If you cleaned out your inbox at the start of the year by hitting the ‘unsubscribe’ button on almost every email that came in, you aren’t alone. As a consumer of content you probably feel relieved, as a marketer, you should be worried.

Nobody’s surprised that ad blockers are on the rise – some would say it’s just ‘marketers’ getting their just desserts for trying to force commercial messages down our throats. Even more ominous is that companies like UK telecommunications and Internet services provider Three are implementing network-wide ad-blocking into its networks in the UK and Italy.

It may seem that the dominance of interruptive advertising is coming to an end, but not in the habit of learning from past mistakes. Some marketers are repackaging advertising messages, with a thin veneer of ‘adding value’, and calling it content marketing. This kind of ‘corruption of content marketing’ is one reason ‘permission’ based tactics are under threat and why people are hitting the unsubscribe button.

A recent survey by performance marketing company Fluent found that 34.8% of people unsubscribe because they receive emails too often while 20.8% said they unsubscribe because the content is irrelevant or not useful.

This doesn’t mean to say that there isn’t any information in the content that’s being delivered, just that it’s irrelevant or not helpful. Much of that is down to lazy content creation and one culprit in particular – list articles.

Content creators think people like them because they can skim through them. Where’s the engagement in that? They take very little thought and can, and usually are, compiled after a quick flick through Google.

Most list articles require no research, no credible opinion, not much thought, the points are old, subjective and irrelevant. Oh, and I’ve never come away from one feeling like I’ve learned something new. That, in a nutshell, is how list articles are screwing up the content marketing space. No wonder we’re reaching for the ‘delete’ and ‘unsubscribe’ buttons.

That, of course, doesn’t apply to all lists, and some might have something worth saying. But surely anything of value worth creating deserves a bit of time and attention rather than simply listing it? If you want the audience to invest some of their time and attention in your piece, you owe it to them to put some effort into the content.

The Director of Strategy and Business Development Asia Pacific at Mashable, Gwendolyn Regina, told Ad:tech New Zealand in November that the overwhelming competition for attention has made it into currency.

“Where you choose to spend your time is precious,” she said, not withstanding the fact that Mashable is guilty of a few list articles.

Regina said that 80% of millennials sleep next to their phones (I’d venture that so do most Gen Xs and Baby Boomers), and one of the tactics that have led to Mashable’s success is to deliver news to people on the platforms where they live. Bearing in mind that people move across multiple devices at different times in different spaces.

But before we get hung up on the mechanisms of delivery, or on what platforms we will find them – such as ‘everything is mobile’ – we have to make sure that our messages are relevant.

One way to create relevant content is to apply the PESTLE model:

  • POLITICAL: What is happening on the political front that may impact your audience? And how can they deal with it? What should they expect?
  • ECONOMIC: Consider the economic environment. Are interest rates on the rise? What does this mean for your audience? What should they do?
  • SOCIAL: Consider social trends, like political correctness. Is this an opportunity to be opinionated, take a stand or champion a cause that your audience can align with?
    TECHNOLOGY: What technology developments and trends will offer opportunities or threats to your market?
  • LEGAL: Regulatory changes always make for good content, including examples about how those regulation changes impacted other people or what they did to cope.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL: Sustainability, recycling, organic, traceability, global warming… any one of these developments will have an impact with your audience and your brand. Talk to them about it.

Relevant content takes time, but it drives engagement and stays the ‘unsubscribe’ button.

Put some thought into it; use your expertise or do what journalists do and interview some experts. Influencers are always happy to share their opinion, and leave the selling to when you have your audience’s interest, liking, and trust.

Colin Kennedy is a content marketing expert specialising in online reputation management.

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