I have a cube on my desk that reads "the purpose of life is a life of purpose," which to me translates as "we should be doing everything toward a greater good."
I have always been a fan of Steven Covey and his phrase "begin with the end in mind." It has always had an impact on me; to me it is code for "do the research to determine what you want, envision what that looks like, and then act the part." In the entertainment world, the phrase used is "act as if..."—as if you have already met your goal.
If your goal is to be a well-respected marketer, act with the traits of a well-respected marketer. But don't just act—live, breathe, and commit to what you want.
How does all that apply to content creation?
We are in the age of information overload, with a plethora of blogs for every topic imaginable. We just do not have the time to read everything. Because our time is at a premium, we need to prioritize what brings us the greatest enjoyment with the least effort. And we always need to be maximizing value: We read content to learn, after all, at least in business.
I have a test I use—I call it the five-second test—to measure whether a blog post, print article, or other content is worth my time. If within five seconds of glancing at it I can tell it's worth my time, I read on; if I can't, I pass. I've been passing on a lot lately.
For example, if you are writing about "Five Ways to Develop a Content Strategy" and one of the ways you have listed is "develop a plan," do you just write "develop a plan" and leave it at that? How about the whys? The hows? I kid you not, but in the previous two weeks I must have read a dozen articles in which the writer just stopped at "develop a plan."
I propose we start thinking about the purpose of our content before we write it. Why?
- First, according to B2B Content Marketing: 2013 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends study, 91% of North American B2B marketers are using content marketing, and on average 33% of marketing budgets are being dedicated to content marketing; that's because B2B marketers know that content marketing is the most important tool for generating leads.
- Second, we are all in the business of building trust (which is why people buy from us), and to build trust we need to provide value, and to provide value we need to laser-focus on what our audience wants.
How you can create content with a purpose? Here are some ideas, with the help of the late Mr. Covey.
Put first things first
Do some research to determine what your audience wants. Conduct online surveys on your own website or blog, perhaps partnering with other companies that offer complementary products and services; ask questions within your social media channels; observe your audience in online communities to ascertain their interests, pain points, motivators, etc.
Your initial goal is to build trust by providing value. Look at your lead generation points: typically Awareness, Research, Consider/Compare, and Buy. Those lead gen points will differ based on your particular products, company, or industry. Then match your content to those points based on your research.
For example, in the awareness stage, the prospect is not sure of a need yet, so introduce your brand to plant the seed. In the research stage, offer unbiased info to educate and help your prospect; this is the trust-building stage, and you can win a lot of points here by showing people you are a thought leader. In the consider/compare stage, reinforce the brand. And in the buy stage, offer product-specific details on why your solution is best.
That sort of due diligence is what you need to be able to create the content that will generate results.
Seek first to understand, then be understood
Your content should do three things: tell a story, speak in your audience's language, and initiate an action.
We marketers, are in the influence game. If we don't know where the prospect is in the buying cycle, how she wants to be communicated with, her interests or motivators, we have already lost her.
Think of your content as a Hollywood movie script—think beginning, middle, and end. The beginning is your thesis, or why are you writing. The middle is your support for your thesis, and your ending is where you get to offer your conclusion—to show your reader the potential results and benefits of having read this content.
At each point—beginning, middle, and end—you should ask yourself: Am I adding value for my audience? Am I teaching them something new that they would find only from me? Providing such value is what thought leadership is all about.
What is your purpose in creating this content? Is it to educate? Move the prospect down the funnel? Both?
The prospect's purpose for reading the content is to learn. In any relationship, think win-win. Above all, be genuine. If you are not genuine, and you merely want the person's business or email address, that will come across in your communications and you will be unsuccessful.
Consider creating a template for each piece of content by asking and answering these questions:
- What is the name of the content?
- How does this content fit in with my overall content strategy?
- Is this content consistent with my existing brand communications?
- What are the 3-5 message points I want to communicate to my audience with this content?
- Where in the lead generation funnel does this content fit?
- What is my purpose for writing it?
- What is my audience's purpose for reading it?
- What type of results (website visits, blog sign-ups, lead captures, etc.) did this content generate?
- What lessons did I learn from creating and publishing this content?
- How do I take what I learned to improve future content?
Writing and publishing the content is part of the story, but not all of it: Continually analyze the content and test it so that you can improve it.
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Always be sharpening the saw. Any content that you create should move you closer to your goals—and closer to those you want to influence.