Matt Williams: parental lessons in content marketing from a three week old

I’ve not been writing much for this esteemed publication recently. That’s not because Stephen has come to his senses and rightly given me the boot. Instead I’ve been off having a baby.

Well, technically Mrs Williams did most of the work. I’ve just assumed the position of doting Dad – changing nappies and cleaning up sick, in a role my wife affectionately refers to as ‘Head of Outputs.’

The past two weeks have certainly been eye-opening. They’re exactly as everyone says – amazing, terrifying, awe-inspiring, knackering, enjoyable and tense in equal measure.

You’re constantly filled with panic. There’s no definitive handbook to looking after a baby, no formal set of instructions.

Which has meant, of course, that despite all my better judgement, I’ve frequently found myself turning to Google. Why does he always seem much hungrier in the evening? Should I be interacting with him more? Am I sterilising his bottles correctly? Are those marks on his head normal?

Father Feeling Depressed At Baby's Mealtime
Father Feeling Depressed At Baby’s Mealtime

Naturally, every question conjures up a thousand answers. On the internet everyone has an opinion, whether valid or not.

And let me tell you, when you’re sleep deprived at three in the morning, it’s somewhat of a struggle to separate the genuine advice from those self-obsessed mothers who use the Mumsnet-style forums for cathartic reasons, or to give themselves some sort of ego boost.

Indeed, over the past two weeks I’ve almost managed to convince myself that my baby has had everything from bird flu to thrush. I’ve got unfeasibly angry at random smug strangers who seem to think that parents who bottle-feed are worse than Hitler. And I’ve spent pointless confused hours trying to decipher acronyms such as LO (little one), HV (health visitor) and DD (still no idea).

Why am I boring you with all this? Because there were some sources that I did find myself turning to and trusting more than others. And, frequently, that content was created by brands.

Bounty…Cow & Gate…Ella’s Kitchen… with so much information out there, it was these I knew I could rely on more. Maybe they were trying to sell me something, maybe there were ulterior motives at play, but fundamentally I knew that the information would have to be measured, written by experts – or at least those who had done their research – and factually correct. They simply couldn’t afford to be anything but.

I often think that, when it comes to the debate around content marketing, people focus too intently on content for entertainment purposes. They see it as ‘added extras’ that help support and enhance the longevity of a campaign, or as long-form opportunities that allow people to kill a bit of time on behalf of a brand.

Just because Red Bull makes some jaw-dropping content, and some guys in Australia came up with that Dumb Ways to Die phenomenon, the focus in the advertising industry seems to be skewed towards content that can replicate that.

It’s why a lot of well-respected industry creatives tend to look down on the discipline. They see toilet roll manufacturers trying to create mobile games that are boring, pointless and downloaded by no one. They see cereal brands invest time and effort in creating an interactive web series that awkwardly shoehorns the product into the story and is only watched by the incumbent agency’s staff.

And in doing so they quite rightly dismiss the idea of content as just another label for bad advertising, where marketers will buy into any new trend in a desperate attempt to make them famous.

Because of that ‘educational’ content gets ignored. Of course, it’s not as accessible or visual as the web series or apps, but informative branded content can perhaps be as powerful – if not more powerful – a tactic. Think blogs, think thought leadership pieces, think genuinely user friendly FAQs or forums.

As the power balance shifts and customers become more impatient, more connected and even more in control, it’s up to brands to create the content that enhances their customer’s thinking. That makes their lives more effortless.

These don’t have to be part of all-singing, all-dancing campaigns, and they might not be front of mind of the industry award jurors, but such content can play a key part in building a brand’s status as smart, authoritative experts that understand the needs and desires of its customers.

And in a world where customers are faced with information overload, where they have to take the time to filter through a lot of crap to make a decision or garner information (a luxury few can actually afford), brands willing to invest in producing relevant and informative content can genuinely reap rewards.

You don’t have to be a panicked parent to appreciate that.

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