content’ grows, and brands try to jump on the bandwagon, they’ll be a lot of failures. And a lot of it will come because brands won’t be doing anything new. They’ll realise that they’ll need to be creating content to provide a better and more engaging level of service to their customers, but they’ll find themselves panicking and just ‘doing anything’, to be seen to be doing something.

That’s quite obviously pointless. But it happens. You know it happens, I know it happens. We’ve been here too many times. To go back to the earlier point, how many branded football podcasts are there now? Hundreds. None half as popular as the main couple, because they don’t offer anything different. How many unread branded blogs are there? How many branded online documentaries left unwatched?

Sometimes that’s because the quality is poor, because they’ve been neglected by marketers as an afterthought. But as brands wise up to this and that begins to change, it also must be remembered that even if you’ve got content created by the very best, there must be a reason for it. It must fill a gap. It can’t just copy what’s already come before it, and you just hope it’ll work because you’ll stick a bigger brand logo on the front and throw a bit more cash at the production.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson talk in their book Rework about ‘scratching an itch’. Stating that the easiest, most straightforward way to create a great product or service is to make something you want to use. ‘If you’re solving someone else’s problem’, they write, ‘you’re constantly stabbing in the dark. But when you solve your own problem, the lights come on. You know exactly what the right answer is.

jamkoumdive-e1398186664754James Dyson is famous for it. As is Nike. In the tech world you have the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and WhatsApp’s Jan Koum (left) doing just that. These are the people who scratched their own itch and, as the book says, ‘exposed a huge market of people who needed exactly what they needed.’

And in an age where content is everything and nothing, where there’s as many content detractors as content champions, it’s incredibly important for brands to realise that too. To recognise that, whilst there are some huge opportunities for brands to genuinely engage with their customers if they take the right content approach, they must only be scratching when the itch is there.

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