What makes content "valuable"?
"It’s relevant, engaging, consistent, trustworthy, useful, and authentic. Jeez. Are you new around here, Braveen?"
Okay. But “value” is subjective and, when we rely only on abstractions to define it, that hardly suffices as an answer to this question.
It’s easy to repeat what we hear, but harder to understand, internalize, and incorporate it into our content creation and overall strategy.
Instead I want to offer a definition of valuable content that encompasses the diverse content mix: the educational, inspiring, journalistic, product-focused, and sometimes entertaining content that drives a variety of the consequences that marketers (and their audiences) expect from content marketing.
“Value” will inevitably mean something different depending on where your intended audience is on their journey, but relevant, engaging, trustworthy, useful, and authentic still matter the same—from the top of the funnel to the bottom.
We just need to clarify what they mean.
“Relevant”— Is it right for your audience?
Relevance is about audience fit. Does it align with your customer's interests? Does it empathize with their pain points? Are you speaking the same language?
Whether you're aiming for relevant-right-now topical content or always-applicable evergreen content, it's important to understand how it relates to a particular segment of your audience.
Chances are there are people out there who are interested in your space or even “geek out” to your industry—people who want to satisfy an immediate curiosity or consume content as an investment in their professional growth. Make the kind of content your buyer personas are looking for.
We’re lucky here at Uberflip. We’re marketing to marketers—specifically around content marketing and marketing automation—and that gives us the special privilege of being members of our own audience and using our own diverse interests to inspire some of the content we create.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a content creator, it’s that no two audiences are exactly the same. You have to learn about yours over time, researching trends, finding the right keywords, analyzing data and listening with your own two ears if you hope to remain relevant when it comes to the content you create.
“Consistent”— Does it align with your audience’s expectations?
Frequency is one element of consistency, but so is branding. How your content fits within the context of your content marketing history—in terms of topic, tone, quality, messaging—affects its value to your audience.
Moz's Whiteboard Friday is a great example of consistency: Rand Fishkin, SEO tips, video lecture, whiteboards, Fridays—almost every time.
Consistency satisfies your loyal subscribers. They commit because they expect more of whatever motivated them to sign up.
That doesn’t mean you should avoid variety or new ideas, but it's important to maintain a clear, reliable brand in your audience's eyes and remain within the realm of reason in terms of what they expect from you.
That's why I'm writing this and not, say, 10 Hilarious Cats Who Think They're Humans (#7 Will Make You Cry).
“Engaging”—Is it an enjoyable experience overall?
When there are readers out there who think some infographics are too text-heavy to bother with or leave your site because it doesn't scale for their phone's screen, it’s more important than ever to acknowledge the role of craft and user experience when it comes to engagement.
Content should be made to scan, easy to share, and scale for the reader's screen. First impressions matter. But in order to leave a lasting one, you need to consider how you craft content.
What do I mean by “craft”?
I like to say that craft is art that knows what it’s doing. But it's also about taking pride in your work, sharpening your skills, and accepting that it takes real effort to do a good job.
Whether writing, designing or producing videos, understanding the practical, more technical side of the "art" (or outsourcing it to the folks who do) will help you create higher quality content.
It doesn't matter if you don't consider yourself creative, learning even a little about the art of rhetoric, online journalism, or basic design principles will improve your ability to create better content. There's no shortage tools that can help you.
Rebecca Lieb describes content as “the atomic particle of all digital marketing”.
If that’s the case, then ideas, writing, design, video production, etc. are the mysterious Higgs Particle that gives content its mass. And as Jay Acunzo says, unlike many of the other aspects of content marketing, "That doesn't scale".
“Trustworthy”— Is it believable or is it BS?
Credibility is key in content marketing. It's important to cite credible resources, examples and watch out for spelling and grammar—but there's more to it.
Of the 3 pillars of persuasion, Ethos (authority/brand/character) most directly influences audience trust along with Logos (logic/evidence).
That's why it also matters who the author is or whose ideas they borrow, how their own expertise and experience is reflected in their knowledge, personal brand or even author bio. Audiences prefer to hear it from the horse's mouth, so quote thought leaders in your industry if necessary.
If there's something that's obviously suspicious, completely selfish or smells like BS in your content, your audience is smart enough to know.
“Useful”—Does it benefit your audience right now?*
In most cases, "useful" means actionable or practical.
But it's important to acknowledge the various types of "usefulness" your audience can take away from your content: advice, inspiration, technical know-how, product education, insight, entertainment, whatever works for your brand.
If you're putting out a how-to article, make sure you show your audience how to—right now.
If your piece is inspirational, make your audience feel strongly enough to share it right after reading.
If it's content about your product, walk your customers through it in a clear, easy-to-follow manner.
Supporting images, charts, and examples will help your cause here.
“Authentic”— Does it prove you are human?
There's no CAPTCHA that I have to pass to prove to you that I am indeed a caring human writing this and not a robot or—worse, in my opinion—a human who doesn't care.
One way to prove you're a caring human is to inject a bit of your personality into your content. Humor, a little quirkiness, analogies, references to pop culture or relevant personal stories can go a long way in establishing authenticity.
Authenticity is about taking the "Trustworthiness" I mentioned above and adding some humanity to it.
Showing a little personality isn't detrimental—it's a differentiator. Especially in B2B content marketing.
Eat your own "content marketing dog food"
What effect do you want your content to have? Do you want to educate your audience? Inform them about some event? Explain a concept? Help them solve a problem using your product? Describe trends? Entertain? Inspire? A mix of these things?
Whatever it is you want to do, go all in to make it happen, and—with unrelenting empathy—honestly evaluate how you would receive it if you were a member of your audience consuming your content.
Maybe your audience learns something, laughs a little, or starts a free trial. Or perhaps they share your content, subscribe to your blog, or leave a comment. They start to respect your brand more, develop a relationship with it or see how what you offer can fit into their life.
Whatever happens after you hit publish, it's the value you put out there that makes all of this—this thing we call content marketing—work in the end.