What Works in Content Marketing?

I had the opportunity to attend an excellent presentation on content marketing by Michael Brenner, vice president of marketing and content strategy at SAP. Content marketing is experiencing astronomical growth the last two to three years, with no slow down in sight. Some of the frenzy over content, however, seems to have the feel of chasing the latest shiny object for brand marketers.

Is there a decent ROI when it comes to content marketing? I believe there can be, but it’s going to take some growth and practice to really hone in on everything that well done content marketing can offer.

For instance, in order to be most effective, Brenner correctly pointed out that content needs the following:

  • Simple answers to relevant questions
  • Consumer-centric focus
  • To be more visual consumable and “snackable”
  • Emotional messages (these are twice as effective as promotional messages)
  • Focus on helping on the customer
  • Entertainment value as well as information

Mark Schaefer’s recent post about Content Shock had some truth to it. Content production is increasing so dramatically that it will reach a tipping point, if it hasn’t already. The vast supply of content means is will be tougher to break through the noise for most marketers and reach their audience. Those that succeed will have one of two things 1.) Really deep pockets to promote their content, or 2.) Excellence in producing the best content that breaks through the clutter.

Succeeding in content marketing is a tall order for sure, but it can be done. Points like the ones above are just the start, so much more goes into creating really great content that gets noticed and drives action. What would you add to the list?

(Shorter) Content is King

Bigger isn’t always better. In fact, when it comes to content, shorter, bite-sized pieces are often (but not always) better. For marketers and content publishers, competition for attention and speed of information almost necessitates shorter content in many cases.

Shorter content allows more frequent publishing, which is needed when the average life of a tweet, Facebook or Google+ post is only hours.

It can also be saved and built into lengthier content pieces. Entire books have come out of a of series of blog posts. If the content is collected it can be used for any number of long-form applications.

Bite-sized content also allows fast communication. Views can be shared more immediately while news is breaking.

Passive audiences are also more likely to consume a short piece of content than a piece they fear will steal their time.

Long content pieces will always continue to have their place and importance. But with content marking, saying it as quickly as possible without sacrificing quality are becoming as important as ever.

Here are a couple excellent (but longer) posts on content brevity:

6 Reasons to Make Your Big Idea Small

What’s So New About Content Marketing?

22 Key Takeaways from the Program “New Social Media Marketing Tools and Rules”

I had the privilege of attending the Chicago American Marketing Association’s “New Social Media Marketing Tools and Rules” on Wednesday. Speakers for the program were Adam Lilly, Brand Director at Goose Island Beer Company and Nader Ali-Hassan, Associate Director, Social Media at Razorfish. It was an afternoon filled with actionable social media information, including the following key takeaways:

Adam Lilly shared:

  • Make time to connect with people on social media.
  • Generate new and fresh content; don’t say the same things over and over.
  • Social media is a destination. Participate in the conversation.
  • Enable others to talk about your brand.
  • Practice timely storytelling.
  • Social must be a commitment and ingrained in the culture of the brand.
  • Good brand social media frontline employees are good storytellers.
  • Metrics are not as important as engagement.
  • Share in a creative and meaningful way.
  • Weekly digital content meetings can help generate ideas.
  • Encourage widespread use of social media by employees.

Nader Ali-Hassan shared:

  • The story and how you tell it is important.
  • Social media is about creating and connecting.
  • People don’t want to connect to a brand, but the people behind it.
  • Think about utility: providing value to the consumer.
  • Have a consistent brand voice across platforms.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel; take advantage of the technologies that are available.
  • Think about social as a paid, earned and owned proposition.
  • Always plan ease and sharability into your content.
  • Trust your gut: If the shiny object doesn’t feel right, don’t use it.
  • Be willing to cede control of the brand to others.
  • Include social media in the overall marketing mix.

What would you add?

New LinkedIn Features Enhance Content Targeting

Business use of social media is excellent for building brand awareness, engaging customers, conducting (unscientific) research and becoming a more social business overall. The problem has been (for most businesses) establishing clear return on investment (ROI) from social media. If we can establish more definitive ROI from social media, broader adoption and spending in this area will jump dramatically.

I think one of the critical factors in improving social ROI is better targeting delivery of content. Consumers are inundated with information, which puts the onus on businesses to get them the right information at the right time. If we can do that more effectively, we can build stronger relationships, solve problems and in all likelihood increase sales in the long run.

I was glad to see this week that LinkedIn is rolling out new features that will allow businesses to better target the right information to the right followers and to better measure growth metrics on company pages. These features will go a long way toward improving ROI on LinkedIn at least, and hopefully will spur other social sites to begin to develop these tools as well.

Jim Edwards, senior editor at Business Insider, wrote an excellent post titled “LinkedIn Rolls Out New Targeted Follower Tools For Marketers” in which he outlines the two new features, Targeted Updates and Follower Statistics:

“Targeted Updates will allow companies to segment their followers by a range of variables such as industry, seniority, job function, company size, non-company employees, and geography. Companies will be able to send different status updates to different groups of followers.

