If content is king, surely it deserves to be written by a true thought leader? Sadly, in business, this isn’t always the case with numerous marketing organizations investing thousands of hours and countless pounds, dollars, and euros into content that doesn’t quite hit the mark or, worse still, perhaps not investing in content at all.
This detailed article has been written for anyone responsible for either creating or commissioning marketing content that is to be distributed via your corporate blog, email marketing campaigns, or social media activities.
So — what are we trying to do here?
Well, generally, at this time of the year (I’m writing this in January 2021) I’m busy booking venues and selling tickets for my Content Marketing Boot Camp training events. I typically take these events on the road around the UK and Europe, occasionally much further afield, in the first half of the year.
Obviously, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this isn’t going to happen this year. Even if I could safely travel to meet my attendees, I’m conscious that training and marketing budgets have been cut to the bone as we all adjust to the new normal in these difficult times.
Unusual times call for extraordinary measures. Instead of hitting the road and charging people to attend my events, I’m taking the content I would usually present, updating it to suit the current climate, and distributing it completely free of charge on Medium and across the major streaming channels, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and YouTube.
One of the main reasons I run training events, beyond the value my delegates receive from attending these seminars and the obvious income they generate, is the dialog they create in the room between my attendees and myself. I rarely leave a session without being asked a question or presented with a piece of insight that inspires me to create a new problem-solving piece of content. In fact, I was inspired to write my first book — Becoming THE Expert: Enhancing Your Business Reputation through Thought Leadership Marketing, after being asked a question at an event. That question led to a blog post, the engagement that blog post received led to a book, that book morphed into a cottage industry that took me around the world and led to four more books being written, and maybe the reason you are reading this article today.
So obviously, I’m very keen to keep these conversations going. So if you have any questions or would like to share any ideas with me — please do not hesitate to get in touch in the comments section below.
Learning how to write expert-led content
Over the years, I’ve been commissioned to write expert-led marketing content on a wide range of topics — everything from my own area of expertise in content, email, and social media marketing to subjects about which I haven’t got a clue, including things like engineering, psychology, and even medicine.
As a non-expert in these areas, my job is to create something that resonates with my clients’ audience. My clients are looking for something that will not only drive traffic onto their websites and be actively consumed and shared by its readers. It also needs to be relevant, engaging, and timely enough to convert those visitors into leads, prospects, and eventually, customers who come back time and time again.
I’ve been doing this for a long time now. Through years of trial and error, and seriously, everything relating to marketing success comes down to trial and error. Hence, you need to be prepared to test everything. I have learned how to approach the problem of writing expert-led marketing content when I’m not an expert myself. I’ve also spent years working with marketers who have been charged with producing expert-led content but, in reality, haven’t got a clue where to start.
Poor content isn’t just a marketing problem. It’s an organization-wide problem. How many marketers come into a job, are thrown in at the deep end, and expected by the rest of the organization to swim straight away. If they don’t have the tools and resources to create expert-led marketing content — the entire business suffers. Sadly, too many of these bright, enthusiastic, and creative marketing people are set-up to fail from the very start. It doesn’t need to be this way.
Throughout this comprehensive article, we’ll be looking at:
- Why you need to create expert-led marketing content to promote your business
- The importance of setting clear marketing objectives
- Who is responsible for producing your marketing content?
- When and how you should hire a freelancer
- Why you need to think like a journalist
- How to identify your expert
- How to document your content
- How to write your marketing content
- Where and how to share your marketing content
- How to define marketing success
Readers will also benefit from several dedicated resources, including the detailed briefing document I typically send to my clients before I accept a commission and links to low cost and even free online tools that I rely on to produce professional, expert-led content.
Why you need to create expert-led marketing content to promote your business
I often ask attendees at my real-world content marketing training events — who’s on social media? Who’s on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, even TikTok. Everyone puts their hands in the air.
I then ask, who blogs? The hands typically come down.
This action confuses me because if you are on social media, but you are not creating your own content, what on earth are you publishing on social media?
More often than not, they just post “old school” brand style adverts that wouldn’t look out of place in the back pages of a newspaper or simply try to sell things via a series of random e-commerce links. This isn’t really what social media is all about.
As the name suggests, social is a social environment — it’s a place to engage people in conversation and share ideas — perhaps directing people to more engaging, useful, and timely content. I often compare social media to going to a pub or a café where beyond your transaction with the bar staff or barista — you don’t want people always trying to sell you something.
While you can sell on social media — nothing will erode your audience faster than a constant barrage of sales messages. The selling comes later once you’ve built that all-important relationship. That selling will most likely occur on other channels like your website or even in the real world. Social media is just the start of the conversation.
Then, there are all those people who insist on using social media to pour fuel on other organization’s thought leadership by linking to other marketers’ content or perhaps news sites where their competitors advertise. It’s almost the complete opposite of marketing — anti-marketing if you like. Can you imagine if one of your potential clients landed on an engaging and useful piece of content produced by a competitor after you directed them away from your brand? Everything you have done to build reputation and trust has been wasted in an instant.
The crazy thing is, some of these people work in industries where the marketing almost creates itself. Seriously, if you work in an area like tourism, entertainment, or food and drink, drop me an email, and I’ll give you ten ideas you can start working on today without breaking a sweat.
