Sooner or later, when they receive enough attention, useful content marketing tactics and insights run the risk of giving birth to buzzwords and generalized best practices.
Somewhere down the line, the conversations around these topics become so noisy that we lose sight of their initial usefulness or, worse, how they've evolved over time.
In preparation for a new year, I thought I would revisit some of the biggest "buzz topics" and best practices to rehash them with an updated perspective.
“Tell more stories in your content marketing”
Storytelling is an interesting buzzword because it's a deep craft with a long history that deserves to be studied on its own. Many an ad campaign has tapped into the persuasive potential of storytelling to capture attention and evoke emotions. But as content marketers, we're often tasked with doing something a little different—most times we educate, demonstrate and present arguments.
Applying a narrative structure can create direction in a piece of content that keeps your audience engaged, but the feature of storytelling that holds the most value for content marketers, in my opinion, is how this craft can teach us to leverage connotation to pack more meaning in between the lines.
Compare how the following descriptions are presented:
- Jim was tired after work and wanted to sleep.
- Jim rubbed his eyes as he yawned after a long day at work.
Which one reveals more and seems more real to you? The first employs exposition. The second uses storytelling.
Don't use your content as an opportunity to sell— that's the equivalent of turning your blog into a podium, when it should be a stage to show off your brand:
- Show your audience your brand's personality and authority.
- Show your audience how you can solve their problems.
- Show your audience that you understand their pain points.
Position your audience in the shoes of the hero and make your content the mentor, not the main character.
"Visual content dominates"
While it’s generally true that visual content sees more shares and pickups, it's no guarantee your content will "stand out": YouTube alone sees over 100 hours of video uploaded every minute.
Investing in visual content is typically more expensive than investing in a blog post. Whether you outsource the content creation or not, it takes more time and more resources. On top of that, it can fall short if it’s not executed well or was based on a mediocre idea to begin with.
Different content formats lend themselves well to different objectives. Simplicity is the domain of infographics and slideshow presentations. But in-depth topics and longer processes might be better explored in your long-form content. Employing visuals in your blog articles helps to marry the best of both worlds.
But that doesn't mean writing is now dominated by design. Consider this: You're not reading these words in my voice; you're reading them in the most compelling voice you know—your own.
"Earned, Owned & Paid Media"
Facebook cut the organic reach of Business Pages.
Twitter’s in talks about undermining its reverse chronological feed with an algorithm-based one.
Channels are a-changing and the lines between paid, earned, and owned media are a-blurring. Paid media plays a bigger role in content distribution and is becoming a necessary focus to reach your largest audience.
The only channels you truly own are the channels you control. such as your website, your blog or your content hub where competitive messages and irrelevant information can be kept to a minimum and you can dictate what your audience sees.
"The ideal length for your content is..."
The notion of an ideal length for content, especially long-form content, is often hotly contested.
Why? Because there are exceptions to the rule who manage to do more with fewer words. Others do more with more words.
Seth Godin publishes a short few hundred word blog post every day. His audience loves his bite-sized insights. His blog is in line with the kind of standout thinking that’s part of his personal brand.
Yet some sources hold that 1,600 words is the ideal length for a blog post. This is something you need to test with your own audience.
Length isn’t so much an asset or a deterrent for your content as much as perceived length is. At the end of the day, scannability and engagement are more important than length. Remember the theory of relativity?
“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That's relativity.”
Well, the same goes for content. Blog posts that are engaging, that are a pleasure to read and easy to digest, manage to condense your audience's perceived reading time. If your blog post is the equivalent of putting your reader's hand on a hot stove, they won't like that you're trying to make them suffer through 1,600 words, even if that is a data-backed "ideal length".
What's more important for content marketers is to adopt writing techniques and strategies that are geared toward online audiences.
Shorter paragraphs, clearly organized structure, economical use of language, lists, strategic formatting choices, visual elements, and an understanding of how to write for the ears in a conversational tone. These are things you need to consider when you write online.
There’s a reason that writing wisdom includes this bit of advice: “It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.”
"Content Marketing isn't about you; it's always about them"
Nobody wants to hear you talk about your business or your miracle product in a blog that publishes daily. That much is true.
But content marketing without the marketing is just content. Your content’s potential to serve you hinges on how you position your content and whether the experience you're serving is built for conversions.
Set aside the quality of your content for a second. Unless you create an experience that serves your goals, you're not going to benefit from your content if your final intention is to garner sales over social shares. Integrating your marketing automation with your content machine lets you tap into the lead generation and lead nurturing potential of content to leverage content in a way that benefits your bottom line.
"It's about H2H: Human to Human"
"There is no more B2B or B2C: It’s Human to Human, or H2H."
Marketers seem to either love this idea or hate it with all their heart. All I know is I've seen it on one too many PowerPoint slides.
H2H stresses the fact that humans are emotional creatures, and ones that prefer when complex concepts are rendered in simple terms.
But B2B and B2C marketing generally do have differences that you can't just write off. What's important is to not neglect the human element that shows that you are looking out for the person on the other end of the relationship—even if it's an automated email, they should feel like they're being treated as an individual human being.
There is a relationship, however, that content marketers must pay attention to and it exists between a brand as the author of content and the audience that the content is created for (or A2A, if you really want an acronym for it). And when producing engaging content is one of the biggest challenges for B2B marketers, we can stand to learn a lot from publishers, performers, directors, and even Kevin Spacey.
Are you filling as many seats as you can with a mix of distribution tactics?
Are you testing where your audience's heads are, like how a stand-up comedian uses the beginning of his act to understand his audience and direct where his routine will go?
Are you being consistent with how your content marketing conveys your brand in order to carve a distinct brand identity in your audience's memory?
The Best Practice: Always test your ideas
The problem with best practices is they don't usually specify who they're best for. A lot of them won't work for every kind of business. You need to test what ideas work for your business and continue to measure their performance over time. That's a best practice that won't be going anywhere anytime soon.