It’s time to make room for content strategy in branding

Content strategy won’t be considered strategic until it has its own chapter in the corporate brand guidelines. Until then, content will just be web writing and copywriting.

Ok, there, I’ve said it.

Let me explain. I spend a lot of my time with one foot in branding and one foot in content.

One thing I’ve come to realize is that most brand people couldn’t care less about content. Well, that’s not exactly true. They love content. They love hilarious ad campaigns and hip ambient media. They gush over sublime design and yearn for killer web sites.

But they couldn’t care less about a strategy for content, because what they’re thinking about is a strategy for the brand. In their view, the job of content is to express the brand. They leave content up to the creatives, who are more than happy to be left alone.

By the book

If you don’t believe me, open any corporate brand book or brand guidelines or brand standards manual or whatever they’ve decided to call their branding bible.

Take a look at the table of contents. Strip out everything that has to do with the logo, colors, white space, typography, illustration, merchandising, stationery and photos. What’s left? There might be a page or two on the brand’s vision, mission, values and positioning. Maybe a section about copywriting and tone of voice.

And that’s about it. I doubt you’ll find much on content. Which isn’t surprising. Most branding is an exercise in image (hence all the space set aside for logos and colors). Most branding professionals think that if a brand isn’t doing well, it needs a new image.

But image is only part of the equation. Image is superficial – quite literally, what’s on the surface. That’s why brand messaging guidelines often include gutless suggestions like “be impactful”, “be human”, “be benefit-driven”. As if any self-respecting writer would think of creating content that was dreary, inhuman and disadvantage-driven.

Is this seat taken?

This post is a call for a better balance between image and content in branding. If the future of branding is going to be driven by buzzwords like engagement, SoLoMo, thought leadership and conversation, then it’s time that content was given more space at the branding table.

I’d even go so far as to say that perhaps the job of the brand is to express the content, rather than the content expressing the brand. This may be heresy for most branding professionals, but hear me out. Think about your favorite brands. I’d wager that one of main reasons you connect with them (besides the perceived quality and value of the product or service) is their content. In other words, if a brand doesn’t have quality, relevant content it won’t be on your list.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Content is what gives brands relief – and here I mean relief like a relief map. Like the texture of a fabric, the strokes of a paintbrush, the swales and knolls of a terrain. Content imbues brands with contrast, nuance, dimensions, granularity, height and depth. Image may attract us, but content is what we touch, what we interact with. Content plays a huge role in shaping that oh-so-important perception of quality or value that branding is supposed to deliver.

Write a new chapter

So it’s time that brand guidelines included a chapter about content. I’m not talking about a style guide. I’m talking about guidelines for creatives that explain how content should be used to create meaningful experiences for customers and other stakeholders (ugh). A chapter that acknowledges the critical role that content plays in building the brand.

I’m not suggesting that content is more important than image. I’m just saying that a brand book that only talks about image and says nothing about content is a one-legged ladder.

Enshrining content in brand guidelines would indicate to the members of an organization just how important good content is. It would be a sign of organizational maturity. It would help protect content from arbitrary budget cuts, turf wars and “cut and paste” content creation. It would be an important step towards treating content as something fundamentally strategic.


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3 comments on “It’s time to make room for content strategy in branding

  1. Frances
    January 11, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    I love this:

    ”As if any self-respecting writer would think of creating content that was dreary, inhuman and disadvantage-driven.”

    It’s what I’ve been (secretly) thinking for years.

  2. k2
    January 11, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

    Great insight. I think content and the context in which it is created makes or breaks a brand. The next challenge is how to replicate that many times over and in every facet of the organization- both internally and externally. it is a challenge- but one I am up for!

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