Here’s the full video about the Top 7 Principles for Content Marketing in 2019. Enjoy!
When you’re starting out with content marketing, it’s silly to expect that your audience will resonate to your message right away.
It’d be a lottery win to become instantly popular and build an audience effortlessly.
Instead of this unrealistic expectation, you need to approach your goal through a series of trial and error. You
- put out content your audience might like,
- register what works and do more of the same,
- and ditch what doesn’t work.
I call this process finding Content Market Fit.
You may be familiar with the concept of Product Market Fit. It describes the point at which your customers like and buy your product, and all you need to do is to produce more of the same.
The same idea applies in content marketing.
Content Market Fit is the point at which your content formula has found its audience, and you just need to publish more of the same kind of content to keep growing your audience. From that point onward, you will get new subscribers to your content channel, and your existing audience will like you more and more.
In this video, I’m going into the details of content market fit:
Content Market Fit Case Study
One great example of finding content market fit is how Sam Conniff Allende created his first book Be More Pirate.
I’m telling the story in the video above, but in brief: Sam had an idea for a book, namely that pirates of the 18th century were comparable to modern iconoclasts like Malala and Elon Musk. They challenged an unjust system and created a rebellious counter-culture that pioneered many modern concepts like gender equality and a social safety net.
That’s a good premise for a book.
But Sam didn’t start writing right away. Instead, he put his idea to the test by giving a series of talks about it. In June 2017, I happened to see one of these talks. When I heard his message, I really didn’t like it because I thought he was completely glossing over the criminal aspect of 18th century piracy. Sure, pirates were sexy rebels, but they also killed innocent people and stole their property. How can you hold them up as role models?
At the end of his talk, Sam invited his audience to send him their thoughts. I wrote him a long, slightly indignant email, making the point above. He defended himself saying that, in 1700, the times were rough and that everyone was killing and stealing, especially the ruling class. I responded he was engaging in moral relativism. If the rulers do bad things, you’re not automatically a hero if you also do bad things in the name of something good. Killing a tyrant is fine, but killing innocent people because the tyrant is also killing innocent people isn’t fine.
Sam took my points on board and incorporated them in the book, acknowledging the problem and finding a good way to live with it. Later, he told me how my criticism made that aspect of the book better. (Btw here is my review of the book, which includes an interview with Sam.)
That process of putting your message out there, getting feedback on it, and improving it is a perfect example of finding content market fit.
How Do Marketers Find Content Market Fit?
This particular example is about a book. What if you as a company don’t publish books, but want to grow your audience via a blog, podcast, or video channel?
- Understand the concept of Content Market Fit. This will help you to not get discouraged when your initial content doesn’t resonate.
- Put out different types of content formats – blog posts, videos, podcasts etc, and see what format resonates the most with your audience.
- Iterate on the substance – Observe which topics are popular with your audience and do more of the same. Say you write about horseback riding, and people are lukewarm to your horse product reviews. But they really enjoy your equestrian travel stories and videos. Well – do more of the latter.
This discovery process can be fun
As you iterate on your proposition, you get to know your audience really well. And this level of deep understanding will benefit you on the business side. Because when you know your audience’s content needs, you will also learn what they are willing to pay you for.
I was apprehensive of publishing this post. It’s not considered good form to point to others’ work and say that it’s bad. But I decided to publish it for three reasons:
- There’s already so much out there about great content marketing and far less about bad content
- Dissecting something bad can teach us a lot. I learned a lot about filmmaking and storytelling when I watched this funny teardown of Battlefield Earth, one of the worst films ever made.
- I’m protecting the author by not linking to the original piece and changing a few words here and there to make it difficult to google.
Towards the end, I am answering the question of what is worse: Publish late or publish poor content. Stick around (or scroll down) for that.
So let’s have some fun! And learn something.
It’s really easy to produce crap. I mean figuratively, and in the context of content marketing.
But what does bad content look like? What makes it bad? Often, we can’t put our finger on it. Well, not today – as it’s time to dissect in detail what makes a poorly written article, and learn from others’ mistakes so that we don’t repeat them ourselves.
So, without further ado – here is a great example of what Velocity Partners have predicted in their now famous 2013 slideshow about the upcoming deluge of Crap Content.
This example is an interview of an in-house recruiter of a large professional services firm. It is meant to give advice and teach lessons to other recruiters. It has been published a year ago by a company offering content and advisory services to HR and recruiting professionals.
The sleep-inducing headline:
“On hiring employees: Deloitte”
This headline is soporific.
A good headline should tell the reader what the article will be about and create curiosity to dive in. The only slightly interesting element here is that Deloitte is mentioned: For HR people (the audience of the article), Deloitte sounds good because the company is well-known for high quality HR work. But they could have done so much more with this asset. E.g. using one of the following title formats:
- How Deloitte turned a slow machine into an in-house recruiting rocketship
- Deloitte’s 7 recipes for awesome in-house recruitment
- Deloitte’s secret for in-house recruitment success
Takeaway: Learn how to write great headlines, e.g. with Jon Morrow’s Headline Hacks.
