You Should Be Making Content Like You Make Software
Your product works because you get user feedback and adjust accordingly. Your content does not work because you get very little user feedback and, accordingly, can’t adjust.
Tech companies tend to think of their products as living, breathing things.
They specify the product, they develop the product, they validate the product, they deploy — and then once it meets the users, it evolves. More features are added, new features are requested, bugs are fixed.
Facebook is created this way, and Twitch is created this way, and Quickbooks and Uber and FarmersOnly.com are created this way.
The reason: Products must create value for their users. Tech co’s must learn from how those users act, and then adjust. That is how you wiggle into your product-market fit.
So product development, you could say, is basically one big feedback loop.
No matter the specifics of your methodology — incremental, iterative, “move fast and break dance”, whatever — the result is usually continual improvement.
Unfortunately, this is not how most tech companies think about content.
Most tech companies think of each piece of content they make as an unmoving and inviolable thing.
They specify a piece (or a few pieces) of content, they develop that content, they validate that content, they publish — and then it doesn’t evolve.
No more articles are written, no errors in conception or execution or distribution are addressed.
The reason: there’s no iterative process behind the content. Content development, done like this, does not create a feedback loop. There’s no way to wiggle into content-market fit.
White Papers that took six months to produce are created this way, and executive blog posts that were written by committee are created this way, and branded content that only receives paid traffic are created this way.
No matter how polished your creation — and unless, magically and against all probability, this one piece of content goes (drum roll, jazz hands) “viral” — the result will be disappointing.
Here’s another way to say this:
Your product works because you get market feedback and adjust accordingly. Your content does not work because you get very little market feedback and, accordingly, can’t adjust.
Products work because they provide value to the user.
Content? Same same.
So if you continue to consider each piece of content you write to be a pristine and precious, butterfly-pinned-under-glass thing, then yes: you will certainly have created a few words that don’t embarrass anyone, and which justify the existence of a few marketers on your staff.
But, you will have absolutely no understanding of what your audience wants, and needs, and responds to.
Consequently, when it comes to making content, you will not improve.
Content needs a feedback loop
Consider your favorite news publications: e.g., The NYTimes, or Vox, or Portable Restroom Operator (actually a thing!).
The NYTimes or Vox or Portable Restroom Operator are not defined by any one single piece of quality content they publish. Rather, their brands are defined by how consistently they publish quality content. That consistency creates audience attention and response. That audience attention and response is factored into the publication’s decisions about their next content.
In the same vein, no software product is defined by any one line of code. Rather, software products are defined by the consistent quality of its code. The software product creates user interaction and response. That user interaction and response is factored into the tech company’s decisions about their next lines of code.
Don’t think of a piece of content like a finished product. Think of a piece of content as a line of code.
This piece of content that you’re reading, right here, is not analogous to a product. Rather, this piece of content is a single line of code. The product of those lines of code is our brand, a handsome creative agency called Article Group.
After this article comes another article, and another article, and another article. Each article receives feedback, or not. With that feedback we can better decide whether to continue writing about a topic, or not.
The product is never finished. The brand never stops evolving.
Content iterates, just like your code.
This post is a part of a weekly series of stories that explores the ups, downs, and sideways adventures of creative marketing for brands. Each post is based on conversations and consultations with some of the world’s largest brands and publishers, many of which work with our agency, Article Group. Want to listen to records together? Subscribe to our newsletter below. More from the series:
- “People care about what they already care about.”
The importance of being relevant to your audience’s interests.
- “You don’t get it. You are not the point.”
The surprising reason why your brand sucks at storytelling, and what to do about it.
- “Try helping people be themselves.”
How to create inspiring stories for your brand’s adjacent possible.
- “Write for your audience’s audience.”
Creating things that help themselves get shared.
- “There are only two ways to tell a story.”
A Venn Diagram for brands.
- “How little do I need to care about you to make you care about me?”
Renting attention will only get you so far. Here’s how to start to owning it.
- “Make relationships, not things.”
You can’t “thing” your way to people caring about you.