The Problem With Being Interesting

By Tim Brunelle  |  July 11, 2013

girl blowing bubbles

In the online world, storytellers are constantly faced with the challenge of separating their content from the direct marketing model. Below, innovator Tim Brunelle tells MSPC readers to stay interesting when creating digital content in order to make an impact.

It’s often too difficult to measure.

Because the prevailing model for efficacy on the Internet is the direct marketing model.

The direct marketing model doesn’t want audiences to stick around, to bathe in an experience, to hang. The direct marketing model doesn’t want to have a conversation, it wants a transaction. It wants you to click, to “like,” to move on. To buy now.

The direct approach is fantastic for selling, and so very impatient with branding. Marketing on the Internet of today is tough for content that isn’t immediately (and often only) about relevant keywords linked to a call-to-action. It’s a difficult environment for branding.

“Almost everything online is direct,” said Rick Webb, VC and former revenue consultant for Tumblr, at MIMA’s “Future of Blogging” event (skip to 28:40 for more). Today, “over half of digital is spent on search,” he continued. “The concept of brand lift as a pricing model is non-existent.

This makes sense, when you consider how advertising arrived and what has flourished since on the Net. Search is binary. It’s yes or no. Sold or not.

Digital advertising is still one-dimensional—inasmuch as it is easier to code and measure and report and optimize binary actions than write and sell an algorithm measuring if or how content makes people feel a little more or less disposed towards a brand. Feelings about a brand aren’t binary. There are too many variables. It’s too subjective. So, after almost 20 years of a commercial Internet, we’re still pretty much only reporting results of content based on how direct it is.

But we should continue to produce interesting content and functionality.

Because audiences, “[have] got unlimited time for that which interests us,” notes author Bob Lefsetz. Or as the legendary San Francisco ad man Howard Gossage once put it, “People read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad.

Consider the most effective sales people. Do they treat prospects the way direct marketing on the Internet treats prospects? Of course not. Apple’s retail strategy is entirely about being interesting.

Being interesting presumes:

  1. Your audience must be interesting, too—imagine what kind of relationship can evolve from that premise
  2. Your audience might have something on their mind other than taking action right now—how else can you engage them?

So the problem isn’t being interesting—it’s the absence of widespread methodologies for attributing results of this approach. But we’ll get there, because the platforms and media companies recognize how few brand dollars are being invested online. The upside is huge—if a simple, prevailing metric gains traction.

In the meantime, consider the ways in which brands can be interesting online, and how this can retain or increase awareness:

  • Enhance skills: Nike built a training academy online and in the real world to reveal outlier talent—people the traditional system overlooked. Content here helps semi-pro athletes just do it, and get signed for a professional career.
  • Elevate ordinary communication: Heineken enabled young couples to serenade one another via a global, “legendary dates” social platform.
  • Incorporate the audience: Intel and Toshiba created a film narrative which allowed anyone to be the lead actor in ongoing episodes.

Soon enough, we’ll measure content by its ability to interest just as well as we currently measure its ability to trigger a click.

Read next: Content Marketing vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference, Again?

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