If you work in content marketing or inbound marketing, you’re probably producing content for clients in a range of industries that don’t understand what makes content work.
You’ve pitched a great piece of content, but your client just won’t play ball. They want more product mentions. They’re worried it’s too controversial. They review, review, review it until it’s lifeless and flaccid; dead in the water.
As a journalist, online editor and now senior content strategist at an inbound marketing agency, I’ve lived and breathed content since I joined the media and marketing landscape close to a decade ago. My biggest surprise, in transitioning from media to marketing, was learning just how much people out of my industry don’t understand about content.
That being said, in the past two years, I’ve had some incredible clients. We’ve pushed each other into writing great, educational and interesting articles; then turned those articles into hard sales and ROI — and won awards while doing so.
Now that I’ve worked with multiple clients in a wide array of industries, I’ve found some key lessons all clients need to learn before their content can fly:
- Not all your copy should be hard sell
This seems obvious to most non-brand people, but it’s the biggest mental hurdle for most clients to overcome when they’re starting a content or inbound strategy. If it’s not PR, if it’s not mentioning the brand, what’s the point? There are actually many reasons you’d want to publish content like that. Firstly, a hard sell if you’re not looking to buy is interruptive, irritating, and useless, and might actually turn away potential customers who feel bullied or bothered. Secondly, it’s impossible to build trust in your content, and by extension YOU, if the impression people get is that you just want to make a sale — you have no interest in solving problems or helping clients with their pain points. The ideal ratio is the 80/20 rule: use 80% of your content to helpful, and only push yourself as the solution in that last 20%.
- Write copy people want to read
What do you like to read? It’s a question few people ask themselves when setting a content agenda and strategy, and it’s really a pivotal to understand what content you actually like, versus what you want your potential customers to read. What makes content memorable for you? What makes it enticing, intriguing, shareable? What makes you come back for more? Repeat those winning factors in your content, too. Good writing, telling a good story and most importantly making it worth the click — actually providing new, useful information — are all parts of the puzzle.
- Just vomiting out copy regularly isn’t good enough
Hiring a copy monkey isn’t the solution to your content marketing problem. There is so much content out there that the real competition is for attention, not space, so don’t add to the overwhelming noise just for the sake of it. Make sure your content is well-written, well-researched and — I’ll say it again — INTERESTING. I’m a bit biased here but I honestly believe journalists have the edge when it comes to creating great, accurate pieces of content (here’s a great article on the difference between content and copy).
- People consume content in different ways
Video, long form, podcasts, infographics, data visualisations — there are many different ways to tell a story and it’s important to remember that different people prefer to consume content in different ways. Make sure your strategy and content gives people a variety of formats and alternate ways to consume your information.
- Reputable sources and quoting experts OUT of your organisation is key to building credibility
Obviously don’t quote competitors! Like any good journalist would, find an array of experts to support your article and to provide useful and interesting information.
- Dry doesn’t = authoritative
It’s easy to conflate dry, boring articles and ebooks with being authoritative, but a serious tone doesn’t make you an expert. You can be funny, playful and conversational in any industry, and often a light tone and real human talk will be what differentiates your client from their competitors! This will also appeal to your client’s clients, who are often stuck in a web of jargon and don’t understand enough of the inside-industry basics to make the decisions they need to. Feeling empowered, and not spoken down to, is a powerful drug in the more serious, complicated industries.
- What’s controversial for you in your bubble isn’t controversial for everyone else
Remember the people you’re selling to aren’t as deep in the industry niche as your clients are, and what your clients might find shocking, their clients might not. Don’t publish incorrect or provocative content for it’s own sake, but starting a conversation by publishing an unpopular opinion shows courage. Inciting debate isn’t a bad thing.
What’s your best piece of advice for client’s starting a content or inbound strategy?