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Five-Star Books: Content Rules by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • What it takes to have great content that'll connect with customers
  • Five quick tips for improving your content now

Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business 
by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman

If you are a content creator, use Content Rules to break through writer’s block. If you are a content manager, use the book to elevate the quality and impact of the output. Regardless of your level in the organization and your responsibilities, you will use this book to guide your work everyday, so keep it open on your desk, not closed on your credenza. Check your work with the tools and standards provided by the expert authors, and buy a copy for each member of your team.

The Gist

If you are not already convinced, get with it. A fundamental part of marketing today is publishing content that connects with customers and prospects. Whether you market B2C or B2B, you need great content to...

  • Be discovered
  • Educate buyers
  • Overcome objections
  • Become part of the purchase consideration set
  • Build a fan base to help spread your value proposition to additional shoppers

Nearly all customers research options before they buy anything, from a weekly repeat purchase to an once-in-a-lifetime decision. And with new digital media—"earned" or purchased for creation and distribution—it is much cheaper now to be a publisher of content than it was just five years ago.


Of course, becoming great at the craft is not easy. But now you have an instruction manual and map: Content Rules.

The List

Here are five quick takeaways you can use now:

  1. To build audience engagement, answer this question: What are they craving? More specifically, does your audience want to be entertained, informed, or educated? How much time (think snack vs. full dinner) will they spend with your content? Survey your visitors and ask what they are looking for: what they want more of and what they can do without.
  2. Understand yourself, your voice. "Your tone of voice, in other words, is your greatest ally: It's the basis for the relationship you hope to create with your customers, along with your products, service, and culture—all the other things that go into a brand."
  3. Ban 18 business buzzwords. Avoid using "impactful," "leverage," "learnings," "synergy," "revolutionary," "email blast," "proactive," "drill down," "30,000 feet," "incenting/incentivizing," any word that ends in "ize," "solution," "users," any word rooted in technology but applied to humans, mashed-together words, silly phrases, and offensive phrases.
  4. "Share or solve; don't shill." In other words, if you start by selling, customers' antennae will pick it up and those customers will quickly run the other way. Hold your content up to these characteristics of quality: true, relevant, human, passionate, original, and surprising.
  5. Use these principles from journalism to write Twitter posts and Facebook updates. Make every word count; keep it simple; provide context; lead with the good stuff; write killer headlines; graphics expand on the story; people make things interesting; and consider the reader.

The Fist

My only beef with the book is that we don't get instructions about how to harmonize the content from the company and the content from different people in many areas of the company. Though that may be beyond the scope of the book, a set of "rules" to coordinate what can become a source of dissonance is needed.

I wanted to hear from the authors about how to manage content publishing to ensure that the company projects a consistent voice and personality to all external stakeholders—without stifling the individual energy and insights of those with different perspectives and backgrounds. Perhaps a sequel will address that issue.

The Prize

The prize goes to the campfire metaphor. The authors credit Chris Brogan for the insight, but they paint the picture in living color. You build a fire with small, kindling wood; light the fire from multiple sides; and allow it to grow slowly. Add logs and adjust their position every so often.

According to Brogan, "Your awesome site is not awesome. Getting your stories into the hands of the people who need them is awesome." That's the music of making community at the campfire.

As Handley and Chapman warn, "You might have grand visions of slickly designed gorgeousness that bring customers racing to your door, money in hand. But the truth is that without a strategic plan (also known as big-picture thinking), you are doomed to fail (or at the very least, underperform)."

With Content Rules—open on your desk—you will be singing by the campfire as you build warmth among your growing community of buyers.


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Roy Young is coauthor of Marketing Champions: Practical Strategies for Improving Marketing's Power, Influence and Business Impact. For more information about the book, go to www.marketingchamps.com or order at Amazon.

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