How Great Content Marketing Mimics Good Friendships

How Great Content Marketing Mimics Good Friendships

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.

Sam Harris

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

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.

Friends

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Calm tone of voice: Although he often deals with very controversial topics in a debate format, he almost never raises his voice.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

 

Friends

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

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.

 

Friends

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. 

 

Conclusion

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.

 

Image Credit: Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash, Wikipedia

How To Collect Your Website Visitors’ Email Addresses Like A Pro

How To Collect Your Website Visitors’ Email Addresses Like A Pro

So you’ve created that Content Marketing Strategy document, have written your first few blog posts and are all fired up to promote them and start bringing visitors to your website?

Strap your galloping steed of enthusiasm into the methodical harness of discipline – there’s one more thing left to do before we can unleash that torrent of traffic into our corral! We have to build a sturdy fence and make a good knot in that lasso of ours.

 

Easy on the metaphors, cowboy!

But it’s true, we need to talk about that step in your content marketing process where you collect someone’s contact details.

Note that there’s other ways to gather email addresses to build your list, some of which are considered black hat (e.g. scraping from other websites for the purpose of spamming).

Here, we will only discuss how to legitimately get visitors on your website to opt into your content delivery mechanism.

Super short summary of this article:

  • There are many methods how you can capture visitors’ email addresses when they come to your website
  • It’s absolutely vital you do this before you start promoting your content like crazy, especially before you start investing money.
  • How many of these methods should you implement in what intensity?
  • That depends on your audience, and the more sophisticated they are, the more you can and should lay on them.
  • Each audience lives in its own Goldilocks zone where too aggressive pursuing will burn them and too little will make you miss out on audience growth.
  • Can you do without any proactive email collecting? Sure, if you’re Louis CK or Seth Godin.
  • And how are we at Kontent360 doing in this regard? Well, for some self-loathing, you’ll have to read on. 🙂

And thank you Shimrit Shiran for the inspiration and plenty of ideas for this article.

 

Let’s do some conceptual thinking first

From the marketer’s point of view, the step is located in the middle of the Content Marketing Value Chain.

Content Marketing Value Chain

From your customer’s point of view it’s here:

Customer's Content Marketing Journey

It’s absolutely critical you set up your email collection system before investing in the promotion of your content. Otherwise you’re just pouring water into a leaky bucket.

How much to do? How many email collection tools to implement and how frequently? That’s a topic for the end of the post. Read on.

So, here’s the Gang of Heroes that will turn your website into an email collection machine.

The heroes who will save the planet

Oops, wrong picture. HERE we go.

Let’s discuss them one-by-one.

The Classic Popup

The workhorse among the email collection methods, the popup has shedded its shoddy reputation from the bad old days when our computers threw up window popups like it caught the measles.

old school popups from the 1990s

Those days are gone

Well, to be fair, many people still hate popups. But not as much as they used to. And it’s a little bit like with ads – web users understand that ads are necessary to keep some websites going. And they also largely understand that websites want to build lists and that the interaction with a popup is the small price they pay to access a website’s interesting content.

a great popupA great popup

Popups come in many shapes and sizes, but there are a few sub-categories worth noting:

 

The forced interaction popup

These are some of the most controversial ones. I’m sure you’ve seen them. They sound like when your mum has a fit of passive-aggressiveness because you haven’t visited in months.

forced interaction popup

Some of the most hardcore ones even disable the little X in the corner and the click outside of it, so you literally have to click “No thanks, I hate creativity”.

There’s solid research out there that shows the effectiveness of forced interaction popups, but you have to ask yourself: Do you want to be the equivalent of the guy in the bar who gets squarely in the way of women going to see her friends? It’s just needy and borderline creepy.

 

The Slide-In / Fly-In

slide-in or fly-in popup

A more user-friendly version of a popup, as it can often be ignored when reading an article. When triggered at the right moment, e.g. when the reader has reached the end of the article, they provide the most natural transition from “I enjoyed reading this” to  “And now I will subscribe to get more of the same”

 

What tools to use and what success rates to expect?

WordPress has hundreds of plugin builders, and I won’t be going into review mode here. Kontent360 is using PopupMaker and I’m quite happy with it so far.

When it comes to performance, the best implemented and most value-adding popups reach conversion rates of 6.5%, and surely can go even beyond that, depending on what you offer in them.

 

The Value-Added Download

Often these take the form of popups but can also be in a sticky bar – it’s a promise of longer-form content that adds extra value to the reader – ebooks, white papers etc. Webinars also fall into that category.

value added content popup from sitepoint.com

Value-added download content in a popup

In most cases, these value-added content downloads are also available on their separate landing page which presents a form to the reader they have to fill out.

value added content landing page

Most email collection methods only collect the email address, but the value-added download can often afford to collect a little bit more information – usually the name, and possibly age, job title, employer – anything that will help you in targeting in the future. It’s risky to try to pack too much into the form – the more you ask, the more likely people will abandon the form.

People. So typical.

Value-added download popups are probably more effective. The Kontent360 Content Marketing Strategy eBook has a much better conversion rate via its popup than on its own landing page.

More examples of White Paper Landing pages are here. 

And recently I stumbled upon this interesting concept of Content Upgrades.(watch the video). The way it works is that when people download one piece of high-value content, you offer them ANOTHER one in exchange for a tweet or a Facebook mention. It’s priced a bit steeply for what it does, I’m sure it’s useful though.

 

The Sticky Bar

So the reader is reading your article and at one point, unbeknownst to you, thinks:

Wow, that was smart. Actually, this is a good blog, I will sign up.

But she looks around and there’s no instant way for her to do that. No sign up box or anything. So she reads on. Then, the phone rings and she gets distracted or she switches browser tabs and the moment’s gone.

