We need to stop calling the visual and verbal messages we create “content.” The term devalues and commoditizes the key role creative plays. It slaps a generic term on what should be a very non-generic product. One copywriter in our office says it’s akin to calling wine “liquid.” It tells you little.

We’re guilty of it, too. When we ask a client who will be supplying content for a website¬ or social media – them or us? – it implies it makes no difference. That it’s simply pictures and words on the page. Stuff that fills the holes.

But it matters a great deal. These hole fillers are what attract customers trying to find an answer, to solve a problem, to buy a product. I’ve always loved the Bill Lear quote, “Strive for simplicity. You never have to fix what you leave out.” This is true for your marketing messages, too.

Add Muscle to Your Meaning
Let’s call it “creative” or at least “branded content.” Creative implies imagination and inspiration. It takes a point of view, sharing new information and freshening old. It gets to the heart of who you are, what you deliver and why you exist. It communicates your essence. Branded content at least suggests you are tailoring your messaging, that you are treating it with care.

Creative doesn’t passively fill space. It educates and motivates. Sells products and raises money. Changes minds and opens hearts. It requires storytelling and a healthy dose of mission-driven brand journalism. It keeps the wants, needs and interests of your audiences front and center. It drives what you develop and share with the world.

It involves publishing with purpose, not simply filling the various communication buckets set before you. Creative must be relevant and helpful. You find it at the opposite end of the marketing spectrum that leads to spam and cold calling. Creative, while subjective, can and should be rigorously tested. Use A/B testing to compare multiple versions. See how adjusting the variables – subject lines, headlines, format, layouts, visuals – affect open rates and engagement.

Watch Your Words
Words should have power. “Content” has been stripped of its potency. So let’s leave it behind.

This column originally appeared in the June 21, 2018, issue of BlueSky News.