I suck at poker. Penny ante. Big stakes. Doesn’t matter. But if I get an ace in the hole, all bets are off. I can’t lie, so you’ll immediately know whether I have a good hand or not. The ace makes every hand better.

Content is king. Right? We’ve heard it a million times. In fact a Google search results in over 623,000 entries. Ever since Bill Gates uttered those words nearly two decades ago, brand marketers have been repeating the mantra. Content is king. Content is king. Content is king.

And then Buzzfeed’s Jonathan Perleman declared, “If Content is King, then Distribution is Queen and she wears the pants.” What happens if great content gets dropped in a forest and no one can find it? Without distribution, how will people see your content? And that’s a really valid and important point.  You can’t post and pray.

Over the years, the hype around this “If content is king, then (blank) is queen” theme practically created a cottage industry for experts and thought leaders at SXSW and Social Media Week panels. They may have been using the kingdom as a metaphor, yet when they spoke I always visualized the faces of Kings and Queens from a poker deck…and for good reason.

All of those mantras are wrong. The Kings. The Queens. The cards that Gates, Perleman and the rest hold high are meaningless. Picture that poker hand. The faces on the cards. What card trumps them all? The Ace. And our Ace as branded content creators is the audience. But no one ever mentions the audience in any of these panels. Yet, the audience is our ace in the hole.

Without considering who our audience is, how can we create “great” content?  How can we distribute to them? Looking to appear in one of those endless Facebook feeds? Don’t swim upstream of the user experience. Go we with the flow, with what the audience expects to see. Wanna create a How-To Video for a hair care product? Study what the most watched YouTubers are doing. Have a hankering to create a really funny scripted sketch video? Better think of what your audience finds humorous and wants, rather than crowbarring brand messages in for them to digest because it meets the brand’s agenda.

We must think: Audience First. Brand Second.

It’s time we redefine “branded content” as “content branded.” Putting content first in the definition puts the audience first. So many brands want to make sure that their brand message is heard loud and clear, yet they don’t trust their own gut as an audience member themselves to turn it down. They’re thinking what the brand wants and not what the audience wants. As one of my screenwriting professors cautioned: “Want to send a message? Use Western Union, not your script.”

When the cards of a creative brief are dealt, given a weak or a strong hand, we must remember our Ace in the Hole trumps all else.