By the way, I fully appreciate why people start with social media. It’s because they perceive it to be cheap (mostly free) and easy. They are wrong; social is quite a complicated and potentially expensive channel to engage.
Successful social media marketing requires two things — great content and great people to manage that content and the conversations and relationships it generates. If you are not willing to make this investment — remember this –in reality, there is no such thing as cheap or expensive marketing — only marketing that works and marketing that doesn’t work. That time and effort you invest in ill-thought-out social media activities might be the most expensive thing you do all week.
Depending on the nature of your business, that all-important relationship might be a reasonably long term affair before someone decides to make a considered purchase and become a customer. Businesses will find it a lot easier to initiate and maintain that relationship if they have some great content to keep their potential customers engaged, inspired, and maybe even entertained while directing them through the sales funnel.
Long-form marketing content, distributed via your corporate blog, email marketing, and social media, will help marketers demonstrate that their organization has its finger on the pulse and showcase their thought-leadership in any given topic.
It will help persuade potential clients that your organization is the go-to problem solver in your industry — and let’s not forget — all business is about solving problems.
The business of solving problems
The different problems businesses solve come in all shapes and sizes. A good accountant will solve the problem of managing your finances and perhaps reducing your tax burden. A good hotel will solve the problem of finding the best place to stay for a vacation or business trip or provide a venue for a conference or special event like a wedding. A good university or college will solve the problem of acquiring the right qualifications to further your career while enjoying the best possible social and academic experience as a student. Content marketing is the perfect solution to demonstrating how these very different businesses can help solve many different problems.
Even the most apparently superficial businesses solve problems. A smartphone games developer might solve the problem for millions of people of what to do while killing time on their commute, waiting for a friend to show up, or between classes.
Sometimes marketers have got to go and look for problems to solve.
I once did some training work with a major online poker website. One of their more junior marketers asked me what problem they solved. I told them that I would never become one of their customers because I didn’t know how to play poker. I suggested they solve that problem by teaching me.
Great content will also help your web presence as it climbs the search engine rankings and is shared across social media (solving numerous marketing problems for you). The more useful, problem-solving content you produce, the more people that will find you.
While we are talking about search engine rankings — it’s important to remember three things:
- Google loves fresh content: The more high-quality content you publish, the more people will find you on the most powerful search engine on the planet.
- Google isn’t your only route to market: While you should always consider Google when you are writing content — it’s not the only weapon in your arsenal when distributing content. For example, social media has an immense reach but will, as we’ve already discussed, will always require a more human, conversational approach if it is to be successful.
- Google will never be your customer: Ultimately, a search engine or social network will never buy your products or services. As well as addressing all those latest Search Engine Optimization or SEO best practices, you’ll need to make sure you’re writing content that people (i.e., your customers and prospects) want to consume.
Content marketing is difficult
You cannot talk about content marketing without addressing the elephant in the room — creating useful, engaging, and timely content is difficult.
This perhaps explains why so many marketers are happy to spend their marketing budgets on next to useless brand marketing campaigns that tell potential customers absolutely nothing about what the company actually does and expensive and time-consuming trade show events, essentially outsourcing the marketing effort to the sales team you’ve forced into attending.
It also explains why so many marketers spend so much time working on projects that don’t actively promote their organization to their target market. Seriously, Human Resources or your office manager can organize the annual office picnic or holiday party. Then, all those who outsource all of their marketing activities to equally unprepared agencies or freelancers.
Of course, there is a time and place for hiring freelancers, and we’ll cover that later in this article.
Just because content marketing is difficult doesn’t mean you should discount it.
A decent content marketing strategy will enhance virtually everything else you do online to promote your business. Without content adding value and aiding the conversion process, expensive acquisition marketing techniques such as paid search and social media marketing will almost certainly be more costly than they need to be and have the potential to destroy any margin you might have in a sale. If you are losing too much money acquiring new business — you could have a genuine problem on your hands.
Let’s think about this for a minute.
How many times have you searched online for a solution to a problem you have — only to stumble across a website that tells you nothing about what that company does or if they want you as a customer.
Some marketing organizations seek to bury themselves in such impenetrable jargon — it’s almost as if they want not to find new customers.
Jargon is the enemy of useful content. Just because specific terms and phrases are used often in your industry, it doesn’t mean your customers understand it. Remember, people might be coming to your business because they are not an expert in the field in which you work. Every butcher, baker, and candlestick maker needs an accountant — it doesn’t mean they need to speak the language of accountancy. Producing plain English content that everyone can understand is perhaps the first problem you need to solve.
This isn’t always an easy job, especially when you have colleagues who think it looks smart to use complex language.
As marketers, we strive to offer our clients (or the organizations that we work for) a solution to the difficult problem of engaging with potential clients and existing customers, aiding the sales process, and retaining customers.
In an ever-deepening sea of content, great content will rise above plain old, good content, driving visibility and adding credibility via the major search engines and social networks. Weak content will just weigh you down and sink to the bottom.
Of course, it’s all too easy to say, let’s create some content. In fact, many people do create content, publish it regularly, and still fail at content marketing because they are doing it blindly and with a little strategy. It’s the content marketing equivalent of the spam email marketing blast — and we all know that spam never works beyond the occasional lucky hit. In marketing, we should never rely on luck because marketing is as much a science as it is an art.
