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Content strategy isn’t a nice to have (or why I don’t want your brand to be my friend)

The planning and discussing and repeated rounds of debate and review and re-working to the nth degree of copy for the typical ad campaign often seems never-ending. Ensuring that work meets brand guidelines, is in keeping with the brand values, brand pyramid, brand molecule or what have you, yada yada yada.

As with any decent media strategy. The role for channels should be carefully thought-through, with a clear definition of the comms task and the role that each channel should play, and so on.

But when it comes to brand content in social channels like Twitter and Facebook, or even sometimes on their blogs and brand sites, carefully considered comms and content strategy appears to be falling by the wayside for more and more brands. Consideration for tone of voice – which would be so rigorously scrutinised in an advert – appears to be totally ignored.

It’s lazy. It shows a lack of thought, and a lack of understanding of the people they’re seeking to engage and consideration for the user.

Take Rightmove. Their service is about helping people buy, sell, rent or let their home. It’s one of the biggest life decisions you’ll make. Property’s serious business. The market’s changing, it’s tough whichever side of the fence you’re on. If you’re in the property market, what you really need is reliable info, help & guidance. You want a trusted partner to help you make the right decision.

From a content strategy point of view, how could a brand like Rightmove add value? What do customers and prospects most need and want? Expert advice, market insight, the latest news & updates before anyone else, perhaps? Maybe with an authoritative but friendly tone of voice?

Or maybe the brand could just throw random stuff at Twitter to show how TOTALLY AWESOME they are!!!!

Like pointing out (admittedly very cute, but unsure what it has to do with Rightmove) a video of Elmo from Sesame St cooking paella with Philip Schofield & Holly Willoughby on This Morning:

Or chatting about what people got up to over the bank holiday weekend:

Or moaning about how rubbish the weather is:

It’s partly the Innocentification of cutesy, zany copy where it’s just not plausible or appropriate for the brand (for more on the Innocentification of copy and brand authenticity, see the most excellent Shift Run Stop episode with the lovely & talented Denise Wilton – lovely friend, co-founder of B3ta, currently creative director at BERG, and formerly creative director at Moo).

But it’s also suggestive of a complete lack of content strategy – of thinking how the brand can really add value, what kind of content will be most appropriate, within which channels, and what tone of voice will communicate this most effectively. Of not really understanding what kind of relationship the people they’re trying to engage want to have with their brand. Whether they want a brand to be useful, helpful and deliver against their brand promise – or whether they want a brand to be their mate.

We strategists & planners are partly to blame. We’ve tried to encourage our clients to communicate more humanly and less like faceless corporations. But without a clear and well-defined content strategy, it appears we’ve opened Pandora’s box.

Content should engender trust.

Brands should use their content – digital or otherwise – to communicate the values and associations they want to convey.

They should use their content to deliver on their brand promise. To be useful. Helpful. Yes, be friendly, but be appropriate:

Content strategy isn’t a nice to have, brands. What you do, what you say, and how you say it, what relationship you want to have with the people you’re trying to engage, matters. Really it does. Give it some proper care and attention, why don’t you?

Addendum: Bobbie Johnson has written a fab article on GigaOm which articulates his frustration with what he terms the hypercasual far more eloquently – def worth checking out: Hypercasual : when the web gets a little too friendly


(HT @simonth for pointing out Rightmove to me)


Seems to me that it might be perfectly acceptable for a bank called ‘’ to have a question like that. Would entirely depend on the context – ie What type of bank? What type of customer? Was it part of a campaign? etc.

Could have been part of a very good content strategy – illustrates the point that no matter how much you hit the nail on the head with your content strategy, you will never please everyone.

Posted by Hamid on 5 September 2011 @ 5pm

Fair point Hamid — perhaps it *is* part of a strategy — but I think it’s more likely that there’s a difference between being friendly and being flippant. I’d love it if my bank were more human, but I also recognise that they do a pretty serious job in looking after my money. Where’s the right balance?

It’s not that the unbounded floodgates of human consciousness can’t ever be appropriate — Betfair’s Twitter account is great, but too many people seem to think it doesn’t take any effort to produce.

Perhaps useful: a slightly controversial piece that came out in the NYT about the influence of David Foster Wallace’s hypercasual, postmodern writing style.

I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I think there’s a useful point in there worth reflecting on: a lot of people think the way to mimic the casual tone of the best writing is simply by being casual.

Posted by Bobbie Johnson on 6 September 2011 @ 9am

Tricky one.

When I meet a friend in the pub, he doesn’t randomly pipe up “who’s your favourite A-Team character?”. I’ve filtered that sort of person out.

But plenty of people do have friends like that. So what doesn’t work for me in a brand tone might well work for others.

Posted by Hoover on 13 September 2011 @ 7am

Human is not the opposite of corporate – but too many corporates don’t realise that.

People want interaction with the appropriate human at the appropriate time. Same’s true online.

Posted by John Dodds on 29 September 2011 @ 3pm

Apologies for leaving a comment nearly a year after publication! I came across this via browsing Will McInnes’ blog role – so you can thank him.

You are right – brands haven’t worked out how to ‘do’ social content. It seems they either try and recycle traditional one-to-many stuff or else try and get all smiley and chatty and think that this means they are being social.

I have tried to get to the bottom of what drives this and my current theory is that traditional marketing was a channel and message identification problem – whereas social is a behaviour identification and response problem.

When companies approach the social space with their channel and message hats on their response to the huge diversity of channel now available is either to see this as a multi-directional splatter-gun or to be so driven by the desperate need to fill the channels with something. that they just babble.

Bit more on this here, albeit this focuses more on the channel side than the message / content side.

The main learning from the content side is that a content strategy needs to be framed by identifying and responding to the questions for which your brand is an answer.

Posted by Richard Stacy on 19 July 2012 @ 12pm

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