This wouldn’t have happened with a sticky bar.

sticky bar

With a sticky bar, you have a permanent reminder to the reader that they can sign for your work. At the same time, it is unobtrusive enough and doesn’t interrupt the reader.

Because of its unobtrusiveness, conversion rates are lower than via popups (sumo puts the best performers among their “smart bar” users at 1.4%)

Again, there’s plenty of plugins to choose from for WordPress.

 

The Homepage Call-To-Action

Sometimes we forget that our homepage is the busiest page on our website and presents a great opportunity to capture email addresses.

While practically no one will leave their email address upon their very first visit to a website, it’s really useful to have a simple call to action that people will always be able to return to after they’ve browsed through the website and got an idea about what you’re selling.

Reactful homepageReactful Homepage

If you don’t have a “free trial” to give away, here’s a few alternatives:

  • Zenefits – “See how it works” and a signup form
  • New York Times – “Get a weekly roundup of the best advice…”

 

The Content Page CTA

This is the equivalent of the good old banner ad. In fact, some companies who normally serve banner ads in a given location instruct their system to serve their own “house ads” when the likely revenue from an ad is about to drop below a predetermined level.

This can take the form of an actual ad that directs towards some immediately monetiseable content like here:

Call to action on Ryanholiday.netRyanholiday.net

Or it can be simply another instance of email collection.

Kissmetrics blog content page CTA email collection

Simply reserve a certain element on your website for a permanent placement of a call to action that directs the visitor towards a desired behaviour.

 

The Exit Popup

Technically, this is a simple popup, only that it’s triggered when the user is about to leave (a swift move with the cursor, usually).

Exit Intent Popup

A bit desperate, a bit needy, but hey if it brings more legit signups, power to you.

Most popup makers have this as a standard optional feature in their toolbox. Kontent360 Popup Maker does.

And here’s a good article on how to improve Exit Popup performance.

 

The Welcome Mat

This is one of the most brutal and intrusive methods and belies its friendly name.

One moment you’re on a site, unsuspectingly reading along, and suddenly this Persian blind comes rattling down and forces you to interact with it.

Kissmetrics Welcome Mat PopupKissmetrics

Welcome mats have almost as good conversion rates as Popups (Sumo speaks of 6.3% average among the best performing). So they are definitely in the category Annoying but it works.

Sumo is one of the leading providers of Welcome Mats.

 

The Chat Window (Lookalike)

The opportunity for site visitors to simply start talking to a customer service representative, either to be initiated by the user like here

Neura on-site live chat

Or by the company when the user has performed certain tasks. “Hey there, can I help you”?

The latter can feel a little bit intrusive, especially when it happens early on during the site visit and it requires the user to enter their email address before the chat can commence. Do avoid asking for their email address when you initiate the conversation.

In cases where you are offline, the chat window simply directs the users to a form where they can ask a question. Some companies even use the familar shape and location of a chat window to put a standard Call To Action in front of the user.

Chat window lookalikeKissmetrics

 

Here’s a few providers of live chat.

 

So – how much to do?

It’s a tricky question – how many email collection touchpoints to implement and how often to have them appear on your website is part science, part personal preference.

It’s clear that doing too little doesn’t serve anyone. If your audience only sees one popup every 20 page views and nothing else, you’re wasting goodwill. Sure, people can subscribe to your stuff if they are looking for it, but people don’t WANT to be looking for it. There’s a lot of good content online and if you, the marketer, don’t work for the visitor’s attention, they will shrug their shoulders and leave.

On the other hand, there are some sites out there that bombard you with popups, page takeovers, banners, sticky bars – and it’s just all too much. It makes you wary of scrolling for fear of triggering yet another gimmicky animated popup dangling on your screen.

Goldilocks comes to mind.

goldilocks zone for email collection intensity

The closer you move to the sun (= the more methods you implement with more frequency), the more people will sign up. But you will also lose goodwill because you don’t give your audience breathing room and treat them like a pushy salesman at the bazar. The sun will end up burning your impressive list.

This is best illustrated by adding long-term monetisation and audience frustration graphs:

Long term monetisation initially grows the more email collection touchpoints you implement. But the closer you move to the absolute point of overkill, the more you will end up burning your list – people will hate you for being too pushy. And you will have to compensate for that with truly outstanding content (a feat that allows the incredibly pushy neilpatel.com to thrive).

At the same time, audience frustration rises quite linearly (except for a spike at the far left end where you don’t give people any chance to interact with you and sign up)

You have to find that spot where long-term monetisation is at its highest and its distance from the frustration curve is the widest, at the same time.

Of course, this is just a hypothetical exercise, no general studies have been conducted that you could use as a guide post. Because the thing is: The width of the three zones, and with them, the position of the optimum, completely depend on your audience. You can’t serve 18 year old fashion freaks the same types of calls to action in the same intervals as you would offer to middle-aged IT Directors in the insurance industry. Every company’s audience is slightly different.

So what do you do if you don’t know how intense to go?

A reasonable proxy to gauge the ease of frustration of your audience is their sophistication with all things web. The more web-savvy they are, the more calls to action you can and should serve them. That’s why websites that educate about marketing often bombard visitors with many creative calls to action – they know that a simple popup won’t cut it with their hard-nosed audience.

In contrast, your blog about health tips for senior citizens should probably go easier on the flashy “Click Here” popups if you don’t want to annoy your audience. Their frustration curve is much steeper than average. You should see my mum. She goes nuclear at every innocuous fly-in popup that crosses her path.

So the best way to go about it is:

  1. Locate your audience on a scale of web sophistication.
  2. Based on this, formulate a hypothesis on which of the 8 tools you will deploy on them in what intensity and frequency
  3. Implement these tools.
  4. If you have enough traffic, run AB tests where you move along the Goldilocks scale, testing the territory closer and farther away from the sun, and evaluate the results.
  5. Whenever you run an audience survey, include a question about whether the email collection methods on your website are too intrusive.

