Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?
It’s a bummer to be ignored. I mean, you put a lot of work into producing content for your website, your emails, your social media networks. That’s where you meet most of your prospects today.
When they show little interest, when your content goes unread and unshared, it makes you wonder:
“Why isn’t my digital marketing working? Why don’t my posts get noticed? Is it something I said?”
Well, it probably is.
The fact is, most digital content deserves to be ignored. Why?
Because most of it is not written for a digital audience. The digital audience is not looking for advertising, PR, spin or hype. Businesses that persist in using Mad Men-era tactics for marketing on the Web, will never get the attention or interest of their audience.
Legendary adman David Ogilvy put it this way:
“You cannot bore people into buying your product; you can only interest them in buying it.”
He was talking about advertising when he said that. But it’s even more relevant for content marketing today. Hype is boring. Spin is boring. Self-serving corporate jargon – BORING.
Yet many businesses still haven’t figured that out.
I’m assuming you don’t want to be like the many. So, what should you do instead?
The secret to content marketing success
To succeed at digital marketing, you need to make a mental shift. You are no longer an advertiser interrupting your audience with a brand message. Rather, you are a publisher of information who delivers useful, helpful, relevant and entertaining content your audience wants.
Sound farfetched? It won’t once you understand three important aspects of marketing with content:
- It is not a short-term campaign; it is an ongoing communication strategy
- By publishing content, you build brand awareness and trust over time
- You need to grow an audience before you can grow sales
For some, the shift to a publishing model for marketing is hard to fathom. But when you think about the Web as a platform for finding and consuming information, it makes sense to publish information that serves your target audience.
To figure out how to do that, you need look no further than a journalism newsroom.
How publishers create content to grow an audience
Without an audience, publishers go belly-up. They stay in business by selling advertising and subscriptions. So they must build a robust circulation of engaged readers.
The same is true for content marketers. We may not be building a circulation, but we must build an audience of followers and fans. Everything starts there.
We can learn a lot about building an audience of prospective buyers by modeling our content publishing after traditional journalism. Here are four building blocks of the publishing model to follow in content marketing:
Know your audience. How do publishers approach this? They consider the following:
- Who are my readers?
- How do I reach them?
- What are their motivations?
- What are the problems I can help them solve?
- How can I entertain them and inform them at the same time?
- What content will compel them to purchase what I have to offer?
The answers to these questions form the basis for the content you create for them. Content they will value and want to consume.
Create an editorial plan. Publishers follow a detailed editorial strategy for creating and managing the workflow of content they produce. It takes the form of an editorial calendar. The calendar lays out the timeline for each story, such as:
- The objective – how the story meets a need of the audience
- Brainstorming story ideas
- The production and workflow for developing the story
- The deadline for publishing the story
- Promotion and cross-promotion with other content
- Metrics for measuring the audience response
Content marketers need to plan in the same way in order to create audience-focused content and to publish consistently.
Tell a good story. Journalists have a nose for a story. They find the essence of newsworthiness or helpfulness or usefulness that piques human interest in a story. Here is how they do it:
- Tap into the human element – relate to readers on their level. Speak to what they are thinking, what they are going through and how they feel about it.
- Be relevant – focus on the context and meaning of the story to the reader.
- Get to the truth – feature real people, real situations and genuine emotions that ring true to the reader. Show them, don’t tell them.
- Find an original hook – offer a new and fresh perspective on the topic.
- Surprise them – Arouse the curiosity of the reader with an element of the unexpected.
The power of these storytelling elements is they connect with your audience on an emotional level that feels real. “Your content is not about storytelling,” writes Ann Handley in Content Rules. “It is about telling a true story well.”
Write like a journalist. The tenets of good news writing are simplicity, clarity, brevity and immediacy. Because of the short attention span of Web viewers, these are good rules for content marketing as well. Other audience-focused news writing tips to follow include:
- Lead with your main point – your first paragraph should tell the reader what the story is about. Journalists use the inverted pyramid style for writing a story. The opening paragraph gives an overview of the main point and the paragraphs that follow expand on the details.
- Keep it simple – in word choice and sentence length, shorter is better. The reason is simple. It improves reading comprehension, which makes your content more engaging and trustworthy.
- Maintain neutrality – reporters are trained to never insert themselves into a story. It undermines their credibility with readers. For content marketers, that means setting aside the hype and hard sell language that arouses skepticism in readers. Want to be viewed as a trusted resource? Maintain neutrality.
- Write compelling headlines – the headline is the most important piece of content you write. Period. If it doesn’t express the promise of a benefit and/or arouse curiosity, all you will arouse is apathy. Journalists write headlines that pull people into the story. So should you.
If you want to beat content apathy, you have to write for a digital audience. It is nothing short of a business imperative. Your content marketing is a means to an end. In the end, the quality of your content is judged by its ability to build an audience, generate visitors, leads and customers.