Content that works: Two types of content that may not win awards, but that we can’t do without

[#3 in the Content that Works series.]

One of the ways you can measure the importance our culture places on different kinds of content is by observing the awards associated with them. For example, film and video have all sorts of awards that lots of people seem to care about — even people who don’t watch that much film or video. Music has all sorts of awards, and not just Grammys or CMAs. In my hometown, Nashville, almost every day there are short items on local websites about parties celebrating Gold Records or some award I’ve never heard of.

And speaking of awards you’ve probably never heard of, in the corner of the content world where I live, a corner that used to be called custom publishing but now is called content marketing or custom media, I’m grateful there are many awards for content created through the collaborative efforts of my colleagues and clients. They look very impressive hanging on walls or sitting on shelves.

But content that wins awards is not always the content that users of the internet find most important at any given time.

Much of the time, the most valuable content is what I described in a previous post as “research content” that helps shorten the time between a user beginning a search and finding the information they need to make a decision or fill in a knowledge gap.

Such content will never win awards, however, because it falls into two categories that are not understood or appreciated by most “professional content” people.

Those two categories are:

1. Data
2. Directories

Data is not an easily understood form of content for most of us who think content is a form of personal expression, like great writing, photography or film. Granted it’s hard for anyone to understand something that has as the opening line on its article in Wikipedia: “The term data means groups of information that represent the qualitative or quantitative attributes of a variable or set of variables.” Huh?

In the content creation and marketing fields, we can often become obsessed with data we believe reveals an understanding of how people act and react and what shade of green makes them want to purchase a box of cereal.

But that’s not the kind of data I’m talking about.

I’m talking about data that is presented to people as content that can help them make a decision. Here’s a short list of the kind of data I mean:

1. A phone number
2. The best price on an Acme 44.cc gizmo
3. A product specification list detailing the Acme 44.cc gizmo
4. The current temperature in Dallas
5. The definition of the word is

There may be one, but I’m not aware of it, annual awards given out for the best phone number, or the best temperature in Dallas. And while I feel certain there are all kinds of awards for people who collect and organize such content, I doubt ABC would air it on a Sunday night.

But it’s vital content to a big percentage of internet users — all day, every day.

Directories are also among the least glamorous forms of media. But they can be among the most useful to the user and most valuable to the creator (a media company or marketer). Most people think of Google as a search engine. However, a big part of what people — especially people who are working — use Google to do, is to serve as the index of a giant directory.

Even Google recognizes this and calls one doorway into its data “411.” However, I doubt most people go there: they simply key into Google (or Bing) something like “Acme Inc phone number” or “Acme Inc address.”

To be honest, I’m amazed at how most companies (and not just media companies) do not realize that the most valuable — and potentially monetizable — content they could provide is something they consider boring.

In fact, I could list several gigantic business media companies that do nothing more than collect data and organize it into directories. And some of them have figured out how to make lots of money serving that content up on the web.

You could too.

In fact, for most companies, I think it may be less hip, but provide a better return on investment, to be focusing now on a “data and directory media strategy” than a “social media strategy.”