Monday, 8 July 2013

Content marketing: how to create content people want to read

Want a quick summary of this article? 
1. Know your audience
2. Ask your audience what they want 
3. Employ trained writers
4. Ditch desk research and interview experts over the phone

Know your audience 

The golden rule of content is: the better you know your audience (or 'personas'), the easier it is to cater for them. 

It holds true whether you're doing journalism or content marketing, where you're offering customers useful information rather than showering them with marketing messages.


So how do you know what people want to read? 

Simples: ask people what they want to read. In the world of print, some magazines do this really well. Take Condé Nast's Easy Living magazine. It uses reader panels: a bunch of readers who are representative of their target audience. 

The panel members enjoy getting involved in the glamorous world of magazines - and get a few freebies too. And in return, the reader panel suggests ideas for content and keeps the magazine in touch with the issues that affect their target audience.

It means that Easy Living's content hits the spot for its target audience: women aged 30 to 60 who are 'young at heart'.

Recruit engaged individuals

Even if you don't set up a formal panel, you could still consult individuals interested in your subject area, whether you're a contact lens manufacturer, an eco-fashion designer or the marketing department of a university.

In a similar way to recruiting for user testing apps and websites, you need to make sure:

  • it doesn't take too much of people's time
  • they don't have to travel far (if at all)
  • the incentive is right

Look on forums

If you've not got a panel of pet readers, you'll need to look on forums and social media sites to see what people are saying about your subject area.

And cross check it with the long tail search terms people are using.

Employ trained writers

Once you know what content you need, commission someone to create it.

At a recent seminar 'The truth behind SEO' by the Digital Marketing Academy the presenter talked about content as if it were a commodity that could be thrown together at the click of a mouse.

The seminar, at Google Campus, was a great round-up of everything you need to know about search engine optimisation. It's just that it made content sound like it was something that happens casually, incidentally.

Great content doesn't just happen 

Great content takes time and effort. You need to employ people who can hook the reader in from the first sentence. And who can make an article flow from start to finish.

And content needs to be factually accurate, and not plagiarised, so forget about cobbling together chunks of content from other people's websites.

Proper editorial processes

If you want quality content, you should stick to the tried and tested editorial processes that the print world invented.

  1. Research your idea
  2. Write a clear commissioning brief
  3. Use a known writer from your contacts book
  4. Use a sub-editor to fact check before you publish 

In fact there's a whole content lifecycle to think about.


Ditch the desk research

Somewhere along the line, we stopped interviewing people and started relying on 'desk research' for content marketing. With desk research, you spend hours combing websites for useful nuggets.

What takes time with desk research is working out which websites you can trust and which you can't. And then reading through masses of text to find out the one fact you need. It's like panning for gold, without the gold.

Whereas a 10-minute phone interview with a human can give you enough material for your whole article. You ask: 'Who, what, why, where, when?' Then bish, bash, bosh, you write an article. Might only take a couple of hours, from start to finish.

Interview a human

As a paid-by-the-day writer, there's nothing I like better than getting access to a client's business experts and interviewing them. That's when things get interesting: you find out the true story. You get a proper angle.

And it can be deeply satisfying if you're given access to a client's customers - you can get real quotes from real people to write a proper story.

In the charity world, it's rewarding to interview a charity's 'beneficiaries' - those who have benefited from the charity's work. It makes for compelling human interest case studies.

If I'm inspired by the people I'm interviewing, it always leads to an interesting article.

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