“Content marketing is popular for good reason. But many content marketing professionals have decided that the right response to the demand for content is to churn out as much humanly possible. This pressure makes creating content the goal itself, which overshadows the original goal: to create content that tells stories, pulls readers in, and provides meaningful insights, entertainment, or some new thinking they’ve never encountered before.”
It’s easy to get caught up in “doing” content marketing. According to the Content Marketing Institute’s B2B Content Marketing 2017: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report:
- 70% of marketers will be creating more content.
- 39% of marketers will be spending more on content.
Content marketing is popular for good reason. But many content marketing professionals have decided that the right response to the demand for content is to churn out as much humanly possible.
This pressure makes creating content the goal itself, which overshadows the original goal: to create content that tells stories, pulls readers in, and provides meaningful insights, entertainment, or some new thinking they’ve never encountered before.
ARE YOU CREATING GOOD CONTENT FOR YOUR AUDIENCE?
Ultimately, your audience doesn’t care that you’re doing marketing. They care that you’re thinking about them.
To create quality content that resonates, you need to spend time developing and clarifying quality ideas. Traditional wisdom says that some combination of a content strategy and a creative brief will help you do this.
But just because you have those documents sitting somewhere doesn’t mean you’re creating great content. Producing X amount of posts a month may satisfy your stated goals, but it can also make you prioritize getting work done over doing work well. This is the root cause of mediocre content.
The key to creating great content for your audience is approaching every aspect of the process thoughtfully, from the ideas you come up with to the way you research information. Unfortunately, many content marketers fall into the same traps in the content creation process. To help you avoid these (and up your game), follow these 7 tips to create content that delivers true value to your audience.
1) READ WHAT OTHERS ARE WRITING IN YOUR SPACE
- Typical approach: Every marketer struggles with trying to stand out and be different. Most get this wrong because they simply mimic the leaders.
- Alternative: You can still look to leaders for inspiration, but look in-between the lines; look for opportunities to fill in the narrative and angles. Read comments to see what others are thinking or wondering about. Those same comments may inspire a great piece of content marketing.
2) CONSIDER WHAT HAS ALREADY WORKED FOR YOU
- Typical approach: Marketers often focus on what’s new, what’s current, and what are others doing. This leads them to create content just to keep up with the Joneses. But content for the sake of content isn’t effective.
- Alternative: If you want to engage readers, look to what you have created in the past that worked. Most importantly, ask yourself how you can do the same—better. Review your top-performing articles, then update them or create bigger and better sequels. This is a great low-risk strategy for engaging readers while building on previous successes.
3) LISTEN TO YOUR CUSTOMERS’ QUESTIONS
- Typical approach: When marketing teams get together for creative meetings, they usually start by asking, “What do we want to write about? Where do we want to be known as thought leaders?” This is shortsighted because it doesn’t necessarily map to how that content will serve specific goals.
- Alternative: The first question in any marketing brainstorm should be, “What types of content do our customers want?” The simplest way to know this is to find out what questions your audience and your competitors’ audience are asking. Check out the comments on your blog section, your competitors’ blogs, or industry publications to uncover these.
4) GO AS DEEP AS YOU CAN
- Typical approach: Most marketers don’t dig deep. They focus on surface-level ideas and use light research. In other cases, they may only rely on information from a certain slice of their audience, ignoring major segments of consumers.
- Alternative: Your goal is to provide useful content to your entire audience. While comment forums can be a great source for content, they should not be your sole source of inspiration. You need to get inside the mind of all customers. Ask your clients questions all the time. Do this in person, via email, via calls, at conferences, in meetings, via surveys, etc. Store this information to make sure your team has the latest insights. (I use Evernote to keep track of notes from conversations with clients, and I share them at our bi-weekly content brainstorming sessions.) When you have topics generated from these conversations, you can produce comprehensive content that covers those topics from all angles.
5) CHECK YOUR OWN SANITY AND ASSUMPTIONS REGULARLY
- Typical approach: Many marketers get stuck in their ways. They come up with the same ideas in the same formats. Rinse and repeat. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality can be damning when it keeps content stagnant.
- Alternative: Assume that everything you do can be improved upon. From ideation to headline titling, to promotion, every aspect of developing and distributing content can get better, no matter who you are. This is especially true when it comes to the topics you cover. Your customers’ content needs are ever-changing. You must continually develop content that provides new insight from a new perspective.
6) RESPECT YOUR READERS’ TIME
- Typical approach: Some content marketers bore their readers by droning on and on about a particular idea. (Think of those repetitive, long-form blog posts on Medium that showcase their ability to use SAT words and semicolons.) This is self-satisfying, but it’s not necessary.
- Alternative: Making a big, complex idea easy to understand is not always easy, but it should be your goal. We are busy people living in a busy world, and the last thing someone needs is other people overcomplicating valuable information.
I find this to be especially relevant when it comes to video content. It’s tempting to cram as much content into a video as possible (with some vague goal of getting more bang for your buck), but this approach betrays the core reason video is such an effective medium. When a message that can be communicated in 30 seconds takes 3 minutes, you’re going to bum out your audience.
7) PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT’S NOT WORKING
- Typical approach: Too often marketers focus on their successes instead of failures, which is unfortunate. Failure can be just as valuable—sometimes more—than wins.
- Alternative: If you feel like you’re too busy creating content to dig into your data, step back to consider what you might learn. Regular content audits help you do this. (We do them monthly.) If you notice certain formats or topics underperforming, cut them out. Focus your efforts on finding ways to produce the highest quality content that works for your brand, even if that means you reduce your publishing volume.
ALWAYS THINK CRITICALLY
Approach your content like a consumer. What type of content would you want to see? I’m guessing you’d want useful, original, comprehensive, and interesting content tailored to your interests. Your audience wants the same.
Above all, focus on quality instead of quantity. Take inspiration in Dieter Rams’ quote: “Less, but better.”