I can picture in my mind’s eye the exact moment I met my husband. It was love at first sight, really. While his good looks and towering height certainly made an impression, I was ensnared by his charm, kindness, carefree attitude, and unrelenting inquisitiveness.
Within days of first meeting, I was talking excitedly with him about my first significant job offer as young professional. I ticked off the attributes that were most attractive: central location, salary, interesting projects, and office subscription to the New York Times (the basics for this 20-something). I was ready to sign! To my irritation, he asked questions about specifics of the job and benefits that I couldn’t answer. I wanted my new best friend to be excited and validate my decision. He helped me see that I was excited about tangential, and not essential, elements of the job and that I needed to be more focused. I ended up taking the job, but with a much clearer understanding of the value of my new position.
After nearly 20 years, he continues to challenge me and tell me what I need to hear. While it isn’t always comfortable, I know I’m better person.
Content marketing is all about satisfying your prospects’ need for essential information in the subject area your organization serves – subtly fostering “love-at-first-sight” resonance as well as the long-term relationship.
The biggest challenge is creating compelling and memorable content your audience is willing to invest time and attention in consuming.
In this two-part post, we’ll cover how to develop content to attract your audience and keep them with you for the long haul.
Part 1: Preparing your Content
Romancing Your Prospects
There are many benefits to using content marketing techniques. The most valuable is the reputation your organization gains as a “trusted advisor” when providing vital and in-depth content. You become part of your prospect’s research process for future purchases or partnerships,— even before consumers know they need you or your offerings.
Your organization must work hard to attract and sustain the attention and trust of prospects and returning customers, clients or members. As discussed previously in the Slice-Works blog, content marketing is a very effective method to engage at every stage of the consumer buying cycle. Today, we’ll dive a deeper by talking more about creating essential and valued content.
Regardless of size, focus or sector, your organization can use content marketing techniques to create early and ongoing opportunities to amplify your authority and passion in a subject area. As a result, you will heighten brand awareness in the market and gain access to audience insight by monitoring how your content is received and used.
Courting Your Information-Driven Customer
Your audience wants to do business with the leading authority in the field, with the most reliable and relevant products and services that matches their needs. To earn trust, you have to start with offering information-rich, concise, and free content that can be quickly consumed.
The basic cycle for content development emphasizes audience values in both the pre- and post-publication stages: [Analyze + Gather] + Write + Circulate + [Measure + Adjust]. Each variable lays the groundwork to earn the ultimate prize in becoming your audience’s “best advisor” and, hopefully, their first choice when purchasing decisions are made.
We’ll cover the pre-publication stage in this post and the post-publication stage in the next blog post.
Finding Your “Love-Connection”
The first step in crafting your content is to define audience segments and review their values, preferences, motivations and needs. This will help you find your “love-connection” with your audience, the area where preferences and need for essential information align your organizational goals, offerings and possible future directions.
Kathi Rabil provides excellent advice on knowing your audience and mapping your content to your prospect buying cycle in her content marketing posts. Organize your audience segments into “personas,” demographic and behavioral groupings across your prospect pool. Dick Rabil provides some in-depth tips on crafting personas in his post on the topic. This will get you as close as possible to “walking two moons in their shoes,” as Dick notes, to learn what really matters to them.).
Create persona summaries, noting the “love-connections” you can make with each personality. Document where your personas’ concerns link to solutions you offer and where non-selling content could be shared by your organization. I like to link personas to the organization’s specific offerings. For e.g. Jane, new professional, would benefit most from program A, service B because of X, Y, and Z.
Analyze how your prospects prefer to gather information. Do they research on their own, by connecting with peers, through information provided periodically from an organization in the field? Do they prefer long-form or short-form content, and at what stages of the buying cycle? Consider contacting current customers, clients or members to learn about preferences or invite them to a focus group at your next event (and always thank them for their feedback). Keep in mind that your audience’s preferences may change in later stages of the buying cycle.
Earning Their Love
Your content should be compelling, quickly consumable, memorable, personal, and visually appealing. You need to keep your audience’s attention to make an impression. Your goal is to remain cognizant of consumer needs throughout your content crafting process.
Follow these three tips from Copyblogger on seducing an audience to stay engaged through the end of your content:
- Empathize – with a question, concern opportunity related to topic
- Entice: Promise a benefit for keeping reading – why should they keep reading? What’s in it for them? Show your destination postcard – you’ll be smarter or happier or the issue will be resolved by reading further.
- Encourage/Empower: reassure them that they can reach the solution (encourage and empower)
It probably is fair to say that your prospects approach the decision to purchase whatever your organization offers first by sensing a need for a solution and then by educating themselves about how to resolve it. This is the moment for your content to catch their eye and to amplify your reputation as a trustworthy authority at a moment when first impressions are made and are often steadfast.
Creating Value in the Relationship
One of the biggest challenges of content marketing is writing content that your audience values. You cannot change hearts and minds with a shallow content or advertising cloaked as “content.” Content marketing is not an infomercial and it is also not dead or a dying strategy.
For many of you, your prospects are already highly informed consumers looking for content that resolves real problems, offers new insight, or leads to new opportunities. Content must be substantive, real, relevant and timely. It also should reflect the passion and knowledge of your organization on the topic. This is not something you can “wing” or throw together bits and pieces of existing content under a new label without ensuring true value in the final result. The goal in composing copy is to use a deep understanding of your audience’s behaviors, motivations and information-gathering methods to share content that interests, engages and influences their understanding of your subject matter and wherever they are on the buying cycle.
The good news is you likely have existing content that can be repurposed AND resources in hand to develop new content valued by your prospects. In addition, your efforts to learn about your audience will help narrow your content topic and guide your writing process.
