Three Point Four Media Co-Founder Noah Davis: Your Content Strategy Should Not Be Marketing
These days, every brand needs a content strategy. As 2PM Founder Web Smith predicted in 2019: “A great product needs an organic and impassioned audience. Captive audiences will need products and services tailored to their tastes. The lines of demarcation between media and commerce are fading.”
Even if your brand isn’t building a media empire, a thoughtful content strategy — a newsletter, a blog, customer case studies, or a series of interviews — can reduce your customer acquisition cost, create a compelling narrative, and increase brand loyalty.
So where do you start?
That’s a question Noah Davis, the co-founder of Three Point Four Media, answers every day. Davis spent 10 years as a journalist and writer, publishing in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Esquire, and more. Three Point Four Media has worked with dozens of brands on content strategy, from Google and Ford to Haus and Wealthsimple. Here, Davis shares his playbook for creating content that will actually work. His answers have been lightly edited and condensed.
What are the biggest mistakes you see brands make in their content strategies?
“At early stage startups, successful founders live really deeply in the product. They live within the company they are trying to build. That’s great, but it can also mean they’re too close to it. They can lose track of what’s appealing about the company to a general audience, to the people they want to reach. They can lose the broader story.
At large companies, the biggest issue is being too focused on a direct return, a direct ROI. When you’re thinking about content, it’s a much softer touch. Consumers are smart. Customers are smart. They’re going to realize if your newsletter is too focused on marketing a specific product, or your specific service, or your specific company. There’s so much garbage stuff out there, and people have gotten very good at ignoring things that are bad, and ignoring things that are too salesy. If you try to do that too directly, it just won’t work at all. You won’t get any return at all.
You want to get your product in the content somehow, but it’s much better to do something well and to do something that’s interesting and that people will want to read.”
How do you think about that? What’s a smart way to approach content?
“Think about your business like a planet in a universe. You can pull out and say, ‘Okay, what does this universe that we’re in look like? What are some things that someone who is interested in this universe would be interested in? Let’s write about those things rather than our specific planet.’
You have to think about who your customer is and what they’re interested in and write or produce content around that rather than think about what your product is and force it on your customer.
A good example is Tracksmith. Their editorial is something you would see in a running magazine — it just happens that everyone is wearing Tracksmith. It’s not about Tracksmith, it’s about the culture of running.
Another good example is Chompers from Gimlet and Amazon. It’s a short podcast that aims to help parents to get their kids to brush their teeth twice a day, which is a real problem customers may have. The content is useful. The integration with Alexa is light touch, ‘Alexa, play Chompers,’ but it also develops a behavior that benefits the sponsor. It’s a small step from, ‘Alexa, play Chompers,’ to ‘Alexa, I want to purchase toothpaste.’”
Which media formats are the most beneficial?
“There are so many. The simplest one is a newsletter, which is a great way to get in people’s inboxes. The inbox is still valuable space, even as it gets more crowded. There are podcasts. There are whitepapers, where you can use your company’s learnings as a soft-touch way to connect with new customers.
The really important thing is that none of this stuff is worth doing if you’re not going to do it well. For example, people think podcasts are easy since it’s just two people talking. But if you aren’t producing it and editing it, you’re just never going to get traction.
I think it’s also important to do the type of content that works for you and your business.
A lot of CEOs and founders think they should be doing thought leadership. And if you are a CEO with deep thoughts, who wants to engage with those thoughts, thought leadership can be a great avenue to increase your visibility and your company’s visibility. But a lot of leaders don’t have those deep thoughts and that’s fine. You shouldn’t do thought leadership just because other people in your CEO peer group are doing it.”
How should you align a content strategy with your existing marketing funnel?
“It depends what kind of company you are and what stage you’re at, but typically content is good for awareness. The best stuff is that top of funnel content, the stuff that can go viral and take on a life of its own and reach potential customers that would have otherwise never known about you. They see something they think is interesting, and they find your site through that.
The further down in the funnel you go, the more salesy it has to be, by necessity. That’s where you get into direct ROI, those one-to-one relationships. That’s effective web copy, effective ad copy, things like that.
More generally, I think that quality is always better than quantity. There’s so much stuff out there, and it’s so hard to break through. Volume is almost never going to be the thing that allows you to break through. Quality content is thoughtful and considered. I think you can always tell when someone has put time into it. That’s appealing.”
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