…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Content

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What’s your endgame?

You won’t be surprised to know that so few brands actually have an answer to that one, specific, question. Without an answer to that question, you wind up getting the type of branded content that we’re all being inundated with, day in and day out. It seems like a never-ending slew of silly questions, random polls and worse. Brands are, sadly, playing it safe when it comes to content and, while it is authentic, it lacks any form of life. So, with that, it comes off as a subtle version of advertorial content. Nothing more.

Don’t offend anyone.

That’s the main issue that brands will face when it comes to publishing content. They embrace apathy. Long ago (back in my music journalism days), I remember Gene Simmons from KISS saying something like: "people either love KISS or hate us with all of their guts, and that’s the way we like it." His point was that apathy is plain. It’s vanilla. There is no spark. Apathy is death. When was the last time you read a piece of content and it moved you? Moved you to share it? Talk about it? Blog about it? Send it to someone? It probably happens on a daily basis. I see people sharing and commenting on all sorts of compelling content in places like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and on their own blogs, etc… I also know that there are many people who read my blog postings just to laugh at it, be snarky or think that’s it dumb. None of that bothers me, because I too (like Gene Simmons) don’t embrace apathy. The majority of my content is opinion. My opinion. I have the humility to recognize that my opinion will not be shared by one and all. Brands don’t want to offend. Brands want their content to resonate with everyone.

The goal of appeasing everyone is a testament to how quickly it will fail.

Quick: name a song or movie that everyone loves. For every classic you can rattle off, there is an audience (potentially of equal size) that simply thinks that its overrated. The classic line that if you want to please everyone, you wind up pleasing no one is somewhat true in this day and age of content marketing as well. Brands need to embrace the edges. They need to go out and work with people who can create genuine content for them that will resonate with an audience. Not the entire global population, but their, specific, audience. Wanting to speak to teens or moms or divorced dads is not enough. Those segments are now too massive to breakthrough. You need to find those edges (again). We live in a day and age when the content that is created is now all indexable, shareable and findable forever. It’s all stored in digital bits and bytes forever for the world to see. Content doesn’t just find an audience anymore… now – more than ever – consumers are seeking out content that is relevant to them.

Work from the end.

Go and review all of the content that you’re creating and sharing as a brand. Spread it out on the virtual table and take a cold, hard look at it. What do you see? Do you see a legacy or do you simply see a random splattering or varied pieces of content that are being used as a pawn in a game to collect likes, followers and friends? Is this too harsh? It may be, but in a day and age when any brand can publish in short and long form in text, images, audio and video, why is it so challenging to come up with a myriad of examples where brands are creating content that is as compelling as the stuff that Wired, Fast Company and The New York Times puts out (let’s not forget about the thousands of excellent independent blogs and podcasts).

Think legacy.

The best publishers think about their legacy. They respect their brand name and masthead. They want to ensure that whatever they publish will stand up to the test of time. They hope to honor those that were publishing before them and hope to increase readership and engagement with each and every piece of content that they publish going forward. Do we really think that brands are putting that type of thought and dedication into the content they’re publishing? I’m not so sure. The beautiful thing is that it’s still early days. A brand can still look at that virtual table filled with their content to date and stop the insanity. They can make some harsh and decisive plans to get serious about what they’re publishing. They can stop and realize that there really is no reason why they can’t provide something unique, a different opinion and another perspective. If all they’re trying to do is sanitize the media or turn a press release into a story, they’re missing one of the biggest opportunities that they may ever have: to actually create something that people will seek out and share which, in turn, should make them that much more loyal to their brand.

Content is not about marketing. Content is about the brand legacy that you will leave.


  1. I am constantly worried about offending people. So it was tough to write about Chick-fil-A. And probably why my post got lots of traffic, but few comments.
    Taking a stand and writing with passion is difficult, but the blogs that get the most engagement do just that. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. I’m a firm believer that, if you’re not offending anyone, you’re not making a difference. The true earth shakers and world changers often have more foes than friends. But you have to ask yourself what’s more important; going along with the crowd and viewing things the way the majority views them in order to be popular and adored by the majority, or choosing to live from the integrity within your heart and boldly communicating what you are confident is true, despite any flack you may receive from critics and cynics?

  3. Thanks for this post Mitch. I write a weekly blog for my company. I am really struggling to know if I am adding value or not. After reading this post I will go back and look at my content and try to put my finger on the “different perspective” that you have described, and which so far I have circled around, not sure what it is, or perhaps worried to approach in case it’s offensive to someone. After reading your post, I feel hopeful that I can indeed do better.

  4. Great post. Often the most engaging pieces of content are the ones that draw emotional responses from us. Regardless of what the emotion is, if the reader is able to connect with your content on that level, your doing your job right.

