SAScon 2014 Content Round Up

This is the final round up after the SAScon conference 2014 looking at our top takeaways from the Content presentations with tips on content success from Danny Ashton and Katy Howell on optimising content performance.

Learn how to Produce (Persona) HUMAN Success Content in 45 Minutes or Less - Danny Ashton 

Danny Ashton is the CEO and co-founder of NeoMam Studios, he currently oversees business development and talks at conferences throughout the year on successful content and digital.

I have to admit this was one of my favourite talks from SAScon, having learnt biology and basic psychology in my college years, I have always been interested in how the structure of our brain and body’s affect us.

One of the aspects of content strategy that particularly fascinates me is how different types of content will strike a positive note with different types of people, but why is this? Surely it can’t be down to someone’s personal likes and dislikes if a piece of content is shared, liked and tweeted on such a large scale.

Fortunately Danny Ashton’s talk sheds light on this matter.

He began the talk by explaining that content has a very basic aim, we produce content in order to make human’s perform an action i.e. sharing or buying, and that the best way for content to work is to not oversaturate with text. He illustrated this well with a block of text describing various rocks falling off a cliff and the danger of this happening, we had 3 seconds to read all the text. Then he showed us an image, gave us 3 seconds again and asked us what it meant. This was the image he showed us.

Warning sign Falling Rocks

Ashton then explained that our brains have evolved to make it easier for us to register and understand visual information faster than text, in fact books weren’t mass printed until the 15th century. We invented text as a luxury whereas we have the ability to process visual information within a tenth of a second, most likely developed due to survival instinct.

But what is clear is that visual content will be favoured over written content, Danny then went on to say that journalists are now approaching NeoMam asking for infographics, “The norm is changing in terms of seeding information”.

Next Danny launched into what needs to be taken into consideration for producing content, explaining that you don’t have to start from the ground up, you need to look at what others have produced and learn what works well and what doesn't. This doesn't just help you create a great piece of content but also allows you to avoid part of the learning curve.

Danny then went straight to the heart of his talk by beginning with how we have to look to science in order to understand the ways we can get our content to work.

He went on to explain the Triune Brain Theory in order to illustrate his point.

The Triune Brain Theory is described as “being the model of evolution of the vertebrate forebrain and behaviour.” It was proposed by the American neuroscientist and physician Paul D. MacLean originally in the 1960s and then compounded in his book “The Triune Brain in Evolution” in 1990.

Fortunately Ashton breaks it down simply for us:

Essentially the brain is comprised of three different systems/complexes.

The first being Reptilian, which relates to our most primal and basic instincts that are linked to our survival such as danger and sex. This is the less complex out of the three but content made with this system in mind will appeal to a wider audience, for instance, I’m sure many of you can recall those videos of “Girl hits other girl with shovel” or anything with ghosts or strippers or celebrity gossip.

The main issue with producing content that appeals to this system is that obviously brand reputation will be at risk, take for instance the Daily Mail, who are often sued.

The second is the Limbic System, this primarily deals with relationships. In content terms this would be anything that appeals to people on an emotional level. Ashton explains that from birth we are hardwired to relate to another person’s emotion. For example, those video’s where someone deaf from birth hears for the first time.

He then gives a handy chart of the Top 10 Emotions:  amusement, interest, surprise, happiness, delight, pleasure, joy, hope, affection and excitement.

Ashton talk emotions

But also explains that negative emotions will also share well such as awe and anxiety.

It is clear that with recent developments making video sharing so effortless we have been inundated with emotional content. Sites such as Buzzfeed and Upworthly specialise particularly in Limbic style content.

Lastly there is the Neo Mammalian Brain, this is the most complex of the three and is believed to be the most recent step within brain development. It confers the ability for language, abstraction, planning and perception. Therefore, it’s more to do with analysing and engagement.

In fact it is after Neo Mammalian that Aston’s company derived its name.

He explained that with this complex type of content you need to precisely fine tune it in order to get it past the journalist, who he describes as the “Gatekeepers”.

With all three of these brain types in mind, it is important to figure out what message or story you wish to deliver to your audience. Once you have identified what emotional nature suits them the most you can then figure out how to adapt your content and company message to suit this so it sticks in the mind of the audience.