 

Can I do completely without?

Look, I get it. Everything about these methods has the air of neediness, to varying extent. The artists among us would love to just be able to create amazing content and attract an audience who is whacking their way through to our door.

But that’s not how the world works for 99.99% of content creators.

You simply HAVE to sell. Collecting email addresses is a way of selling. And I dare you to create content that is so VASTLY superior and so secure in its uniqueness that you can do completely without any means of proactively collecting email addresses.

Very few people have pulled that off. Seth Godin comes to mind; Or Louis CK, who famously has an unchecked opt-in button to his mailing list when you buy something from his website.

Louis CK email optin

Those two guys have no popups on their site. You have to actively look for ways to subscribe to their content. And they have email lists in the millions.

Until you get a passionate followership like they do, build an email list the old way.

Or just go and create such outstanding content that people will find you and WANT to hear from you.

You may have a couple years of work ahead of you.

 

Coda: How are we at Kontent360 doing across all these methods?

Oh, not that well at this point, to be honest with you!

We only have a slide-in popup and a value-added content popup. And our email collection bar at the bottom (and sometimes top) of the page is visually sub-par (doesn’t stand out). Finally, the form on our subscribe page is rather ugly.

One of the next things we will implement is a visually more appealing sticky bar and content page CTAs (the banner ad equivalents). Also, we’re not doing well on means to grow social sharing (for example, you can’t easily share this blog post with one click) and having arrived here, we’re not giving you a good way to read the next or previous blog post. But that’s a different chapter.

The point is: There’s always something to do and we are working with enthusiasm to get better every day. (Ok, every week. More likely month – we have a lot of clients!) And we’re looking forward to correcting the above paragraph as we improve.

Further reading

http://usabilitygeek.com/pop-ups-vs-usability-conversions-bounce-rates/

https://sumo.com/stories/email-signup-benchmarks

http://optinmonster.com/6-reasons-pop-ups-welcome-gates-and-slide-ins-suck-and-the-solution/

https://kickofflabs.com/blog/to-pop-up-or-not-to-pop-up-what-is-the-answer/

https://instapage.com/blog/white-paper-landing-page-examples

 

Image credits: Den of Geek, NASA, Adobe Stock, and the respective quoted websites.

 

Five Reasons Why Long-Form Content Kicks Shorty’s Butt

Five Reasons Why Long-Form Content Kicks Shorty’s Butt

Despite shrivelling attention spans, long-form content is a great way to build relationships with your audience.

If you write in a web-friendly way and prioritise quality, you will get rewarded with SEO mojo and authority in the minds of your customers.

In the beginning, there was the exploding Chicken Kiev.

My lack of familiarity with this butter-bloated, crumb-covered Russian ball of fowl made me confuse it with a standard dumpling. Vigorously, I dug into my avian orb as if nothing but fluffy uniformity awaited at its core.

The result was a violently bespattered tablecloth to my left, the buttery droplets radiating like a Wifi symbol, greasy witnesses to the powers populating my planet of poultry. They missed my neighbour’s nicely ironed chinos by the width of a feather.

</chicken puns>

Chicken Supernova

Chicken Supernova

So my neighbour (a fine chap I just met), the lady to his left (who I knew a bit) and I had a good laugh and tacitly decided that, after surviving this trauma together, our relationship had instantly graduated to a level where British politeness shares a seat with a healthy helping of candour.

Because when we moved on to discussing our jobs and the topic came to my work in Content Marketing, they showed how sceptical they were about the value of long-form content. You know, blog posts of 1,500 words and more, white papers and eBooks.

“I start reading and when I see that it goes on and on, I don’t continue”, our female companion said.

This statement reminds me of people who are surprised at Google’s business model: “Really? Those little text ads make all the money? I NEVER click on those!” Well, I also barely click on ads. But in 2016, people somewhere in the world clicked around 50 billion times on them humble snippets.

Similarly, there must be SOME people in the world who read all this slew of long blog posts and white papers that companies are churning out. Would they be doing it otherwise?

In fact, there’s several good reasons why long-form content is great, and every company doing Content Marketing should consider having it in their arsenal.

1. Google LOVES long form content

Google’s algorithms are a mystery, but among SEO experts there is practical unanimity that, things being equal, long form content kicks its short siblings’ butt all over the place.

The average article length on organic search result in the #1 slot is 1,890 words.

Recently, I did my own little study for a client. As they are in the HR space, I googled four reasonably broad HR topics to see how long the #1 organic search results would be.

Besides the evidence, it also makes sense conceptually. In the last few years, Google has become better at recognising quality. Annoying gimmicks like keyword stuffing have lost their impact as the benevolent Eye of Google is able to find the best content, even if it’s hiding under piles of keyword-optimised, but poor and unoriginal rubble.

Just imagine primary colours around the eye.

Does this mean that Google equates long content with quality? Of course not! But Google’s predilection for the long form is a clear sign that other things being equal, a long article will give you more value than a short one, especially if it is well written – which brings us to the next point.

2. People read differently on the Web – length doesn’t hurt

People read at an average speed of 200 words per minute. So an article of 2,000 words will take 10 minutes to read, right?

Wrong.

People read differently on the web than they read a book. They skim and skip and jump and scroll and saunter from paragraph to paragraph, they start with the conclusion, and end with the introduction.

But they also read deeply if the quality is good.

For example, one of my clients has recently asked me to speak to some of his customers, so I decided to brush up on my interviewing skills. I googled “how to interview like a journalist” and found this 3,700 word monster.

Of course I didn’t spend 18.5 minutes reading the damn thing. Instead, I skimmed the headings and focused on the 7-8 items that caught my attention. I don’t think I ever reached the end of the article.

