Aristotle had it right:
“Quality is not an act, it is a habit.”
At least that’s what you can conclude from the advice of Content Marketing World 2020 presenters who shared things to improve the quality of your content marketing.
Not a single expert responded with a one-and-done improvement idea. That makes sense because content marketing isn’t a one-and-done marketing tactic. It’s a strategic, long-term approach.
That’s why the CMWorld speakers offer some helpful ideas on what elements of your content marketing should become a habit, not a one-time act. Broadly, they can be summed up into two mantras provided by Marcus Collins, marketing professor, University of Michigan Ross School of Business:Focus on people. Be consistent.
Now, let’s get into some specific things you should be doing to make quality content a habit at your brand.
Habit 1: Ask for input
Content marketers have three stakeholders – the sales team, the customer, and the C-suite. You must engage each in planning your content strategy, says Bernie Borges, chief customer officer, Vengreso.
Connecting with internal teams has its benefits. “Many times, we have an idea of who our general buyer is and create content for that type of buyer. But interview your product managers and your salespeople to make sure that you are not missing the mark,” says Viveka von Rosen, chief visibility officer, Vengreso.
“Sometimes there is a huge gap between sales and marketing because marketing feels like they are doing everything they can to support sales, and sales feels like they’re not getting the right content and therefore feel unsupported,” Viveka says. “By interviewing your sellers, you’ll begin to understand exactly what content they need to enable them to be successful throughout the whole buyer’s journey and with each type of buyer. Your content can help them make the sale. That keeps everybody employed.”
Jessica Best, vice president, data-driven marketing, Barkley, also embraces the “ask-don’t-guess” theme. “Ask your constituents what they want/need! Better to ask and listen to what folks’ priorities are than to blaze ahead with your content strategy and hope that you’re nailing it,” she says.
Asking questions should become a habit. Michelle Park Lazette, senior writer, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, offers the most important question to ask any customer or content source: “What did I not ask you that I should have?”
As she explains, “The more questions we ask, the better able we are to break news ourselves, to differentiate our content from existing content, and to build relationships with the experts inside our organizations and the audiences we seek to serve.”
Habit 2: Create a content experience
“Focusing solely on making individual pieces of content great doesn’t work anymore,” says Matthew Rayback, creative director, Adobe. “In reality, ‘content’ is the customer-facing aspect of customer experience.
“Of course, really great individual interactions are important, but more important is the overall experience these assets and interactions create together throughout a customer’s entire relationship with a brand … Companies need a clear strategy that defines how content works together to create great customer outcomes and experiences.” (To read more about Matthew’s insight in this area, read his article on Medium.)
Habit 3: Make content that attracts
Though reading a book by starting with the last chapter is a bad habit, starting at the end is a good one for content marketers, says Erika Heald, founder, Erika Heald Marketing Consulting.
“When you’re writing a blog post, for instance, understand the person you’re writing to and how your content will help them,” she says. That result-focused approach requires content creators to figure out at the beginning:The objective for the content piece – What do you want someone to do after consuming this content? How does this piece of content fit into your content marketing strategy? One key takeaway for the audience – What will they learn or think about differently after consuming this content? The next step – What should the audience member do after consuming the content?
Erika says the start-with-the-end approach also means writing a meta description before creating the content to identify what the content is about and why someone should read it. Plus, identify two related owned pieces and at least one high-traffic piece of content to which the new content can link.
Chris White, senior manager, marketing, Capital One, says you should apply this concept from your audience’s perspective too. “Work back from why that audience should care vs. starting with what you want to say,” he says.
Analyzing audience motivation lets you know what makes people pay attention to and engage with your content, says Nancy Harhut, chief creative officer, HBT Marketing.
“Social scientists have confirmed that humans often rely on decision-making shortcuts – automatic, instinctive, reflexive responses. These hardwired behaviors have evolved over time to help people conserve mental energy and make it easier to navigate all of life’s daily decisions – including decisions like what link to click and which source to trust.”
“They can help marketers create content that’s nearly impossible to ignore,” Nancy says.
Habit 4: Don’t create alone
While earlier advice revolved around connecting with your audience, this habit takes it to the next step: Create with your audience.
