Don’t forget the human in the machine

The reason many content marketing campaigns fall flat is not because of ineffective data capture, it’s because of terrible content. Fraser Allen, CEO of White Light Media, urges brands to win the hearts of their target audiences

Fraser Allen, CEO, White Light Media

One of the most satisfying things about being human is that we make mistakes. Mistakes are interesting – they give us personality and they make us unpredictable. But for some practitioners of content marketing, unpredictability is an inconvenience.

I’ve heard brands and agencies discussing content marketing campaigns as if their audience was comprised of robots rather than people. But none of us react with cool, button-pressing logic to the endless fizz of brand noise that surrounds us. Most of the time we blank it out and, when we do tune in, we don’t react logically, we react emotionally.

Nathalie Nahai, a psychologist who applies her skills to online marketing, believes brands need to constantly remind themselves that they’re not talking to fields of data – they are talking to humans.

“Big data is a fascinating development but it’s only effective when applied alongside other contextual tools,” she says. “That means knowing when a correlation is meaningful and when it’s not; and combining that with psychographics – the study of personality, values, attitudes and lifestyles. We don’t act as automatons in response to technological drivers, we react as humans. It’s amazing how few brands think about the psychology of the individuals in their audience.”

It’s also amazing how many brands continue to invest huge sums in multi-channel marketing campaigns that tick all the boxes in terms of process but have one irredeemable problem. The content sucks.

It’s a problem that happens when brands and agencies focus on the science of content marketing without also embracing the art. And agencies are guilty too – often because their leaders are obsessed with the latest digital innovations rather than on creating powerful content for their clients.

Andy Cowles is an exception. A former art director of Rolling Stone and editorial development director of EMAP, he has embraced content marketing through his agency Furthr. He argues that editors and not brand managers should be placed in charge of content marketing projects. He backs this up with a recent observation from business thinker Seth Godin: “As soon as organisations start to measure stuff and poke it into a piece of software, then we are asking people who don’t care to work their way through a bunch of check-lists to make a number go up. A brand can’t care, all that can care is people.”

A big part of the challenge is that the definition of what constitutes content marketing has become so broad – everyone and his aunt now claims to be a content marketing agency. But without talented and experienced human writers given responsibility for winning the hearts of a target audience, an agency’s data strategy is meaningless. And until robots learn to make mistakes, they’ll never be as smart (or as interesting) as humans.


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