When people argue against long-form content, they say that users don’t finish reading long articles.

I say this doesn’t matter.

The way sites like Medium measure the “read ratio” as a proxy of people finishing an article, is

I did an experiment once where I published a post on Medium, immediately looked it up in another browser (= I was the first reader) and race-scrolled to the bottom of it. Medium counted me as a reader and my article’s read ratio was 100%. This makes no sense. But it’s easy to measure.

What matters much more is if the reader got value out of a blog post. And for that, they don’t have to finish reading.

The flipside for writers is: You can lose your audience any second. So learn to write in a way that keeps them engaged. Prioritise quality, include summaries, images, sub-headings, bullet points, smooth transitions between sections, and so on. It’s a skill that can be learned like any other. Online content is a new genre and there’s good and bad craftsmen and artists in it.

When the form is poor, the substance will get lost. So learn to master the medium and length won’t be an issue.

3. Some topics simply require long form

Seriously, what kind of actionable, helpful advice will you be able to give if you cover a question like “How to grow your Twitter follower base” in 400-500 words? You’ll get a few commonplace wisdoms, empty word shells like “engage in a conversation” and examples of Twitter superstars. It’ll be just an illusion of having taught something.

Returning to my example on learning journalist interviewing skills and the 3,700 word article: I found this bit very insightful:

I often struggle with this question of whether to force a narrative on a story or just let it develop. The section above drove the point home to me: If you need to knock out something quickly, have a plan. If you can go in depth and are willing to gamble a bit, let go of preconceptions.

This message would be difficult to convey in all its nuance in less than the 202 words used above, especially if you want to insert expert quotes like the author does. Sure, you could just use the italicised sentence above. But as with any brief advice, there’s a much bigger risk of it going in in one ear and out the other. Elaborating, examples and quotes fill an abstract rule with life and make it more memorable.

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
(Saint-Exupéry)

By all means, trim the fat and drop the baggage. But don’t lose your substance because you think you need to cater to everyone with ADD.

4. Long-form content builds relationships

The goal of Content Marketing is to build a relationship with the prospective or existing customer. If you are extremely terse and to the point every time you publish something, you might miss out on forming a genuine connection with your reader.

For example, in this article, I could have plunged straight into my argument. Instead, I gave you the Chicken Kiev story. I think it is entertaining (at least I had fun writing it), and it helps you, the reader, get to know me a little bit and get a feel for my sense of humour. When it comes to building relationships, this is valuable – to open up a bit, to tell a story.

Storytelling time in the land of badly drawn bulbous creatures

Also, long-form content allows you to showcase your expertise in complex topics, which is another way of relationship building.

Yes, I am fully conscious that by telling a a story or going deep into a topic, I might lose some of my potential readers (“Give me facts & information immediately or I’m out”). But then, I don’t want everyone anyway. I want people who enjoy a good (I hope…) read. They will become my customers.

I’d rather have my content polarise and qualify my audience than please everyone.

It’s simple – part of your Content Marketing Strategy is to get to know your audience and find out what kind of content they will enjoy. If they are open to the long form and you are good at writing it – there’s your answer.

Just don’t say that long-form content per se doesn’t work.

(on the topic of Strategy – I wrote a 33-page (i.e. long-form) eBook on the topic of Content Marketing Strategy where I cover customer content research, check it out)

5. Despite all the gadgets and the ADD – people do read

You’d expect that in an era where technology has turned us into Pavlov’s dogs, books, the epitome of long-form-content, would be a folly of forest-dwelling hippies.

Quality time in the family

Well, 2016 was the year with the highest level of book sales ever in the UK. Add on top of this blog readership, then total hours spent reading have skyrocketed.

Sure, some US statistics suggest that people read fewer books than their forebears did 40 years ago. But this doesn’t seem to translate to the UK – readership figures suggest that all is well in that regard. And that is remarkable: In the age of constant attention-fracking technology, people still read books – what a resilient medium it is!

And what’s more, the largest segment of consumers and workers, Millennials, are out-reading older generations across most genres, only bested by the 65+ group in the area of fiction.

Sure, the vast majority of people hunched over their phones on your morning commute are on their socials or watching youtube or fighting with their spouse over Whatsapp.

But many of them are reading on their kindle app or skim through blog posts in their browser.

All that said…

Long-form content is not a goal in itself.

You don’t set out thinking to yourself “Ah what a fine day it is today! I shall knock out a 1,500 word blog post. Hmmm, what will I write about?”

No, you think “Today, I shall write about how to cook exploding food, let’s see where it takes me”.

SEO and content marketing guru Rand Fishkin rightly points out that great content ≠ long-form content and offers various examples of successful short form content.

But that does not contradict my point in this article: The goal is to inform readers as well as possible about a topic they are interested in. Length is not the objective. Value is. Great value can be delivered in 112 words.

My whole point is: In a world where ink and paper are not an issue, we can give each topic the space it deserves without having to artificially constrain ourselves to a predetermined length.

Bad writers deem this a free pass at writing rambling, unedited, stream-of-consciousness-style content. But I’m confident that Google will punish the wafflers in the end and that amazing, massive, high quality articles like these will prevail.

Unlike my sceptical dinner companions and victims to my chicken supernova, I am convinced that long-form content is as dead as books are – not at all.

But does it sell?

Oh, well that is an entirely different question and one that we will explore in a later blog post. Of course it does sell, but don’t take our word for it.

Sign up for our newsletter to receive the blog post as soon as it’s out.

By the way, this post is 2,019 words long. 🙂

 

Image credits: Adobe Stock, Giphy, Peacock PanachePinterest

Despite shrivelling attention spans, long-form content is a great way to build relationships with your audience.

If you write in a web-friendly way and prioritise quality, you will get rewarded with SEO mojo and authority in the minds of your customers.

In the beginning, there was the exploding Chicken Kiev.

