No content marketing for old men

Phil Adams is planning director at Cello Signal. Follow him on Twitter @Phil_Adams

Phil Adams, planning director at Blonde Digital

Content marketing is a young person’s game according to JWT Singapore. Well I beg to differ and I am about to issue a vehement retort.

The misguided spawn of their twisted logic will be called JWT25. The average age of its workforce will be 25 and it will create and produce content for its clients in agile fashion within 25 days. See what they did there?

Here’s what I think they did there.

They are launching a content marketing start-up on a flawed premise. JWT25 has a perverse, in fact a reverse, concept of how content agility relates to age.

I am fifty years old. I am twice the age of the average JWT25 employee. And, admittedly, I won’t be as physically supple as them. In a toe touching competition they will beat me hands down. Literally.

But the silver lining to that particular cloud is that I have seven times as much professional experience as the average JWT25 hipster hotshot. I have been doing this idea-based branded content thing (i.e. advertising) for 28 years versus their 4.

By my logic, which is less twisted than theirs, this makes we who are old enough to grow beards but wise enough not to wear them (and our female peers) more qualified as agile content practitioners because:

  • We have a deeper understanding of brands, what they are for, how they work, how they relate to corporate culture and, most importantly, how to make them charming, disarming and therefore tolerable interruptions to people’s lives.
  • We have a deeper knowledge of what it takes to have branded ideas serve valuable commercial purpose. And this is far more difficult than understanding the nuts, bolts and nuances of a new digital platform. Most branded content serves no apparent purpose at all, certainly not to its intended audience. Indeed, content marketing is to the internet what cosmetic micro beads are to the world’s oceans, namely an insidious, cumulative pollutant.
  • We will be quicker to spot a crap idea which is in danger of putting down roots. And we will be more ruthless with the necessary mercy-killing so that creative attention can be diverted to more productive matters.
  • Conversely we will have a more educated nose for that little acorn idea whose potential would go unrecognised by less experienced eyes, including those of its authors. Young idea farmers have a lot to learn from their elders about the cultivation, nurture and stewardship of creativity.
  • We are more likely to appreciate the profound difference between content marketing and a holistic content strategy which encompasses technology, publishing infrastructure, process, governance, user experience and SEO.

JWT25 might work. But if it does it will be because its staff are good at these things in spite of their youth, not because of it. Imposing this gimmicky age restriction is effectively hardwiring a handicap into the agency’s business model.

Agile content production is a good idea. Content marketing could benefit from certain agile principles. User stories for example could be a useful discipline. Done well, user stories ensure that audience goals and motivations are the primary driver of output. Agility and empathy go hand in hand, and content marketing is in sore need of more empathy.

Empathy is the ability to step imaginatively into the shoes of another person. “How can I use creativity to make my audience’s life better or to capture its imagination?” is a question that is not being asked enough judging by the output of most content marketing programmes.

Empathy improves with age.

I helped to develop Royal Mail’s social media strategy around its London 2012 Gold Medal Stamps campaign. In the process I met Martha Roberts who was running the Royal Mail customer service team at the time. When they opened for business on Twitter Martha didn’t assign the platform to the youngest members of her team who were the most well versed with social media. She staffed it with the older members of her team who were the most accomplished at dealing with people. Learning Twitter is easy. Being good at customer service is not. Experience is a multiplier for natural aptitude.

Write that out 25 times JWT Singapore.

Phil Adams is planning director at Blonde Digital. He can be found tweeting here.

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