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The Other Half of Content Marketing (The Part You Can't Hack)

The Road to Content Greatness

If you’re satisfied with your pace on the content marketing journey, read no further.

Seriously, stop. Do a three-point turn. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200.

What I’m about to address isn’t for the average “post the most” marketer. This isn't for people looking for a hack or a simple solution. This post is for content marketers who are actually aspiring for greatness, for those who care about creating (as Ann Handley calls it) really, really ridiculously good content.

So, how do you navigate the road to content marketing greatness?

I wanted answers, so  I turned to the VP of Platform at Nextview Ventures, Sorry for Marketing blogger and overall content boss, Jay Acunzo.

Content marketing doesn’t scale

I can practically feel the force of hundreds of marketers’ jaws dropping after reading that sub-head. What do you mean, content marketing doesn’t scale?!

I thought the same thing upon reading Acunzo’s blog post of the same title. Of course, most elements of content marketing can scale — after all, if it isn’t scalable, it’s probably not worth doing.

If you want your content to be truly great, however, it’s important for marketers to stop focusing on trying to automate everything. In order for content marketing to actually work like it’s supposed to, it’s imperative to take a step back from the world of programmatic ad buying and marketing automation and bring back a little human touch.

“The robots haven’t replaced the writers,” says Acunzo. “There are no robots that have taken over content creation, so you need human beings. And that means there’s a degree of craft-driven work, where you need to be great at it to stand out.”

Content marketing greatness resides in the craft, and craft requires human skill. Often, as Acunzo pointed out, the issues with a content strategy don’t arise because of SEO problems or a poor distribution strategy. “It’s that you can’t write. People might arrive, and the people that do arrive don’t like it,” says Acunzo. That’s an issue that likely has nothing to do with the marketing part of your content marketing — it has to do with the content part.

Leave the robots behind and focus on skill, not scale.

The great content Venn diagram

According to Acunzo, great content lies in the overlap between “hard data, creative insight and intuition, and qualitative feedback from your audience. The Venn diagram overlap of those three things makes a great content marketer.”

Great Content Venn Diagram

The combination of these three things are inherently dependent upon each other when creating great content. Hard data will tell you what’s happening, but not why. Quality feedback from your audience will tell you why, but not how. Creative insight will tell you how, but not what.

Above all, however, your content must be created with your audience in mind. If your content is not “grounded in the reality of your audience,” as Acunzo put it, you’re automatically on the wrong track.

Don’t just think about hitting the sweet spot between hard data, creativity, and qualitative feedback — think about hitting that mark as it directly applies to your customers.

Identifying great content opportunities

Your content can only be grounded in the reality of your audience if it speaks to them, resolving their issues or pain points.

But how can you identify those pain points in the first place?

Acunzo brought up Twitter co-founder Evan Williams’ technology innovation framework as one method of identifying these pain points. Williams’ framework is grounded in the fact that technology doesn’t allow you to do new things; rather, it allows you to do things you’ve already done more conveniently. In Williams’ words, the formula to creating a billion dollar tech company is simple: “Take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time… Identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps.”

Acunzo takes a similar approach to content marketing: “Content marketers should think that way too. Find who you are serving, line-up all the steps you have to go through to fulfill a desire or solve a problem, and literally use content to remove steps.”

This opens up content opportunities for templates, interactive content, educational content — content that isn’t necessarily saying something new or extraneous, but rather, is fast-tracking the resolution process for your customer.

Content is for humans

One of the reasons why content marketing fails is that people get impatient. Regardless of their understanding of content marketing and how “helpful, not sell-ful” their blog posts are, they still expect individual content pieces to work like direct-response advertisements and produce similar results.

“There’s this compounding return with content in many cases [that takes time]. People are too often enamored with virality and the ‘spike of today’. You need to do some marketing that takes care of the near-term, but I don’t think content is a very good near-term solution for things,” says Acunzo.

When it comes down to it, you pave your own road to content marketing greatness. Don’t build the road for cars, however — build the road for humans who are driving the cars.

Want to achieve a compounding return on your content marketing efforts? Read our free eBook, Data-Driven Marketing: How to Create & Optimize A Content Strategy With Data At Its Core.