My lack of familiarity with this butter-bloated, crumb-covered Russian ball of fowl made me confuse it with a standard dumpling. Vigorously, I dug into my avian orb as if nothing but fluffy uniformity awaited at its core.

The result was a violently bespattered tablecloth to my left, the buttery droplets radiating like a Wifi symbol, greasy witnesses to the powers populating my planet of poultry. They missed my neighbour’s nicely ironed chinos by the width of a feather. </chicken puns>

Chicken Supernova

Chicken Supernova

So my neighbour (a fine chap I just met), the lady to his left (who I knew a bit) and I had a good laugh and tacitly decided that, after surviving this trauma together, our relationship had instantly graduated to a level where British politeness shares a seat with a healthy helping of candour.

Because when we moved on to discussing our jobs and the topic came to my work in Content Marketing, they showed how sceptical they were about the value of long-form content. You know, blog posts of 1,500 words and more, white papers and eBooks.

“I start reading and when I see that it goes on and on, I don’t continue”, our female companion said.

This statement reminds me of people who are surprised at Google’s business model: “Really? Those little text ads make all the money? I NEVER click on those!” Well, I also barely click on ads. But in 2016, people somewhere in the world clicked around 50 billion times on them humble snippets.

Similarly, there must be SOME people in the world who read all this slew of long blog posts and white papers that companies are churning out. Would they be doing it otherwise?

In fact, there’s several good reasons why long-form content is great, and every company doing Content Marketing should consider having it in their arsenal.

1. Google LOVES long form content

Google’s algorithms are a mystery, but among SEO experts there is practical unanimity that, things being equal, long form content kicks its short siblings’ butt all over the place.

The average article length on organic search result in the #1 slot is 1,890 words.

Recently, I did my own little study for a client. As they are in the HR space, I googled four reasonably broad HR topics to see how long the #1 organic search results would be.

“Take Employee pulse” → #1 result 2,722 words

“How to deal with Millennials” –> #1 result 1070 words

“How to motivate top performers” –> #1 result 1,590 words

“Improve my presentations skills” –> #1 result, 1,950 words

Besides the evidence, it also makes sense conceptually. In the last few years, Google has become better at recognising quality. Annoying gimmicks like keyword stuffing have lost their impact as the benevolent Eye of Google is able to find the best content, even if it’s hiding under piles of keyword-optimised, but poor and unoriginal rubble.

Just imagine primary colours around the eye.

Does this mean that Google equates long content with quality? Of course not! But Google’s predilection for the long form is a clear sign that other things being equal, a long article will give you more value than a short one, especially if it is well written – which brings us to the next point.

2. People read differently on the Web – length doesn’t hurt

People read at an average speed of 200 words per minute. So an article of 2,000 words will take 10 minutes to read, right?

Wrong.

People read differently on the web than they’d read a book. They skim and skip and jump and scroll and saunter from paragraph to paragraph, they start with the conclusion, and end with the introduction.

But they also read deeply if the quality is good.

For example, one of my clients has recently asked me to speak to some of his customers, so I decided to brush up on my interviewing skills. I googled “how to interview like a journalist” and found this 3,700 word monster. Of course I didn’t spend 18.5 minutes reading the damn thing. Instead, I skimmed the headings and focused on the 7-8 items that caught my attention. I don’t think I ever reached the end of the article. When people argue against long-form content, they say that users don’t finish reading long articles. I say this doesn’t matter. The way sites like Medium measure the “read ratio” as a proxy of people finishing an article, is

I did an experiment once where I published a post on Medium, immediately looked it up in another browser (= I was the first reader) and race-scrolled to the bottom of it. Medium counted me as a reader and my article’s read ratio was 100%. This makes no sense. But it’s easy to measure.

What matters much more is if the reader got value out of a blog post. And for that, they don’t have to finish reading.

The flipside for writers is: You can lose your audience any second. So learn to write in a way that keeps them engaged. Prioritise quality, include summaries, images, sub-headings, bullet points, smooth transitions between sections, and so on. It’s a skill that can be learned like any other. Online content is a new genre and there’s good and bad craftsmen and artists in it.

When the form is poor, the substance will get lost. So learn to master the medium and length won’t be an issue.

3. Some topics simply require long form

Seriously, what kind of actionable, helpful advice will you be able to give if you cover a question like “How to grow your Twitter follower base” in 400-500 words? You’ll get a few commonplace wisdoms, empty word shells like “engage in a conversation” and examples of Twitter superstars. It’ll be just an illusion of having taught something.

Returning to my example on learning journalist interviewing skills and the 3,700 word article: I found this bit very insightful:

I often struggle with this question of whether to force a narrative on a story or just let it develop. The section above drove the point home to me: If you need to knock out something quickly, have a plan. If you can go in depth and are willing to gamble a bit, let go of preconceptions.

This message would be difficult to convey in all its nuance in less than the 202 words used above, especially if you want to insert expert quotes like the author does. Sure, you could just use the italicised sentence above. But as with any brief advice, there’s a much bigger risk of it going in in one ear and out the other. Elaborating, examples and quotes fill an abstract rule with life and make it more memorable.

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
(Saint-Exupéry)

By all means, trim the fat and drop the baggage. But don’t lose your substance because you think you need to cater to everyone with ADD.

4. Long-form content is great for building relationships

The goal of Content Marketing is to build a relationship with the prospective or existing customer. If you are extremely terse and to the point every time you publish something, you might miss out on forming a genuine connection with your reader. For example, in this article, I could have plunged straight into my argument. Instead, I gave you the Chicken Kiev story. I think it is entertaining (at least I had fun writing it), and it helps you, the reader, get to know me a little bit and get a feel for my sense of humour. When it comes to building relationships, this is valuable – to open up a bit, to tell a story.

