If Content is the Answer, then What’s the Question?

If Content is the Answer, then What’s the Question?

In early 2007, I wrote a piece for Mediapost about the need for brand marketers to become video content makers. It began, There’s an old advertising joke that goes like this: “The answer is a 30-second spot. Now, what’s the question?”

Fast forward eight years and you could make a similar joke with one ironic twist.  This time around you’d substitute the word ‘content’ for the phrase ’30-second spot’, and have a pretty fair indictment of the growing cadre of marketers who presume that content itself is the answer to just about any question — including some they haven’t even considered yet.

This might seem like an odd sentiment coming from someone who makes his living running a content consultancy — but then I’ve always seen content as a (emphasis on ‘a’, as opposed to ‘the’) means to an end; not the end itself. Thinking of content as the end is where so many content marketers go off the rails. Instead, you need to think of content as one strategic pillar that supports a business and marketing strategy, not as a silo strategy in and of itself (indeed, few things are).

So while it can certainly be said that anything (or dialing back the hyperbole, many things) can be made better with the help of quality content, it doesn’t necessarily follow that content is everything or the only thing. (There’s a difference between anything and everything, of course…) So content matters (a lot!), but it may not be categorically good for whatever ails you. But let’s assume for the moment that content is, in fact, an answer — if not the answer — to a challenge your business is facing right now.

 If the Answer is Content, What’s the Question?

Actually, in my mind, there are two key questions every content strategy must answer. (This is different, of course, from the 10 — or more — questions leaders must ask about whether their content decisions are panning out for their organization.) These two key questions are:

  • How will content allow us to create more value for our customers? The idea that content is, at its core, a pathway to customer-centricity is hardly new — and that’s what this one is all about. In what ways does content allow you to serve your customers better than you could before? And would your customers agree that you’ve created value for them?
  • How will content allow us to capture more value for our company? This one is all about benefit to the business. Does content create opportunity, increase efficiency, stave off a threat? If at the end of it all we’ve created something customers love for the way it brings value to their lives, will our shareholders love it too for the way it brings profit to the P&L?

Not Or. And… 

But here’s one more critical point. It’s not enough to ask ‘how do we create more value?’ or ‘how do we capture more value?’ Every content strategy must do both. Allow me to repeat that: Every content strategy must. do. both. One or the other won’t cut it. One and the other will. 

If the choices you make about content don’t create value for your customer, it’s not worth their attention. If the choices you make about content don’t capture value for your company, it’s not worth your investment. Period. End of story. (OK, not really, I still have more to say…)

Content Isn’t the Answer. It’s the Question.

Which brings me back to content as the solution to questions that have yet to be posed. And an idea that maybe content isn’t the answer at all — but is instead the core question. Create value for our customers. Capture value for our company. These are the real answers.

Now, the question is: What role can content play in helping you achieve these goals?

If Content is the Answer, What's the Question?

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