But don’t just stop with your users, says Kathy Klotz-Guest, founder, Keeping It Human. Create more content with employees too. “Marketers need to find the best storytellers in the organization, elevate those people, and get out of the way. Stop running stories through the brandification-noise machine,” she says.
Of course, content development shouldn’t be a one-source activity. “One of the best things you can do to increase your content’s credibility is to add additional quotes from additional and outside sources,” says Melanie Deziel, chief content officer StoryFuel. “It doesn’t matter whether those quotes are from your own interviews with experts, previously published quotes from experts, clients, customers, academics, studies, research reports, or something else, just find a way to back up as much as possible with an additional source that isn’t part of your organization.”
Rich Schwerin, senior content strategist, Autodesk, touts the benefits of working with an editor. “Behind great writing there’s great editing. Build and maintain a style guide and apply it rigorously through editing, copyediting, and proofreading. Words matter.”
Another advocate for additional eyes reading through draft content is Dennis Shiao, marketing consultant, Attention Retention. As he explains, “Have your content ‘peer reviewed’ (e.g., by a fellow marketer) or better yet, get input from customers or readers who are part of your target audience.
“First off, they might catch a simple typo that you overlooked. Second, their input lets you run a test flight of your content before it’s published. Maybe you overlooked an important issue or didn’t explain a key point deeply enough,” he says.
Habit 5: Go for real
Humanize your content, says Chris Luecke, podcast host and founder, Manufacturing Happy Hour.
“There’s still a temptation to focus on the features and benefits of a product or solution … But when you go beyond the technology and focus on the people that bring it to life, especially through video and podcasting, your customers and partners will start looking at your brand in a more approachable light,” he says.
And don’t forget to pay attention to the little things to make your content feel real. Amy Balliett, CEO, Killer Visual Strategies, says that means ditching the use of stock imagery. “Today’s audiences have discerning taste and crave authenticity,” she says. “The overuse of stock imagery has transformed it from an engaging form of visual content to an eyesore that must be avoided at all costs.”
Habit 6: Collect and use the data
“Gather as much data on an audience to inform your content ideation/creation. Assume nothing,” advises Paxton Gray, CEO, 97th Floor.
Andrew Hanelly, partner, Revmade, is adamant about data too: “Be obsessive about using qualitative and quantitative data to define the content you create and the channels in which you promote it.”
That’s not easy for content creators who prefer to avoid numbers. As Christoph Trappe, chief marketing officer, The Authentic Storytelling Project, explains: “I still see way too many content marketers who just create, create, and create, which is natural for content creators. But we also have to look at the metrics to see what content is resonating and what content is driving results. Then build on that.”
And those metrics also can tell us to stop doing what isn’t working, says Cathy McKnight, vice president strategy and consulting, The Content Advisory.
Habit 7: Be systematic
“When you understand the real scope of the behind-the-scenes activity, you can then begin to identify and eliminate the bottlenecks,” says Andrea Fryrear, co-founder, Agile coach and trainer, AgileSherpas.
Designing a content creation process doesn’t have to be complicated. “Start with a simple workflow with stages like creating, reviewing, and publishing,” she says. “If your process flows more smoothly, you’ll spend less time scrambling to make deadlines and more time delivering value to your audience.”
To help get your process ideas going, check out these sample boards from Andrea.
Habit 8: Be purposeful
If you’re overwhelmed with all that great advice, rest easy and heed this tip from Alenka Bester, head of digital content marketing, Zavarovalnica Triglav: “Stop blindly following what everyone else is doing. What works for our brand may not necessarily work for yours because we are all different and we should focus on the qualities that make us unique.”
And consider this counsel from Joe Pulizzi, founder, Content Marketing Institute, who offers this three-step formula:Pack up your things and leave platforms where you’re wasting your time. Take that content energy and put it into platforms helping to make your audiences’ lives and jobs better. Create less content, but make sure what’s left is differentiated and amazing.
What habits have you formed that lead to quality content marketing programs? Please share in the comments.
Learn more from these and their fellow presenters at Content Marketing World this October from the comfort of your desk. Register today.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute