There’s never been a better time to start content marketing.
Creating and publishing useful content extends your business’s reach, makes you more visible, connects people to your business, and, thanks to the online tools now available, keeps getting easier.
Of course, everyone needs a hand getting it right. Here are four content marketing experts to help: Joe Chernov of Eloqua; Ann Handley of MarketingProfs; Scott Stratten of Unmarketing; and Adam Singer of TheFutureBuzz.
The result: a trove of 15 solid-gold content marketing tips:
1. Create content that helps people.
Create something interesting to help people do their jobs better, something that helps them become proficient in an area (preferably related to your business) that they previously knew little about.
Don’t let your content suffer from “IBU” syndrome—that’s Interesting But Useless. Don’t create a “The History of Some Nonsensical Business Issue” infographic that few people pay attention to and fewer still forward.
Hold your content to a standard that makes it more than interesting, and offer uncommon yet practical advice or teach people something they didn’t already know.
2. Make your content about customers.
Don’t be too brand-centric with your content. Many marketers and PR pros think first about the brand, their messaging, and their talking points.
That’s great when you’re making a media pitch or doing an interview for a story that someone else will tell. But when you tell your story yourself, make sure you do it in a customer-focused way. Customers need to understand why what you’re saying is relevant to them.
3. Write for your readers first; it builds trust.
Always think about the audience first—that’s the golden rule.
Content that is all about your brand will fizzle, because the reader will lose interest. Take the long-term approach, and write for the reader first and your marketing purposes second. Your goal should be to zero out your brand; you’ll never achieve it, but you need to counterbalance the people in your company who live to “make the logo bigger.”
4. Remember that pictures can be better than words.
Thanks to infographics, videos, and highly visual presentations, your audience can consume large amounts of information quickly. These elements take up little time and are immensely shareable.
At Eloqua, we’ve doubled down on infographics, because they are so easy to share. When we host them on our blog, those particular posts are far and away our most heavily trafficked. People like them.
5. Give your whole team the freedom to get involved.
It’s everybody’s job to produce terrific content, so create an environment where they can do that. Explain that you buy into the idea and you want them to buy into it, too. You need to give your colleagues or employees the leeway to create. If they feel your thumb pressing down on them the entire time, they won’t do it.
6. Get creative: You can make compelling content about anything.
What company can’t make good content? I worked for two years as a national sales training manager for a bubble wrap company, flying around the country for two-day training classes on how to sell the product. If I can make bubble wrap compelling, you can create compelling content.
Blendtec is a great example. The company makes blenders, a seemingly humdrum domestic product. Then they started “Will It Blend,” a video series in which they blend iPhones, brooms, and nearly anything else. They made spectacular content.
7. Don’t shy away from being personal; it builds trust.
We all love stories; however, many companies think storytelling is a squishy, amorphous thing, like fairy tales or literature. But it’s not about that. It’s a chance to express the soul of your brand.
Who are you? Tell what’s unique about your employees. Show pictures of the after-party. That stuff builds empathy and trust; it’s what storytelling is about.
8. Learn to find stories to tell.
There are a million stories in your company. Just bring them to life. I talk to people at business-to-business companies who say, “We have a really boring product, and it’s really hard to explain what it is.” I speak to people at other companies who tell me they have nothing to talk about.
There’s always a story to tell. Look at what you’re all about. Start by going back and looking at your marketing to see what you have already been talking about. You may find something in there that sparks inspiration right away.
9. Learn to tell a story bit by bit.
Your challenge is not just to be interesting; it’s to be consistently interesting. It’s no longer about spending three months on a campaign, issuing it, and declaring yourself done. You need to build a narrative over time and be agile with Web publishing so you can tell your story bit by bit.
I tell clients: Your news is important, and we’re not going to stop telling people about your news, but it’s equally important to tell your audience all the stuff that happens in between your newsy events.
When you do that with your content, it resonates more and humanizes your brand. Whereas your competitors talk only when they have big news or are releasing a product, you’re positioning yourself differently.
10. Use your blog as a hub.
If you’re not blogging yet, start. For Eloqua, the blog is the hub of our content wheel. Make your blog the starting point for all your con¬tent; if it’s housed there, you can give your con¬tent life, context, and edginess.
11. When choosing your channels, focus on the ‘why’ to determine the ‘where.’
You have to think first about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Much of the time, the tendency is to go toward the tools. “We need a blog. We need to be on Facebook. We need a Twitter stream.” But you really don’t. You need to ask, “Why are we doing this?” and then let that question and its answers drive what channels and tools you use and what you do.
12. Give yourself the first bite of your content.
Don’t spend most of your time on other people’s platforms. Facebook and Twitter aren’t your platforms; they’re platforms run by other businesses. There is definite value there for your business, but your content should be published first on a channel that your company controls. I call it the Right of First Publish.
When you have good content, publish it on your own channels first, then syndicate it to other channels and link back to yours.
13. Stop over-commercializing your content when you publish.
With strong content, what you leave out is as important as what you put in. Minimize the commercial messages and the branding statements, and don’t trademark something every time you speak.
I once read a blog post that mentioned the company name and said it was award-winning, and then the company trademarked it with a little symbol seven times in one post. Stop it!
14. Ease off your readers.
Don’t always go for the kill right away. Don’t produce a superb piece of content and then invariably hide it behind a registration page. That’s not the best way to proceed.
Try building a relationship over time through your content, then ask for just a little bit of information, and then a little bit more over time. It’s about slowly building on your relationships by offering good content.
15. Stay committed; it pays off.
You’ve got to be able to sustain this long term. Content isn’t a one-and-done thing; it’s a long-term commitment. Much of the time, companies say, “Yeah, let’s get a blog!” They get it running, and then a month or two down the road, they think: “This blog is such a drag, and no one is coming. Let’s just abandon it.”
It’s a bit like having a baby. The experience is rewarding, but it’s a long-term effort. It really does pay back, but it’s a commitment that you’ve got to keep, and whatever you do has to be substantive.
A version of this story first appeared on the Vocus blog.