Throwing shit against the wall and seeing what sticks, this week’s DistilledLive video

How do you know what kind of content will resonate with your audience?

In this week’s DistilledLive, content strategist Hannah Smith explains the importance of trying different ideas in order to see which ones have the most impact. This is particularly useful when experimenting with entertaining content where the results can often be a little unpredictable.

You can read the full transcript below. 

DistilledLive | Throwing shit against the wall and seeing what sticks

Phil:  Hello and welcome to Distilled Live. I’m Phil Nottingham and with me today is none other than Content Strategist, Hannah Smith. How’re you doing, Hannah?

Hannah:   Good, thank you.

Phil:  Excellent. Today, we’re going to talk about throwing shit against the wall and analysing what sticks. Is that correct?

Hannah: That is correct.

Phil: Okay. Can you explain a little bit about what you mean by that idea and that concept?

Hannah: Sure, so the phrase ‘throw shit against the wall and analyse what sticks’ has potentially negative connotations because it kind of sounds like you don’t know what you’re doing.

Phil: Mm-hmm.

Hannah: Right? Actually I think the opposite is true. What I’m actually talking about is presenting an idea, and gauging the reaction and in reality I think particularly for certain types of content . . .

Phil: Mm-hmm.

Hannah: . . . it’s really the only way to succeed.

Phil: Okay and can you explain a little bit more about those kinds of content?

Hannah: Sure, so I think broadly content can be broken into four different types.

Phil: Mm-hmm.

Hannah: So, you have content to entertain and that sort of content might be a viral content, quizzes, competitions, anything like that. So, content where the primary function is to entertain the audience and the purpose of that sort of content is very much top of funnel.

Phil: Right.

Hannah: So it’s getting people to know your brand without necessarily worrying too much about whether or not they’re going to buy at this point.

Phil: Sure.

Hannah: Then you’ve got content to educate. Content to educate might include things like guides or press releases or tools and really at that point again it’s more of a rational pull rather than an emotional pull. So, content to entertain has an emotional pull. Content to educate has a rational pull, but again it’s very much top of funnel. You’re not too worried about whether or not people are actually going to buy from you at this point.

Then on the other side, sort of further down the funnel, you have content to persuade.

Phil: Mm-hmm.

Hannah: That sort of content looks like reviews and ratings and possibly like celebrity endorsements. I know really to push people further down the funnel to get to the point where they’re about to purchase. Then finally you’ve got conversion content. So that’s content on your product pages, that kind of content that actually takes people from like that peak of interest, this looks good to actually buying it.

Phil: Right, okay, excellent and particularly with the concept of throwing shit against the wall, do you think that’s relevant for all those four kinds of content or is it mostly for one of the other kinds?

Hannah: Yeah, so I feel that the throwing shit against the wall analogy works best actually for content to entertain and educate.

Phil: Right.

Hannah:Because really you can’t know what’s going to entertain or educate anyone without actually launching something.

Phil: Mm-hmm.

Hannah:  So, without actually trying it out. You can do due diligence, but ultimately you don’t know what’s going to stick or what’s going to ultimately resonate with your audience until you put it out there.

Phil: Right.

Hannah: Obviously, testing’s also important with content to persuade and content to convert. That’s what conversion rate optimisation looks like. It’s still important there, but today I feel like we’re talking more about the sort of content to entertain.

Phil: Okay, sure. So, there’s probably some people out there thinking, ‘Okay, I like the sound of content that’s going to entertain and instruct and all that kind of top of funnel brand awareness stuff’, but really the question particularly for companies with restricted budgets is going to be, ‘Do I actually need this content? Do I really need to be entertaining my audience? Do I need to have stuff that people are going to love in that sense especially if my product is kind of dry?’ How would you respond to that sort of question?

Hannah: I think the reason you need it is simply to get people at the top of the funnel.

Phil: Right.

Hannah: I wouldn’t necessarily advocate creating content to entertain or educate if the rest of the content on your site isn’t sorted.

Phil: Mm-hmm.

Hannah: So, if you don’t have a clear path to conversion . . .

Phil: Mmm.

Hannah: . . . if your site isn’t converting very well right now, the answer probably isn’t to get more people to visit your site.

Phil: Right, sure.

Hannah: The answer is probably fix, fix your conversion path.

Phil: Yeah.

Hannah: But, assuming those conversion path are fixed at some point you’re going to need and want more traffic.

Phil: Mm-hmm.

Hannah: In real sense, you have two options, right? You can buy that traffic that’s expensive . . .

Phil: Mm-hmm.

Hannah: . . . and ultimately and as soon as you stop buying the traffic it goes away. There’s no lasting effect. That’s kind of the problem with advertising, right? It’s very effective in terms of getting people through the door, but it has no longevity. The difference I guess with creating content to entertain is that it lives beyond its own . . . it has lasting benefits.

Phil: Okay.

Hannah: They’ll grow over time. So, I think really this is about getting content which people share with other people. So, stuff they share on social media and stuff they email to each other, stuff they talk about in the pub. That’s all really, really powerful and actually that’s more powerful than you as a brand spreading that message because people trust people not brands.

Phil: Okay.

Hannah: Ultimately.

Phil: Yeah, sure.

Hannah: So, really I feel like that’s why it’s very important going forward.

Phil: Okay, great. So, assume I’ve got my company which is Phil’s Blue Widgets. How am I going to work out what my audience are going to love? How am I going to work out what sort of content that I should start creating?

Hannah: So, there are many ways, obviously that you could do it, but the way I like to work is actually by doing some market research.

Phil: Right.

