INTERVIEW WITH BEN DAVIS (ECONSULTANCY)
In our latest interview, we're firing some questions at Ben Davis, senior writer at Econsultancy.
Econsultancy serves a global community of marketers and ecommerce professionals with a wide range of research, analysis, training, consulting and events.
What does your role as senior writer involve in terms of responsibility and the day-to-day?
Well, I’m definitely not a journalist, but nor am I a ‘content producer’ (though I have had such a fudged job title in the past).
Predominantly, I write articles to draw punters to our website, and to draw attention to Econsultancy products such as research, events, training and consultancy.
My ultimate responsibility is ensuring my articles are useful, and we look at a number of metrics – views, conversions, comments, shares, leads etc. – to try to determine this.
The small size of the blog team means that I have a good deal of autonomy – the most enjoyable part of the job is being able to tackle whatever subject I want (within the realms of marketing, ecommerce, and digital more broadly). This autonomy also extends, to some degree, to the style in which we write, meaning I can contribute opinion pieces and write in the first person if the mood takes me.
My remit includes covering certain industries, talking to practitioners and keeping abreast of our research. I also do some editing when needed, and help to shape the agendas of some of our events, including chipping in with moderating and hosting.
What do you think are the biggest challenges in content creation at the moment?
Stating the obvious, there’s too much of it, and too much of it is without soul.
I’m very conscious that much of our subject area is well-trodden ground, so when I’m doing my research I think a lot about how I can add extra value. Often, this can be as simple as doing a sort of meta-review. Rather than copying other articles out there, I seek to assimilate knowledge from a number of sources (including Econsultancy research) and present a digested or considered read.
It’s difficult to be original when you have to write a set amount of articles per week, but it’s possible if you keep asking yourself “why does the internet need this?”
As far as Econsultancy is concerned, the other immediate challenge is the reader’s onward journey. How do we intelligently offer the reader other resources, and decrease the bounce rate? It’s something we’re addressing at the moment.
Which peers / industry figures do you look to for inspiration re: your job?
Those weekly marketing and advertising columnists with loads of experience and a definite viewpoint e.g. Dave Trott and Mark Ritson. Their columns are entertainment, and that stands out amongst the crap. Not every article can be entertaining, but without style of some sort, reading becomes heavy weather.
I also read a fair bit on Medium, where digital practitioners have found the time to write about their experiences and their methods. Some more open companies do this on their own websites, and that’s one of the more exciting trends in the world of work.
What advice would you give to someone new to a career in content creation / editorial?
- For editorial, don’t be afraid to have a viewpoint, but do your research. It’s easy to act in haste and repent at your leisure.
- What seems like a possibly boring conference call will often spark two or three ideas. Speak to experienced business-leaders when you can.
- If things get a bit stale, go to an event or get a change of scenery. Walking is thinking.
- A lot of your time should be spent reading.
Do you see some of the big corporates get their content very wrong on a frequent basis? What do they tend to get wrong most?
I think any brand needs to understand what purpose content serves and at what point in a particular customer journey. Too many are wedded to the idea of content as either a shortcut to improved search rankings or a shortcut to some sort of mythical, viral social success.
In ecommerce, for example, retailers can no longer stick a blog on a microsite and then link to product pages. There has to be a more integrated approach. Content doesn’t necessarily mean editorial or video either, but rather a consistent and customer-centred approach to information design.
I’m also a bit wary of brands that jump on hyped new media, such as VR. Whilst it’s a quick win for PR and experimentation is to be lauded, the results often underwhelm and betray an absence of ideas.
Do you see any emerging digital trends which you’d expect to see more of during 2017?
More speed on mobile, though I’m not sure if that’ll come through quicker connections, new HMTL frameworks (AMP), progressive web apps, or just better performance optimization.
I’m excited by the idea of a screen attached to cognitive assistants (e.g. Alexa), which may be the catalyst for voice input in the home. I can also see the chatbot format used more intelligently for customer service.
More prosaically, subtitled video is getting increasingly common and if brands aren’t doing this already, they should be.