When I started working at FortyFour, I was the only member of the newly established content team. But FortyFour is growing. Since the time I’ve been here, we’ve practically doubled in size and what was once a solo content venture is now a solid team of three.
As both our team and agency grow, old ways of thinking and doing must be amended with, if not outright replaced by scalable ways of ensuring our work is original and value generating for our clients. As FortyFour’s content team matures, so has the need to create frameworks that enable us to sustain the high quality of work it has become known for.
When I set out to create a broader framework for effective content creation, I started with a simple question: What is great content? When I read, watch or listen to a great piece of content, what are the attributes that actually made it good? I’ve identified four characteristics that are nearly universal in great content.
Andrew Chen, General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz and former Head of Growth at Uber, recently had a great thread on Twitter about how over-exposure to your product can negatively affect your ability to evolve that product over time.
“When you work on the same product every day for years, it’s easy to assume that everyone uses the product the same as you do,” wrote Chen. “Of course that’s not true!”
In fact, as Chen notes, the users a product designer is most similar to — core users who use your product or service to the fullest extent — are not the ones she should be focused on. “When you do the analysis, the most important user perspectives aren’t just your core users, but all the folks out on the edges who are casual, churned, or blocked somehow,” he wrote.
We experience a very similar problem in marketing. Marketers are more familiar with their brand than anyone else, and they often forget that not everyone is as exposed to the brand as they are. (In fact, most marketers would be horrified if they thought hard about how little consumers think about their business.) They grow fatigued with creative, or create complex, even convoluted communications that prospective customers have neither the time nor attention to decipher. Product designers are taught to keep it simple — marketers would be wise to do the same.
Marketers also focus too much of their attention on the “core users” that Chen mentions, when the bigger opportunity is on the edges of their business, i.e. the millions of people who have yet to try your product or service. One of the least true but most commonly believed marketing truisms is that 20% of your customers will make up 80% of your sales. For countless businesses — Ford, Coca-Cola, Crest, Unilever, and Chen’s former employer Uber — this is not nor will ever be the case. Growth will always be reliant on high volumes of people purchasing a product somewhat regularly. (For a car, that’s every few years. For tooth paste, every few weeks.)
Does that mean core users or your most loyal customers aren’t important? No, they are vital and should be highly valued. But if your goal is to grow your business, the opportunity does not lie with those you’ve already convinced to click the buy button. The opportunity is to convince and convert the countless individuals who’ve never used your product or service in the first place.
That opportunity reminds me of a quote from another figure at Chen’s firm, founder Ben Horowitz. He’s fond of saying, “your story is your strategy.” You can’t be focused on growth if you aren’t telling a story to that speaks directly to the wants and needs of those who will help you grow: prospective customers. Oftentimes companies claim they are focused on growth, but the story they are telling is fundamentally about retention. They are speaking to their current audience, and developing products and services for loyal customers and power users.
The story your marketing organization is telling will betray your true strategy. Make sure it enables growth instead of getting in the way of it.
Over the years we’ve had several clients ask for help with high-level corporate messaging — things like their corporate values. I’m excited every time the opportunity comes up because I’m a believer that corporate values can be more than pleasant sayings on a poster in a conference room: they can generate real business value. I also believe that many organizations miss out on that opportunity by misunderstanding the true purpose of corporate values.
Like any piece of internal or external messaging, crafting compelling, effective values depends upon understanding both the audience and the medium via which the content will be delivered. What’s fascinating about internal communications like values is that, sometimes, the audience and the medium are the same: yes, you want your employees to read your corporate values, but you also want them to ingest and evangelize them. Your employees—not a poster, internal email, or speech at an all-staff meeting—are the vehicle by which values are implemented at scale.