Human behavior on the web has shaped the way we create digital content. People use Google to search for the things, so we spend our efforts creating content that ranks favorably on search engines. People scan over web pages and blogs picking out key words and a general gist. So we create written content that is header driven, visual and clickable. This is not bad. Playing by the rules of the web is how we increase performance metrics and how digital marketers keep their jobs. However, when we are out to truly build a brand – one that people talk and think about offline – we have go beyond human behavior and begin to drive human experience.
When we think about experience rather than behavior, the stakes of the game change and so do the successes.
Every marketer is vying for the smallest morsel of attention – or even the semblance of it. A simple click will do, or a triggered hover state. But these are small stakes with small losses and even smaller rewards. What is it exactly that we are competing for when hunting for a click? The “click” resides in the space that floats above the top of our funnel. When we are at this level of audience targeting, we are competing with other brands for the attention of consumers who are speed browsing. That means they are just looking for something, and most anything will do. Our only trophy in this type of race is an arbitrary link click. That’s not branding.
When we take ourselves out of this game, we will likely reduce our page views and link clicks, at least initially. However, it probably won't negatively affect our primary metrics like form fills and other needle moving conversion metrics. These are the conversions that require more engagement than a scanned experience can provide. Purchasing, donating, volunteering – all these forms of action take more than a cursory understanding of a brand. They take comprehension and conviction.
A brand story needs to be read and consumed all the way through, multiple times and in multiple formats. If we want to be true content creators, we have to go all in and say this good. This is worth your time. Read this all, or don’t read it at all.
Ideas Are Brands’ Currency in the Digital Exchange
It’s not easy to write words that people can read for free. People don’t have to pay for them, and therefore they are categorized as cheap. This is the opposite of the reality of digital content. I didn’t buy your book, purchase your magazine or subscribe to your monthly feed. I invested nothing into what you have to say, and thus have no vested interest in giving you a chance. I stumbled upon you and can just as easily stumble away. My interaction with you is purely self-serving and as soon as it stops serving me, I will be on my way. Unless, that is, you have something to offer in exchange for my undivided attention.
Ideas are the currency in which free content trades. If I read your first sentence and it does nothing for me, I have no buyer’s regret when I abandon you. If your first sentence entices me to read your second and then third, all of the sudden I am becoming invested. Each word that resonates is money in the bank for the writer. Each word that misses is credit that the reader loans out. The exchange rate between writer and reader is on a sliding scale at which zero is when a reader leaves. One hundred is when they finish what you created with a new thought in their mind.
This is why we need to reevaluate scannable content. There was a time, and we may still be in it, when every web writer was encourage to write so people can scan. “No one is going to read every word. They are just going to read the headers and a couple sentences here and there to get the gist.” Well the gist isn’t enough. It’s not enough for the writer and it’s not enough for the reader.
If scanning was truly the preferred method for digital readers, we as digital marketers would raise our white flags and surrender to the big and bold. But it’s not. We thought it was for a brief moment, because for a second we – the collective consumers of the web - believed scanning was reading, just faster. Instead scanning is simply scanning with none of the lasting benefits of reading.
We often have to reread. We jumble concepts. We go down rabbit holes of linked ideas that were never related and leave us more confused than when we got there. Scanning, except for purposes of simply getting factually informed, is a hamster wheel, especially for brands.
I have no immediate data to back this up, but I believe there is a shift taking place away from scanning for a majority of content consumers on the web. Scanning is just not that effective for comprehension. We started scanning to save time. We still put those time constraints on our content consumption, but we are no longer treating every piece of content as equal. If there are 10 blogs in front of me, scanning would encourage me to at least peruse each piece. We did that, and weren’t any better off for it. Instead, we now judge the quality of a piece of writing and either read it all or nothing of it. I’d rather read two great pieces than scan 10 pieces of nonsense.
Think about it this way. Search engines are designed to return the best content relative to a person’s search. “Best” is weighted heavily by the time a person spends on your content and the depth of experience they had with your other content during their session with you. If your content gets lucky and finds itself at the top of the rankings and is not actually the best content, people will bounce as quickly as they found you. Whatever success you had will be lost because the quality of your content didn't match the demand. Like David Ogilvy once wrote, “Great marketing only makes a bad product fail faster.” As a content creator, your product is your words and your ideas.
Make content that people are willing to search out, not just find.