A small diner in the northeast had a popular dish and an owner who could have easily been elected mayor if he wasn’t obsessed with making people smile with their mouths full.

Over the years, he’d perfected his clam chowder recipe – focusing on finding the best ingredients and carefully preparing each bowl by hand – and the locals thanked him with their dollars and their loyalty. Word spread about the famous clam chowder and people would drive dozens of miles out of their way just to get a bowl on a cold winter day.

New England clam chowder. Source: http://pdpho...

Image via Wikipedia

When it came time for the owner to retire, he had no heir to his culinary throne, so he sold the business to a driven young man who had his sights set on turning the cozy diner and its famous clam chowder into a full-scale franchise. But in order to grow, he had to cut operating costs and maximize revenue.

So he started with the clam chowder. He found cheaper ingredients and made larger batches and thinned out the broth to make it stretch further. And it was a huge success in terms of bottom line profitability. At first.

But as time passed, people stopped ordering the chowder as frequently. In fact, they stopped visiting the diner all together. The place had lost its charm and its identity. As the focus shifted from quantity to quality, the product and user experience suffered.

The lesson from the above story, shamelessly stolen and liberally paraphrased from Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (what? I skimmed it!) applies to our world of content marketing.

We know that content beats advertising, and more and more brands are acting as media companies. But in the content marketing gold rush, it’s tempting to act like the ambitious man who took over the diner instead of its original owner. Skimping on quality and diluting content can seem like it is paying off in the short-term as we confuse noise with signal, but in the long run everyone loses.

Before hitting “publish,” apply a healthy-dose of self skepticism and ask:

  • Does this content solve a problem or answer a question? Is it satisfying a real need or an imagined need?
  • Is this useful or entertaining to my audience? Or is it a copy of a copy of a copy? Are you adding context and commentary the contributes value to the larger conversation?
  • Will this piece of content have staying power beyond real-time? Would people Google this? Would they bookmark or save it?
  • Is this content worth stealing? Would someone want to shamelessly take this content, throw it in a PowerPoint presentation or an email to their boss and pass it off as their own?
  • Is this content worth sharingWould anyone want to post this to Facebook or Twitter? Does it make a statement that makes the potential sharer look smart or funny or provocative or cool?
  • Would you read it? If you’re honest with yourself, and your name wasn’t on the byline, would you still spend more than 30 seconds with it? Would the headline actually earn your click?
  • Is it good enough to send to the CEO in an email? Would you be willing to present it at a conference?

If the answer to any of the above is “no,” you might want to head back to the kitchen and check your ingredients and reexamine your preparation method. People have better taste than marketers sometimes give them credit for.

How do you taste-test your content before you serve it?

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About Andrew Hanelly

Andrew Hanelly

Andrew is SVP, Strategy for McMurry/TMG and for one semester in college, was a sociology major. He writes at Brain on Digital, as @hanelly on Twitter and here on Google+.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://ignitechange.net/ Craig Morton

    Thanks for the post.  I think that fluff well marketed will be visibile in the short run, where well written/thought out writings will be around with very little promotion.  Thanks

    • http://engage.tmgcustommedia.com/author/andrew/ Andrew Hanelly

      Across every industry and on every medium, quality tends to win out. Publishing volumes will vary based on what is popular in a given timeframe, but I agree, the good stuff tends to rise to the top. Thanks for dropping by!

  • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

    Good reminder, Andrew! I’m often focused on pushing out content because I know I have to do it. And every once in a while, I’ll hesitate on hitting publish on a post. I’ll either then go back and start over, or simply leave it in draft. It’s better that way. As you say, no one wants watered-down chowder. We want to serve our customers something we’ll be proud of weeks, months and years down the road.

    Thanks for the post!

    • http://engage.tmgcustommedia.com/author/andrew/ Andrew Hanelly

      I guess some things are better left unsaid, right?

  • http://www.mydiscproject.com/ Peter Scazzer

    Nice direct to the point article.  In my case, before I publish my content, I check first how unique it was and if delivers the message properly to the audience.  I let my employees or higher staff read it first before publishing to correct errors.

    • http://engage.tmgcustommedia.com/author/andrew/ Andrew Hanelly

      Peter, congrats, you’re doing it right! It takes a wise person to open themselves up to criticism internally but it pays off for the external audience. The extra set of eyes and the free reign for those eyes to be brutally honest is essential. After a while, I think you can sort of develop a sixth sense as to what will work, but most of us (myself included) need that extra layer of scrutiny before pressing publish. Great tip.

      Also, your comments reminds me of a comment my journalism professor from way back when used to say to me: “Never make ethics decisions alone.” There’s too much to contemplate, too many angles for any one person to see. It’s good to have a conversation with others about things that matter so that you can expose yourself to more than your own perspective. It ends up allowing you to deliver a better product.

      Thanks for the comment.

  • http://www.socialdon.com/ Facebook Statistics

    Wow, there are some serious gems in this article. All of what you explain here is known to most bloggers in a very general way, but thank you very much for going deeper into them.

    The self skepticism tip is great as well, never thought of that, either. Great insight. I’ll definitely share this.

    • http://engage.tmgcustommedia.com/author/andrew/ Andrew Hanelly

      I figured if I talked about food in the beginning I might be able to lure people in :)

  • Sherice

    Fantastic article! One of the things that has helped me is to create personas for each of my content marketing pieces – to help make sure that I’m not sending out stuff people wouldn’t want to read. I wrote a little how-to series about it here, if it helps!

    http://ielectrify.com/content-marketing

  • http://twitter.com/totalbounty Total Bounty

    It makes perfect sense that all content marketing enthusiasts should focus on quality instead of quantity. Oftentimes we are working really hard just for us to be noticed but we find ourselves being ignored again and again. If people starts seeing value in your business and the things you do (such as your services and products) they’ll start marketing your business at no extra cost to you – using the power of social media and the traditional “word of mouth” will come into play which still the most profitable and effective marketing method today.

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