YouTube’s ‘hero, hub, hygiene’ content strategy should not be confined to video

Of the many digital marketing buzz phrases I encountered in 2014, YouTube’s “hero, hub, hygiene” intrigued me most. As an editor and content strategist, I’m naturally drawn to any model that puts content at the centre of things, but “the three Hs” seemed to propose a new approach to brand storytelling that went beyond traditional campaign-based marketing.

It recognised that audiences tend not to live their lives according to a campaign schedule, and that they’re likely to keep coming back and re-engaging if you provide regular content that ticks the right boxes.

On first impressions, the strategy seemed fresh for the digital age, but the inevitable sense of deja vu soon began to nag. In a previous life I had been magazine editor – a profession that has used hero, hub and hygiene for as long as it has existed.

Naturally, as soon as I spotted the similarities, I started seeing the strategy everywhere, and I realised that the principles could be made to work across, and even bring together, multiple marketing channels.

Here’s how the three Hs works. In the video version, the hero piece pulls in casual browsers. YouTube gives the example of Jean Claude Van Damme performing the splits between a pair of Volvo juggernauts to the delight of nearly 80 million viewers. It’s unlikely that every one of those people was in the market for a Volvo truck, but some must’ve been.

Subsequently, those viewers filter down to the hub content: Brian’s Truck Report – a weekly series of budget videos aimed at the real tuck enthusiasts. These viewers – still in their tens of thousands – interact with the brand via the comments section (the hygiene content), which subsequently influences the next round of creative thinking. It’s cyclical, and it doesn’t work without a clearly defined content calendar beneath it.

An almost identical process took place back in my magazine days. Our hero piece was our front cover feature, designed to attract newcomers as well as loyal readers. Our hub content took the form of regular sections that the faithful expected each week, and our hygiene content took the form of letters to the editor. Again, none of this happened without a content calendar to guide the way.

So we’re dealing with tried-and-tested publishing methods. What does this have to do with brands? Well, brands have long been told that they need to act as publishers, and I’ve seen first-hand how that concept can seem daunting. One minute you’re a marketer working on quarterly campaigns, and the next you have to be creating content to be “always on”.

That’s not an easy transition to make, so you look to your agencies to do it for you. But it can be difficult getting them all to work in sync, and things quickly start feeling a bit disconnected. So what do you do? It seems to me that a content calendar built on the principles of the three Hs is a great way to get people out of those dreaded silos and working together.

Imagine your PR agency is working on a big campaign. Rather than let them get on with it alone, you might get your content marketing team thinking about how they can eek out the subject over a number of weeks, posting regular, related content to your blog that keeps people coming back and re-engaging.

Better still, get the two teams together around a single calendar from day one, penciling in the big campaigns – the hero pieces – that they envisage over the coming year and working out how they can create regular hub content that links each one. The audience stays engaged, and the once-disparate departments find a way to compliment each other’s skill sets, sharing a sense of responsibility and ownership for the work as a whole.

And what about hygiene? Shouldn’t the social department be in the mix from the off? Absolutely, and I think the data they can provide, alongside their knowledge of the audience, should be at the heart of any ideation session.

There was a time when social was seen almost exclusively as a way to get the message out, but these days it’s as much about getting the message in. You want to know the kind of content that your audience would like to receive? Do a spot of social listening. It’s likely that they’re telling you already. Having that layer in your calendar is the first step towards making your content truly audience-centric.

The hero, hub and hygiene strategy may spark in me a sense of nostalgia, but it’s this tendency to get different teams supporting one another that impresses me most. It puts the content calendar at the centre of everything and it gives everyone involved a clear sight of where they’re heading. In many ways, it’s the silo killer we’ve all been waiting for.

Jon Wilks is a freelance content consultant and strategist who blogs regularly on content marketing at Find him on Twitter @JonnieWilks

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