Before we look at how to get content marketing right, it’s good to learn what we are doing wrong. Let’s take a look at some of the Content Marketing strategies that I regularly encounter that perhaps create more problems than they solve.
Is your content marketing strategy in a critical condition?
A good blog should be the beating heart of any content marketing strategy for any marketer. Tragically, I meet many marketers whose blogging activity would barely raise a pulse.
Creating killer content (arguably the most crucial aspect of blogging) seems to be the area where most people fall down.
I’ve come across all sorts of strategies for creating creative content. Here are three common approaches that will ensure your blog’s health remains in a critical condition.
- Relying on Your Colleagues: As a marketer, you are responsible for ensuring there is a constant flow of high-quality content to your blog. Relying on colleagues who are too busy chasing leads, fighting fires, or just don’t have the skills required to write a decent blog post to come up with the goods is not the answer. Great content marketers act like journalists. They ask the right people the right questions and then write the content themselves.
- Stockpiling Content: You don’t need a ton of content to kick-start your blog. Stockpiling content will just give you an excuse never to publish. Blogged content is like freshly baked bread — great on the first day, easily consumed the next — but it goes stale quickly, so better get it out their sharpish. You only need one post to start a blog.
- Not Speaking to Your Customers: Many marketers’ relationships with their prospects end when they enter the sales funnel or become clients. This is a huge mistake. Both prospects and clients can provide a fantastic content resource. Look to them for testimonials, surveys, or ideas of how you (as an organization) can make their lives (and their peers’ lives) easier. If you are looking for a list of topics to cover on your blog, your customers should be your first port of call.
Before you create content, you need to know — why you are creating content? Who is it targeted at? And what do you hope to achieve from the time and effort you invest in creating that content? So next, we need to take a look at the importance of setting clear marketing objectives.
What do you want your marketing to achieve?
Countless marketers have told me that their marketing campaigns don’t work. When I ask them how they’ve come to this conclusion, more often than not, they tell me that their sales haven’t increased. This is perhaps one of the biggest mistakes that marketers make. You see, marketing isn’t about selling (that’s the sales department’s job). Marketing is about engaging an audience with useful, informative, and sometimes entertaining information that leads to further engagement (and yes — this engagement may result in additional sales).
The biggest problem is that too many marketers just push out marketing campaigns without considering why they are doing it. More often than not, they are doing things at the insistence of other people within their organization who don’t fully understand the marketing process.
Too many people who try and exercise control over the marketing department have short term goals. They say things like, “We need a blog post about this,” or “We need to advertise there,” and “We need to build a partnership with this organization.” They are often reacting to what they see is important now and not looking for long term solutions.
These people can be a severe drain on your marketing budget and other often limited resources. Seriously, how many marketers have had their arms twisted by sales managers into attending trade show events that barely return a usable lead, let alone a positive return on investment, or keep on spending valuable marketing budget on advertising in the local or trade press because they’ve always done it. I honestly believe the words “we’ve always done it that way” are among the most dangerous things you can say in marketing.
It’s also important to remember just because something has worked well in the past — doesn’t mean it will work well in the future. How many businesses rely on the same old tire campaigns year after year only to see diminishing returns. If you are still flogging that dead horse, perhaps it’s time to invest in some new ideas.
I guess it’s our fault that so many people want to get involved in marketing and help guide the process. We’ve made marketing look like a pretty cool job. Is it any wonder why everyone else in your organization wants to be a marketer and is not spending time hanging out in the accounts department or the warehouse?
As a side note, if you are fortunate enough to have the marketing budget to spend on “nice to have” marketing campaigns against your greater judgment, you still need to set objectives alongside that spend to set expectations. Zero leads and zero sales might just be the easiest numbers you hit all year. Still, seriously, it might also be an idea to keep that marketing spend out of any calculations used to judge your performance as a marketer, particularly if it impacts how you are incentivized.
Because many marketers don’t set objectives, they have no clear understanding of whether a campaign is successful or not. I would also question any marketer’s ability to plan and create a good campaign if they have no clear idea of what the campaign is designed to achieve.
Before you create your next piece of marketing content, you need to ask yourself what you want to achieve. There are several ways you can look at this.
- Do you want to deliver a piece of marketing content to help you increase registrations with your website and grow your marketing database? If so, who do you want to target, and how many leads do you want to generate? What other channels will you need to engage in making this happen? Social, email, paid search — ideally, they should all be in the mix.
- Do you want to inform existing clients about additional products or value-added services, helping to drive recurring revenues and reducing customer attrition? If so, do you know what your current churn rates are and what you would like them to look like? It’s also essential to demonstrate that you understand your current customer-bases’ pain points and how you hope to address them. For example, do your customers consider your services expensive when compared to the competition.
Remember, sometimes marketing success can be found in cost savings rather than in increased revenues. Building objectives around both of these goals will help your organization to become more profitable.
- Perhaps you want to showcase your organization’s culture and help position it as a great place to work while reducing your recruitment costs? If so, do you know what vacancies are currently open and where you might find prospective employees?