The crowd-dispersing starter
This is how the interview starts:
Every blog post is at a permanent risk of being abandoned, but especially so at the beginning. Readers have low commitment. This is why all writing advice will tell you – start with something interesting. Something that is most likely to hook people in and get them to continue reading.
So what does our author give us on this highly critical juncture, the place where you might lose the majority of your audience?
He gives us a fact that
- 99% of the target audience already know
- is googlable to the remaining 1% who have been living under a rock
- is irrelevant to the insights that will be provided
Three strikes – a real masterclass of crap content.
If anyone hasn’t left at the headline, they are gone now.
- Start the article with something interesting or provocative
- Avoid stating the obvious. It’s a waste of space and time. The few readers who don’t know something can google it.
The mechanical rattling through questions
The whole interview suffers from lazy interviewer syndrome. Interviewers are lazy when they have a set of prefabricated questions that they just go through with each interviewee, without picking up on anything their counterpart says. In the below, it looks like the interviewer copied and pasted questions and replaced <company> with Deloitte.
Here, for example, would have been a great opportunity to pick up on what the interviewee said:
The interviewee mentions gamification in the context of recruiting. Well, this is something new. I haven’t heard of that yet. But instead of saying “Oh, that’s interesting. Tell me more about the gamification you experimented with”, the interviewer just goes into the next question printed on her cheat sheet.
There was a spark of something interesting, a hint of potential – and reliably, lazy interviewer syndrome squashed it.
Takeaway: Have a conversation. Even if you do a formal interview with someone, you pick up on things they say and dig into interesting bits and ask for examples.
Allowing the interviewee to get away with BS
This is an interview with a person in a big company. So naturally, there is a risk of corporate jargon and bullshit bingo. That’s normal, and many people in formal interview situations retreat into the safety of empty phrases. As an author of online content, it’s also tempting to write BS because of the deluding comfort it provides: Both I can pretend that I’m writing something profound and you, the reader, can pretend that you understood that profundity.
But BS makes for cynical authors and jaded readers because at a sub-conscious level, we both know that we’re playing a game and are being fake. BS chips away at the credibility of your content brand.
If BS is rearing its head in an interview scenario, a good interviewer stops the other person in their tracks and goes “wait, what do you mean by that?” or “can you give an example?”
Of course, in this case, our interviewer is just a robot asking questions and recording whatever comes out of the other person’s mouth.
If BS could run, this passage would be Usain Bolt. There is nothing to learn from here, no interesting story being told. It starts with an awfully cliched sentence and only goes downhill from there. Empty phrases that leave the reader with the feeling “I just wasted half a minute reading this drivel.”
If someone in an interview scenario tells you an empty non-story like this, you have to follow up with
- tell me more about that turning point when things changed or
- what specifically was special about this experience? How was it different from other jobs you started in?
Sometimes, you will not get anything interesting, even if you ask follow-up questions. You keep digging for gold and only uncover dead rock. In that case, you have to throw out that passage. You absolutely must not waste your audience’s time with non-content. The “story” above should never have seen the light of day.
Takeaway: Bullshit is a big no-no for your content brand.
- Catch yourself if you are about to write it
- If your interview partner engages in it, ask follow up questions and uncover the real person or story
- If you can’t get past the BS with an interviewee, throw out that passage. Never serve BS to your audience.
Content that pretends to be insightful
Imagine you’re a graduate recruiter at a big company. You know your stuff. You know about assessment centers, university outreach, employer branding etc.
And then you read this:
Let me summarise what pearls of wisdom are being handed from Mount Olympus here:
- Allow for conversations between students and staff (whatever that means)
- Do online stuff
- And be present on campus
This is utterly worthless. If you’re an in-house recruiter in a big company and don’t know that to communicate your values, you have to talk to people, do online stuff and recruit on campus, you’ll be fired tomorrow.
On the surface, this is masquerading like useful content – but for its intended audience, there’s absolutely no takeaway.
A smidgen of usefulness would consist in linking to examples of Deloitte’s activity: Link to their media schedules, their webinars and places where they do online chats so that the audience can go “ah, interesting, THIS is what a Deloitte recruiting webinar looks like!”. But unfortunately, this is a very lazy interviewer who can’t be bothered to provide value to his audience.
You may say: But if we want to cover employer branding, specific recruiting activities and other meaty subjects, I have to be brief if I don’t want the article to be 3,000 words long!
This is a false choice. The author of this piece has not asked herself what brings value to her audience. She started from the question “what will be convenient for me to produce?”.
Either cover fewer subjects more in depth, or create a long blog post. (btw – there’s absolutely no problem producing 3,000 word posts. Google will love you for it) Whatever is useful to your audience. But it’s clear that this superficial skirting over complex subjects doesn’t help anyone.
Takeaway: Know your audience and tell them things they don’t know yet.
Irregular publishing or bad content?
Marketers are busy people, and sometimes there is not enough time to produce good quality content. At the same time, consistency in content delivery is really important. It’s like with magazines. If you’re an Economist subscriber, you expect a new edition to come out every Friday. Consistency is part of the brand promise.