Hannah: So, focus groups are great if you can afford to do that, if you have the time to do that and you can get people in a space with you so you can talk to them one on one. Otherwise, telephone interview surveys. Basically, you do old fashioned, traditional market research and I like to ask questions around, what is it that this audience loves and hates? What do they read? Where do they spend their time online? What do they do offline? What are their broader interests? what are they interested in other than your blue widgets, for example and what does that look like?

Build up as full a picture as you can about them. One of my favorite questions to ask is ‘Where do you buy your food shopping?’ and the reason I like that question is that somebody who shops in ASDA looks very, very different to somebody who shops in Waitrose, right? You can infer a whole load of other things about a person based on where they shop.

Phil: Yeah.

Hannah: Basically, by building up as full a picture as possible of your customers, you will then be able to better predict, at least, what sort of content to create, one, and also where you want to get placement.

Phil: Sure.

Hannah: So, ideally, obviously, this content will probably live on your site, but you might also want to get coverage on other sites and so . . .

Phil: So, YouTube for example like we do with these videos too.

Hannah: Yeah, exactly. So, if you find out your audience spend a lot of time on YouTube that maybe a particular area that you want to focus activity.

Phil: Mm-hmm.

Hannah: Similarly or conversely if you find actually they’re Facebook people, they’re mainly on Facebook, they’re not on Twitter, they’re not on LinkedIn, you might focus all of your activity around creating content that will live well on Facebook and flow well through Facebook and that’s different.

Phil:  Sure. That makes complete sense.

Hannah: Horses for courses.

Phil: Great, so on that question, assuming that you have done a few things.

Hannah: Mm-hmm.

Phil: Say you’re doing the Distilled Live video like, right now.

Hannah: Mm-hmm.

Phil: So we’ve done a few of these now. What’s the next stage to work out how you iterate and improve the process to kind of get better at doing that content?

Hannah: Sure, so I think really what you want to look at at that point is the data. So try and break things into broad themes. So, for example to videos and very technical heavy videos.

Phil: Mm-hmm.

Hannah:   Are they the thing that seems to provoke the largest reaction in terms of shares and comments?

Phil: Yeah.

Hannah: Or conversely, is it content video? So, today we’ll be doing a video about content.

Phil:  Mm-hmm.

Hannah: So, I would initially try and break it into like broad themes so you can then gauge what your audience is most interested in. I’d also question around what you’re actually trying to achieve.

Phil: Sure.

Hannah: So, for example, it might be a great idea to do something somewhat off topic. So, yeah, normally we broadly talk about technical SEO.

Phil: Yeah.

Hannah: We talk about links and we talk about content, right?

Phil: Sure.

Hannah:   But, we probably should for example, try and do something like on social media . 

Hannah: . . . because it might help us reach a whole new audience.

Phil:  Mm-hmm.

Hannah: So I think it depends on your objective. If your objective might not be to get the most views, it might be to reach a different audience and that might lead what you’re trying to do.

Phil: That’s great. I like that we’re analysing exactly what we’re filming right now. It’s a lovely matter.

Hannah: It really is, yeah. It really is.

Phil: So, lastly one final question. How would you go about kind of selling this stuff in either from a perspective like somebody working at an agency like us . . .

Hannah: Mm-hmm.

Phil:  . . . or from somebody in-house? How would you sell this into like the higher management because obviously this kind of stuff does cost a lot of money.

Hannah: Mmm.

Phil: It can be really hard to get budget especially if you can’t tell - when the potential ROI is immediately clear.

Hannah: Yeah, I think really it comes down to being very open and honest about the process. So, explain exactly what you’re trying to do. See, you’re trying to create content that resonates with your audience.

Phil: Mm-hmm.

Hannah: The reality is that in the path of trying, you’ll probably make a few mistakes. You’ll probably create a few pieces that don’t garner much engagement and don’t get much coverage elsewhere.

Phil: Sure.

Hannah: I think what you need to do is kind of have a culture of testing really in the company and make sure that either your boss, if you’re working in-house, or your client is comfortable with this idea of we’re going to try some things, see what we learn, review, iterate and have an understanding that ideally the ideal is that over time you’ll get better and you’ll get better able to predict what is likely to resonate, but ultimately there are no guarantees. So don’t go in with false promises . . .

Phil: Mm-hmm.

Hannah: That’s like, ‘I’m going to get you 50,000 Facebook likes’ or whatever metric that might be, ‘I’m going to get you 50,000 links’.

Phil: Sure.

Hannah: Whatever your metric for success is. Don’t over promise that. Highlight what you’re trying to do as part of a bigger picture plan and a lot of that bigger picture plan is to create like a whole catalogue of content.

Phil: Mmm.

Hannah: Right? It’s not just about one piece being wildly successful. It’s about having that catalogue and over time it gaining in power and gaining traction.

Phil: Super. Well, thank you very much, Hannah and thank you all for watching. We’ll see you again next time.

Hannah: Thanks.

Harriet Cummings

Harriet Cummings

Harriet Cummings does all sorts of nice things with copy and what-not. When feeling particularly energetic, she goes head first into big projects such as tone of voice and content strategy makeovers. She does need a cup of tea afterwards, mind. When...   read more

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3 Comments

  1. Really a nice video !!

    reply >
  2. Matban

    You owe me 10. minutes of my life. this video is a total waste of time.

    reply >
  3. Larry B. Heart

    What a hardcore title!
    Thanks, Hannah, I've made several takeaways from your answers.
    But the backbone idea remains the same: deep analysis leads to more effective solutions.

    reply >

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