Can you hear that sound? It’s the sound of a million fingertips clicking against keyboards, pumping out the tsunami of content that’s about to bury the public. The modern consumer is immune to infomercials and jingles, and all the search and social ads are starting to wear thin. Content is an island in the ocean of marketing messages consumers are drowning in, and the waters are rising.
In the years ahead, consumers are going to tighten their filters even more. Attention grabbing titles and sleek web design are going to disguise spam in Pinterest clothing. You’ll need to fight to get noticed, and many in the industry are going to get lost in the noise. Thankfully, when consumers find a trustworthy source of content, they’re going to latch onto it even harder, and keep coming back for more.
The secret to making that happen isn’t just to “go viral.” It isn’t just to have a “good brand.” It’s to piece together a content brand, a reputation not just for excellent products or services, but top notch content. Here’s what it’s going to take to make that happen.
Habit #1. Get Out of the Marketing Bubble
The internet gives us access to an incredible amount of information, but it can also lead us straight into a trap of our own design. Those of us who live and breathe marketing may eventually find themselves isolated and unable to think like a consumer. We can forget that most people don’t use the web to buy things most of the time. Our lives aren’t built around brands. Brands are just in our lives.
People don’t use Facebook because of all the ads and brands they can “like.” They don’t go there for the features, the design, and the apps. They go there because it’s the social network that their friend’s use.
People don’t use Google because it’s a better search engine than Bing, they use it because they know it, they’ve used it, and nothing’s ever worked better for them.
People don’t read the New York Times, Mashable, or Gizmodo because they have great SEO and marketing departments. They go there because it’s where they can find interesting, entertaining, trustworthy information.
Marketing is not mind control. Marketing is grabbing attention and then building trust. Trust is built on being helpful, being consistent, and being understanding. Without the trust component, you’re just waving your arms around and screaming at the top of your lungs, looking ridiculous to the vast majority of consumers who pass you on the street.
It has never been easier to understand your target audience. There are forums, social networks, and blogs where these people vocalize everything on their mind, positive and negative, about your industry and, if you’re noteworthy enough, your brand. Pay attention. These people are telling you about the problems they want solved, the things they care about, and what really matters to them. You have more data to work with than any generation at any point in history. Use it.
You need to approach content the same way you approach product if you want it to be successful. You may not sell your content, but if it doesn’t exist to solve a problem and connect with your target audience, it has no need to exist.
Habit #2. Know Everything Your Audience Wants to Know
Your goal as a content brand is to know more than your target audience, and to share that information in the most transparent, useful, entertaining, and shareable way possible. You must become the authority, whether it’s by educating yourself or by hiring the right knowledge leaders. When you don’t know the answer to something, you must know how to find the answer. You must be so knowledgeable about your topic that you are the first brand to say something new and helpful to your target audience, before the other content outlets get wind of it.
Research is crucial to becoming an authority. Original research is better. Creative ideas are better. Finding new and creative ways to say old things is better. Being an authority means telling people something they never would have thought of on their own, or telling them something in a way they never would have thought of on their own.
Authority goes beyond research and original ideas. It reaches into the realm of presentation. How are your ideas organized? Are you frank or long-winded? Are you emotional or neutral? Are you enthusiastic or dull? Are you colorful, or all business? An authority doesn’t just know more about the key topic than their target audience.
An authority can be trusted to speak on the same level as their audience, not talking down on them with pointless jargon, or simplifying things to the point of insult. Knowledge does not imply superiority. It simply makes you more helpful to your audience.
Habit #3. Define Strategic Content Goals
Getting a million unique visitors is not success. Making 100,000 sales is not success. Success goes deeper than any single metric. When we ask ourselves if we are successful, we don’t answer these questions with numbers. So why is it so common for marketers to measure success in numbers?
The role of measurement is not to define goals. It is to understand processes. Measurement allows you to identify how your process works. It allows you to measure impact and test what actions are most effective. It transforms your business from a black box into a system of knobs and sliders that you fully understand, allowing you to tweak the settings as needed in order to achieve the outcomes you desire.
These are not content goals:
- Produce 1,000 pieces of content in 6 months
- Reach 1,000,000 unique visitors per month
- Attract 1,000 likes on Facebook or 1,000 links from bloggers
These are content goals:
- Produce the most engaging content possible
- Produce a piece of content capable of spreading on its own
- Transform as many readers into subscribers or customers as possible
When we define our real goals we can use numbers to understand how to get there. When we define our goals with numbers, we have no idea how to get there.
