Narrative connections

Recipe for Engagement – custom publishing versus custom content

Recipe for Engagement – custom publishing versus custom content

Raising the bar comes from vulnerability. It's being able to embrace risk in a world where people have cocooned themselves and have little interest in exposing that vulnerability. Certainly, success can be defined in a variety of ways, but getting to another level in the post Industrial Age landscape demands a new recipe of engagement.

We are bombarded with loosely defined content, and my guess is that the combination of that noise and the tools at our disposal have created a world where buyers have all the power. And while the internet is a place for the remarkable, I sense that real success is born from having real, yet respectful engagement.

Real connection takes a lot of work and a different approach.

Ben Sasse, Nebraska senator and author of the new book, “The Vanishing American Adult,” writes, “We cannot assume the middle class will easily self-perpetuate in the future. We are living through what is surely the greatest economic disruption since the Industrial Revolution – and what might end up being the largest economic disruption since nomadic hunter-gatherers first settled down to plant crops. We have seen flat median wages and shaky labor demand for nearly three decades – even as folks are being forced to change jobs more frequently than ever before. Economists and sociologists haven’t even settled on what to call this era we’re living in. It’s the Information Age or the Age of Globalization – or the Postindustrial Age, which is really just another way of saying that it comes ‘after the Industrial age,’ but we don’t really know what to call it or how to think about it. No one knows what comes next.”

There is no security in what we do or make. A lower priced copy or flashier version will come along tomorrow. So, dependence on the quality of what we produce for long-term success is not sustainable. We must be nimble, brave and relentless in our efforts to learn and constantly redefine ourselves. Custom publishing offers the opportunity to do all three.

But take note that “content marketing” is just the latest concept to come along and placate a community of marketers who are trying to validate their existence. Much like social marketing and QR codes, content marketing has birthed conferences, webinars and books. Promoting the intricate details of how to create content has become big business and created the latest buzz-worthy distraction.

Content is not some new thing. Believe it or not, content has been around, well, since God spoke to Adam. Content is constant and all around us. So, this idea that companies need to create content is akin to filling the awkward silence at a cocktail party.

Empathy matters

Listening matters. You cannot simply run out into the middle of the quad at a local college and start a monologue about the benefits of a reverse mortgage and deem it a success. Just like you don’t see a pretty girl from across the room, stride over and say, “Hey, I saw you from across the way and thought I’d come over and tell you about myself.”

Warren Buffet backed up his claim about the idea that brands will own media companies by buying up media companies. His belief was that the right kind of thoughtful and organically created content delivered to a tightly bound community has remarkable power. And while the trend seems to be running at a fever pitch, the real marketeers understand the subtle, yet significant difference between custom content and custom publishing.

The old Harvard Business case where the railroads failed because they defined themselves as being in the railroad business rather than being in the transportation business can apply to content as well. It is a result of the product-centric world we grew up in called the Industrial Age. It is the product of a CFO whining in the CEO’s ear that every dollar must be measured – and the marketing department gets measured twice. It is the product of a culture addicted to immediate gratification and the never-ending chase for the elusive ROI.

Content cannot be spewed out. It must emanate from a sincere place of empathy. It must come from great understanding and an unbiased curiosity. Just like they tell salespeople to not vomit company and product information all over their clients, online or printed content shall not commit the same sin.

Consider that when a salesperson is firing out all kinds of product information, the listener may not consider it content. In fact, he may define it simply as noise and disregard it all together.

Spam may seem like content from the seller’s point of view, but if the reader doesn’t engage, can it really be considered content? I mean, if Adam deleted God’s texts without opening them, does the marketing department in heaven still consider them content?

Disciplined Process

In the very first “Jurassic Park” movie, Ian Malcom, played by Jeff Goldblum, gives his honest assessment of the re-creation of dinosaurs. He says to John Hammond, the owner and founder of the park, “The danger inherent here is that genetic power is the most awesome force the planet has ever seen, but you wield it like a kid who has just found his dad’s gun. The problem is that it didn’t require any discipline to attain it and you read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourself, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something…your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, that they never stopped and asked if they should”

Content marketing is the latest fad and has attracted thousands of marketers like a moth to a flame. But, my fear is that it’s just the latest marketing scheme, and delays the real work and the real connections that should occur. If no discipline is used to gain the insight, the content can become insincere and disguises the lack of real understanding.

Therefore, tossing out content for the sake of, well, tossing out content, is akin to creating a dinosaur just to create a dinosaur.

Real conversation is full of content, but it’s also full of listening. So it’s time to cast aside the idea of content marketing and embrace the discipline of custom publishing. In other words, publishing is the process of creating and distributing content. It allows you to uncover stories, listen and chronicle.

Once you have listened and understood, a marketer can present in a creative way and distribute in the vehicle that’s best suited for the listener. And then the cycle begins again.

Publishing is politically positive. It is inoffensive in that it embraces unselling. And it engages at the most sincere level. Consider that when a seller calls a prospect and asks to learn about their business, the engagement is already off to a biased start. The prospect knows the seller’s motivation and is unlikely to return the call.

But when a writer or editor reaches out, the only motivation is to glean insight for his story. The prospect gets his name in lights (or print), the company gets some nice PR, and the publisher gains understanding that allows him to prepare even more compelling content.

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Mark Potter

Founder / Consultant

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