Storytelling time in the land of badly drawn bulbous creatures

Also, long-form content allows you to showcase your expertise in complex topics, which is another way of relationship building.

Yes, I am fully conscious that by telling a a story or going deep into a topic, I might lose some of my potential readers (“Give me facts & information immediately or I’m out”). But then, I don’t want everyone anyway. I want people who enjoy a good (I hope…) read. They will become my customers.

I’d rather have my content polarise and qualify my audience than please everyone.

It’s simple – part of your Content Marketing Strategy is to get to know your audience and find out what kind of content they will enjoy. If they are open to the long form and you are good at writing it – there’s your answer.

Just don’t say that long-form content per se doesn’t work.

(on the topic of Strategy – I wrote a 33-page (i.e. long-form) eBook on the topic of Content Marketing Strategy where I cover customer content research, check it out)

5. Despite all the gadgets and the ADD – people do read

You’d expect that in an era where technology has turned us into Pavlov’s dogs, books, the epitome of long-form-content, would be a folly of forest-dwelling hippies.

Quality time in the family

Well, 2016 was the year with the highest level of book sales ever in the UK. Add on top of this blog readership, then total hours spent reading have skyrocketed.

Sure, some US statistics suggest that people read fewer books than their forebears did 40 years ago. But this doesn’t seem to translate to the UK – readership figures suggest that all is well in that regard. And that is remarkable: In the age of constant attention-fracking technology, people still read books – what a resilient medium it is!

And what’s more, the largest segment of consumers and workers, Millennials, are out-reading older generations across most genres, only bested by the 65+ group in the area of fiction.

Sure, the vast majority of people hunched over their phones on your morning commute are on their socials or watching youtube or fighting with their spouse over Whatsapp.

But many of them are reading on their kindle app or skim through blog posts in their browser.

All that said…

Long-form content is not a goal in itself.

You don’t set out thinking to yourself “Ah what a fine day it is today! I shall knock out a 1,500 word blog post. Hmmm, what will I write about?”

No, you think “Today, I shall write about how to cook exploding food, let’s see where it takes me”.

SEO and content marketing guru Rand Fishkin rightly points out that great content ≠ long-form content and offers various examples of successful short form content.

But that does not contradict my point in this article: The goal is to inform readers as well as possible about a topic they are interested in. Length is not the objective. Value is. Great value can be delivered in 112 words.

My whole point is: In a world where ink and paper are not an issue, we can give each topic the space it deserves without having to artificially constrain ourselves to a predetermined length.

Bad writers deem this a free pass at writing rambling, unedited, stream-of-consciousness-style content. But I’m confident that Google will punish the wafflers in the end and that amazing, massive, high quality articles like these will prevail.

Unlike my sceptical dinner companions and victims to my chicken supernova, I am convinced that long-form content is as dead as books are – not at all.

But does it sell?

Oh, well that is an entirely different question and one that we will explore in a later blog post. Of course it does sell, but don’t take our word for it.

Sign up for our newsletter to receive the blog post as soon as it’s out.

By the way, this post is 2,022 words long. 🙂

 

Image credits: Adobe Stock, Giphy, Peacock PanachePinterest

How To Deal With A Boring Product and Too Much Content – Mint and Freshbooks Case Studies

How To Deal With A Boring Product and Too Much Content –
Mint and Freshbooks Case Studies

What if you’re a company with a boring product? Does it make sense to use Content Marketing? Is there anything interesting to write about?

And, on the opposite side of the spectrum, how do you stand out in a very crowded content area?

We look at two companies who have succeeded in Content Marketing in two different ways.

In principle, Mint has it easy: Personal finance is a bottomless content gold mine. It is one of the most popular subject areas to write about. There is plenty evergreen topics, and you can jump on societal and technological trends that open new ideas for saving or making money.

But popular also means crowded, and Mint needed to stand out. In 2007, when their story began, there already was a huge amount of online content on the topic of personal finance.

Mint asked: What’s the right angle to serve young professionals and turn content readers into Mint customers?
logos

In contrast, Freshbooks had a different Content Marketing challenge. Its core business is an invoicing solution for small and mid-sized businesses (SMEs). But who wants to read about invoicing? If Content Marketing was the way to go, Freshbooks had to come up with interesting topics that would drive traffic, despite the unsexiness of its product.

What Freshbooks had going for it, though, was a very specific user base: Freelancers and leaders of SMEs. Surely, there had to be content that would cut across SME verticals and be interesting – no matter if you sell plumbing, beauty, or PR services.

So the companies faced different challenges:

  • Mint needed to stand out in a highly competitive content marketplace
  • Freshbooks had to find a content angle that would engage their small business audience

This difference lies at the heart of Content Marketing strategy: Most companies either inhabit a high-interest topic or they have an audience united by a common identity trait.

There are companies who don’t inhabit either one of these worlds. Mainly because their customers are so widely varied and they are part of a huge market. Large hotel chains, energy providers, and mainstream car brands come to mind.

Some of these companies try to overcome this problem by creating entertaining content with less emphasis on usefulness and information value. For example, Marriott and its two bellmen video series. Rather than Content Marketing with its focus on performance and conversion, these efforts are better described as Branded Content which has less emphasis on ROI. Also, it usually isn’t owned by the Performance Marketing function in a company but by its Branding department.

But I digress.

How did Mint create a fresh take on personal finance?

  1. They asked personal finance bloggers to write on Mint’s blog. They did so for free as long as they could link back to their own site. This meant high quality content and borrowing that blogger’s audience.
  2. They made access to their alpha product conditional upon the user placing a Mint “badge” on their social media profile, which linked back to mint.com and thus gave the site SEO mojo
  3. They sponsored other blogs and thus built relationships with influential writers
  4. They seeded its content on popular content distribution platforms at the time (Digg and Reddit) and tracked its popularity
  5. They created content formats that superbly leveraged human psychology:
        Trainwreck Tuesdays – stories of personal finance disasters. Few things attract attention like someone else’s misery.
        Interviews with their own staff about their personal finance habits – showing your face and opening up on this sensitive subject builds trust – which is an absolutely essential ingredient for a company that will have access to your sensitive data.
        Interviews with influential people about their personal finance habits which is an ever popular content format: How do successful people do it?