So sometimes the clock is ticking and you’re facing the dilemma: Produce something so-so and publish it? Or delay delivery by a few days and use the time to create a quality piece of content?
You have to choose.
Most content marketers would say it’s worse to produce crap. Better delay things by a few days than tarnish your reputation by producing something bad.
I think it depends. Take into account that there’s different levels of crap content:
- Low-level crap: Content that is “meh”. Obvious insights, recycled wisdoms. This content is largely forgettable but contains a kernel of truth and is, at a basic level, interesting and useful
- High-octane crap: Content that is so laughably bad that you feel insulted while reading it. You actually resent the author for putting you through it.
The example we went through is definitely in the latter category.
Unless you are placing an unusually high quality bar on your content, I propose the following algorithm when weighing consistency vs quality:
Let’s say that your content calendar stipulates a new blog post every week.
- If the delay would be three days or less, always prioritise quality. So delay the publishing by a day or two and polish your material until it’s great.
- If the delay were to be four days or more, low-level crap is permissible. Skipping more than a half-week is disruptive to your audience and consistency narrowly wins.
- A maximum of one low-level crap piece of content in 10 high quality pieces is permissible.
- Never ever publish high-octane crap. This will damage your content brand far more than a delay would. Better go on content vacation and don’t publish anything for two weeks if you really don’t have time to create quality content.
Even a master of content marketing like Seth Godin sometimes has a bad day and publishes a yawner like this one. That’s probably unavoidable.
But understand that every piece of crap content slowly chips away at the credibility of your content brand, and people will notice.
It’s important to know what bad content looks like so you can avoid it. It’s like having a negative role model in childhood – it can help propel you to greatness if you don’t want to end up like an abusive parent or a black sheep family member.
I hope that by dissecting a truly awful specimen, we have helped you avoid producing poor content in the future.
What makes TED talks so irresistible? And what can you as a Content Marketer learn from the masters of presentations to write in a more captivating way?
TED talks suck.
Hear me out. I mean that as a compliment.
TED talks are the bane of existence for people doing presentations. Once you’re among the millions of people who have seen Ken Robinson speak about How Schools Kill Creativity or Amy Cuddy’s talk on body language, you might:
- Realise how bad your own presentations are in comparison
- Realise how many people now will expect TED level quality from you
- Start to despair
But don’t despair. Instead, see the positive side and use TED to become a better Content Marketer.
Does it sound surprising to connect TED with Content Marketing? It shouldn’t be.
Seen through a marketing lense, TED talks follow the formula: Give value to your audience through interesting (and free) content — spread the content — drive more business by selling more books, attracting more donors, or commanding higher consulting and speaking fees.
With minor conceptual modifications, this is exactly what you’re doing when you create content that your audience finds valuable.
So what can we learn from this masterclass of quality content?
Understand the three elements of persuasion…
2,350 years ago, Aristotle’s students were cramming for an exam and cobbled together a cheat sheet of the master’s teachings. Tucked between party invites (“Toga party at sunset. Bring tzatziki”) and love notes (“can I be the cork to your amphora?  YES  NO”), the cheat sheet somehow survived and became known as the Aristotelian Rhetoric.
In it, the old man identified that a speaker required a mix of three elements to be effective:
- Ethos: How credible are you? Have you studied or worked in a particular field? What makes you a competent source of information. The same factual information holds more weight, depending on who says it.
- Logos: How new and unique is what you’re saying? How good are your arguments? Here, your audience is judging you with their left half of their brains.
- Pathos: Do you connect with your audience on an emotional level? Do you captivate people with an interesting story? Why should they care?
TED speakers usually hit it out of the park in all these categories. How can we get close to their level?
…and improve in each
Naturally, your personal or company’s credibility can’t grow overnight. But here’s a few ideas for you to help it along:
- Involve subject matter experts
- Have them guest blog on your site (Do you need to pay them? Yes, if they are real heavy hitters. But you can also get experts for free if they are starting out and building their online reputation)
- Interview them and only publish the interesting bits.
- Publish regularly: It’s like coming on time and being prepared for a meeting. You are more credible if your audience can rely on you showing up when they expect it. (Which is why Tuesday is Kontent360’s New-Blog-Post-And-Newsletter day)
- Showcase your value: Have case studies and customer quotes on your site that show how your work has benefited your customers.
- Promote your work: Classic content marketing promotion that aims to grow the audience will impact your Ethos. Like it or not, but having 20k followers on Twitter gives you a different standing vs having 100.
- At the same time, resist the temptation to buy followership. You won’t get the engagement you want from it, and it’s just fake. Fake sucks.
Logos, the intellectual element of the content, is largely about two things:
The internal coherence of an argument
If A > B and B > C, then A > C. If you commit errors of logic and write in non-sequiturs, your audience will scatter like cockroaches when the kitchen light goes on.
