Mar 16, 2012

Brand Journalism isn’t Data Driven – it’s You Driven.

Robert Rose of Big Blue Moose is the resident strategist for the Content Marketing Institute and is a speakering at Poynter's upcoming conference, "Creating Credible Content."

There is a very strong tie between brand journalism and branding.  When we talk about the story that we want to tell as marketers – it very naturally leads us to what the organization “stands for”.  We need and want to be interesting, engaging – and to tell a compelling story.

And, one of the challenges I get at almost every workshop I teach is “how can I make my XYZ company that sells ABC product to a boring/conservative/old industry interesting or engaging?”  That’s the key.  If you think it’s boring and uninteresting – it is.  So, therefore, your job as a brand journalist is to find the emotional connection.  Isn’t that what you’re passionate about?

It all reminds me of this George Bernard Shaw quote:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. All progress, therefore, depends upon the unreasonable man.

I combine this with this true fatigue I have over the phrase “data-driven marketer”.  Interestingly, if you Google this phrase, you’ll get about 7 million results and most of them are links to how to become one.   We just simply need to lose the vision of the “data driven marketer” – holding a spreadsheet triumphantly over their head, ROI emblazoned on their super-hero cape as they stand at the summit of their mountain of Google analytics.

Thankful for Mediocrity

What would the world of marketing look like if everything were creatively amazing and compelling?    What if it was easy to create amazing, compelling, persuasive stories?  What would we do?

Well, I think Paul Arden had about as good an answer as I’ve seen. In his book, It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be – he asks:

Why do we strive for excellence when mediocrity is required?

There is little demand in the commercial world for excellence.  There is much, much bigger demand for mediocrity.

Arden wonders what we would do – and suggests that we would “react against it, saying, “Isn’t this boring.  How can we be dull?  Let’s do it badly, let’s make it ugly, and let’s make it really cheaply.”

In fact, you can even see some of this happening today.  I actually wrote an article for iMedia connection in June called How ‘Ugly’ Can Boost Your Campaign.

But the key difference in all of those campaigns was that “ugly” was “remarkable”.  They weren’t trying to be safe – they were actually trying to be different.  That’s the key.  They actually said something.  As Realtor Mark Seiden relayed to me when I interviewed him for that piece:

“We took the challenge of ‘ugly’ very seriously. The designer’s first iterations really missed the mark. They were too pretty. The key was for the designer to really feel the emotion and the feeling of the frustrated seller.”

So, thank goodness the world is demanding mediocrity.  It gives us a chance to do something different.

No Remarkable Idea Is Ever Data Driven

Name any remarkable creative marketing campaign you can remember, and I’ll guarantee you that it did not come out of a spreadsheet.    Our most compelling story, our most persuasive campaign our most viral content didn’t come as the result of an A/B test.  It did not come from our Google Analytics report – and it did not come from our landing page conversion metrics.

It came because we took the time to figure our what our business REALLY does and what problem we are REALLY solving for our customers. And we creatively figured out a way to tell a story that was different from our competition.

Differentiating means “being different” not being incrementally better than our competition.  If you haven’t read “Different” by Youngme Moon – give yourself a treat.  It’s wonderful.

Data is important.  Data is helpful.  Data helps you wring efficiency out of your visitors, and target your message more capably and generally make your content better.  Data helps you be incrementally better today than you were yesterday.

Data gives you the opportunity for insight.  But YOU are the one that has the insight.

You are the one that makes the exponential leap. You are the one that thinks up the B version that outperforms the A version by 2000%.   You are the one that dreams up the story of your business that you’ll tell through content marketing.

Our Content Our Unique Story

If I can butcher the Shaw quote for a moment I’d say that the reasonable marketer adapts their story to the world.  The unreasonable marketer persists in trying to adapt the world to their story.   All of our success therefore, will depend upon us – at some time or another – being unreasonable.

Whether it’s our creative brief, our positioning statement, our content marketing story or our newest creative ad campaign.  Let’s occasionally be unreasonable.   As Arden says – there’s little demand for it.   And, we’ll certainly fail more than we succeed at it.   But it’s our best bet to create something remarkable.

Author Robert Rose is the founder of Big Blue Moose,  a digital media and consulting firm focused on content marketing innovation, and he’s also the  Robert is the Strategist in Residence and Brand Advisor for the Content Marketing Institute, a featured writer and guest blogger for the online magazinesiMedia Connection, Fierce Content Management and CMSWire and co-authored of the book “Enterprise 2.0 How Technology, E-Commerce and Web 2.0 Are Transforming Business Virtually.

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