    As a result, Mint ended up amassing an audience of 20,000 before the launch of their first product and, for a while, grew to have the largest blog in the personal finance space. Two years after its launch, Intuit acquired Mint for $170 million.

    What did Freshbooks do to engage its audience of SME leaders?

    No matter which field they are in, people launching their own business have very similar challenges: Time management, client acquisition, hiring, cashflow, employee motivation – all are part of the journey. Therefore, what suggests itself for a company like Freshbooks is to create an all-round small business advice magazine. Here’s some of the blog titles that showcase the breadth of the Freshbooks blog:

    One important component of Freshbooks’ Content Marketing is the profiling of small businesses. In this example, they had an in depth conversation with a freelance consultant.
    neil-chudgar2

    This serves three purposes:

    1. The profiled person will become a Freshbooks advocate. Grateful that his business will receive exposure to many new prospects, he will benefit from the credibility boost for his article on the Freshbooks’ blog. As a result, he will likely endorse the product to anyone who asks. Also, he will probably share the article with his network where many will also be freelancers or small business owners. It will put Freshbooks on his network’s radar screen.
    2. It serves as an endorsement of the product. There is no mention of Freshbooks in the article at all, and Neil doesn’t expand on the topic of invoicing or billing. But the article title mentions that he is a customer. And when the customer is profiled well and credibly, has an interesting story to tell, the message is being conveyed: This is a solid small business that uses Freshbooks. It won’t
    3. It is plainly good content and, as such, grows Freshbooks’ reputation. It is informative, well written, and provides many points of identification with the protagonist. And being good content, it adds another piece into the mosaic of credibility that Freshbooks is building in the minds of its prospects and customers.

    I wasn’t able to find data on Freshbooks’ success with Content Marketing. however, the fact they continue to publish two posts a week is a good indicator of its positive impact.

    This last point is important to keep in mind: Content Marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. As opposed to sales and performance marketing that shows more immediate results, Content Marketing requires a long-term commitment to be effective. If the company published too little or stopped publishing new content altogether, it would work against them. People would look at their blog and think “wow, they haven’t published anything in months. They must be in trouble.”

    There is a similar story from a company that sells help desk software for SMEs – Groove. They have followed in Freshbooks’ footsteps and created an online magazine for small businesses. Content Marketing is the only marketing channel they invest in. The results of their work? Their company saved from bankruptcy, an engaged audience of 250k readers a month and $5m in annual revenue. You can read the full story here.

    So even if you’re in an “unsexy” business or face strong competition in your chosen content area, take heart – there are ways to get noticed and grow your business!

    Let’s have a chat! Contact us to discuss what Kontent360 and Content Marketing in general can do for your business.

     

     

    Sources:
    http://onboardly.com/content-marketing/how-content-marketing-rocketed-these-startups-forward
    https://blog.kissmetrics.com/how-mint-grew/
    http://okdork.com/startup-tips-how-i-grew-a-waiting-list-of-20000-at-mintcom-part-i/
    https://contently.com/strategist/2015/03/23/how-mint-turned-content-into-a-big-business/

Write White Papers, Make $1m. Simple. —  A Content Marketing Success Story.

Write White Papers, Make $1m. Simple. — A Content Marketing Success Story.

Case Study: How a traditional company made a splash with Content Marketing by listening to their customers and meticulously optimising for performance.

Automatic Data Processing (ADP) is a large American HR software company, familiar to most Americans who receive a paycheck.adp-logo At a market cap of $50bn, they are living proof that you can be successful even with a really boring company name.

Until 2012, the company had not run a proper digital marketing campaign and decided to do something about it. The rollout of Workforce Now, a new product for mid-sized businesses, was a good occasion. The company researched what types of workforce management challenges their target audience (mid-sized businesses) was facing.

At the time, the ACA (Obamacare) was being rolled out, and companies needed to

  • get educated on their rights and obligations
  • manage the ACA-related complexity and
  • be aware and take advantage of opportunities under the ACA.

So ADP started creating a steady flow of content (blog posts and white papers) on these topics.

They also created an promotion plan for the content:

  • Using paid display ads to drive traffic to their landing pages
  • There, collecting email addresses in exchange for white paper downloads
  • Retargeting and bringing back those page visitors who did not download the white paper the first time around.

Throughout the process, the company tracked and optimised Cost Per Lead metrics.

Already the first wave of content surpassed their expectations. ADP continuously optimised their campaigns. They pushed the content that resonated with their audience, and removed unpopular articles from the promotion cycle. They also focused their spend on those channels that were yielding the highest conversion (= white paper download) rates. “We could look at which messages and which (ad) sizes were working”, said one ADP executive.

In the first three months alone, Content Marketing drove $1m in new sales opportunities.

Today, the company offers a massive library of content on HR topics for US businesses of any size – best practice documents, legislative updates, how-to guides etc. In 2014, $3.4m of revenue was attributed to content marketing, at a 906% ROI.

Lessons Learned

1. Establish your baseline, change the input factors, and measure performance from there on

Let’s briefly think about losing weight. What’s the most logical way to go about it?

  1. Weigh yourself
  2. Take note on what and how much you normally eat and how much you exercise
  3. Then, change the parameters you can directly influence (eat less and exercise more) and track your weight
  4. Results will follow

Well, this is what ADP did with their Content Marketing: They established how many website visitors they had, how many social media followers, what their cost per acquisition was. They set this as a baseline on which to improve. As they took different actions (purchased traffic, created landing pages, optimised calls to action), the results followed.