“Follower Statistics will essentially be an analytics dashboard that will allow companies to see how effective their updates have been.”

As marketers, we need to develop a more sophisticated approach when using social to deliver content. We need to target the right people but also identify where they are in the buying cycle. For instance, to identify if someone is simply information gathering or if he or she could be ready to purchase soon, and then provide content accordingly.

There’s much more ahead in the evolution of social for content delivery and improving ROI, but we’re headed in the right direction. More features similar and even more robust than what LinkedIn will be offering will only speed that process. These enhancements provide opportunities to be strategic in our approach, which is always a benefit.

What do you think?

Blogging Lessons from Year One

Time really does fly, doesn’t it? It seems hard to believe that it’s been well over a year since I started this blog. It’s been a fun and rewarding experience. If you’re a blogger I’m sure you can relate to my sentiment.

I certainly have learned a lot about blogs and blogging over the course of the last year. The focus of this post is on personal blogging. Business blogging has somewhat different considerations. So, in no particular order, here are some of my key takeaways from blogging year one:

  1. Choosing a good blogging platform is important. I’ve been extremely happy with WordPress. There are other good platforms out there, but that don’t really offer the full functionality and theme options that WordPress brings to the table. This being said, find a blogging platform that works for you so that you can make your posts quickly and effortlessly.
  2. Blogging has to be personal. It should be first and foremost about what you want to share and write about, your area of expertise or passion. This is what keeps motivation high.
  3. Write for yourself, but so that others can learn and benefit. Think about how add value when someone stops by to read your post.
  4. Frequency in posting is somewhat important. This depends on your blog goals, but once a week is a good guideline to follow. The main benefit of weekly posting is that it keeps you disciplined. It also helps to grow the blog’s followers. If your goal is to dramatically increase readership then that would necessitate more frequent posting.
  5. Post length isn’t overly important. What is important is to provide clear and helpful information to the reader, whether it’s in 100 or 1,000 words.
  6. Learning from other bloggers is important. It gives us new perspectives and ideas.
  7. Learning from other bloggers is not important. Sometimes, being too focused on what others are doing compels us to try and be like them. See number 2 above.
  8. Commit to quality content. It’s better to post less frequently than produce poor or unhelpful content. Good content attracts, bad content repels.
  9. Trying new things adds life to your blog. No one wants to see the same old topics and format over and over again. Try something new and see how it goes, such as new topics, interviews, videos, images, guest posts and more. The opportunities are limitless. Keep exploring to keep things interesting for everyone.

Your turn bloggers. What has your experience been? What bit of wisdom would you offer?

The Starting Point of Great Writing

There is a lot (understatement) of information available on how to become a great writer. Much of it is helpful, to an extent.  But consider this, clearly the most important aspect of becoming a great writer is by actually sitting down and writing.

If you want to improve as a writer, you won’t do that by simply reading more about writing. You must write daily. Write at scheduled times. Write with deadlines. Write with goals. But the key in all of it is to write, and to continue to do so.

The repetition will help develop and solidify your writing skills. Thoughtful practice will bring about improvement. But that practice must be consistent and frequent.

Part of the reason that many people don’t start or don’t write enough is the fear that comes from wanting perfection. But great writing is as much a process as it is about ability. The skills can be developed with practice. The process and results can be improved over time.

Definitely watch and learn from others, but get started. Don’t try to be perfect. Try to consistently deliver value and improve. You’ll be surprised at the great writing that’s waiting to come out.

What do you think?

Blogging: How to Write a Great Lead

Ever talk with someone that rambles on and never really seems to get to the point? It can be a frustrating experience. We need things summarized for us early on so that we know the path we’re heading down and what to expect. The fact of the matter is that too many blog posts violate this principle. That’s why it’s critical in developing a new blog post to summarize the key point, theme or subject in the first or lead paragraph.

Once the lead is completed, the rest of the blog post should be devoted to expanding on and supporting the main point. Making the reader labor through an entire post without knowing the overall point, especially if it’s a long post, increases the likelihood that he or she will bail in the middle.

A strong lead hooks the reader and lets them know what to watch for. It’s just as important as writing a strong and descriptive blog post headline.

To write a great lead, follow this simple outline: Hook, Reason and Thesis.

Hook: Use your first sentence to grab attention. A common way to do this is to ask a question. You can also write something unexpected or intriguing. Sharing little known or interesting information is also a great hook. Humor works as well (but make sure it’s funny).

Reason: Write a sentence or two about why the topic is important, its relevance or how it will help the reader or improve the world around them. Basically, you’re answering the question: Why should I care about this?

Thesis: Close your lead with your main point, one or two sentences about what you will be writing about in the remainder of the post. This helps the reader to have a better understanding of all the information you will be providing and will help keep them motivated to read the entire post, assuming they like or agree with your thesis.

Following the hook, reason and thesis outline is useful for many types of writing, not just blog posts. The great thing is, with more practice the easier this process becomes.

How do you approach developing blog post leads? What would you add to create a great lead?