So before you start your next campaign, ask yourself: What do I want to achieve from this?
It’s vital to understand this because if you don’t have a goal, you’ll never really be sure if you could have done better.
Once you have set your objectives, it’s time to start producing your content.
Who is responsible for producing your content?
Perhaps it would be easier to explain who is not responsible for producing your content.
It’s not the job of your office manager or receptionist, marketing junior or intern, or anyone else on your sales or any other team in the organization to produce your content. Very occasionally, you might just strike lucky and find someone who can write engaging, relevant, and timely content that serves the needs of your marketing objectives. But more often than not, they’ll either lack the ability or just not have the time.
Ultimately, as a marketer, you are responsible for creating content. Whether you write it yourself or commission someone else to produce it for you, the buck stops with you.
A lot of marketers don’t like this. Many have told me that they lack confidence in their writing skills to produce compelling content. Seriously, it’s as if nobody told them that marketing was a creative industry. So they start trying to farm out content production to people who haven’t got the time, talent, or inclination to do it.
It’s tough love time, its time you fell in love with producing your own content.
On a side note, if you are in the position to recruit marketers within your organization, making sure they are confident content creators should be a priority.
As we’ve discussed before, all of your content should have a purpose. It’s too important to leave it to chance — so you better commit to owning it.
I know that content marketing is challenging. Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Despite this, I’ve always believed that the very best content comes from an organic source and is delivered by people who are well-versed in your brand and marketing objectives. This doesn’t mean you cannot outsource content creation to freelance help.
When and how you should hire a freelancer
Content marketing creates the best opportunities when articles are engaging, relevant, and timely. The moment you start missing out on opportunities because you cannot get content out on time is the moment you should start considering outsourcing elements of your content marketing strategy.
Whether you write the content yourself or commission an expert freelancer (this probably isn’t a job for Fiverr), you need to make sure each job comes complete with a detailed brief setting out all of your goals. If you are looking for an example of the type of information that should be included in that brief, please get in touch with me (my contact details are at the bottom of this article), and I will send you a copy of the briefing document I send to my clients before I commit to writing for them.
A detailed brief is essential when you are commissioning freelance help. Without a brief, a freelancer will almost certainly miss your objectives — essentially wasting their time and yours. I should add, if you are a freelancer — you really shouldn’t take on a job without a detailed brief.
There are many places you can find good freelance help. You might already work with agency partners, and these can be an excellent place to start.
Following influencers in your industry on social media might also help you identify people who may help you write content that your customers will be drawn to. In some cases, you might like them to write under their own byline to benefit from their sphere of influence. Or perhaps you might want them to write under the byline of an expert in your organization — maybe your CEO or you as the marketing lead. This will all depend on the purpose of the article.
If you are outsourcing to new, untested help, your freelancers must first prove their value before you give them the keys to your wider marketing operations. It’s always a good idea to give freelancers one or two non-critical jobs to get their teeth into before you need to rely on them.
It’s also important to remember that when you hire a freelance writer, they may not provide you with design elements for the project. You might have to handle this in-house or find another freelancer to support a project.
Tip: If you are struggling to find images to complement your content marketing strategy, Canva provides a fantastic online resource enabling you to create high-quality images without a dedicated design resource.
So, you’ve got an objective, you’ve decided who will write your content, and you’ve got a detailed brief. It’s time to get to work.
Think like a journalist
Successful content marketers can learn a lot from journalism. Many journalists have specific areas of expertise, covering news, business, sport, and entertainment. These are, of course, extensive topics. While the journalist might know enough about their particular area of expertise to competently research and write about it — they couldn’t possibly claim to be experts in everything they cover.
Let’s think about this for a moment.
A business reporter might cover all manner of different businesses. They might find themselves writing about the aviation industry one day, energy the next, and the insurance business the day after that. Each of these business sectors will have a unique way of doing things and their own language and jargon.
It’s the journalist’s job to decipher and translate this business jargon into something we can all understand. The journalist essentially takes that complex business language and turns it into something we can all understand.
That way, when we read the business pages of the newspapers or tune into the television news, they help us become better informed about a topic we could never proclaim to be experts in.
The journalist’s real skill is knowing who to speak to and what questions to ask. Great journalists know that if they can get this aspect of their job right, their articles will practically write themselves. You don’t have to be a great writer to become a great journalist — if you can ask the right questions to the right person, good enough is good enough when it comes to your writing skills.
It’s the same for content marketers. It’s not your job to share your expertise in a subject — which may be limited. It’s your job to go directly to the source, ask the right questions, and produce something everyone can understand.
This is important because you may not be selling your product or service to an expert.
I do a lot of work with email marketing companies. When they sell their software to small and medium-sized business owners, they must remember that their clients aren’t necessarily email marketing experts. They are restaurateurs, travel agents, retailers — butchers, bakers, candlestick makers — who need an email marketing service but haven’t got the time to invest in becoming an expert in email marketing to understand jargon-heavy marketing materials.
Instead of worrying about who will write your content, you should probably start worrying about who you will speak with to help you create your content.
This means you’ve got to identify your expert.
How to identify your expert
There are probably many people both within and outside your organization who can help you create compelling, expert-led content.
Who you select to speak with will depend entirely on your campaign objective.
