For years now, as content marketing has braised in ubiquity and flirted with saturation, most marketers have felt growing pressure to produce volumes of searchable, shareable, Mashable, HuffPost-able, and Buzzfeed-able content to capture fleeting looks and attention from an increasingly distracted audience.
Amid our tireless listicle creation, we've fought a parallel battle with the voice inside ourselves making a very compelling argument that less is more, and that quality trumps quantity.
We know instinctively that the path to content righteousness should lie in authenticity, value, and originality—but many of us have succumbed to the pressure of hollow metrics and competitive paranoia:
- "Our page views are down? Better post a top 10!"
- "The competition is getting more likes than we are! Create another video!"
- "Our search ranking did what? Double the keyword mentions in your next blog!"
In a self-perpetuating quest to outpace ourselves, we've inadvertently solved for an abstraction instead of solving for the real objective: to build a more intimate relationship with our customers through content.
Here are three ways that every content marketer can bring back intimacy into the customer journey.
1. Connect the product creators directly with the product consumers
This way is about authenticity and credibility. It's particularly important in industries like IT, where the marketers frequently don't resemble the personas they're marketing to.
As a marketer, if you're not a true expert in your product or technology, and if you don't resemble your target persona, the content you create will always be marginally inauthentic or, in the worst case, inaccurate. You can choose from two options to overcome this:
- You can invest hundreds of hours becoming a product expert.
- You can change the communication path entirely.
The most direct path to authenticity is to connect your product creators directly to the users of the product, so they can have more meaningful conversations. This needs to go way beyond farming out a few blog posts to the engineers. It's got to be a sustainable, direct connection that creates a continuous exchange of value for both sides.
Increase focus and investment on employee advocacy and on building continuous, direct connections between the product creators and the product consumers, so they can communicate and exchange value in their authentic voices.
2. Make 'value' the focus of your engagement strategy
Like authenticity, engagement is another marketing buzzword that gets applied a bit more liberally than it should. There's no question we want to engage our customers more intimately and more frequently—but how?
In my experience, value (and specifically the consistent exchange of value) is the cornerstone of the optimal engagement strategy. Deliver tangible value to the audience so that they seek you out and interact with more and more content on a lifelong journey.
Though listicles and controversial headlines may attract fleeting eyeballs, content that provides unique value ultimately begets engagement. The challenge we face as marketers is that this kind of value-content seems so daunting to create. Drafting off a trending topic with some loosely connected snack-caliber content piece is much easier than building something your audience really needs. But it's worth the effort—more than ever—as we see true originality and quality getting applauded and shared while the shallower content increasingly gets passed over.
Focus the content you create on providing practical value to your audience. I've resolved to forsake lists, advertorials, and keyword-ridden blog posts in favor of value-centric content. I will spend a little more time on each content program to keep it original and keep it valuable.
3. Tell your stories for longer and go deeper
A chicken-and-egg question occurred to me recently as I was trying to figure out why some of the blogs, podcasts, and sites I've been loyal to for years have been so successful. Is their success the reason they've had longevity—or is it their longevity that eventually lead to their success?
The answer to this question is not as obvious as it first appears. The more I think about it, the more I feel compelled to build more long-term, consistent content programs in the future.
Audiences find value in consistency, and they find comfort in continuity. Here's an example: I hear my partner listen to Bill Cunningham's On the Street every Sunday... and now I catch myself humming the intro music while I'm making breakfast. Like all content, sometimes the episodes are great and sometimes they're only OK, but you can set your watch by it. You expect it.
Consistency for a content marketer is critical to success. It can turn a unique visitor into a customer. And, when you're not at your best, the loyalty it creates can be an insurance policy for your sub-par content. As content marketers, I think we too often submit to the pressure to innovate at the expense of building consistency and longevity into our programs.
Content marketers need to focus on building longer-term programs designed to give their audience something they can count on. We may have to sacrifice the pace at which we introduce new things, but it will pay off in the end.