I got into writing because I love good writing. I was the kid on the playground with my nose in a book during recess. I studied journalism because I wanted to understand how to tell a story, and I became an editor because I’m fascinated by the infinite ways we can form sentences that string together ideas—and I realized that constructive feedback helps us translate what’s in our heads to the page.
I got into content marketing because Scott Leff offered me the opportunity to help build a company of editors, designers, marketers, and video producers who understand and enforce quality writing and content in an industry that needs it. I get to help people spin tales of corporate intrigue with a team of talented people.
In the world of content marketing, content creators, marketers, and communication specialists band together to help our client-facing colleagues sort and package their insights into articles, reports, white papers, infographics, videos, emails, LinkedIn posts, and whatever else they need. We sometimes bond over the need to justify the budget, effort, time, and even the very existence of content marketing. To do so, it’s helpful to be able to understand what makes content marketing good.
Why content marketing efforts fall short
We recently performed a content audit of the energy sector. What we found is that the content, perhaps unsurprisingly, runs the gamut: some firms publish regularly and with great insight into the subject matter. Other firms publish next to nothing, and some simply put out work that’s bland, generic, overtly commercial, or all three.
There are a few reasons that so many efforts come up short.
Limited effort. First, those lackluster pieces don’t take much effort to put together; anyone with a word processor and an hour can fire off 1,000 words on whatever they’re thinking. Indeed, that’s often the start to a great piece—but the effort to transform that first draft into a publishable piece takes time and brainpower. Many pieces are developed quickly to stick a flag in an idea for the sake of not being silent on the subject. Rehashing an existing conversation does not inherently advance that conversation.
Sales-forward. Second, many content marketing efforts fall into the trap of brochureware. The ultimate goal of content marketing is, after all, to attract more business. It’s tempting for authors to simply write about how they helped their clients out of sticky situations and end with an invitation for the reader to reach out for advice. But this approach completely undermines your credibility as an author. Readers turn to experts to help them solve real business problems, and content marketing is meant to offer valuable advice to deal with those problems. “Call me” is neither a solution nor valuable advice.
Short-term thinking. The most effective content marketing employs a coordinated campaign approach that involves a steady stream of thoughtful, connected pieces of content. It can be tempting, in the face of limited time and heavy competition, to instead focus on more frequent, disconnected efforts. The truth is, however, that demonstrating the depth and breadth of your expertise takes more than one piece of content; it takes a content strategy that reaches different audiences with different messages and formats over the course of time. Resist the urge to create one-off pieces instead of engaging in a long-term effort.
How to ensure your content marketing efforts yield better results
So what does it mean to publish good content?
Submit to a rigorous editorial process. Writing is an act of thinking, so by going back through your ideas and pressure-testing them, you can head off the logical gaps that we tend to leave when we know a subject really well. A rigorous process—one that includes not just a copy edit for style but also narrative development and top editing for ideas and structure—can completely transform a stream-of-consciousness draft into a memorable, distinctive piece of thought leadership. Yes, this process takes time, and yes, it means letting others read and weigh in on your writing—but the end result will always, 100 percent of the time, be better for it.
Remember that it’s not a sales pitch. Content marketing is marketing, yes, but it shouldn’t feel like a brochure for your services. Good content marketing tells a story. It takes risks. The piece is riveting to a reader because it’s about a realm they care deeply about—their job, their industry, their knowledge base. Strong content should move the reader to think about something differently. The real point is not to sell but to build a relationship, and you build that relationship by offering content that doesn’t feel like marketing it all. And there’s no need to be intimidated; you’ve got the goods. With some time (see “rigorous editorial process”) and the right prompts, a fresh angle or new insight is often just around the corner.
Think in campaigns, not individual pieces. Great content marketers ensure that the hard work of authors, designers, video producers, and thought leaders is optimized by developing individual pieces as part of a campaign. Such campaigns are usually built around common themes (as opposed to buzzwords), service lines, and events. As my colleague Scott Leff writes, a year-end recap article (hey, it’s October, you should be starting now!) is a great opportunity to think ahead to next year’s editorial calendar.
There’s a large divide between good and bad content marketing, and the difference is usually the time, effort, and investment you’re willing to make.