2. Have a clear goal with a measurable metric

The company aimed at growing demand for Workforce Now, their product for mid-sized businesses. Every action taken in this context can be measured on this yardstick: Is this piece of content contributing to the growth of sales on this product? If yes, let’s write similar ones and promote them. If not, let’s stop it. Over time, many new goals were added, but every campaign had its clear, measurable goal.

3. Paid traffic is the spark

Content Marketers often wish they could only use free traffic, using their email lists and social media followers. However, to drive meaningful business, you’ll need paid traffic.

Some executives might be put off by this idea. The content is valuable, so readers should come by themselves – after all, the content is free! And you already paid for its production. Paying again for promoting it sounds like there’s no end to the spending spree!

The problem is: there is so much content in almost all areas, with very few unoccupied niches left. As a result, you have to treat content marketing just like any other lead acquisition channel. You would pay for a lead, right? So why not pay for a reader which one day will become a lead?

ADP’s experience (906% ROI in their second full year) shows that the model works. I don’t have ADP’s data but conceptually it will look something like this:

Again, we don’t know the actual numbers. But we can safely assume that leads acquired through Content Marketing were less costly for ADP, or at least not much higher than other leads.

By the way: the above graphic does not take into account a very powerful aspect of Content Marketing: Its capacity to bring results long after it has been created, especially if it’s evergreen. As the months and years go by, that pale pink block will keep decreasing. If the content is still relevant, it’s like a house you can rent out over and over again. (In this case, ADP does have the disadvantage that if Trump gets his act together and repeals Obamacare, ADP’s content will become obsolete). (See what I did there?)

To conclude: It won’t really work without paid content promotion. Content that spreads for free is the exception, not the rule, especially in the beginning of your content marketing efforts. If the occasional content piece you write DOES become viral and boosts your sales, that’s the cherry on top. But make plans for a solid cake foundation first.

4. Be rigorous in your conversion funnel

Content is just like any other component in a data-driven conversion funnel. You discard poorly performing ad creatives and run AB tests on Call-to-Action buttons, right? In the same way, blog posts and white papers are items whose performance you measure. Therefore, on a regular basis, ADP looks at which content performs well with its audience. Then they push the winners and discard the losers.

5. Things can move very quickly

Admittedly, Content Marketing is usually not the go-to method when you need results fast. But ADP’s $1m worth of business within three months of starting the project is an impressive number. It is when a meaty subject (Obamacare), a willingness to spend on traffic, and a clearly defined goal (selling Workforce Now) intersect that results can be fast and substantial.

In sum, the ADP case shows how hard work, solid content and continuous optimisation bring results, without the need for virality and marketing gimmicks.

Sources:
http://adage.com/article/btob/adp-content-campaign-pays/289193/
https://www.singlegrain.com/blog-posts/content-marketing/25-brands-made-big-content-marketing/
http://www.aspe-roi.com/blog/content-marketing-campaign-week-adp

Cover photo by Jesus Kiteque on Unsplash

What is the difference between Inbound and Content Marketing? And why do we say Content?

What is the difference between Inbound and Content Marketing? And why do we say Content?

There’s a whole library of articles online that passionately discuss marketing terminology and argue in favour of “inbound” vs “content” marketing.

The edges will always be fuzzy and it’s not worth the time to engage in hairsplitting debates over terminology.

So we want to be pragmatic about it while having an intellectually sound line of reasoning in the matter. Because we clearly prefer “Content” over “Inbound” and there’s a good reason why.

Why “Inbound Marketing” is just plain weird

The key reason “Inbound” doesn’t work for us is that it implies that the direction of the customer’s interest is the salient feature. The customer seeks you out (vs you “hit the customer over the head” with your marketing message). And that is not good enough as a distinguishing factor. Consider these three cases – all are somehow “inbound” in that it’s the customer’s decision to engage with the brand at the critical moment:

  • Anne has seen 7 youtube ads and 15 banner ads for computer game League of Legends. Two days later, while mowing her lawn, she remembers the game for some reason. She googles it, reads a few reviews, visits the website, registers as a user and plays for a few minutes.
  • Brendan comes to a new city and finds a booklet with coupons lying on a bus seat. He finds a McDonald’s coupon and starts looking for a branch.
  • Chloe is looking for a gift for her mum. Not a customer herself, she has heard good things about Clinique. She googles the brand, clicks on a paid ad that leads her to Amazon where she buys a taster pack.

All these scenarios are vastly different – but all of them are kind of “inbound”, right? An “Inbound marketing agency” should then be proficient in video ads, display ads, search engine optimisation, offline coupons, branding, and search ads. Hardly a viable specialisation strategy.

Is “Content Marketing” the solution?

Well, Content Marketing isn’t perfect as a term either. It’s an area that includes activities like Email Marketing, Search Engine Optimisation, and Social Media Marketing, all of which are disciplines in their own right with specialists in each topic.

But, crucially, the term “Content Marketing” highlights what is at the center of its universe – the content. The blog post, the newsletter, the e-book, the whitepaper. All the other things like email or social media marketing are simply vehicles to promote the content. The content is the star, while Email and Social Media marketing are the planets orbiting the star. The term “Inbound Marketing” lacks this center of gravity.

Finally, it also helps that there’s about double the search traffic on “content marketing”:

And that’s why “Content Marketing” is the better term. Simple.

Cover photo by Syd Wachs on Unsplash

A New Blog Post Every Week.

Get fresh insights about Content Marketing, Great Copywriting, and Email Best Practices.

We are 100% GDPR compliant and will never share your data with third parties. Read our Privacy Policy here.

Get all the best stuff about Content Strategy, SEO, Writing and Productivity
+