Content is everywhere, so how do you make sure your messages cut through the fog and stand out from the crowd? How can you get better results from your marketing content? I’m going to share five key areas that will make a difference, but before we get to them let’s look at why good content matters.
It was over 20 years ago when Bill Gates declared ‘content is king’. I wonder how much of what we see today he had envisioned? He was certainly correct, despite the relative infancy of the Internet at the time. He had the vision to see how the Web’s accessibility and reach would present new opportunities to create and share content, and how it would also open up new audiences, serving them more highly targeted, relevant, content in entirely new ways.
It was a massive change in the landscape, moving content creation away from more traditional channels, such as the printed media. However, with all the hype around the ever changing digital landscape, it’s easy to lose sight of the fundamental principles that still sit behind the creation of good marketing content, regardless of the platform on which it is presented.
Why should I worry?
The purpose, relevance and suitability of content remain critical to its success. And today, in a World where almost anyone can become a content creator—and consumers are bombarded with messages at a dizzying rate—it is more important than ever that content is well thought out and developed. If it’s not, the time that was taken to create it is wasted, or even worse it could do irreparable damage.
So, in the following paragraphs, we’ll explore some key points that every content creator should consider. But why bother? Isn’t content and content marketing just one of the latest buzz topics? Well, no, not if you appreciate that content applies to every written piece that a business produces. Content is used everywhere by every business. There are obvious examples such as websites, social media, press releases and email communications. But what about invoices? Are you making the most of yours? They are communicating with your existing customers—why not add an offer as a thank you for their business, or include news about a new service or event?
There are also some areas where content plays a critical role, and to not employ it is going to have a detrimental effect—Search Engine Optimisation for example. There’s a whole blog on just that topic, but in essence, the value of the content on your website is one of the criteria that affects where you appear in search results.
We asked Clive Reddihough, FCIM MCIPR, Chair of Chartered Institute of Marketing Kent Branch and MD of marketing agency FMS, why he thought content was so valuable. “Engaging, useful content earns consumers’ interest, helps brands ‘get found’ and is a powerful tool for generating leads and building profitable relationships with prospects and customers,” he commented. “Good content, focused on adding value to consumers’ lives, will help shape brand preferences and influence future buying behaviour.
Establish the purpose of your content
A good place to start planning a new content project is to gain a firm idea about its purpose. Every piece of content you create must have a purpose. It may be to inform or generate action. But before you put pen to paper (or finger to key) it is vital to understand what your objective is. For example, if you are promoting an event, your approach would be different to an activity that aims to raise general awareness of your brand. For the former, you may have a targeted audience and need to demonstrate the value the event delivers to generate action from them. Whereas, for awareness raising, you may want a much wider reach and therefore look for more general interest content that is more likely to be shared.
A useful approach is to put yourself in the shoes of your typical recipient. Think about them asking the question ‘what’s in it for me’? If your content gives an answer they would appreciate, then great. If not you need to think again.
Clive, recently worked with the Engineering Council on a project to engage engineering professionals and its purpose was to promote professional registration, “ We chose an eBook format which was easy to download, save and share,” he explained.
“It enabled the Council to present complex information in an easy to access format, getting across the benefits of professional registration to a target audience that appreciated detailed information.”
Understand your audience
Once you have established the purpose of your activity, the next step is to define and understand the audience you are trying to influence. In our earlier example of promoting an event, you can’t put yourself in their shoes if you don’t know what benefits will motivate them. Get it wrong and your time, and possibly money, could be wasted.
Clive sees this as a critical step, “Offline and online research into what engages with your target audience is a prerequisite to creating good content.” He went on to add, “Research potential content topics on social media, online forums and blogs to see what gets the most comments, shares and interest. That research can then be used to help shape ideas for content and potentially identify a fresh new perspective on a topic that is of interest to your target audience.”
Chris Price, the business editor at the KM Group, suggests surveying your audience, “A great way to understand your audience is a brief survey. This can be a small A6 piece of paper with three or four good questions which you ask customers to fill out after each sale. Once you have a better insight into your audience demographic, read up as much as you can about what interests them and try to recreate it with content which is relevant to your business and their interests.”
Tailor your content
A good understanding of your audience will not only shape what you communicate but, tied in with your purpose, may well shape where you place your content. This decision may then, in turn, shape what you create, as Clive explains, “Content should always be tailored to the channel. Strong images and shorter, sharper content work best on social media. More detailed written content works well for blogs and news articles, especially if it has a good, engaging headline and offers fresh new perspective on a topic or burning issue.”
Get the tone right
The type of content you share and its tone should be in line with how you want your business to be perceived—and what you believe your clients expect. Think about whether yours is a serious, lighthearted or plain rebellious brand? That’s the brand perception you want to create and your communications play a significant role in its creation.
There’s no right or wrong choice when deciding which perception you choose to portray. Even if your customer base is used to a traditional approach, shaking that up (with care!) can provide an opportunity to differentiate your brand and stand out from the competition. But whichever you choose, ensure that your content matches your preferred approach, and is consistent.
If other staff in the business share content on your behalf, they need to understand your brand position too. If you are trying to convey authority in your chosen field, you don’t necessarily want one of the team posting a picture of the sarcastic poster from the office kitchen!
Finally on brand perception, don’t let sloppiness reflect badly on your business, as Chris added, “Always make sure you proofread everything you put out, from blog posts to tweets. Nothing looks more unprofessional than misspellings, especially names.”
Learn and adapt
And so to my final tip—review everything. You can’t improve the impact of your content if you don’t know what has worked well and what hasn’t. There are a range of analytic tools, which, depending on the situation, can help you understand how well content was received. I’d recommend to anyone creating content that they look into the tools available to them. They vary from one platform or channel to the next, but you can learn, for example, how many people accessed a web page and how long they stayed, how many shared a social media post or indeed how many clicked on the link in your email. And using a technique called A/B testing you can even try two different versions of elements—such as introductions, headlines and subject lines—to see which has a greater impact.
Time spent looking at how content has performed, using tools like Google Analytics, Facebook page insights, Twitter analytics and email client reporting, will pay dividends in the future as you learn how to develop content that engages with your audience.
Clive summed it up perfectly, “Ultimately, relevancy and usefulness are the real keys to standing out with content”. So follow these steps—clarify your purpose, understand your audience, tailor your messages and learn from your results—and your content will get you better results.