It’s true, sometimes we need to quantify aspects our strategic goals in order to set the bar, but let’s not confuse those numbers with our true goals. You may need to ask your content production team to produce 1,000 pieces of content in 6 months in order to keep things moving, but that’s not a goal.
It’s a benchmark.
Habit #4. Be Consistent
Be careful, some will misread this to say “pump out content constantly.” Don’t make that mistake. Being consistent doesn’t always mean your site should be overflowing with content. It meas that people know when your content is coming, and that they know it’s going to suit their needs as close to perfectly as possible.
It’s important to have both ingredients of this. If people don’t know when to expect your next piece of content, how will they know when to come back? By subscribing? Most of them won’t, because they can’t even trust that anything’s coming.
But your content should also have a consistent quality level. Producing one incredible piece of content doesn’t give you the right to start producing sub-par (or even “good”) content. If your quality levels are unpredictable, users will unsubscribe, stop sharing, and your traffic will drop. If you’ve built an incredibly strong content brand, you may be able to keep it up for a year or so at most, but you will see your traffic dwindle.
The question of how prolific you need to be is debatable. OkCupid has done a great job with incredible content on a sparsely updated blog, but after nearly two years of waiting for a new piece of content, it’s clear that this blog isn’t doing anything for customer retention.
Sometimes customer retention isn’t as important, or the product itself is a source of customer retention. In cases like that, a prolific content marketing strategy isn’t necessarily as important as an incredibly high impact strategy. That said, growth demands progress, and there’s certainly no reason a site can’t update with a stellar piece of content at least every six months.
Products and services that demand any kind of customer retention should, on the other hand, rely on a much more prolific content strategy. Fifty percent of branding is just brand awareness, and it’s hard to find a spot in your audience’s mind share if they aren’t seeing you on a regular basis.
Habit #5. Be Enthusiastic
Why should consumers get excited about something that doesn’t even seem to get you excited? Your brand needs to have a passion for the subjects and lifestyles that revolve around it, and the problems that it solves. Emotionless experiences are not memorable or shareable. The wiring of the human brain is built around emotion, and studies have demonstrated that intense emotions and mind-expanding experiences are a huge part of what make content shareable.
If you think your subject matter is boring, you need to find a way to make it interesting. The key to making any subject interesting is to ask questions about it. Don’t be afraid to take things a bit more broad, either. Consider your target audience’s lifestyle and the things they care about. There’s always room to find something interesting and relevant to talk about.
Habit #6. Do it The Hard Way
I’m not implying that you should make things hard on yourself or push your staff’s morale to the breaking point. What we mean when we say “do in the hard way,” is that nothing should ever just be “good enough.”
Don’t summarize somebody else’s blog post when you could mine dozens of sources for the most striking information and concentrate it all in one place.
Don’t say the writing is good because there are no grammar mistakes. Throw some action words in there, toss in a bit of humor, start off with a hook, and finish with a bang.
Don’t get stuck in your field and write the next article about what you already know. Push the envelope, mix and match ideas from different disciplines, and expand the mind of yourself and your audience.
Don’t base an article idea off of some keyword tool. Get in touch with your audience and you network of influence, ask questions, get involved and find out what people want to hear about.
Habit #7. Understand Viral Content
Finally, successful content brands understand the nature of viral content, the type of content that people share with their friends and the online community. While luck is a big part of the process, it is far from the only factor involved. Jonah Berger’s study of the most emailed articles on the New York Times demonstrated that:
- Longer articles were actually more viral, although this could have been because the subject of those articles was more shareable to begin with
- Intense emotions like anger, anxiety, and especially awe were more shareable than bland or disaffecting emotions like sadness
- Positive emotions were more shareable than negative ones of the same intensity
- Content that forced readers to see the world in a new way were more shareable
- Actionable and practically useful content was more shareable
- Surprising content was more shareable
To learn more about content marketing and how to make things go viral, take a look at our guide, Content Marketing is Not Rocket Science.
The tsunami of sub-par content is coming, and consumers can be forgiven for putting up a barricade. It’s your job to stand out, build trust, and retain an audience. As consumer patience for marketing wears ever thinner, the opportunities for trusted content marketers will actually increase.
But be warned, the path to trust is growing more treacherous every day.
Like this? Pass it along if you did, and let’s hear your reactions in the comments. What’s the road ahead going to look like?
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