But also, this is where the quality of your storytelling is under scrutiny. Unnecessary sentences and rambling asides chip away at your audience’s interest. This is where TED dazzles most. Even if sometimes the content isn’t all that spectacular, the delivery is almost always impeccable. That’s because TED won’t allow a speaker to just pick a topic and run with it. Months of preparation go into editing the text and slides, and getting the speaker to memorize the whole speech start to finish. (Tim Urban writes about the experience of memorising a 14 minute speech)
Here’s how to bulletproof your internal coherence:
- Create a narrative skeleton of your blog post before putting meat on the bones. Consultants do this by first writing the headlines of the slides before filling them with detailed, supporting content. This is called horizontal logic. Here’s a good summary of it.
- Spend at least as much time editing your text as it took you to write the first draft. In his seminal book On Writing Well, William Zinsser writes that “rewriting is the essence of writing well—where the game is won or lost”. Weigh every word and sentence, and strive to becoming a better writer by reading classics like On Writing Well and the Elements of Style.
- I find it useful to do read-throughs with different hats on. I do one grammar and spelling read-through, one for flow – and one for substance where I catch gaps in my logic. I always adopt a new reader’s mindset.
- Have someone else proofread. Pick the smartest person you know and encourage them to not spare your feelings.
The novelty and uniqueness of your thoughts
In a TED talk, the speaker usually talks about something really impressive they have written, done, or experienced.
- What is something that only you / your company can tell? For example, there surely are stories of challenges you or your customers have faced. Share them with your audience so that they can benefit from the lessons learned.
- Make sure you capture institutional knowledge. What people in different functions know needs to find its way into your marketing content. For more on this, read our free Content Marketing Strategy eBook, chapter The Company
- Also, be mindful that specificity is a big plus. Resist the temptation to provide mere abstract lessons learned. Tell your audience the details of the hard knocks that taught you – with blood, sweat and tears splattered across the lens.
- Have an opinion on contested topics in your domain. Opinions are interesting, when they are well founded (Ethos – your reputation – comes back into view here). For example:
Challenge yourself to be interesting through the boring dinner test:
Imagine your audience persona as a real person and tell them over dinner what you plan to write. If they are genuinely interested in what you’re saying, you win. If their attention drifts, scrap it and pick another topic. Every day I see at least one blog post which would not have passed the boring dinner test.
(PS. Read the Customer Section in our Content Marketing Strategy eBook on how to build your audience persona)
Sure, How-To posts and Top Ten lists are a content marketer’s meat & potatoes. Nothing wrong with them. But to be truly memorable, you need more: Tell stories only you can tell and take a stand.
Pathos is all about building an emotional connection with your audience.
Now when you hear that, it evokes the image of someone sharing how they were bullied as a child and therefore started an anti-bullying charity. And you think: How on earth will I do that in my marketing content? I only have so many heartfelt stories to share!
Think more broadly. Pathos is everything that evokes an emotion in your audience. And emotions range from joy to sadness, from surprise to disgust. A few selected TED moments of good Pathos:
- Bill Gates, after speaking for about 7 minutes about the fight against malaria, introduces his second point: “What makes a great teacher?”. This leaves the audience confused. Wait – how does that fit into the topic of fighting diseases? Emotion: Confusion, Surprise.
- Tim Urban essentially delivers a 14 minute standup comedy session on his struggle with procrastination: Emotion: Laughter, Pity
- Peter van Uhm starts the talk by praising the audience for making the world a better place through the practice of their profession. And by then saying “you have chosen a pen or a microscope. I have chosen a gun”, he introduces the idea of weapons and armies making the world a safer place. He then brings a real machine gun on stage, making the audience queasy. Emotion: Relatedness, Empathy, Fear, Unease.
You need emotion to help achieve three goals:
People need to know why they should care
If your main tool is the written word, you need to make sure that your headline, introduction and first part of the body text draw people in. And if you can do that on an emotional, and not an intellectual level, they are more likely to stay on. Emotion is a key ingredient that had 200,000 people read my blog post on my first startup’s failure. Evoking how bad it felt to be sitting in a cold warehouse, waiting for orders to come in, had a lot to do with people reading through a 5,000 word article.
Emotions will help your audience understand your point on a different level
It’s the old cliche of a picture is worth a thousand words. The horrifying image of the running girl covered in napalm is a far more powerful piece of information about the Vietnam War than statistics would tell.
Emotions will help the audience remember.
As Maya Angelou said: people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. Connecting an idea to an emotion is key to making it stick with your audience. I will always remember my first WaitButWhy post (in case you couldn’t tell, I’m a huge fan), 7 ways to be insufferable on Facebook. Again, the reason was purely emotional: First, it’s hilarious and I still laugh out loud when I re-read it. But it was also the feeling of “this guy totally gets me and we think alike”. It’s been four years since that article came out and I can still quote passages from it.
So wherever you can, try to evoke feelings in your audience:
- An interesting analogy for a complex topic, a cartoon that brings an abstract point into sharper relief, an image or GIF (The satisfying feeling of having understood something complicated)
- Jokes will provide comic relief
- An unexpected turn in your narrative will surprise your audience
- An outrageous claim will shock, offend, and make people curious to hear more
- Story bookends, frequently used by the Economist where the article starts with an idea that is then revisited towards the end, provide a sense of storytelling closure.
