This is part two in a Forté blog series on Content Marketing, perhaps the most important new development in marketing communications since the arrival of the Internet itself. As we saw in the first installment, content marketing actually signals the maturing of the Internet in terms of functionality, acceptance and evolving patterns of use. However, effective content marketing is much more about the content message than the medium.
Quality content is the drive gear of content marketing. So let’s look under the hood and get a sense of what effective content is—and how to develop it. Think of content in terms of “brand journalism” and you’ll get the sense of it. Sure, we want to burnish our brand, but we have to take the route of editorial storytelling, like any other journalist. Throw away your ad copywriting handbook for this program.
Like all good writing—especially journalism—you begin by determining who your readers are (both current and potential). For content marketers, this means establishing who your stakeholders are (yes, it is still marketing).
For example, senior living communities develop a buyer persona profile called “Bob and Adele Jones – Adult Children of Ethel Jones.” This short bio would summarize their hopes, fears, and desires regarding a senior living experience for their aging mother, Ethel. Blog posts or other content could then be written in a very person-to-person manner with Bob and Adele in mind. The list of different buyer persona profiles can be as diverse as your total desired readership base.
Your content development strategy should include desired goals and timelines. This process starts with asking your team lots of questions. This will, in turn, guide you in identifying key topics and sources. Content can be developed by your own team, and it may also be imported from outside your company when duly credited to key sources. Another option is to have your PR agency develop your content, based on their broad industry knowledge.
In general, in-house development is an excellent opportunity to showcase the know-how of your key staff. Imported content can be a great way to spice up and bolster the credentials of your content with major thinkers from both inside and outside of your industry. Ultimately, great content positions your company as a thought leader in your industry—rightly integrated among other already-established thought leaders.
As with any form of good journalism, brand journalism content must meet certain criteria to gain and hold readers. So I developed a simple acronym that you can use as a filter when planning or assessing new content. That simple shorthand is to ask whether the content meets the READ Test—as in R-E-A-D.
When reviewing the content, does it strike you as:
- Relevant: Will your reader find your material useful in their own lives—or even find it at all? Determining relevancy almost always starts with a Google search. Your content should be laced with keywords that your prospects might be searching for in order for your content to be presented on those first couple of key search results. Relevance begins with knowing your reader’s needs—which goes back to the well-developed buyer persona profiles. It’s all about presenting news they can use.
- Engaging: During that first vital scan, will your reader determine that your content offers information that is clearly new, interesting and authoritative? You can achieve interest through clear, intuitive writing in a conversational tone—just “friends sharing with friends.” Making your content authoritative is as easy as citing well-known and trusted sources—or your own relevant experience. Besides, adding more links increases the relevancy of your content in terms of search engine rankings.
- Actionable: Does your content offer readers cues on how to find out more about what they’ve read? You want to provide a seamless path to guide them to a more “business” oriented discussion later on. Just leaving a name and email address can suffice. Readers also appreciate fast and easy ways to share the content with others—after all, having your content go viral is the Holy Grail of content marketing.
- Dynamic: Does your content change on a regular basis to reflect the latest, best thinking on a given subject? Does it offer plenty of multi-media experiences to impact both the visual and auditory learning centers of the human brain? Regular change and multi-sensory channels elevate content and encourage repeat visits and enthusiastic sharing via Twitter, Facebook or email. According to Cisco, by 2017, video will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic. Use video whenever you can. Here’s an infographic on five ways you can do it.
Summing It All Up
If your content meets all of the R-E-A-D criteria, then chances are good that it will be read and remembered—perhaps even passed on to others. So now you have a basic, broad-brush model for content development.
Of course, you’ll want to take the time to develop your own content strategy, guided by your specific business goals and articulated to the key audiences your strategy indicates, but don’t wait until it’s too late to get in the game. You don’t have to get it perfect right off the bat, but it’s important to get swinging now.
In the next installment we’ll look more closely at how to prepare content for easy distribution—and identify the many ways you can leverage your content across the Web and social media. You’ll see that content marketing isn’t a one-time project but rather an ongoing process that gets your company in step with the world’s most powerful business communications strategy.
Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, shares some of her research findings on the rising interest in video content: