If content is king, it deserves to be written by a true thought leader?
Long-form content, distributed via your corporate blog, email marketing, and social media, helps marketers demonstrate that their organization has the finger on the pulse of their industry and showcase their thought-leadership in a given topic. It will help persuade potential clients that your organization is the go-to problem solver (and all business is about solving problems) and help your web presence as your website climbs the search engine rankings (solving numerous marketing problems for you).
Despite this, many marketing organizations fail to commit to a program of producing long-form content and instead invest in more expensive, less convincing marketing strategies to promote their business.
Do You Have Your Finger on the Pulse?
If anyone should have their finger on the pulse of the business they work for, that should be the marketer. We should live and breathe our products and services, know-how our organization can solve our clients’ real-world problems and essentially have an answer for any question that anyone throws at us. Sadly, this isn’t always the case.
I’ve spent time with countless marketers who have struggled to answer even the most basic questions about their business. It’s almost as if they are not interested in how they spend their working day. I cannot help but think that this must lead to a very unfulfilling life. We spend far too much at work not to be interested in it.
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, HR can organize the annual office picnic) or outsource all of their activities to equally unprepared agencies or freelancers.
Learn to Love What You Do — It’s Your Job
Of course, we cannot expect all marketers to be experts in the field they are employed from day one. It’s also fairly reasonable to suggest, in more complex business arenas, that the marketing team doesn’t need to have the same detailed knowledge of the experts that design and deploy certain products or services. Essentially, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to market a rocket science company. However, we should expect marketers to make it their first priority to learn enough about the business they are working in so as they can confidently explain what their company actually does, and how it benefits their customers before passing interested parties to someone who can answer more complex questions.
Note: Very few of us work in fields that are as complicated as rocket science. Despite this, many of us insist on creating marketing collateral that only experts can understand. How many corporate websites do you look at every day that do very little to explain what the organization behind them actually does? Remember, the people buying your product or service might be buying your expertise because they do not have the expertise in-house. After all, every butcher, baker, and candlestick maker needs an accountant.
Marketers need to spend time with their colleagues and their customers. They need to be able to speak the same language of both of these groups of people and be able to translate it so everyone can understand. This is why it’s never a good idea to just publish content directly from an expert source without a bit of marketing finesse.
Think like a Journalist
A good journalist doesn’t need to be an expert in the field to write about a specific topic. Instead, they rely on speaking with experts and asking a lot of questions. They then translate these expert answers into something we can all understand. This is exactly the same route a marketer should take.
Every marketer should have an objective before engaging anyone in conversation. Without an objective, any content that is derived from the conversation will lack direction and probably not go anywhere. As a marketer, it is our job to steer the conversation so that it meets the criteria demanded by our objective. Do you want to target a specific market? Do you want to focus on a particular problem? Do you want to lift the profile of a particular person, department, product or your entire organization? Setting a clear objective will also help you understand if a campaign has been successful or not because you will have something to measure it against other than just putting yourself out there.
Identify Your Expert
There are probably many people within your organization who can help you create compelling, expert-led content. This doesn’t mean that they should write it for you. They are undoubtedly busy doing their own jobs and as a marketer, creating content is almost certainly in your remit.
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 in advance based on the objectives of our conversation.
I typically conduct my interviews using Zoom meeting software. This means the interview can be conducted from the comfort of my interviewee’s desk where they have access to any reference materials they should 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.
Keep on Track
While I like to keep my interviews fairly 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 prior to 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.
Transcribe Your Own 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 very little cost but 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 as to how it will be distributed.
Writing the Article
For an article to be successful it has got to feature the following elements:
The Human Touch: It doesn’t matter what you are selling, it could be high fashion or high tech, people buy from people they like and trust. When you interview someone, your readers want to know what makes them tick, what they are interested in, what inspires them, and why they should identify with them. It’s therefore vital that you incorporate a little humanity in your articles and they don’t read like a washing machine manual or a list of items for sale. Yes, they might find your article useful but they’ll have a greater chance of reading it all the way through to the end if they enjoy it.
Identify a Problem: Great businesses solve real-world problems. Half of the battle for a successful marketer is demonstrating that you have identified a problem that your customers can also identify with.
Demonstrate the Solution: It’s not enough to tell your readers you have a solution to their problems, you must demonstrate the fact. This can be done with examples and detailed anecdotes. If you can include real data and real customer testimonial — even better. While people buy from people they like and trust, they will be inspired even more by people they identify with.
Give them Something to Do: Every piece of content you produce should have a call-to-action. This doesn’t have to be a blatant sales message. It could point them in the direction of more useful content. It could simply promote the offer of more expert-led insight by encouraging the reader to subscribe to your email list or follow you on social media. Never leave your readers with nothing to do — the first thing they will do is find going looking elsewhere for their expert content.
How Long Should it Take to Write?
There is no easy answer here. I’ve written 2,000 word+ articles in a matter of hours and then struggled over a much shorter piece for days. However, I will tell you that the more you write the easier it will become.
It’s also worth remembering that good enough is good enough. You are not writing the next great American novel so don’t stress about it too much. I’ve seen marketers delay publishing compelling and useful copy because they think it could be better. They are normally mistaken and the only thing delaying the post contributes to is the lost opportunity of not getting it out there sooner.
Whenever possible, run your copy past a colleague to check for any typos. If you don’t have anyone to help, an online service like Grammarly can be incredibly helpful.
How Will I Know if it has Been Successful?
This all comes down to your objectives. If the purpose of your article was to sell more of a specific item and you sell more, it’s a success. If the purpose of your article was to drive more email subscriptions and your list grows, you’ve done a good job.
A good way of determining if your content has been successful is to add up the cost of the time taken to write it, the cost of any design or editing services employed, and the cost of the various mechanisms to promote it via social media or any other form of paid promotion. If the cost per acquisition is less than other forms of marketing your products or services you are on to a winner and should invest further.