However, adding emotion is hardly news and most people do it already. You will need to stand out in this context, too – by evoking common emotions more powerfully or by going for rarer emotions that your audience is not used to experiencing in the context of online content.
You’re on your own here. But it will come to you with experience. The more you read and write yourself, the more discerning you will be and will learn to dismiss cheap emotions like Robert Parker scoffs at mass-produced wine.
Pathos kicks ass
What Aristotle didn’t anticipate is that in 2017, Pathos, the emotional connection, reigns supreme. In his book Talk like TED, Carmine Gallo analysed 500 TED talks, and came to this conclusion:
The perfect talk consists of 10% Ethos, 25% Logos and 65% Pathos.
Pathos is two and a half times more important than Logos. Savour that.
To get used to this idea, try this: You spend a certain amount of time thinking about your new topic, researching, and crafting your argument. That’s Logos. Try to spend at least the same amount of time thinking about how you will connect with your audience. If you do that, you’ll be at 1x, not the 2.5x that Carmine Gallo is asking from you. But it’s a start.
Of course, this number isn’t gospel. It also applies to TED talks, and I haven’t yet seen someone do this for blog posts. But I bet that this number isn’t too far off the mark for blog posts either.
One thing is clear to me – any piece of content I remember (film, podcast, book, theater play, blog post) I remember because it struck a chord with me emotionally.
When the Allied Forces landed in Normandy in June 1944, they first established so-called beachheads, fists on the table that served as a starting point for the long journey to Berlin.
Most companies blog posts are like shooting arrows at a fortress. That’s because a beachhead, or any other breach of the enemy’s defenses takes more time and work.
A TED Talk-like blog post is your Content Beachhead. You create something remarkable that gets people talking for years.
My own Content Beachhead was my 2014 blog post about the reasons for my startup’s failure. Besides the high readership, it gave me a bump of over 1,000 Twitter followers, was quoted in various tech articles, got me speaking engagements, as well as a Harvard Business School case study.
Velocity Partners, a London Content Marketing agency, created a Content Beachhead in 2013 with their much-quoted presentation “Crap – The Biggest Threat to Content Marketing”.
What will be your Content Beachhead?
Follow the rules above and you have a great shot at creating one.
Talk like TED by Carmine Gallo
A crucial element in Content Marketing audience research consists of finding out what topics your prospective customers are interested in. Because even if you write about “more or less” the right thing, you might still miss the mark.
Here’s how to take the guesswork out of it and systematically analyse your audience’s content preferences.
This is a topic within Content Marketing Strategy. Remember – Content Marketing consists of these four pillars.
Strategy itself needs to consider four main areas of work: The Customer, the Content, the Process and the Company. With the topic at hand, we find ourselves in the Customer area.
(to read about all the other areas, download our Content Marketing Strategy eBook).
So today, we’ll do a deep dive on researching our desired audience’s current content usage. After all, we need to find out what the people we want to pay attention to us are reading.
Again, let’s remind ourselves that Content Marketing does not mean you will blog about how lovely your product or service is. Because no one outside of your company is interested in that. The role of Content Marketing is to create content that your audience will really enjoy reading / seeing / listening to. This will then allow you to build a stronger relationship with them. (read here more about the very basics of Content Marketing)
In other words, you’re creating a magazine in order to attract and engage your current and prospective customers.
So, let’s pick a specific example. Imagine you’re a software company selling a productivity tool for software engineers, and your target audience are CIOs and IT Directors of medium-sized to large companies.
Here’s how to do research on their existing content habits.
1. Find out which social media platforms your audience uses
In this case, as we’re talking CIOs and IT Directors, it’s pretty safe to assume they are not hanging out on Snapchat adding dog ears to their selfies.
Since our target audience is defined by their job title, the most reasonable starting point is LinkedIn. Join CIO and IT Manager groups on LinkedIn, look at who is running them, and who inside them is the most vocal sharer of content, both their own and others’.
You can also simply google “most influential CIOs”, that will also give you a host of great intel.
Compile 20 influencers, both people and publications. (This will come in very handy later on, when you research your topics and when you want to promote your content.). Rank them by their combined followership on the social media platforms that matter.
2. Note what kind of content the influencers engage with
And do it in a systematic way:
Go through each influencer’s last 10 content posts on LinkedIn and Twitter. Note the topic and how much social engagements these posts received.
Over time, content categories will emerge. Let’s say that for our purposes, these are
- General interest tech news. CIOs are interested in innovation topics, so things like self-driving cars, automation and artificial intelligence are high on the agenda.
- Management topics, such as how to manage a team.
- Broader self-improvement and entrepreneurship topics.
A quick aside: Even if your company’s topic (productivity for engineers) is not among the most discussed, that doesn’t matter – you can write about it anyway (among many other things), but you need to make sure to adapt it to one of the categories that emerged. In our hypothetical case in which we sell a productivity tool for coders, the topic of engineers’ productivity will fit nicely in categories 1 and 2 above: You can write about it from a tech perspective, if there is an interesting tech angle to it, and of course it will offer plenty of angles to speak about engineer productivity from a management angle.