  5. Mitch…there is no doubt brands are playing it safe and thinking like commercial brands vs. editorial brands. The missing element for me is that rarely does the brand present a strong point of view or opinion….something that I would expect to extend form the brands positioning.
    This speaks to the need for perhaps a different kind of brand research that would give brand managers the courage to establish a clear appoint of view with which they can aggregate, curate and create compelling content.

  6. I was going to say great music reference but then also realized, after reading the post, the inherent allegorical meaning. Salient commentary and advice all around.

  7. I think this gets to the heart of something… it’s like thinking about the long tail of content.. And you think about the usual business of culture creation.. Like movies.. it’s how well is it gong to do opening week versus over the lifetime of the product.. and if you’re thinking gets weighted more towards the life time perspective.. stuff that’s just fashion becomes less appealing…
    Also I’ve always thought that Social / Digital.. is about getting away from the problems of mass market content.. that has to try and appeal to this wide group.. and so becomes less appealing to me.. I mean to me this is the whole promise of social / digital is the possibilities of a new kind of culture…
    One of the things I’ve been looking at is blog design.. I think it’s so focused on your latest post.. and its also saying “look, older posts have less value” but.. I don’t think that’s always the case.. so maybe a blog should work more like a library.. or.. maybe the thing to do would be to think about different ways that you could remix your content streams to tell different stories.. where your site was a way to explore these different things…
    Life streaming doesn’t seem that interesting but if it were curated maybe it would be.. how could one design a system for that? (I think that’s a cheaper way to create crap loads of content, and use the curate system as a quality control? ) and then what might the story telling potential be of something like that? I don’t know.. throwing out ideas here I guess…
    I think when you take the long view.. instead of thinking that the content we are creating is just this disposable of the moment thing.. then I think it can make sense to have some part of your content mix.. have more resources put into it then might normally seem appropriate..
    Obviously too much of social / digital marketing, probably all marketing.. and not just marketing.. is a lot of me to… and just kinda off the shelf thinking.. not really trying to be to innovative.. lets make it good enough and make sure it works… and that’s the end of it, kinda thing..
    As a pose to thinking “hey guys, were are in this new world where all this un plotted territory where we could do the most amazing things”

  8. Oh, I was going to say.. Carl Jung used to have this thing where he would make his patients draw mandala’s.. which was a way of organizing all the disparate interests and wills and whatever of your life.. into this circle.. the circle generally representing the soul.. well I keep thinking that’s the thing to do with your content mix.. like that’s how you should manage it…

  9. Mitch- great post! What I also love about this is the ode to “…And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead” (am I correct here?) who are one of my favorite bands. The funny thing is this band epitomizes everything you mention to the enth degree. They received a 10.0 from Pitchfork for their classic “Source Tags and Codes” and when asked if he thought they would give their next album a high score, Conrad Keely basically bashed them. He wanted to make a point that despite the high praise from them previously, he wasn’t making music for them and didn’t care what they thought. Anyway, maybe you knew this already, but for me this made your title work beautifully! Thanks for all you do.

  10. I’ve called brands out a couple of times, I think, but only when what they were doing is egregious. Or if I thought I had a helpful and valid point of view. I wasn’t calling out Chick-fil-A, but analyzing why their fans are so loyal.
    I read Six Pixels not just because you have an opinion, but because it’s well informed by experience.
    Opinions without that kind of authority can be mildly amusing, but not all that useful. That’s one thing I want to avoid. I haven’t completely found my groove yet, but I appreciate the good model you provide.

  11. This is a superb post that is making me examine my own content legacy and the balance of courtesy versus controversy. I’m wondering if my brand is too safe? What do you think?

  12. This post to me was one that hit me like no other. I heard a fairly good hint of this idea in your most recent SPOS and this reinforced it. Looking at my own blog (sparse is an understatement) and the blog for my company, it this notion of legacy makes me reconsider much of what I’ve been doing on both. Shifting to the idea of building something over time that reflects the ideals, and traits of ourselves and our brands that brings value to others but not everyone, we’ll do something great rather than something good enough.

  13. This piece was inspiring. It exposed an ache I’ve been ignoring.
    I miss being able to write personality into companies and brands.
    Boring is bullsh*t and the mediocrity is offending me.
    Thank you for writing this now. I needed to read it.

  14. “Go and review all of the content that you’re creating and sharing as a brand. Spread it out on the virtual table and take a cold, hard look at it. What do you see? Do you see a legacy or do you simply see a random splattering or varied pieces of content that are being used as a pawn in a game to collect likes, followers and friends?”
    Awesome passage, speaks volumes to the lazy, low-level info-dribble approach to alleged content.

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