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How to ensure your content is king

This post was originally published to the Weber Shandwick Social Studies blog.  Crown photo by Dennis Jarvis, licensed under Creative Commons.

As Matt Cremer neatly stated in a February 2012 article for AdAge, “Content marketing, an idea that’s been kicking around since companies started firing up Movable Type blogs, is in the full flush of its industrial revolution”.  And with good reason.  Statistics continue to point to the voracious appetite that consumers have for consuming video, taking, sharing and now pinning photos, reading and sharing articles and infographics and much much more.

In the midst of this, I had the incredible opportunity to host a dedicated content marketing conference last week in Toronto.  The assembled speakers, comprised of passionate content marketers from across North America,  demonstrated in their own content just how aligned this rapidly emerging industry is when it comes to best practices.  Having never met, the lineup of speakers delivered a complementary and cohesive day of programming unlike anything I’ve ever experienced at a conference so highly targeted.

While there were many incredible takeaways from the event, the one which stood out to me as the most pervasive came from Rob Yoegel, Content Marketing Director at online marketing software firm, Monetate.

His insight – content is not king.  Great content is king.

Great insight from @robyoegel

Of course, the next obvious question is – so what makes great content?

I’m glad you asked.

Drawing from Weber Shandwick’s own Content Fusion methodology, as well as the collective insights from last week’s event, there emerged a number of consistently stated best practices, distilled here into six simple but highly interrelated tips.  Without further ado, here they are in no particular order.

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Start with story: Without a compelling story to tell, it’s doubtful that your content will be great.  Before you open your mouth or pick up a camera, know the key messages you’re looking to communicate and what makes them valuable/interesting/important to your audience.  Once you’re focused on that, everything gets a lot easier.

Listen: You aren’t the only one creating content.  Your customers and stakeholders are creating it every day and the power of the open web allows your business to deeply understand what your audience is talking about, what they’re interested in, and perhaps as importantly, what they’re not interested in.  This insight is invaluable in shaping content that will resonate.

Understand your audience: Listening is only one element of truly understanding your audience.  All of the data you have about your customers, everything you understand from your brand surveys, customer research, web traffic, email clickthrough rates, call centres and more contributes to an understanding of your target.  Compiling all of this can help you build powerful, content-focused profiles of your audience.  What types of content work best at which stage of your customer relationship or sales funnel?  Do they need to consistently hear your story from you or do you have the opportunity to curate content from other like-minded sources?  The answers (or minimally some strong clues) are in there.

Iterate and improve: Every time you produce a piece of content you have an opportunity to improve if you continue to listen to see how your audience responds to your content.  Monitor your clickthrough rates, feedback through comments, email and your Twitter handle, and any other input you have and use that learning to improve the way you tell your story.  This might be an outcome that’s highly tactical to improve conversion or it might be a significant revamp of your entire story.  Either way, your audience will be giving you clues – both subtle and overt – to help you make better content.  Pay attention to them.

Stay within your means: A content marketing strategy is a marathon and not a sprint – for that reason it’s critical to consider your available budget and resources when planning yours.  Your likelyhood to succeed with a one-off content piece is far lower than a sustained program that blends earned, owned, and paid media and is supported by a steady stream of content.  That said, if you only have the resources to create one blog post a month, look at ways you can use partnerships, 3rd party content curation, and other creative solutions to begin to scale your content production.  Use the rest of these tips to drive results and show the value of content with an eye on proving the need and value internally for additional budget and resources.

Be consistent: Your audience is exposed to hundreds, possibly thousands of marketing messages a day.  If your content marketing story isn’t consistent across every touchpoint, your story begins to blend in with all the others.  You’re working hard to stand out so you owe it to yourself to help your audience recognize a story from you.  It breeds familiarity, loyalty, reputation capital, and business results.

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The staggering volume of stories, images, videos, experiences and information already present in our lives is only set to increase.  Merely having content will not be enough to reach, engage and retain a loyal audience.  The challenge is upon us – it’s time to stop producing content and start producing great content.

Content Fusion: a methodology to help adhere to these steps