Say you’ve analysed 200 content pieces in this way. You will note in which category they fall and can put together a simple pie chart to see their distribution.
Run a quick sanity check to see if there is disproportionate engagement in one of those areas. Simply note down how many shares, likes and comments each item got. If you want to be extra thorough, give comments 3 points, shares 2 points and likes 1 point.
This way, you’ll get a weighted pie chart that will show you the relative popularity of each category.
In this example, we can see that topics in area 3 (self-improvement) are relatively few and far in between (first pie chart), but when you consider the engagement they receive, the picture changes considerably. (Just make sure this is not due to one or two exceptionally well-received posts, but distributed evenly). If you find something like this, you may have stumbled on a potential content goldmine: there’s not too much self-improvement content for CIOs but when it shows up, people like it. That’s a great niche to occupy!
So now you’ve identified which content areas your audience is interested in publicly. It’s important to complement it with your own original research.
3. Complement your research with surveys and direct conversations
As with any other group, you will have some within your audience who are active on social media, and others less so. You need to make sure you also look inside the heads of…
- …those who are active on social media. You don’t only want to see their public consumption but also their private one. Maybe they love cartoons like Dilbert or XKCD that they don’t share on social media.
- …those who are not active on social media. They very likely to also read work and role-related content, they just do it privately. They are as important as the others.
If you already have a database of prospects and clients, you can contact them with a survey or request a 10 minute phone call just to discuss what they read / watch / listen to. If you don’t, you’ll have play the cold calling and introductions game. Nobody said it was easy.
From these conversations, you may get a completely different angle for your magazine. Maybe a content category will emerge that does not have to do with a CIO’s role at all, and be much more general work related (like Dilbert or the “Rules of Work” books).
4. Put it all together & create a content hypothesis
All this research will give you a content profile of what your audience is interested in.
By no means should you take the content split as gospel and split your magazine along the same lines (e.g. 30% innovation topics, 50% IT team management topics, 20% self-improvement as per the pie charts above).
While looking through all this content, see if something stands out to you from a content USP point of view. What do I mean by content USP? Basically, there’s 3 main ways how you can create a new content angle in your field:
Be better than anyone else
Is there one of the 6 categories where the content is poor and we can stand out simply by doing better and more interesting content?
This also includes
- making dense, difficult-to-get-through content easier to read by including charts, diagrams, doodles, cartoons etc or
- creating similar content but with a very different tone of voice that we believe our audience will appreciate more.
- adding commentary in a content universe that is replete with facts but few opinions (e.g. discussing the merits of a particular technology, or critiquing IT team management fads).
Cover a new niche
Is there an untapped content niche? E.g. a gaping lack of content about IT department leadership and instantly 20 topic ideas come up that you could write about?
Combine popular topics
Is there a promising content combination you could do?
- E.g. there’s a lot about IT team management and a lot about general news about AI, but there are ways to deploy AI on team management and we have good reasons to believe that this would be interesting
- Or you see that successful social commentary content is often connected with good storytelling, and you decide to bring storytelling into the IT arena and start each content article with a relevant story.
You need to make up your mind on what you believe you will be good in covering.
5. Test, test, test
We can be as thorough as we want in our research, a reality check is the best proof of your concept. So make sure your initial content coverage is relatively broad to encompass all areas in question. You will see your audience’s engagement on each of your topics. This will give you further indicators on which content route to double down on.
But this research helps you to corroborate your assumptions and keep you from diving into topics your audience will definitely NOT be interested in.
And don’t forget to pick up your copy of our Content Marketing Strategy eBook to get the full picture of research you will need to do to establish a killer Content Marketing practice.
We all know that good friendships are built on mutual enrichment, consistency, authenticity and trust.
They also happen to be the best values for great Content Marketing.
Last week I was talking about company culture with Misha Gopaul. He said something really interesting:
“Strong values are the foundation of a strong culture. They create the organisation’s personality, so that in the same way you know what one of your good friends would do in a given situation, people in the company know how to act more autonomously.”
This friendship analogy made me think that great Content Marketing is, as well, like a friend to your audience.
Let me explain.
One of my favourite writers is Sam Harris. I listen to his podcast and have read most of his books.
But unlike many other authors and thinkers I follow, Sam sometimes pops into my mind when I’m pondering a political or societal topic. I ask myself “What would Sam Harris think about this?”
That’s a rare status that normally only close friends have. You know, those types of friends who have unique views on the world and who make hours fly by when you’re engrossed in a fascinating conversation with them. This is now the way I view Sam Harris and his views, as if he were a friend I learn from, even though I don’t know him personally.
In other words, he’s a great content brand.
Let’s explore what we can learn from him for our Content Marketing work. Can we also become like friends to our audience?
(And no, you don’t have to agree with Sam’s positions to learn a lesson. If you hate his politics, try to see past that.)
1) Offer New Ideas
Lesson from Sam
Sam Harris is difficult to pigeon-hole. On the surface, he sounds like a political liberal, with his merciless criticism of Donald Trump and attacks on religion. But then there is his very nuanced stand on the topic of gun control which genuinely surprised me when I read it. Or his firm pro-Israel position which is not right-wing, but rather emanates from his brand of moral philosophy.