If you are looking to sell a particular product or service — you really should speak to someone with a detailed knowledge of that product. That could be a developer or an engineer — essentially someone who understands how something works. Or it could be a client — someone who uses your product or service regularly and can tell you how it helps them solve a particular problem. Remember, if your product, service, or business as a whole doesn’t solve a specific problem — you haven’t really got a product, service, or business.
If you are looking to raise your organization’s profile, you should, of course, find a senior member of staff to act as your expert. Your CEO, managing director, or VP are obviously all too busy to sit down and create their own content. Still, if you can find 30 minutes in their schedule to interview them and ask them specific questions — the content you produce on their behalf will be worth its weight in gold.
It’s also important to remember that people buy from people they like, trust, and identify with. A prospective customer is more likely to identify with a customer who has walked a mile in their shoes than a marketer — who simply wants to sell them something. Therefore, it should be a priority to identify customers who can speak on your behalf.
It isn’t always easy finding experts willing to spend the time to help you produce content. Therefore, you need to explain to your experts how they will benefit from their investment in time. If they “own” a product or service, this should be a reasonably simple proposition.
If your expert is a client or someone from a partner organization, you might need to stroke a few egos. You could explain to them it would be good for their reputation to be associated with a prominent brand or respected thought leader in their industry. In many respects, it would help better position them as thought leaders. It would also help them create their own content — because, as we know, everyone struggles with this.
Once you’ve identified your expert, you need to set up a time to speak with them. I also like to send them questions and talking points detailed on my briefing document in advance based on our conversation’s objectives.
The next step is to document and capture all the information you need to create your content.
How to document and capture your expert content
I typically conduct my interviews using Zoom meeting software (something we’ve all become experts in since the pandemic entered our lives). This means my interview can be conducted from the comfort of my own desk — or wherever I am at the time. It also means that my interviewee is situated in a place where they have access to any reference materials they might need, and they don’t have to worry about connecting to a strange Wi-Fi network. It also allows me to record the interview, so I don’t have to rely on my scrawled handwritten notes to piece together the article.
I usually schedule an hour for the interview, although most typically don’t take more than 40 minutes. Compare this to the time your expert will take to write their own article (weeks, maybe months), and you’ll see the investment in time is a good one.
While I like to keep my interviews somewhat conversational and have uncovered some great material by allowing them to go slightly off-piste, it’s important to keep on track and in-line with your objectives. Sharing your questions before the interview will help achieve this.
I always like to ask my interviewees to answer the same question in a couple of different ways. I’m typically looking for a short sound byte (or elevator pitch) followed by a more detailed response. This gives me the collateral to create many different types of content from the same conversation. These might range from a short, punchy tweet to a fully formed article.
The hard work begins once you have finished your interview, and it’s time to listen to the recording and transcribe your notes.
I always transcribe my own notes. This can take several hours, but the practice of doing this ensures that nothing is missed when it comes to writing the article. I could send the audio recordings to a freelancer to transcribe for me for minimal cost. Still, I would feel disconnected from the text they sent back and perhaps not notice a comment or a phrase that makes the article really connect with its readers.
Note: Recorded interviews also provide perfect content for podcasts and videos. Whenever you produce content, you should always do it with an open mind about distributing it.
Documenting everything is an excellent habit to get into, even when you don’t have a specific piece of content in mind. I always encourage marketers to get into the habit of documenting everything.
Why you need to get into the habit of documenting everything
Marketers are often encouraged to document everything they do rather than focus purely on creating new content. This should please vast swaths of the marketing community who tell me they struggle to find the time to write and publish compelling content regularly because they are too busy doing other things in their business to sit down and create. Despite this, few of them get documentation right, which is a real shame because today’s marketing environment is primed for this type of engagement.
What Does Documenting Everything Mean?
OK, I’m going to use an analogy here to explain the process. This isn’t a high-tech solution but illustrates the process perfectly — demonstrating the value of marketing documentation. If you’ve been to a wedding in recent years, you’ve probably played a very active role in the process of documentation.
The disposable film camera might be old hat when it comes to photographic technology. However, it’s still a common feature at wedding receptions where guests are encouraged to capture their version of the celebration, leaving the camera on the table at the end of the evening for the wedding party to process. The disposable camera works better than a smartphone because all of the images (regardless of quality or levels of embarrassment) are recorded for posterity and made accessible to the happy couple.
The images taken from the disposable cameras add another dimension to the wedding, especially when compared to the official wedding photographs or video. While the disposable camera photos may be badly lit, poorly posed, and terribly framed, they will almost certainly have an “authentic” quality that will be pulled out at every future family gathering to tell a story.
The telling of an authentic story is the whole purpose of documenting everything. It’s not about delivering a polished piece of marketing collateral; it’s about showcasing what your organization does every day of its working life.
Unlike the wedding scenario, the smartphone is your weapon of choice for documenting everything. Let’s face facts: In your pocket, you are carrying a full photographic studio, video production suite, and audio recording studio — what excuses are you presenting for not using this device to its full potential? Then consider the fact that everyone else in your organization also has this incredible power in their pocket.
Documenting everything might mean adopting some new habits. Your first thought in any situation should be, how can I record this moment? This can be difficult.
