You've probably noticed that there's an awful lot more content out there this year than there was last year. Project similar growth in the next year or two, and you're looking at an Atlantic-and-a-half of new content, all begging for you customers' attention.
On the one hand, it's a good sign: It shows that marketers are getting hip to the power of content. On the other hand, if you're a marketer, it's also a warning sign.
With that in mind, we created a new rant on SlideShare called "Crap. The Content Marketing Deluge." It's a plea to all marketers to start focusing on one thing: creating a Great Content Brand that's strong enough to survive the coming deluge.
A Great Content Brand is the only thing that will protect you from the erosion of engagement that the vast majority of content marketers are about to experience.
So it's important... maybe the most important thing you can put your time, energy, and budget into.
Take a look at the slides and we'll reconvene below:
When Ann Handley saw this rant, she suggested I write a follow-up article that expands the Six Principles presented on pages 30-36 of the presentation.
And when Ann Handley asks you to expand, you bloody well expand. So here's a fuller version of the Six Principles Great Content Brands.
1. Be the buyer
Everything starts with the buyer's challenges, needs, prejudices, and concerns.
Perhaps that has become something of a truism in content marketing, but it's way too important to let that fact kick it off the top of the six principles list.
Great content brands are always built around the challenges and interests of their target audiences. That appraoch isn't just a veneer of empathy pasted into your brochureware; it's a real understanding of the things your prospects actually care about—not just what you wish they cared about.
Understanding your prospect's world takes a bit of work. But no effort will ever deliver a higher return. If you have doubts about your own company's understanding of your prospects, do this work first.
Take a few buyers to lunch. (I recommend sushi, but a decent southern barbecue works, too.) (Or risotto.)
Do it. Really.
2. Be authoritative
Stay in your sweet spot, where the things you understand better than anyone else intersect with the things your prospects really care about.
You know how you read one e-book and come away thinking "Meh"? Then you read another and come away thinking, "Wow!"? (Speaking of which, might I suggest Velocity's B2B Marketing Manifesto?)
The difference is almost always a matter of authority. When you write from a position of authority, you write useful, interesting content. When you bluff, you write hollow, obvious content that may sound good but convinces no one.
And authority is all about writing from your sweet spot (we talk about this in our Content Marketing Strategy Checklist, and we're really big believers in it).
Basically, you can screw up three ways:
- Pandering. You write about things your prospects care a lot about, but you have no special authority or perspective regarding those topics. You might get their attention, but you will not have reward that attention with something in return. And people hate giving their attention to things that don't deserve it.
- Navel-gazing. You drill deep down into your company's expertise, but if your prospects don't yet care... you'll only embarrass yourself.
- Blathering. If you create content that neither speaks to your prospects' concerns nor offers expertise, you're really cranking out the crap.
If you stay in your sweet spot, your content will be 100 times more likely to get consumed, shared, liked, and tweeted.
So, spend time getting your team to agree on where your sweet spot is, then build your content strategy and editorial calendar around it. And that leads us nicely into...
3. Be strategic
One-off content campaigns don't add up to a content strategy.
"Fire and forget" content marketing is so last year. If you're like most marketers, you've at least dipped your toes into content marketing—and it felt great (as great as a toe can feel).
Now it's time for a proper content strategy. Why? Because your resources are limited and your competitors are getting good at this, too.
A content strategy sounds intensive and expensive, but it needn't be. It's just a summary of who you want to reach, what you need them to do, what content you'll create to encourage them to do it, how you'll get the content under their noses, and how you'll measure success.
The checklist mentioned above can help, but it's not rocket science. The important thing is to aim before you fire—and build consensus around where you're aiming.
If you don't have a content strategy yet, write one tonight on the train home. Fifty Shades of Gray (Kindle edition) can wait.
4. Be prolific
Content marketing is a marathon, not a shotput toss.
Each new piece of content has a shorter and shorter "golden period," when the most people want to get it and share it. The "Crap" slide deck itself is hot as I write this, but views will be down to a trickle by the time you read it.
So we all need to build efficient content machines that can keep the frequency up without sacrificing quality.
That means a good mix of content types, from quick blog posts to short videos to 80-page e-books, and everything in between. To do that well, you need...
- Good writers who understand what you do
- Good designers who know how to sell a story
You can't go hunting for those people every time you need to create something. You need to have them on staff or on tap inside a friendly agency that you keep close.
Find the best talent that you can afford. Reward it. Stroke it every Tuesday. Do whatever it takes to keep it happy.
5. Be passionate
If you don't care about this stuff, why should anybody else?
Passion is the secret ingredient of content marketing, so it's a shame it sounds like the latest CD series from a "personal improvement coach" ("Order now and get my 'Slam Dunk Your Soul' video!").
Passionate doesn't mean fake enthusiasm or free-form extroversion. It means finding the things you really are interested in (with any luck, they are somewhere in your sweet spot), then using content to discover and explore the things that make it so interesting.
That kind of passion is contagious. It's really hard to resist.
Here's the hard part: if you're just not really that interested in your company's sweet spot topics, you need to find something in there to interest you or... get another job.
You set the ceiling on how much your readers can care about any given topic. Aim for nothing less than Sistine.
6. Be tough on yourself
You know whether you're being lazy. Don't be lazy.
It's OK to fire off a blog post in half an hour—as long as you signal to the reader that's what you're doing.
But the bulk of your content marketing program will come from putting in the time to make each piece as good as it can be.
That means lots of rewriting—which most people hate. It also means sharing your earlier drafts with people you respect and asking their opinion. You don't want to waste their time, so a lot of your work needs to happen before you ask. Then you need to take their views into account... and rewrite again.
If that isn't your idea of fun, find someone whose idea of fun it is. You can find them in places like chess clubs or under rocks. Also LinkedIn groups.
Be prepared to invest serious resources in content marketing. If you do, the payback will be significant. If you cut corners and invest half of what you should, you'll get back a tenth. Or some similarly alarming ratio.
Let's sum this puppy up
A Great Content Brand could turn out to be the single biggest asset you ever create for your company. But, in an era when every other brand is sacrificing writers to the God of Content, it's getting harder and harder to do.
Aim high. Be suspicious of the quick win. Turn your integrity into brilliance. (And now I feel like Yoda...)