The Lincoln Ax: Is Your Content a Commodity?


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Thousands of years have done very little to change the design of the ax. A list of commoditized tools would have the ax right at the top. But, somehow, a small company in New York has managed a rebirth of this simple hand tool. And the difference has had everything to do with the storytelling and lifestyle. You can buy a $40 ax at your local home improvement store or you can pay $350 for the Lincoln from Best Made Co. Both axes will chop firewood, but that's where the similarities end. The Lincoln is backed by stories about quality, made in the U.S.A., and a campfire surrounded by friends sipping whiskey and swapping tales. With a simple approach of honest storytelling, an ax has been transformed. A commodity has become something unique.   

With razor-thin margins, commodities are more about high volume, low price, and market saturation. The business world tends to reward large conglomerates swallowing up smaller competitors and blindly following trends set by market leaders. But for those who brave beyond the edges of boring, there is great reward. So how do you tell if your content is becoming a commodity? Here are three simple tests that will help determine the fate of your content.

The human test-Is there a name or face on your content? Human beings don't scale. Even the most successful personal brands on the planet have the same 24 hours in a day that you do. The danger with corporate content is it's easy to create things that have no soul. Human beings express emotions, make mistakes, build relationships, change their minds, adapt to new environments, and generally do things that don't fit into a perfect, A-Z plan. And great content comes from human beings. Something as simple as the @DeltaAssist Twitter account using initials at the end of its tweets shows that a human is behind each piece of content. If your content has a human signature or face, then congratulations: You passed test number one.

The community test-Do you share your community-created content? It seems dangerous to think about users, customers, and clients creating content for us. In reality, they already are generating massive amounts of info on you and your company. Yelp reviews, LinkedIn endorsements, and reviews on Amazon are a treasure trove of what others think of your business. While all of it may not be positive, sharing the views of your fans is an excellent way to keep your content fresh. Ben & Jerry's ice cream was one of the first corporate accounts to embrace Instagram and its almost half a million followers are more than just viewers. The Ben & Jerry's Instagram account is filled with user-created content. It even had a summer contest and posted the top 20 favorite Instagram photos from the contest on its website. Ben & Jerry and its fans pass test number two with creamy chocolate flying colors.

The party test-Would you share your latest company news item as an icebreaker at a party? The narrative form of great storytelling has been mashed into sanitized press releases with boilerplate paragraphs. If your company does something that is interesting, tell it to the world. If you are cranking out content that most people ignore, you must rethink your strategy. If you share a story at a party and it makes someone laugh, cry, angry, or incites any emotional response, then that is a worthwhile piece of content. When others gather around and repeat the story for you, then you have something that's worth sharing. When Nest created a thermostat that was beautiful, would save money, and could be controlled from an iPhone, the story spread. Thermostats had become a commodity, and yet through design, they had created something dramatically different. I not only bought two Nest thermostats, I also told all my friends about them. Creating something worth talking about will get you through test number three easily.

So is your content a commodity? Ask these three questions next time you are looking over a website, reviewing a marketing piece, or reading your latest email blast draft, and the answer should be clear. Companies that deal in commodities are the first one to get the ax.