With his book “Waking Up”, he has removed the mystical woo-woo from mindfulness meditation for me, and I started a regular meditating practice which lasts to this day. And his book “The Moral Landscape” has introduced me to a completely new viewpoint on the question of Good and Evil.
Friends don’t need to have new ideas or dazzle you intellectually. But it makes a hell of a difference if they do. Say you meet someone at school. You’re both 14. Hopefully, as you age, you learn and gather wisdom. You stay sufficiently similar (e.g. you are both interested in career success, or have a friendly rivalry in an artistic area, or share the same sense of humour) but you aren’t carbon copies of each other, and therefore enrich each other with new perspectives.
With those people who don’t evolve alongside you, the friendship fizzles out. Especially when you feel like they are stuck in their old ways and haven’t come up with anything new to add to their life. White-picket-fence dullness.
The Takeaway for Content Marketers
There’s no way around it: You have to create something original. At least from time to time. It’s ok to do the occasional roundup post and retweet articles from other people. But to really matter as a content brand, you have to bring something new to the table. No one will be your friend if all you do is parroting others.
(And by the way: That is hard. This post took me 12 hours to write)
2) Be Consistent
Consistency in Substance
Lesson from Sam
Even if, occasionally, Sam Harris’s views come unexpected, they are, when you engage with them deeply, very consistent with each other. There’s a straight line connecting his position on the Israel / Palestine conflict with his book The Moral Landscape. Or take his very radical support for free speech that makes him criticise anyone across the political spectrum and defend the words of the indefensible.
Between friends, inconsistencies in substance are called … lies. Or dishonesty. In the best case, they are confusions of the mind. Hardly a good foundation for a friendship.
The Takeaway for Content Marketers
Consistency in substance drives trust. And while there are plenty of examples of public figures who seem to be getting away with flip-flopping on key issues, don’t be tempted by it. Unlike voters, your audience is not ideologically beholden to you, and is less likely to forgive you intellectual dishonesty, especially when they can smell opportunistic (read: financial) reasons on your part.
Admitting that you changed your mind is, of course, allowed, as long as you don’t change your mind so often that you appear mentally unstable.
Consistency in substance is also a commitment to quality. If you allow publish a sloppily researched blog post or a low-value white paper, your audience will remember. You’re letting them down.
Consistency in Form
Lesson from Sam
With a Sam Harris blog post, book, or podcast episode, I know I get the following:
- Intellectual precision. His choice of words is superb. He captures complex thoughts in a way that make me go “I kinda felt this way, but couldn’t have phrased it that well.” I’ve come to expect these brain treats from Sam.
- Calm tone of voice: Although he often deals with very controversial topics in a debate format, he almost never raises his voice.
- Dry humour: Sam has a great sense of humour and I can count on him making me smirk with his quips and absurd analogies – sometimes brouhaha funny, sometimes just incisive and smart.
- No arrogance: Despite being a first-rate intellectual, he never condescends. When he explains something, it doesn’t feel like lecturing, it feels like we’re exploring the topic together.
Friendships need consistency. You need to dedicate time to nurture them and you can’t be huggy and sweet one day, and cold and distant the next.
The Takeaway for Content Marketers
Be consistent in your tone of voice. That’s not going to be easy. Sam Harris is a one-man show and does nothing but writing all day. You, on the other hand, are a marketer with presumably many responsibilities, writing being one of them. Also, you will have colleagues and freelancers creating content for you.
Therefore, it’s important that over time, as you grow your content marketing practice, you establish a tone of voice and write down who you are, how you write, and what you stand for. There’s a great Acrolinx eBook on how to do that.
Another important consistency in form is you simply showing up. Kontent360 newsletters go out on Tuesday before noon. Every week.
3) Be Authentic
I know, the dreaded A word. It’s a cliché but one of the good ones.
Lesson from Sam
Sam Harris used to struggle with his bad conscience on eating meat, both in and outside the context of industrial farming. He implicitly admitted being a hypocrite by eating meat without being able to ethically defend it.
For someone who has made his career on advocating the supremacy of rationality and often taking the moral high ground, it was a bold move at the time to admit such a lapse of ethical, reasoned thinking.
Admitting to his own imperfection made Harris more relatable and authentic. He’s not hiding his flaws, like most other public figures would in this case.
(btw – this may have contributed to a level of pressure which made him go vegetarian in late 2016.)
Friends show you their ugly side as well. They don’t sugarcoat it when they feel lousy and they let off steam when they are with you. And that’s great. It gives you the opportunity to crack open a beer and bond over tears or at least a good bitching session.
The Takeaway for Content Marketers
Admit to a struggle, whatever it is. It doesn’t have to be the most personal, and don’t use your audience as a therapist. But as long as it’s relevant to your field, and adds value to your audience, go for it.
For example, I did that by admitting to Kontent360’s shortcomings in the area of collecting email addresses on our blog. Too many how-to blog posts assume that time is unlimited and they expect the reader to implement everything one is suggesting. So I thought of giving my audience a break by admitting that I’m not perfect either. Particularly tricky because this is my field, so I should be best-in-class.
