• Attention Matters
  • Posts
  • Get the Message: How To Build a Value Proposition for your Content

Get the Message: How To Build a Value Proposition for your Content

Are you building what your audience wants, what you want, or what the algorithm wants?

Photo by joey graham on Unsplash

Welcome to Attention Matters, the newsletter from Storythings which gives you practical insights and tools to grow your audiences’ attention.

In our last newsletter about how to find your next audience, I mentioned value propositions as a key part of the process of finding and growing your audience. But what do we mean when we talk about value propositions? Isn’t that normally just for people who are building products or services, not content?

Well, no. At Storythings, probably the most impactful workshop we do with our clients is the one that focuses on value propositions. This is because most organisations start their content strategies by thinking about the stories they want to tell, rather than thinking about the stories their audiences want to hear. The value proposition workshop is the bit where we start to turn that around.

If you want Storythings to help you develop your value proposition, we’d love to talk.

The Message:

You won’t grow your audience unless you make content they value.

Ok, that sounds obvious, but lets unpack it a bit. There is too much content out there for our available attention, and as we discussed in our newsletter on the Attention Pattern Spectrum, we all schedule our own attention now. We make hundreds of decisions a day about whether or not to give an email, article, podcast, video, photo or game our attention. This means we don’t have short attention spans, we have short consideration spans. As new stories fly past us in our inboxes and screens, we constantly have to make one simple decision - is this worth my time right now?

This is why a strong value proposition is so important. If you don’t understand what your audience wants, and how you can delight them and bring them value, you are far less likely to get past that first hurdle - convincing audiences to give you a bit of their attention.

The problem is, a lot of us aren’t doing this very well. We’re building our content strategies on the stories we want to tell (or what our bosses want us to tell). Or even worse, we’re focusing on the stories that algorithms want instead.

The Quotes:

“It meant that we had a lot of churn, a lot of people coming in for that quickfire content and then leaving again without really accessing the broader spectrum of what we do as a brand.

So we really made a conscious decision to slow things down, not necessarily feed the news cycle. We are a lifestyle magazine brand at the end of the day, not business of fashion or anything like that. So we obviously do touch on fashion news, but we try and think about where we can add to the conversation rather than it being like pure reportage. We’re not just about headlines. It’s like, how are we moving the story on and what else are we bringing to the table?”

- Neha-Tamara Patel, Director of Audience Development, GQ Magazine

Sometimes we find an article at Storythings that warms the cockles of our heart, and this excellent interview with Neha-Tamara Patel, the Director of Audience Development at GQ magazine, is a great example. Press Gazette sets up the headline as ‘What Happened When British GQ Stopped Trying To Feed The Algorithm’, which is a bit click-baity, but we’ll forgive them, as the article actually delivers on the headline. Patel felt that they GQ was spending too much time doing what she called “feeding the algorithm news: lots of short-form news, a lot of quick fashion news, all of which was still within GQ’s world but from an audience perspective wasn’t really serving us long term.”

Changing this wasn’t about just stopping doing what the algorithm wanted, but going back to the core value propositions of GQ - a lifestyle magazine that’s about going deeper than just quick headlines, and bringing unique new stories to their audience. Their new editorial model focused on a pyramid, with valuable evergreen content at the bottom (‘how to wear a suit’), a middle with more newsy content around current cultural trends that might have a 3-6 month lifecycle, and at the top major features content that sets the cultural agenda in a way that only GQ can do.

As a result, GQ has seen a 47% year on year increase in engagement in the last year, with 71 million engaged minutes in total. This is a shift from the quick hit of social and search traffic to audiences that are staying longer, and getting more value from GQ’s stories:

“I think what was happening with the sort of churn approach of lots of quickfire content going out is that you engage a certain group of people for a day or a week, and then you have to almost re-recruit another set of people the following week and... it isn't very efficient because that content takes a lot of time and investment from our journalists to write and whilst it might have driven a spike in traffic for that one week, they have to put the same amount of time and effort into generating another spike the following week. Whereas if some of that time and effort could go into longer form content that generates traffic for us, maybe at a lesser spike, but more consistently over a longer period of time, the net gain is actually greater. And that's definitely the approach we've taken.”

The Insight

The end of that last quote is the key insight - GQ wanted to increase their content value proposition so that audiences would stick around and spend more time with them, not constantly churn around quick fire, low value content. This means weaning yourself (and your bosses) off the cheap high of spiky social traffic, and recognising the long term value of commitment to longer form content.

For a lot of our B2B clients, this is way more valuable, as the rule is that at any one time, only 5% of your customers are in market to buy. Long term salience and engagement is going to drive more sales than highly churning casual audiences.

The Action

There are a couple of ways of thinking about your content value proposition, but the crucial thing to remember is - we’re talking about value from your audience’s perspective, not yours. Remember, this isn’t about what you want to say, but what your audiences want to hear. They should always be written from the audiences perspective, about the benefits or savings you can help them with.

One of the simplest ways we think about content value propositions at Storythings is with three Cs - Create, Curate or Convene. When you are telling stories for an audience or community, you can be valuable in three ways - you can Create new stories that bring new value to your audience; you can Curate existing stories from your network to save your audiences’ time and effort; or you can Convene people to share stories that help your audience grow their knowledge and networks.

If you want to go further, check out the Value Proposition Canvas from Strategyzer, who you might already know from their Business Model Canvas. This is the model we use in workshops with our clients at Storythings. We love it because it asks you to really understand your users’ ‘jobs to be done’, and then their pains/gains - all good value propositions either take pain away, or help people realise gains. This might feel like very commercial or product-orientated language, but it really works well for content strategy as well.

Finally, one of the most detailed models for customer value propositions is the Bain Elements of Value Pyramid. This can be a little too complex for workshops, but we love the way it identifies four categories of value for your audiences: Functional, Emotional, Life-Changing and Social Impact. Most content strategies should aim at delivering either functional or emotional value, so using the different value definitions can be a good prompt in a workshop.

What Do You Think?

We’d love to hear and share stories about how you are developing value propositions for your work. Is this something you’re working on now? Do you have any questions you’d like us to go into in more depth? Or do you disagree?

Like all of you, we’re still exploring how the post social and search world of getting attention is going to work, and we’re using this newsletter to share what we’re finding out. But we’d love to broaden the conversation - if you’ve got any ideas or insights you’d like to share with your thousands of fellow readers, please let us know by hitting reply and we’ll feature you in the next newsletter.

Reading list

We’re big fans of our friend Steve Bryant’s Delightful newsletter, and if you give him some money, he will share his own worksheets for value proposition workshops. Steve uses the same Value Proposition Canvas template as we do at Storythings, but he has designed really beautiful Canva boards as well!

Our go-to book for practical audience research tips is the brilliant Just Enough Research by Erika Hall. As the title suggests, it demystifies the whole subject, and argues persuasively that you can always do effective audience research, even if you don’t have huge amounts of time and money. Just Enough Research is always enough!

If you found this valuable, we’d love to hear from you! Please reply to this email to get in touch, or share the article on Linkedin tagging Storythings.

See you next time!