Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

It’s about content and packaging; yes, it’s that simple

Posted on | January 14, 2009 | No Comments

As the recession chokes off more publications, companies are having to confront something they’re not culturally ready for: Being their own publishers.
Many get the importance of vendor-as-publisher in the overall communications mix, but execution is poor and will continue to be until those legions of laid-off journalists make their way into corporation communications departments. In any event, vendor-as-publisher is a marathon, not a sprint.
I like to focus on just two key factors in driving a good vendor-publishing program.

Content is King

Oh when will we choke to death on this cliché? Perhaps never because it’s such a vital concept. Companies are vital repositories of industry information. I’ve seen many surveys in the electronics industry and in enterprise software and other sectors that say essentially the same thing: Readers go to a trusted third-party source for information first but they happily go to vendor Web sites for information second. Other sources pale in comparison. Product detail, background, user help and community are just a few of the reasons for this allure among readers, and it’s one reason traditional publishers are struggling even online; they may have “objective” information, but it can never be as comprehensive and from the horse’s mouth as a company’s. This is a massive opportunity for corporations…if they could only package that content.

Packaging is paramount
Most of that content is really droll. Everyone may be gathering information online, but it’s a pain in the neck to find, and we’re easily distracted. Whether it’s for legacy content that you’re repurposing or fresh content like white papers, blog posts or other articles, readers don’t have a lot of time for it. This is the attention-deficit generation, remember. But more important, the Web experience is not really about reading; it’s about information harvesting. If a print publication tells us (should tell us) what we didn’t know we need to know, the Web tells us more about what we want to know. We’re looking for it, generally through search. So package your content so it’s to the point and scannable. I don’t know about you, but when I’m reading an online piece, I’m looking for a specific answer to a specific question. If it’s buried in the content, at least help my eyes find it easily. This is where the Web can take a page from print. Print evolved brilliantly into the headline, subhead and lede of a story. You can still glean more (and broader) information in a five-minute scan of a daily newspaper than you can in five minutes of Web reading. Put break heds into your copy to introduce important concepts and improve scannability. Bold-face important concepts you want to call out.

Swine, lip gloss
The public relations industry is all atwitter about social media news release formats, but most of the ones I’ve seen are old pigs with fresh lipstick. A partner release with 20 links, some digital imagery and social bookmarking features can look cool. But if the guts of the release is a limited story that can be conveyed in a couple of sentences, think about blogging the news; that way it doesn’t get lost in the noise of the 1000-word release.
(Packaging becomes immensely important as our interaction with digital information becomes more mobile. If you think trying to get in-depth information quickly on your laptop is tough, try the same thing with a Blackberry or iPhone. An aside: The mobile revolution may actually be the one thing that saves the podcast business; more on that later).
At the end of the day, it’s an evolving art form. Sometimes (though not usually) a 250-word blog post is a fantastic source of information. But business is complex, and the issues can’t be compressed too much without losing their fidelity. By the same token, a 2,000-word think piece can drown readers.
Where’s the middle ground? That’s the beauty of this game. Watch your analytics to see what works and what doesn’t. Then adjust.

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Comments

No Responses to “It’s about content and packaging; yes, it’s that simple”

  1. Lou Covey
    January 14th, 2009 @ 9:06 pm

    Could it possibly be about knowing how to communicate? I deal with a lot of marketing people who ask over and over, “Don’t you think it is an important story?” And I have to tell them over and over, it doesn’t matter what I think about the story. I am closer to it than the audience so I’ve had time to put it into an “important” context. Time and motivation are the keys to all of this.

    We may know that a particular product resolves a particular problem for a customer, but is that the problem that is most pressing? Have we found a way to raise the importance of the problem we solve in the priority of the customer? Do we really know anything about the customer?

    Those are all questions a good communicator has to consider. But I don’t find many people, especially in tech companies, who do consider those questions.

  2. Loring Wirbel
    January 15th, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

    One thing corporate sources can learn from social networks is the tendency of teens and under-30s to practice “full disclosure” on a regular basis. While it may be carried to a dangerous (and sometimes criminal) extreme on Facebook pages, companies can learn the value of full transparency. That means never burying or hiding the corporate skeletons in the closet, and never failing to mention relative positioning against competitors without dissing the competitor. How many companies interested in self-publishing are really ready for that level of transparency?

  3. tmoran
    January 16th, 2009 @ 11:54 am

    You hit the nail on the head, Loring. The one thing it might take eons for the corporate world to understand is that “being on message” and myopically focusing on only what you and your company does is the opposite of what the reader/customer wants and needs. Sure, all the company rah-rah can stay, but if the reader/customer thinks he can also get some generally important information that is NOT necessarily tied to the marketing message, he might see the vendor site as more valuable. Get the info to the reader/customer from wherever it resides. The new “sticky” is really being open to everything.

  4. Lou Covey
    January 16th, 2009 @ 6:48 pm

    A lot of companies could avoid a lot of internal problems by being transparent. And if they did, we probably wouldn’t see the wild fluctuations in the stock market with every “scandal” that comes to light because the populace would have a bit of perspective regarding what is truly bad.

  5. Greeley's Ghost
    January 17th, 2009 @ 10:39 am

    Transparency is the $64,000 question. This is really, really tough for companies, but that’s good news for communications professionals. It’s all about baby steps.
    It’s easy for reporters to talk about transparency, because it’s in our DNA. Not so easy for PR and marketing people. But that mindset has to take root there for effective strategies to take place.

  6. dark_faust
    January 17th, 2009 @ 9:28 pm

    It’s far easier for a journalist to incorporate the PR function than for a PR person to become a “publisher.” (Just ask the folks at SCD Source.) Which is why at least a few of the new content business models are doing away with traditional PR. Still, we are in a time of significant transition in which baby-step (as you note, Brian) are about all we can do – and all our audience and sponsors can tolerate.

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