Usefulness Is Just a Baseline

A butterfly uses its wings to fly and find food as well as escape from danger. The wings are very useful, but it doesn’t stop there. The presentation of the wing extends beyond baseline utility to serve as a visual Darwinistic survival tool. Wings are unique from species to species, providing a means to camouflage the butterfly from various environmental predators.

In our little echo chamber, the words usefulness and utility are often bantied about when discussing successful content. I could not agree more, usefulness is an absolute necessity for successful content. Yet, it’s not enough. Usefulness is just a baseline.

What do I mean by that?

If brands deliver self-centered content and social updates, they won’t attract people no matter how good or entertaining they are. Useful content is absolutely necessary. Brands must deliver information that customers need and want, not messages, positioning, or other forms of promotional self-congratulational back pats. Customers just don’t care. This is why Jay Baer’s book Youtility was so important for the industry (see my review here).

At the same time, while usefulness is almost always a must for successful content (damn you, Buzzfeed), alone it is increasingly not enough. Many, many useful pieces of content, from blogs to slideshare presentations, are published and shared every day.

Some say it is because of content shock, and that’s a fantastic conversation. I’ll say that while useful content is critical, if it’s presented in a boring, non-distinguishing manner, it will likely fail today.

Infotainment: Usefulness Plus Engagement

Information Growth

When you read Mary Meeker’s 2014 Internet Trends report consider how the quantified act of sharing information is growing on an exponential basis. You can see why providing a simple primer may not be enough today, and definitely not tomorrow. There is much more competition thanks to mobile phones (see the full report), and as a result, content needs to be better engineered to distinguish itself.

Content must be useful, and it needs become easy and fun to read/watch/listen. Specifically, content creators need to reimagine their approaches to:

  • Provide visual information that works well on mobile phones and tablets.
  • Integrate text information with strong visual information to provide depth.
  • Entertain and deliver a pleasing presentation that makes content enjoyable.
  • Offer consistent — but not necessarily frequent — quality that integrates well with an overall brand experience.

These points were made over and over again at Demand Success last Friday. Whether it was Avinash Kaushik‘s fantastic keynote (pictured below), Ann Handley‘s speech on quality content and writing, or my Content Boom panel featuring Richard Binhammer, Nichole Kelly, Christopher Penn, and Joe Webster, speakers emphasized the need to deliver appealing content. Usefulness was almost always cited, but visual presentation and appealing/entertaining delivery were consistently referenced as must have factors, too.


Most importantly, a customer/stakeholder centric north star was cited as the underlying current for all content. I remember coming up in Washington, and being told how important it was to come to meetings well-dressed and with my information rehearsed, including how it mattered to the other party. It seems that while intuitive in business meetings, we fail to bring the same level of customer-centric care and attentiveness to our marketing content.

Even automobile manufacturers understand the need to provide information and entertainment in one systematic experience. This is the way people — customers, stakeholders, and employees — want to receive information today and in the immediate future.

So, if your content is useful and you have a good distribution strategy (that’s another post in its own right), but it still is not going anywhere, then consider the presentation of that information.

What do you think?