One of the core principles that I emphasize to each of my clients is "value". I’m sure I sound like a broken record to a lot of them. I am constantly reminding them that to connect with audiences in today's world, it all boils down to value. If you can consistently put out free valuable content, you begin to establish trust. Once you've established trust, you can build a relationship with your audience. This isn't “new” advice. It is the same advice you will hear from any of the marketing leaders out there today. Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk, Andy Frisella, Ed Mylett - they’re all ultimately saying the same things: give incredible value, for free, and you will build a following as a result.
We all should be able to agree that this is a theoretically sound concept. Providing value is a good thing. Producing content that helps people is to the benefit of any business or individual.
When it comes to putting that advice into action however, that is where a lot of people and businesses fall short. While I'm sure there are various reasons for this - it usually boils down to one thing.
Nobody ever teaches us what people find valuable.
It’s far too easy to assume that we all inherently know what valuable content looks like. Most of us can probably think of content we've come across that we've found value in. But producing valuable content ourselves is irritatingly tricky.
Case-in-point... as a designer & marketer, I am in a very posh and sexy field. From an outside perspective, it should be easy to make my business look fun and exciting. Despite this however, as someone who creates digital content as a career... even I struggle with producing valuable content. And if it’s a challenge for me… how much more challenging is it for someone who is not a content creator? How do I help the thousands of unsexy businesses out there? The garbage disposal companies of the world? The title insurance agencies? The excavators, and the well diggers? The businesses that are critical to us all, but maybe not that interesting to talk about? The people who are great at what they do, but aren’t sure what to put out in the world where a lot of people would find value in it?
I won't claim to have all the answers - but I can at least start by defining what value is, and the forms that it comes in.
The three types of value
Truly valuable content will generally have at least one of the three following characteristics. It entertains, it educates, or it helps you execute. Sometimes valuable content has more than one of these characteristics. And sometimes, perhaps more rarely, it has all three. If your content is missing all three of these qualities, then you likely have a problem. Your content will likely get overlooked, and to most people will simply be more noise.
So with that premise, let’s take a closer look at each of these three characteristics.
Entertainment is one of the most underappreciated yet versatile forms of value there is. Not a lot of people immediately recognize just how valuable entertainment is. But make no mistake. People are willing to pay crazy amounts of money to be entertained.
Entertainment of course comes in many forms. Movies, videos, books, music, news, photos, games, etc,. The good news is, for a business, the bar is set pretty low for what people find entertaining. One only needs to look through Instagram’s “discover” tab to reveal a huge range of “entertaining” content. Videos of animals doing funny things. Comics & funny memes. Beautiful photographs that inspire you. And as much as I detest it, even the scantily clad women that leave little to the imagination. All are forms of entertainment, and can be used to connect with an audience.
Another form of value is education. In the age of the internet, people are increasingly flocking to self-education. I truly believe that there is almost nothing that you can't learn from the internet. Today, more and more people are landing high-paying jobs, with no formal degree.
As with entertainment, education can come in many forms. It can be a video course, like you see on Lynda.com or Skillshare. It can be in the form of a blog or published articles. It can be a community forum where lots of people contribute their thoughts and expertise to a topic. It can be a podcast, or a YouTube video. It can be an article on Wikipedia, a database of information such as IMDB, or a photo on Instagram.
The internet is an ecosystem that was literally made to distribute information. It was built to faciliate education. Today, there are literally millions of platforms that enable you to educate an audience.
The final form of value is execution. With the execution model, the content that you produce helps people to execute a task. This can be a tool such as a calendar, a planner, or a calculator. It can be a recipe. It can be motivational content that inspires. It can be a platform that helps you tell your story. It can even be a PSA to raise awareness for a cause. Whatever form it takes, this content provides value by making unpleasant tasks easier.
There are millions of accounts on Instagram that exclusively post motivational content. There are thousands of online services that help you plan, track and organize. There are fitness blogs, fashion blogs, and tech blogs. All of these resources help audiences in some way, whether it's taking the guesswork out of meal prep, or planning their wardrobes.
When you can produce content, or build a tool that hits all three of these value categories, you have hit the trifecta of valuable content. Many of the services that we use on a daily basis accomplish this. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc,. Each of these services provide entertainment. They can educate us. And they are also tools that we can use.
Take Instagram for example. Millions of people, every day, spend hours on Instagram just looking at other peoples pictures. In this way, Instagram provides entertainment. In the same vein, many people follow industry leaders on Instagram to stay up to date on the latest trends. In this way, Instagram provides education. And of course, those who post photos & videos to Instagram are using it as a tool, to help tell their story.
As you begin to produce your own content, you are going to want to think of it in terms of these three qualities. Does it entertain? Does it educate? Does it help the audience execute? Or, is it simply an image that does little more than toot your own horn? Almost all of the content that exists today is self-serving. As a result, very few people outside yourself and your family/friends will care about it. The sooner you start creating content that has wider appeal, the sooner you will start to see success with your audience.