In my own experience, when I am visiting clients or speaking at an event, I regularly find myself regretting the fact that I have not taken enough photos. I have managed to overcome this by placing a Post-it note on my laptop, urging me to “take more pics.”
I take photos of everything.
I document the journey, the people I meet along the way, the piece of work I am committing to (this could be a shot of the audience I am speaking to or the product my customer sells), and anything interesting I see along the way (architecture, unusual work environments, office pets, etc.). I also take the time to record my thoughts about the conversations I’ve had and the ideas they have generated.
Note: It’s vital that you capture ideas at the source. Don’t let good ideas for blog posts, email marketing campaigns, and even new products and services disappear into the mists of time.
When you document things, you can never have too many images, videos, or audio recordings.
When you document everything on your smartphone, you have collateral that can start working for you straight away and content you can put in the bank for later.
There is no better time than the present to push out that quick Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter post from your smartphone. More detailed posts can be scheduled when you are back in front of your laptop. Then when you are back in the office and planning all those great blog posts, email marketing campaigns, and other content-led marketing initiatives, you’ll have oodles of great content to inspire you and make the creative process more straightforward.
When you share documented content, you give your customers and prospects an inside glimpse of what it is like to work with your organization. It showcases your personality (individual and corporate), highlights the circles you move in, and creates opportunities for people to like and trust you. And if you need reminding, people buy from people they like and trust.
It’s the perfect conversation starter, and who knows where that conversation can take you. It might steer your prospects to a detailed piece of thought leadership — adding the promise of expertise to the relationship. It may mean they pick up the phone, complete that online form, or in the perfect world, place that order.
Documented content bridges the gaps between campaigns, is consumed on the run (most likely on a mobile device) and is mostly free. If you are going to an event, a meeting, or a specific job project, you might as well get some free marketing collateral out of it at the same time.
How to write your expert content
The good news is, if you’ve set yourself an objective, identified the right expert, and documented everything thoroughly, your content should almost write itself.
When you create content, you’ll want to make your message as easy as possible to understand.
To do this, you’ll need to:
- Explain in plain English exactly how you can help them. This means you either replace or break down all those buzzwords, acronyms, and jargon terms you have previously used.
- Focus primarily on your clients’ problems and not on your overly technical solution. Think about it: If your car breaks down, you want your mechanic to fix the problem — not deliver a lecture on the solution.
- Keep your copy focused and to the point. In terms of length, there are pros and cons to both long and short-form content. A detailed, feature-length article will undoubtedly help you improve your rankings on the search engines as you will be able to include all those essential keywords and phrases without looking like you are spamming your readers — but those short articles are more easily consumed on smaller screens and mobile devices. I’m a great believer in mixing it up and writing content to suit both of the opportunities your content creates.
Don’t waste words
Many people find it more difficult to write compelling short content. This is because they tend to waste words and waffle on.
Again, you can learn to write better content by channeling your inner journalist.
Great news writers understand how to pack a punch without wasting words. While lengthy online marketing copy won’t cost you any extra in newsprint, it may cost you dearly in terms of engagement.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a skill taught in school. Educational establishments want word count, often equating the length of submission with the level of the student’s understanding of a topic. This results in a lot of wasted words.
Cub journalists and rookie marketers need this desire to write long knocked out of them.
A journalist’s first job on a paper might be writing briefs (the short articles that appear in a single column on the inside/outside edge of a page). An editor might request 35 words on a factory fire or a charity appeal. That’s 35 words to tell an entire story — not straightforward.
In content marketing, we need to think more like the cub reporter. Headlines should tell great stories in less than 60 characters (again, not easy). Body text needs to be quickly and easily consumed across a variety of devices. A good call-to-action should have the recipient clicking within seconds, not pondering their next move.
If you can highlight a problem, share a solution, and provide a usable call to action, you’ve done enough to start a conversation.
Before you publish your content, you should run it past a non-expert for their opinion. Do they understand what you are trying to say?
You should also run it past a colleague to check for errors, but do not allow them to add extra detail as this will often complicate your message and make it look disjointed.
You might also want to run your content past a freelance editor to check for those damaging spelling and grammar mistakes. A good editor will always improve your content.
If your budget cannot stretch to hire an editor — an online service like Grammarly can really help.
Why most content marketers fail
The main reason why most people fail in content marketing is because they never take that first step. The first step is always the hardest. It takes guts, determination, and confidence to make that move, and sadly many people don’t have the right stuff.
Once you have taken that first step and built up your confidence, the second and third steps become so much easier. Yes, you might occasionally stumble or find yourself walking in the wrong direction, but at least you’ll be moving.
Nothing is more uninspiring than a blank screen — so just get writing.
I have an artist friend who tells me she hates looking at a blank canvas. She has to create a mark somehow, often simply smudging a dirty finger on the empty space before she can find her creative spirit and start to paint. Many content marketers face a similar challenge. They know all the benefits of creating compelling, engaging, and timely content but cannot find the inspiration to write that first post. They, too, need to make a mark on the page and start writing.
My best advice for content marketers struggling to find the inspiration to create and publish that first post is to start as you mean to go on. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else or try to be too smart. Your first post should just be useful.
