Done right, sophisticated content marketing is a beautiful union of customer needs and company ambitions. It should be a win-win!
But in the face of the attention economy, ‘winning’ is tougher than ever.
Many brands are wasting time and money producing second-rate content that will never see the light of day, let alone deliver commercial returns.
True content marketing isn’t a wolf in sheep’s clothing – that is, advertising poorly disguised as content.
It’s bespoke, born from data insights and brought to life by expert content producers with a laser-beam focus on the audience’s wants and needs.
And while content marketing should unashamedly drive commercial outcomes, it should do so by genuinely seeking to inspire, educate, delight, and provide utility to a specific audience.
Done right, it can be incredibly effective at nurturing your audience along the customer journey in a more nuanced way than a standalone advertisement ever can.
And from there, the data you glean makes your marketing far more effective. In short, great content should be the centrepiece of a sophisticated paid, owned and earned strategy.
At its best, content allows you to build a community filled with members who not only engage with your brand but who look forward to each instalment.
The Nike+ community is one of my favourite B2C examples. And from a B2B perspective, you can’t go past General Electric’s award-winning brand blog GE Reports, which attracts hundreds of thousands of readers every month.
Becoming a content powerhouse
GE provides a masterclass in marrying commercial and customer objectives. It often produces content on climate change, energy and renewables, which relate to products it sells, such as wind turbines, gas turbines and storage batteries.
Equally, its focus on video as a medium lends itself to paid distribution – one of the often-missed components of content marketing.
And while its community of 17,000 YouTube subscribers isn’t to be sneezed at, the real gold is its GE Brief newsletter, which exceeded a hundred thousand subscribers several years ago. Oh, and the brand is pretty bloody good at data visualisation, podcasts and live streaming, too.
GE Reports is helmed by chief storyteller Tomas Kellner, a former reporter at Forbes. For years, the brand has invested in editors, journalists, videographers and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers who can deliver incredible content to its audience.
Marrying audience needs and business objectives
As in a marriage, a good relationship is built on a foundation of trust – and that applies to a content relationship, too.
You need to understand your audience on a granular level and use data to analyse their wants, needs and any pain points.
Equally, you need to produce high-quality content that provides value if you want them to ‘choose you’ and, in doing so, willingly provide you with data that will ultimately fuel your broader marketing tactics.
To achieve this, it’s essential to enlist experienced journalists and other expert content producers to transform data and keyword insights into a consumerised content plan across multiple mediums.
Any creative – or other – agency that doesn’t employ journos can be brilliant at creative but will typically be unable to produce the kind of exceptional long form content that forms the backbone of any serious content operation.
Why a journo, you ask? It’s their innate sense of a good story, and ability to write tight and take an audience-first approach that makes them worth their weight in gold. They’re also able to think visually – a skill that’s required to create a compelling story arc across different mediums such a video and infographics.
But writing well isn’t good enough as a standalone. The best content marketing journos have been trained in SEO optimisation and think like a marketer. This enables them to solve the audience’s problems with information, support, call to actions and, ultimately, your product.
They also seamlessly ideate a content plan – based on data – that includes evergreen, innovative and high-risk (and potentially high-reward) content that’s linked to business activity and talks to customers at all stages of their journey.
Ten golden rules of content creation
GE typifies a brand that ‘wins’ at content marketing by not entrusting just anyone with telling its stories.
It invests in the best editors, journalists, videographers and photographers, who operate within a proper publishing process, like a newsroom. And this pays dividends.
While not everyone can write like a journo, and not every brand can become GE, there are some things you can do to up your writing game.
The first rule of write club is to break the rules if there’s a better way of telling the story – pushing boundaries and getting innovative in ways that speak directly to your audience is at the very heart of content marketing.
Following that, these golden rules can help to transform your big ideas into brand-making content:
- Start with data to diagnose audience intent.
- Work with an experienced journo to consumerise data, ideate and write powerful content.
- Have a clear and unique angle that’s customised to your audience.
- Take the time to write a killer headline.
- Make every word count.
- Interview great talent within your organisation and externally to build credibility.
- Do the work for your audience by simplifying complex information.
- Optimise content for search.
- Bring the story to life with powerful photos, infographics, videos, social tiles.
- Have your work proofed by a subeditor (a typo or glaring error can strike at the heart of the article’s credibility) to ensure a polished and professional result.
Your content should power an integrated marketing ecosystem
At a time where anyone and everyone can become a publisher, it isn’t enough to just create fantastic content – it’s what you do with it that counts.
To start seeing serious results, you need to develop and embed a content marketing ecosystem that integrates paid, owned and earned across physical and digital channels.
The great storytelling becomes the glue that holds your brand strategy together – and really makes your message stick.