By admitting that Kontent360 is itself falling short of that high standard, I hope I have made myself more relatable to all those Content Marketers struggling to fit everything into a 40 hour work week.
4) Don’t Have An Agenda
Lesson from Sam
Sam Harris isn’t looking for trends to jump on to grow his follower base. He just follows his interest, which makes his views all the more informed and insightful. He also doesn’t shy away from esoteric topics which few of his readers will understand or necessarily care for, such as cosmology, the foundations of science, or whether humans have free will.
Good friends don’t have an agenda. They spend time with you because they enjoy your company. They have their quirks and yes, sometimes it can get tedious when they tell you how great it was dressing up as Darth Vader at Comic Con. (Don’t worry, you also bore them when you mope about your ex boyfriend. Friendship’s a give and take).
This is also why network marketing is one of the fastest ways to lose friends. When you start selling essential oils or herbal supplements to your mates, you poison the pristine lake of true friendship with the sewage of a commercial agenda.
Takeaway for Content Marketers
This one is really subtle. Because you will rightly say that the whole idea of Content Marketing is Having An Agenda. After all, you’re not providing the content out of the goodness of heart. You want your audience to become customers.
My argument is:
- In Content Marketing, most people in your audience know what game is being played and each side accepts the rules.
- The rules from the audience’s viewpoint: I know you’re a company selling stuff. I know you want my money. But because you add value to me through great content, I allow you to come into my inbox. I am conscious that through this process, I am more likely to, at some point, buy from you. I accept you sending me occasional sales emails.
- The rules from the company’s viewpoint: I know you don’t want to buy now. Doesn’t matter. If you give me permission, I will send you high quality content to build a relationship over time. Maybe you will never buy. That’s ok, too. I will still send you great content.
- Because both sides KNOW what game is being played and are willing participants, there’s no agenda problem if the company wants their audience to buy something. The audience knew this would be coming at some point.
So what WOULD a company’s dishonest Agenda-Driven Behaviour in the context of Content Marketing look like? For example:
- Segmenting those users who read but never buy, and subject them to a bombardment of sales emails (“might as well”).
- Guilting your audience into buying from you.
- Providing crappy content and hoping they won’t notice.
- Selling email addresses or using them for another business of yours.
So: Stick to the rules of the game. Provide high value content without asking for anything in return (except the occasional email address and extra info).
Still – you can’t convert friends into customers, right?
You will correctly point out that the sole purpose of Content Marketing is to, ultimately, bring in new customers, and how does THAT carry over into the friend analogy? It would be awfully sad if the ultimate purpose of friendship would be the extraction of profit from the other person, wouldn’t it? After all, we DON’T want to be that network marketer who hawks those dubious supplements to his friends, right?
First of all, we’re all grown-ups here. I’m not implying that we’re building up REAL friendship with our audience. We’re just borrowing from the concept of friendship to build as good and as genuine a relationship with our audience as we can.
Second: Even transactions are part of a friendship. Friendships are a give AND take. We all know people who are just a bit too self-centered, they always talk about themselves. They’re the Me Monster.
Me Monsters disrupt the transaction that is inherent in every friendship: We are friends to get our mutual social needs (listening, laughing, whining, seeking advice, sharing experiences) met. BOTH of us. Not just one side. If all a friend does is talk about herself, she will soon find herself without real friendships.
And that is why it’s ok to ask your audience to buy your stuff. You, as a content marketer, have done your bit. You added value to your audience through great content. When you ask them to buy, that’s like a friend saying “ok, can we briefly talk about my things now?”.
This does not mean that your audience are breaking their side of the agreement by never buying, because them never buying is part of what you, the company, signed up for. You knew this was very possible to happen.
To reinvoke the analogy:
By having friends, a person is getting their emotional needs met. The beauty of a great friendship is that it leaves both sides better off.
By having customers, companies are getting their financial needs met. The beauty of a good business transaction is that it leaves both sides better off.
See where I’m going with this?
When you build the customer relationship with the right person and have the friend framework in mind, then a conversion is like when you take someone’s number at a party because you want to hang out. Or when you invite a new friend into your existing group of friends. Or suggest a trip together. These moments of transition from one stage to the next can be awkward and uncomfortable. But if the other side says yes, then hooray! You just deepened the relationship and find yourself at a higher level with them.
By bringing in the friend analogy into the field of Content Marketing, I don’t mean to imply that you should strive to actually become friends with your audience, or even to use this term with them. That’d be like the fakery of employers calling the company a family.
But remember the quote in the beginning – Misha was talking about how a good company culture resembled a friendship: Through culture, the team gets to understand the character of the imaginary person (the company) and acts like that person would act. I experienced this in my 3.5 years Google, where people regularly reflected on the “Don’t be evil” mantra, e.g. by asking things in conversations like “If Google buys Motorola and doesn’t give all employees stock options, is that evil?”
And in the same way, a great content brand is like a friend. It offers interesting insights, is consistent, is authentic, and doesn’t have an agenda.
And it boldly attempts to deepen the friendship.