Learning More About Them
The next step is to review existing content published by the organization and competitors to see what your audience might be already using to educate themselves and to make decisions. I look closely at language, formats, and channels use for additional clues about how and where the audience consumes information. Take the time also to reflect on the successes and failures of prior content to learn how you can more effectively reach your core personas. This would be a great time to prepare or update your content audit. Kathi provided some terrific tips on conducting a content audit in her recent post. I like to include a column in my content audit spreadsheets to track content that relates to other content for “see also” sections in my content. This is an excellent time to identify areas of synergy such as content that could serve multiple audiences or could be repurposed or revived with or without updates to reach your audiences.
You may also want to review your business environment within which you and your prospects operate. There may be changes afoot or coming in your environment that should be know when compiling your content.
Selecting a Topic and Defining the Destination
With your organization’s business goals in mind, identify 1-3 topics from your persona analysis to focus your initial content. Your annual organizational or marketing goals will also determine which content should have priority.
As noted, you can find early wins by repurposing existing content as is or with revisions and new components. Additional elements that could be added to existing content to extend value include asking questions and adding supplemental content such as author interviews. Repurposing content can be a valuable starting point for organizations needing more time to establish creation and curation capacity.
Before penning content, I find it helpful to define my desired audience response. This will aid you in picking the right content topic, format and structure. Ask yourself: What 1-3 points do you want your audience to understand or do after they finish reading your content? How can you measure it? Be as specific as possible in your responses. As you craft content, you will be more mindful of the markers you need to plant to measure your goals. This is too easily and often forgotten in the pressure to publish.
Choosing Channels and Formats for your Content
Select content channels where your prospects are already present and formats that match their research preferences. Better to find the crowd than to try to draw them in to a new space!
A few questions you might ask yourself are: Do your prospects prefer to seek peer advice? Are they more likely to consume educational content via video or webinar? Do they read articles or white papers more than email? Do certain personas prefer traditional print media over electronic sources? Would long-form or short-form content support this content and the preferences of the audience? Who has the most engaging “voice” to present this content (e.g. leadership, industry expert, customer, member, etc.)?
Planning for the Long Haul
The next stop in your process is to create an editorial calendar. The editorial calendar, typically a spreadsheet, is your project plan and blueprint to guide your during the entire content creation cycle.
Kathi provides a very helpful review of creating an editorial calendar with tips on key data to include like channels, targeted personas, keywords, buying cycle stage, go-live timelines, and goals. I also track collaborating departments and linkages to other campaigns to track synergies. Define and note how long the content should be available (“shelf-life”) and how it could be repurposed or crafted in to new or different content in the future (“lifecycle”). By placing this effort before content creation, you will be more successful in mapping content to your goals.
Sparking Love at First Sight
You have only a few seconds in any format or channel for your content to catch the reader’s attention. The first part of your content should draw the reader in. Depending upon your format, this “first-view” content could be your headline, subject line, first few lines, summary, and so on. In your opening copy, state the challenge or opportunity in language that directly touches the reader.
A good rule of thumb is to spend 50% of your creative time ensuring that the first part of your content will engage your audience and encourage them to read on. I particularly like this writer’s advice on how to compose “magnetic headlines.” Many of his tips translate to all types of first-view content like subject lines, abstracts, etc. Use what you know about your personas and work your “love-connection” into your first-view. Use A/B testing to try out language and techniques. Your audience will give you the intelligence you need if you watch their behavior and continually modify based on the actions or in actions.
With smartphone and tablet usage overtaking PC usage, be sure to optimize your content for mobile and to the extent possible use responsive design methods and platforms. If your audience has to pinch or zoom just to read your first view content, you may lose them immediately.
Keeping them Interested
Your content should be conversational and continually appeal to the core needs of your audience to keep your reader with you to the end. Craft your content so that each element builds upon the next, like a good story. Refer back to your main point and the readers reward throughout your content to eloquently guide your reader from each point. Use examples, quotes, data and questions compelling to the reader and topic to engage the reader and to validate the content writer’s authenticity. Use simple phrasing, strong writing techniques and proper grammar. Add visuals or call out copy to add interest and reinforce your point. A couple free tools that I use for visuals are Jing, ThingLink, Infogr.am, and Piktochart
If you have kids, pets or a sweet-tooth, you probably know there is a difference between a “want” and a “need.” The former is emotionally driven desire (I want chocolate!) and the latter is a more basic requirement (I need oxygen). When composing your content marketing, you will be more successful by appealing to both “wants” and “needs.” Like a romantic partner or friend, you lean on what motivates and concerns them and share values to move them to action. Your content should relate to an essential concern informed by your deep knowledge of your prospect’s professional “wants” and “needs.”
Your content may challenge assumptions, provide an “ah-ha” moment, or make people annoyed initially. You may open a conversation, or spur an industry dialogue that leads your prospects, and possibly your organization, to a deeper understanding of the field, or inspires better practices, greater opportunities and synergies.
Consider a publishing series in any format when attempting to publish complex content that cannot be written concisely when combined. Better to break it down than pile everything in one content item and risk losing your audience’s attention.
Making Time for the Relationship
Now you are ready to put create your content together! You may be feeling how on earth would will you find time to do sustain this?!?
Start small and simple. Enlist help. If copywriting (or editing) is not your strength or you’re not sure you can find time, find that star on your team who can write content for you. Another alternative is to recruit a volunteer from your member or customer base or hire an outside writer. Start small with one or two content items and partner with another group in your organization.
Take your peers out for coffee to discuss these ideas. I am certain you can come up with a test case. I’d love to hear about the content marketing ideas you come up with. Please post them here or send them to me directly.
In part two of this post, we will cover the second part of the content development cycle, the post-publication state. We will dive into how to deliver your “epic” content to your audience and to measure and adjust your content.