How to make your content work

That traction (or lack thereof)

Let me take a moment and share some simple truths I’ve distilled from a number of years creating content for just about anything – print, radio, television, online, live events… you name it.

The most elusive part is to consistently get it just so, and just right, and to know that that “just right” will translate into success – monetary, traction-tary or some other form of –tary success.

So, in brief, here are three roads to creating just so, and just right.

1)    Know what your client wants. Every one of us is creating for a client of one kind or another. It might be a straight-up paying client – a broadcaster, perhaps, or a publisher – or a far harsher client, namely ourselves. No matter, we create for a client, and the better we know what the client wants, the better we can give them what they want… or rather what they need but don’t yet know that they need.

The pro:s are obvious – since the client is paying in one way or another, it makes sense to pander to their opinions and wishes, to give them influence and a chance to make their mark.

The con:s are as obvious – there is no guarantee that the client will go for the solution they would need, instead focusing on what they want, leading to disappointments all around in the end.

Still, this is for many a viable, and perhaps even only, option. Or you could go for….

2)    Audience research. You want for someone to take part of what you create, right? The more the better, and the more feedback loops and integration you can get from the audience, the better. Well, one crucial way is to actually know how your audience behaves and what they respond to. So you do your research, you talk to people from the target audience, you have online questionnaires, you look at the demographics and their consumption habits, you work with focus groups, you’re an active part of the discussion on forums…

Pro:s are that you get a pretty good grip on what your audience really thinks and how they behave… and hopefully even their reasoning behind what they do.

Con:s are that there is always more context; there’s always stuff you don’t know about that will affect people. And however much more info you get on what your audience would want, the more you act on that info, the more flattened out and uninteresting will your end product risk to  be.

Which leads us to the one method that’s fool-proof (almost, at least :).

3)    Follow your gut feeling. When you’ve been doing what you’ve been doing for a while, you have amassed a vast array of experiences and knowledge and lodged it between your ears. You might have knowledge about what does and doesn’t work when it comes to reaching an audience, engaging them, or about how to handle live camels on a TV shoot, or anything in between. All in all, that which goes by the name “gut feeling” is almost always close to 100% brain and not very much actual gut.

Pro:s include having a good chance of knowing you’re right, but at the same time be able to include a flexibility unparalleled. Since it’s a gut feeling we’re running on, it’s relatively easy to change approach or to rethink and re-imagine parts of the production as needed; just take the creative hat on and mirror against earlier experiences.

Con:s include difficulties to pitch something that looks like a hunch and to get potential buyers to sign up based on that hunch. It’s also a method that points directly to you as the idea’s creator, which can either be beneficial or less so.

So, as a final thought – which of these is the best method?


The absolutely and overwhelmingly best thing to do is to use all three methods and let them influence each other. That which the audience research cannot deliver perhaps the gut feeling can. That which the gut feeling is ambiguous about can be helped by looking at the client’s brief, and so on. All in all, it’s about creating the fullest and best experience possible – drawing on experience to know what works and what doesn’t, drawing on the needs of a client to get the necessary funding (as well as creative input in higher or lesser degree) and drawing on UX and audience research to know the ins and outs of the audience you want to reach.

And as the age when the Creator withdrew to his/her cave or study, to come forth after weeks or months in the dark, blinking against the sunshine and proudly releasing his/her work to the world… as that age is fading,  new ways must be implemented. Here’s to those new ways!


Simon Staffans is a content and format developer and media strategist, employed by MediaCity Finland. He works with multiplatform storytelling, transmedia development procedures and great stories. Contact him at simon.staffans(at) or follow him on @simon.staffans.

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