The Power of the Unexpected In Content Marketing

There’s a lot to be said for the ‘expected’; there’s nothing I love more than getting home, making a brew and watching ‘Pointless’, for example. In a world where stock markets can crash in an afternoon and the Pope can resign from his job within a drop of his elaborate hat, the expected is comforting.

This is non-truer than with content, for both writers and readers. When a company has an established profile and brand, customers will have certain expectations of that brand and what they do; if you decided to read McDonald’s blog, for example (and why not?), you’d probably expect to read lots of nicey-nicey blog posts about how they love farmers, give loads of money to charity and don’t make money off obesity.

But what if one day McDonald’s decided that they were going to publish a blog post heralding acid jazz as the finest genre of music to ever be created? Or posted a picture of a dog with Sting’s face photoshopped onto it?

The chances are you’d think they’d gone totally insane, but how many people would you tell? Imagine the buzz on Twitter as McDonald’s break expectations and goes full-on gonzo (weirdly, as if to illustrate my point, a very similar scenario has just happened to Burger King).

Channelling the unexpected is possibly one of the pertinent methods a content marketer can employ – if done right. The examples above probably aren’t the best to be honest – they’re hardly going to shift hamburgers – but for smaller brands with no real expectations beyond the product they sell and established ideas based off competitors, creating content that confounds expectations can increase social media engagement, drive traffic and – Search Engine Optimisation fans – gain those all important links.

An Example of The Unexpected In Action

A couple of weeks ago, Arena Flowers decided to publish a ‘behind the curtain’ look at their Twitter strategy, which you can read here. If you aren’t aware of Arena Flowers, they’re an online flower company who one day decided to ditch their old standard ‘social media marketing’ tweets in favour of publishing surreal jokes and non-flower-related content (although at the time of writing they appear to have had some Valentine’s-related delivery issues, so their feed is mainly customer service fire-fighting at the moment…).

Better times…

The company faced all the usual problems that come with drawing up a content marketing plan if you are in an industry – such as selling flowers – where newsworthy events are sparse and competitors have covered many of the topic areas you could branch out into (such as ‘how to design a bouquet’, etc), meaning that your content struggles to get heard above the myriad of similarly themed content.

Will Wynne, of Arena, summed up their old flower-themed strategy, as such:

“Unsurprisingly, people are not that interested in tweets about flowers…I don’t blame them…it’s just not that interesting, not much changes so there’s no new news to tweet so people don’t engage. We were basically being followed by bots and the odd person. This was not a value added activity for us, an organisation with limited resources. I would go so far as to say the value of our twitter account in its previous form was absolutely nil. Options: either change the approach, carry on wasting time writing stuff that no-one reads or stop tweeting?”

By making the change to the surreal tweeting style they are now renowned for, Arena Flowers now boast over 15,000 followers and their tweets are regularly retweeted en-masse – which is how I discovered the brand. If I ever decide to buy flowers (as my girlfriend of four years would undoubtedly enjoy me doing at some point), then I know where I’m going. Not bad, eh?

How To Use The Unexpected To Your Advantage

It’s fair to say that the kind of content strategy employed by Arena Flowers isn’t going to be for everyone, which is actually what makes it stand out. In the post, Arena also mentioned negative backlash to their strategy from people who just didn’t get the change.

Creating unexpected content doesn’t necessarily have to be part of an all-out unrelated content strategy, however. For one of our clients, we produce blog posts under the guise of a character that are largely unrelated to what the company actually do. These posts have increased engagement with the brand, as well as driving a lot of traffic. To complement these posts, we also produce posts directly related to the company’s products.

The unexpected doesn’t even have to be that crazy. If you specialise in highly technical blog posts about industrial equipment, for example, the odd post giving a personal opinion on an industry topic can inject a bit of personality into your content and add a bit of a human touch to your brand.

An unexpected angle to a certain topic can also be a good approach. As lambasted as they are, ‘what X can teach us about Y’-type posts can be interesting, funny and present information in a way that people haven’t seen before.

An example of this would be a post I wrote for State of Search called ‘What The Smiths Can Teach Us About SEO’; while the information included in the post wasn’t exactly ground-breaking, it was packaged in an entertaining and ‘new’ way. The reaction to the post was largely positive and it got plenty of social media shares and links. Even the negative reaction wasn’t too bad!

The element of surprise is extremely powerful – just look at the Twitter reaction to the Pope resigning suddenly. People naturally share something that has surprised them, making content with an element of the unexpected about it a powerful tool for content marketing. Natural sharing, lots of backlinks, plenty of engagement – perhaps it’s time we all embraced the unexpected. Although not all at once. Because then it wouldn’t be unexpected, would it?

Chris Smith
  • Written by on 19th February 2013 at 10:30
  • “Chris Smith is a copywriter and social media manager at Fluid Creativity.”
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