Most readers today don’t really care where their information comes from – whether it’s from a brand or a news outlet, the audience just wants a good story and solid information. What they DON’T want are lies. Or exaggerations. Which, unfortunately, is exactly what brands tend to do with content marketing.
Remember when NBC fired news anchor Brian Williams? He he exaggerated his role in a helicopter skirmish in the Iraq conflict. Williams aggrandized his experience, making him seem more important than he really was. His audience responded initially with shock and awe. And then fury when they learned they had been tricked.
Sadly, brands do the same thing every day when it comes to content.
Take the typical brand content story: “Here is a compelling study that shows a big performance gap in your industry. And look, our fabulous products will fill that gap!”
But like Williams, the moment your product inserts itself as the hero of the story, readers can smell a rat. They realize that you are desperate to look good, to sell them something. And just like that, nothing you say is believable.
To maintain his credibility, Williams should have focused instead on his job: Tell moving stories about the people he was observing, and their experiences, worries and opinions. By telling great (and true) stories about others, newscasters build trust. It’s a halo effect that rubs off on the storyteller, be it a newscaster or a brand.
Here is how your brand could become as trusted and reliable as Walter Cronkite:
Focus on others – Tell customer stories and employee stories, not your company or product story. Abandon the salesy promotional copy and instead talk about people’s experiences, struggles and how their lives change. For example, take a look at The Red Bulletin and how they tell stories about adventure sports, not stories about how Red Bull sponsors events or fuels athletes.
Keep research independent – Truly reliable and statistically significant data helps your target audience do their jobs better. It also builds trust. Not only will they turn to you for critical information, but their perception of your brand is enhanced. Think of how trusted research is from Forrester and Gartner, yet both run for-profit consulting businesses.
Ignore your content competitors – Of course you need to track what they are creating, but focus more on creating your own distinctive voice and your own interesting content calendar. Flaunt your individuality and your audience will automatically self-select, much as TV viewers tend to watch either Fox News or the Daily Show.
Your product or service may indeed be fabulous, but your target audience doesn’t want to hear self-aggrandizement. “Look at my product, it will solve your problems” sounds the same as “Look at me, my helicopter got hit.” Take a lesson from Brian Williams and quit puffing up your content to make it feel important. The truth is that further you step out of the spotlight yourself, the more room your audience has to crowd in more closely.