Note: Many content marketers think the best way to start creating content is to introduce themselves and set out their content objectives in a public place like their corporate blog. There are two things wrong with this approach. (1) Nobody is interested. (2) You’ll never stick to your original objectives.
The best way to be useful is to focus on a problem and show your readers (potential clients) how they can solve it. If you don’t know what problems your potential clients are currently facing, pick up the phone and ask one of them.
Remember: If you can solve a problem for one client, you’ve probably found the solution for many other potential clients’ problems.
Useful also means getting to the point.
If a potential reader doesn’t understand your content after reading the headline and the first paragraph, you probably haven’t got a reader.
Again we’ve got to channel our inner journalists to make sure that content works.
When you look at a newspaper article, the headline tells the full story, the first paragraph goes into a little more detail, which essentially expands on the headline, and so it goes on. No matter how far the reader reads the article, they will understand the full story. The only thing that changes will be the level of detail the reader understands.
So what are the next steps?
- Keep Writing: Nothing will kill a content marketing strategy faster than stopping writing. It may take a while to build traffic. Your persistence will be rewarded.
- Cross-pollinate: Use your blog to feed your social media activity, your email marketing campaigns, your PR strategy, and any other content-led marketing initiatives. Great content can be recycled, re-appropriated, and re-used across many different channels, so don’t think of its creation as a one-time-only endeavor.
- Keep Pushing: Don’t just write an article and hang it out to dry. As long as that article is relevant, engaging, and timely, anyone who has never read it before will potentially find it useful. Simple marketing automation tools, like email marketing auto-responders, are a great way of ensuring old content reaches fresh eyes.
- Believe in Yourself: This is incredibly important. You’ve got to believe in yourself and never let self-doubt creep in. The best way to do this is to stop comparing yourself to other people in your industry.
The marketing industry is full of cool, self-assured characters who can speak with ease and write in a style that reflects their confidence. We follow these people on social media, check out their keynote addresses at industry conferences, and avidly tune in to every podcast and YouTube broadcast, hanging on their every word.
These are the people we “lesser” marketers aspire to be like. We look up to them and try to emulate their style, to somehow capture their “voice,” hoping that some of their marketing gold dust will rub off on us. But in doing so, are we doing ourselves a disservice?
Remember: For every superstar marketer, there are many more who find success outside of the limelight. You don’t need to be the next Gary Vaynerchuk or Seth Godin to consider yourself successful. For most of us, hitting our targets and earning a decent wage is more than enough. So take inspiration from these awesome marketers, but don’t judge yourself based on their success.
Too many marketers fail because they struggle to find their own voice in their marketing output. They compare their work with the superstars of the “scene,” which puts doubt in their minds, forcing them to delay, overwork, and eventually scrap projects. And when you stop marketing, everything else stops — including the flow of revenue, which is the lifeblood of your business or organization.
Because of this, I speak to marketers every day who struggle to get anything done because they are overcritical of their work. They just don’t think it is good enough, and this is a shame because in this industry, there is only one thing worse than doing something badly (although you really should aim a little higher), and that is doing nothing at all.
Instead of pumping out reasonably confident blog posts, targeted email marketing campaigns, engaging social media posts, and informative white papers, they prefer to sit on their hands and do things the old way, which usually involves paying for leads through expensive acquisition marketing techniques.
Content marketing success takes practice
I’ll let you in on a secret. Despite the fact I earn my living through my writing and speaking engagements, I’m not one of those characters who can simply breeze onto a stage or throw words at a page with effortless ease. Like many other marketers, I have to work at it.
But the one thing I have learned not to work on is trying to emulate other marketers. This lesson didn’t come easy. I was perhaps ten years into my marketing career before realizing that I could be myself and get away with it.
My “lightning bolt” moment came when I spoke at an event where I knew a very senior executive from a major high street retailer was in the audience. I was racked with nerves. What could I possibly teach this man with my more “meager” and certainly less corporate experience? I saw him standing at the back of the room, scowling in his pinstripe suit, taking the occasional note. I tried to put him out of my mind and focus on the “smaller” guys at the front of the room.
Following my presentation, the senior executive made a beeline for me, thrusting his hand into mine. Apparently, he really valued the idea of creating a more “agile” and “human” environment, which I had spoken about during my presentation, and he lamented the fact that his old-school business was falling behind more agile, smaller competitors who were adopting these practices. A couple of months later, the executive contacted me and let me know that he had quit his role with the corporate entity and started a new career with a fledgling start-up. The catalyst for this change was my presentation. I bump into him now and again, now wearing jeans and a T-shirt, often accompanied with a broad smile. While the business is still in its infancy, in many ways, he’s already found success.
Since that day, I’ve never tried to deviate from my own style to impress an audience because it turns out that just being yourself is more valuable. The fact is that people buy from people they like, and if you are trying to be someone else, it will create a barrier to forming a proper relationship.
Your potential clients (certainly the ones who will eventually commit to spending serious money with you) will always value authenticity and expertise over any pretense or fake veneer. So never be afraid to be yourself.
Never compare your style of delivery against those “slick” marketers. Just ask yourself, “Is it good enough?” and remember, good enough is often good enough.