Applying this theory to content strategy can be a bit tricky especially as no content has a 100% success rate.

Aston offers a series of tips such as highlighting the importance of titles, he and his team often try out several alternative rewrites to fine tune them. You could also engage the Reptilian Brain in order to get a quick win, this tactic is quite often used by news sites and papers.

It is also important to look at the Limbic concerns of your audience when creating content. Ashton uses one of their projects as an example, they wanted to create an infographic for a web tool and they noticed that their audience have a particular fear/paranoia of lack of privacy and control on the internet. With this information in mind they used buzzsumo to check shares that were related to the subject of privacy in order to find out which publishers to target.

Afterwards they began a content brainstorm and came up with the infographic “How to disappear online”

How to disappear online infographic

How to Disappear Online Infographic 

They decided to utilise the Reptilian concerns they discovered from their audience such as the fear of losing privacy and produced an infographic in order to pass the 3 second scan.

Ashton then mentions that they posted their work on reddit and imgur to check for feedback that would relate to any Neomammilian concerns in order to get it past the gatekeepers at sites they identified to target.

This is a very neat trick because if this gets a lot of social pickup in its own right from reddit, you can supply the “social proof” to whomever you pitch so they consider this content as less of a gamble.

Ashton then reminded us that the end goal of your content is human interaction and to make sure to use success to help build relationships.

Ashton continued with a few interesting points on infographics, for instance static infographics have the issue that the sources are harder to check and  you can’t just copy and paste the URL.

NeoMam discovered the solution of adding a minor interactivity, built in html 5, where sources are clickable links, this helps the Neomamillian aspect as it helps to give the journalists peace of mind.

“However interactivity isn’t a magic bullet,” for making your content better and able to pass the gatekeepers, explains Ashton.

Danny Ashton then finished off his talk with a few more tips:

  1. Identify emotional hooks for the audience and create ideas using research
  2. Fact check, evaluate, and invest in content to get past gatekeepers
  3. Seduce the Reptilian Brain by matching easy to digest content

No doubt Ashton’s talk will stick in my mind when creating new content strategy.


Katy Howell is the CEO of Immediate Future. They take pride in their specialist social digital expertise and work with some of the largest global brands in B2B and B2C industries.

She started her presentation by outlining what is social content BS, such as:

“We want our content to go viral” - Content should focus on the products, creating content should be left to marketing

“It is all about engagement and followers” – Social really targets just youngsters, we’re B2B our customers are not social

“Social is not measurable and can’t deliver ROI” – Content marketing is separate from social media

All of this is social content Bullshit (to which she helpfully added a definition stating “actions viewed as deceiving, misleading or false)

Howell then gave some great stats on why we should care, such as which has had a 24% lift in sales from facebook fans alone and there’s been a 33% increase in sneaker sales through just twitter activity alone by Jimmy Choo.

She then launched herself into the outline for your content strategy plan, the key point being: SPREADSHEETS!

She then went on to say that the first thing you need to do is to define your aim; is it grow sales, acquire customers etc?

Don’t be afraid to drill the data, discover where  your audience is looking? How are they researching your product? What are they doing? Is it sharing, commenting or reviewing?

  • Give your data structure
  • Perform manual sampling to dig out the real insights cannot be automated
  • Analyse the data by topic, type and style of content

Then she explained that it isn't content that matters, it’s the context.

You need to have your content in the sweet spot between what you want to promote and what they want to talk about. Make sure you have the maximum relevance to your audience.

Love your spreadsheets and make them as detailed as you can.

Evaluate how people are buying:

howell talk 1

And make sure to create your content with purpose:

howell talk 2

Customers who interacted with one or more of QVC’s social channels generated more than half a billion dollars in revenue in the 12 months ending June 2013

Evaluate the results by measuring the numbers more than once, never stop measuring!

howell 3

Then translate your data and compare the measures, a perfect way to end the talk.

howell 4

Katy Howells Presentation can be found here 

Final Note

Both these talks gave great insight on content strategy, in the majority of cases you have two sides; one is creation the other is evaluation.

None of the aspects of either should be overlooked in order to achieve the best content and results possible.

Content is a constantly evolving process and because our audiences are always evolving, be it through their thinking or the technology they use, we have to consistently be on the ball to adapt our content.

Feature Image source:

Jun 20 2014

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