By Joe Chernov published September 22, 2011

Remarkable Content Begins at 81%

We’ve all heard of the 80/20 rule. You know, the one that states 20 percent of causes are responsible for 80 percent of results. For example, 80 percent of support calls are placed by 20 percent of users; 80 percent of speeding tickets are “explained” by the same 20 percent of excuses; or its original application, 80 percent of wealth is controlled by 20 percent of the population. You get the idea.

Whether you are in technology, law enforcement or economics, you aren’t immune to the 80/20 rule. Content marketers are no different.

As I prepared to present to my executive team on the first half of the year’s content marketing performance, something occurred to me.  Despite the fact that we published lots of content over the previous six months, I’d spent the overwhelming majority of my time on a precious few pieces of content. I knew what my CEO was likely to ask: “Was it worth it?”

It was.

Although I may have invested a disproportional amount of time on a limited number of deliverables, the performance of those high-touch materials was even more imbalanced. The Content Grid infographic and our Social Media ProBook were responsible for hundreds of articles, thousands of tweets, dozens (and dozens!) of qualified leads, and a whole bunch of calls from clients asking, “How can we do this stuff too?” The sum of all of our other content didn’t add up to these two pieces.

Was this content special because of the time invested?  Or did we invest so much time because the quality of the idea merited it? It’s the classic chicken or egg scenario. The answer is both.

Content marketing is not egalitarian. Your best concepts deserve the lion’s share of your attention because they are going to provide much more than the lion’s share of value. Certainly it is important to publish regularly; after all, the public’s appetite for it is insatiable. But a reliable stream of pretty good content is going to result, at best, in a reliable stream of pretty good results. It’s safe, sure. You might even be able to operationalize production, making your content engine relatively easy to run. But 80 percent is not remarkable. Remarkable begins at 81 percent.

Think about the first time you played with an iPad. What struck you? For most people, it’s something subtle. Maybe it was the curved edge or perhaps the brushed texture? For me it was the faux stitches in the binding of the digital calendar — a tiny design element  that serves no purpose other than to remind the user that somewhere out there is a designer who loves this product. That’s 81 percent. It’s this passion, often expressed through a nuance, which sparks the spread of products and content alike.

Closer to home, when data visualization firm JESS3 produced their “State of Wikipedia” video, do you think Jimmy Wales would have agreed to narrate if it was an 80 percent production? What about Intel’s inspiring “Museum of Me” interactive experience? Would you have forwarded either one to everyone you know if it wasn’t jaw-droppingly beautiful? No, and not likely.

All of your content needn’t be remarkable. In fact, it probably shouldn’t be. Your output would grind to a halt if you were to go “all in” on everything you produce. But when you have an idea that you just know will inspire or entertain your audience, that’s when it’s time to break through the 80 percent ceiling. That’s when it’s time to throw your time, energy, and passion into the project. Even if the numbers don’t appear to add up at first, don’t worry. They will. In the end, conventional laws — even those as trusted as the 80/20 rule — don’t apply to unconventional content.

Author: Joe Chernov

Joe Chernov is the CMO of InsightSquared, a revenue intelligence company. He has been a VP of marketing during two successful IPOs, Eloqua and HubSpot. The Content Marketing Institute named him “Content Marketer of the Year” and AdWeek named him to their Creative100 list. You can follow Joe on Twitter @jchernov.

Other posts by Joe Chernov

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