Content marketing rules
Those of you struggling with marketing confidence — stick to the following rules, and you should be OK.
- Focus on Solving Problems: Your content should always focus on solving a particular problem for a specific client.
- Be Prolific: Every day you fail to publish, post, or hit the send button creates an opportunity for a competitor to sneak in and take business from you.
- Be Inspired: Taking inspiration from other marketers doesn’t mean you need to plagiarize their style or ideas. If you know your own products, services, and clients, the content should nearly write itself.
- Be Yourself: You’ve been doing this all your life — it shouldn’t be too hard.
So once you’ve written your content, where do you share it?
Where and how to share your marketing content
There’s no point in creating content if people aren’t given a chance to consume it. This means putting yourself out there on your blog, social media, and email marketing — or, as I call them, the holy trinity of content marketing.
These three hyper-connected marketing channels work so well together — with the right input, it’s almost impossible not to get noticed and create an audience.
Start with Your Blog
Your blog is the perfect place to introduce your audience to your products or services. I like to think of your blog as the beating heart of your content marketing strategy. Everything starts with a good blog post.
Every one of your blog posts should have a call to action. These could be “buy now,” “learn more,” “follow me,” or perhaps “leave a comment.” BTW — comments are an excellent place to identify customer problems.
Now that you have good content on your blog, you have something to talk about on social media. Too many people think they can get by on social media by simply sharing other people’s content. Still, all this is doing is pouring fuel on someone else’s fire and potentially helping them build their community. When you share your own content, you will recruit an army of social influencers who help you drive more traffic back to your blog.
Social media is also a great place to ask your community questions. Think of the time you could save researching your next project with a few well-placed questions.
Email marketing closes the loop and will help you close the deal and sell more.
You can use your email newsletters to bring people back to your blog with every new post, as well as offering a regular digest of content. It’s also a great way to actively sell your products and services books and build excitement around future releases.
Successful content marketers know that they cannot afford to stand still. Your corporate blog, social media, and email marketing — will require a constant flow of content to achieve your objectives. Content marketing is a marathon and not a sprint, and in a world where less is more — in content marketing, more is more but remember, it’s about quality as well as quantity.
Once you have your blog, email marketing campaigns, and social media activities in place, it’s time to start looking at other channels like podcasts or YouTube videos.
It’s also important to consider how you define marketing success.
How to define marketing success
As marketers, we are all hungry for success, yet it can be challenging to attain or even comprehend. This is especially true in today’s complex, multi-faceted marketing environment where success and failure often live side by side (many successful marketers actually attribute their success to years of failure).
The truth is, many of us don’t know what success looks like because we haven’t set the criteria for realizing or visualizing success. If we don’t know what success looks like, how can we prove our campaigns’ value?
Again this all comes down to setting those all-important objectives. We’ve said it before, but it’s worth re-enforcing this message.
Unless you know what success looks like, you cannot strive to reach the point where you can claim victory. Failure to demonstrate success will result in dissatisfaction with your marketing efforts, less than optimized budgets, and low morale across your organization. Nobody wants this.
Fuel your business strategy
Marketing is the fuel behind any business or organization. It is the thing that powers us towards our goals. Knowing what these goals actually look like before we fuel our marketing strategy is the key to visualizing success.
Put the wrong kind of fuel into your marketing strategy, and you risk going nowhere fast or overshooting your goals, which can lead to more complex issues, such as letting your clients down. Nobody wants to be a victim of success.
When we are defining success, I would typically look at three different metrics.
- Traffic: Be careful here; you’re not looking for quantity. You’re looking for quality. Good quality traffic to your website, retail outlet, or other establishment is a vital first step to marketing success. Knowing the size of your potential audience is critical when setting your goals. If you operate in a niche industry, there might only be 1,000 people in the world who could be potentially interested in your product or service. Knowing who these people are and targeting them with engaging, relevant, and timely content will help you achieve your goals. Ultimately, you’ll be looking to convert as much quality traffic as possible to the next stage of the marketing process (opportunities/leads — see below). The best traffic visits often and engages with your content, products, staff, etc.
- Opportunities or Leads: An opportunity or lead is an individual who has demonstrated that they have a need or desire to engage with your organization more formally (e.g., as a client, customer, or business partner). Sometimes, especially when researching products or solutions, they might need a little extra motivation to realize this. This is where your persuasive content or your sales team comes into play. Successful lead generation is a balancing act, match quality with quantity. Not enough business leads or too many inferior quality leads will lead to frustration and impact on morale. Too many (even high quality) business leads will block your sales funnel and lead to a negative experience as sales professionals fail to respond to their needs in a timely and professional manner.
- Sales and Revenue: The end game. If your traffic isn’t converted into opportunities and leads, and these aren’t generating revenue, your marketing campaigns fail. Smart marketers understand how their traffic converts to opportunities and sales. They build this knowledge by analyzing historical data and setting their goals based on trends, which can be optimized by testing and implementing various best practices.
Delivering content marketing success
So what do you need to be successful in content marketing? As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I always enjoy hearing from attendees at my real-world content marketing training events. I really hope we can continue with that engagement via these extended articles.
I’d love to hear what works for you, where you are struggling, and highlight any other areas relating to content marketing that you would like me to cover in any future episodes.
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