From small data to edgy content strategy – content marketing trends

It’s not about the size of your data, it’s how you use it

Big data poses possibly the biggest dilemma for content marketers today. Clearly a key component of comprehensive light_bulbs_idea_stand_outcontent strategy, the issue is that you’d either need Bernard’s Watch or a battery of binary-eyed statisticians to make any sense of it.

That’s where Martin Lindstrom’s new book ‘Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends’ comes in. Building on his experience with toy manufacturer Lego, Lindstrom aggregates over 10 years of experience and experimentation to extoll the virtues of small data; a method that could let us create content that shows greater customer insight with minimal time investiture.

The book centres around Lego deciding to diversify their services after analysing big data. When this strategy failed to generate the expected ROI, Lego turned to Lindstrom. The lightbulb moment occurred thanks to a chance meeting with an 11-year-old Lego fan. The realisation? People define themselves by more than their actions might imply; there’s intangibles like aspiration and personal identification that aren’t necessarily share online, but that they want to be recognised by brands.

Take robo-vacuum Roomba. Lindstrom found by talking to customers that they were less interested in obvious benefits like convenience, and instead liked its “fun”, “quirky” and “cute” qualities. Some would leave the Roomba out as a talking point, suggesting that they wanted the intrinsic qualities of the product to reflect on their own personality.

So, how do we translate this to content marketing? In short, what many of us are doing with big data at the minute is tantamount to taking the scenic route to the wrong destination. By performing more in-depth research on a smaller catchment of REAL customers, Lindstrom had uncovered abstract motivations that made sales skyrocket. Take this further, and it means stepping away from generic, obvious subject matter (like product ‘How To’s’ and ‘Top Tips’) and towards broader topics that make potential customers feel as though their inner-thoughts are understood.

Let’s take an imaginary London-based fashion boutique and some research that I’ve just made up as an example. A selection of five customers uses words like “colourful”, “youthful” and “unique” to describe what they liked about the boutique. Instead of just churning out another blog about colour wheels or next season’s trend, you could gain more traction and set the business apart from competitors by writing about a local designers and their inspiration, a colour run in the city, fashionable new nightspots or generational pop culture. In short, be brave, branch out and step away from the spreadsheet.

If you can’t do edginess, just don’t f*#$!%@ try

There’s nothing wrong with content being edgy. In fact, it’s a great way to differentiate your brand.

Edginess ignores the overly righteous angel on one shoulder, and instead speaks to the devil on the other. Ultimately, they’re two parts of a whole customer.

But, with the rise in brands looking to differentiate themselves with edgy content, there’s been a similar increase in instances of content going too far, often with irreparable consequences. A cynical mind might say that this represents the methodology of edginess being understood in theory, but not practice. And, as companies clamour to make the most of this new tactic, people lacking a natural moral barometer are being asked to manufacture edginess to deadline.

2016 is already shaping up to be a bumper year for content faux pas. Here’s a rogue’s gallery of the worst offenders in recent times:

  • Urban Outfitters ‘Peachy Head’ shampoo: “Peach Shampoo for Suicidal Hair” runs the slogan. Considering it’s marketed at tweens and teenagers, there’s a content marketer somewhere that needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
  • Forever 21 “Don’t say maybe if you want to say no” t-shirt: One straight out of the Dapper Laughs playbook, this unsavoury t-shirt is a sure-fire way of dressing like you should be on some kind of register.
  • Dolce and Gabbana ‘Slave Shoe’ sandal: As if they didn’t learn their lesson after the gay marriage debacle! Clearly not, as this unnecessary product name (now changed to ‘Decorative Flat Sandal’) demonstrates.   

Edginess can be cheeky, humorous and challenging, but as soon as you start to use a downtrodden demographic, mental health or sexual exploitation as the basis for differentiation, you’re going to land yourself and your brand in hot water – and rightly so. As most standups will tell you, the mark of a good comedian is that they can make people laugh without having to resort to profanity. The same logic applies to content marketing.

So, next time a company comes to you and says: “We want to do edgy. We’ve heard it’s the next big thing”, make sure you stay the right side of good taste and don’t end up on the incrementally growing pile of failed, unsavoury marketing initiatives.