The value of quality content (and how to achieve it)

It’s a rat race out there for content marketers. More and more brands are taking a stab at content marketing, convinced that it’s a flourishing strategy based on the the successful ventures made by major corporations like Kraft, Red Bull, and GoPro. But with so many businesses all gunning for more readers, how can content marketers distinguish themselves from the herd?

One way is to produce targeted content your reader will favor over similar offerings from the competition. But as brands know, it’s certainly not an easy goal to achieve.

According to Content Marketing Institute’s 2015 “B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends” study, 54 percent of B2B content marketers have trouble with producing engaging content. And it’s been growing for awhile now. In 2012, 41 percent struggled, and in 2010, it was 36 percent who found it a challenge. The same problem plagues B2C content marketers. In 2015, 50 percent acknowledged it was “difficult”—a step up from 35 percent in 2013.

So why do content marketers feel it’s so much harder to create content now than five years ago? A few reasons. One, there’s more competition now than ever. Brands are officially publishers, and they have to compete with bloggers, other brands, traditional publishers, memes, viral videos, and more for eyeballs. Two, more B2B and B2C content marketers are prioritizing “engaging content”—whatever that means.

Confronting “engaging content”

So what exactly makes content “engaging?” We see that term thrown around a lot online without a clear explanation. It’s gotten to the point where it’s practically a content marketing buzzword. And while content marketers love using it, it’s pretty meaningless. It can take on any number of forms. For us, though, we take “engaging content” to mean it satisfies a B2B or B2C content marketers’ goal: persuading a reader to consume more content, share it with others, or try the recommended product/service. And that’s not always a bad thing: engaging content attracts readers because it provides them value in some form or another. And we want to entice readers because they’re who we’re providing content for, after all. Otherwise, we might as well continue pumping out press releases that promote our next new product. Ultimately, content marketing’s success depends on engaging readers with quality.

But forget engaging content for a minute. What brands and content marketers really need is to find the value of quality content. And that starts with…

A focus on the reader

Your reader is the reason why you’re creating the content in the first place. Your goal might be conversions, brand awareness, thought leadership—but whatever the case, to achieve that goal, your content better be persuasive and entertaining enough for your reader to stop scrolling and start reading.

As Seth Godin once said, “real content marketing isn’t repurposed advertising, it is making something worth talking about.” Content that has value for the reader—whether it’s actionable advice they can use or information they believe is worth sharing with other people—is the type of engaging content that content marketers strive for because it’ll keep readers coming back.

One of the reasons why content marketers struggle to produce engaging content is because they don’t consider their readers when crafting content. According to a Forrester survey, while 71 percent of brands include case studies and customer stories in their content, only 3 percent bother delving deeper into these stories in order to make their content more relatable to readers. And only 12 percent prioritize publishing research and perspectives to offer actionable insights to readers.

The problem with a lot of content is that it sells instead of tells. Marketers take the “marketing” part of content marketing literally. It may intuitively feel like your content should sell a product or service, but that kind of content nearly always fails in one way or another (re: engagement). Remember that content marketing is supposed to provide value—in information or entertainment, for example. Only by understanding their audience first can content marketers get down to the tough task of creating engaging content.

Which brings us back to that tricky conundrum we discussed before: how do you create quality content that your readers will enjoy?

The elements of quality content

Ideally, your content should at least do one or more of the following: 1) enlighten the reader about something they didn’t know before, 2) entertain or interest the reader enough that they’ll keep reading, and 3) inspire them to go out and perform an action. That’s the kind of value a reader looks for.

Easier said than done, right?

Let’s break it down by section, and see how we can make each one work for your content.

Enlighten: content that informs

Let’s face it—your content probably covers the same subjects your competitors’ content covers. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing; after all, you address these topics (workplace productivity, world travel tips, etc.) because you know your audience and what they’re interested in.

But you can make sure your content stands out through a few different approaches:

  • A new angle to an old topic: There are dozens of articles out there about improving workplace productivity and they all read pretty much the same. So, how about taking a different approach to that age-old problem? For example, instead of the usual list of tips, share real-life examples of different workplace obstacles so readers can better visualize the situations. Or that travel guide to Western Europe? Rather than a list of a few popular cities, create a Google map and start from one point, leading your readers to the next stops by way of route suggestions with accompanying scenic imagery.
  • Develop a strong brand voice: You know your brand better than anyone else, so use it to give your content a clear, definable voice that won’t be confused with a competitor’s. If your brand is a well-established expert in the field, use a confident, authoritative tone and back it up with current studies as well as your own research to show your expertise. If your brand is more laidback and approachable but still knowledgeable, reflect that identity with casual, friendly vocab combined with insider tips that aren’t just being repeated ad infinitum by everyone else.

Entertain: content that delights

When it comes to online reading, we usually don’t enjoy perusing mountains of text. But visuals that break up heavy text make it easier for us to skim and more likely to stay engaged. Color can actually improve readership by 80 percent.

We all know it’s not just a matter of sprinkling in a few random stock photos (please, no laughing women with salads). The right visuals—whether it’s photos, illustrations, or infographics—can help get your message across to the reader. It might be a humorous abstract idea that plays off your subheading, or it draws from an example in your text to create a picture in your readers’ minds. Infographics, especially, are a more memorable and fun format for displaying a ton of stats or facts. When you use relevant imagery, you’re likely to get 94 percent more views than you would have with content that lacks visuals.

But it’s not just images that help your content entertain your readers. It’s the voice of the writing itself. A clever and witty writer can make a story about an everyday topic like healthy foods or office management a worthwhile read because they’ll frame it in a funny and relatable way. They’ll sprinkle in some jokes, relevant pop culture references, and other tidbits that will capture the readers’ imaginations and encourage them to share the content with others. After all, it’s more fun to share a laugh with other people than with your sad bowl of caesar salad.

Inspire: content that captivates

Lastly, you want to inspire your readers so that they feel pumped enough to go out and try your recommendations. You can try different tactics depending on who your readers are.

For B2B readers:

  • Include real life examples or case studies. This will show readers how it’s possible to solve their problems using your methods.
  • Offer clear actionable advice to give them a good idea of how to start—for example, “write 25 headlines before choosing the best one,” not “brainstorm a few headlines.”

For B2C readers:

  • This is obvious but relevant, nonetheless: use beautiful, high-resolution imagery (i.e. not overlit photos of mannequin-like people with faces frozen in cartoonish grins). More so than B2B readers, B2C readers really respond to eye-catching visuals, especially ones used for an image-dependent subjects like travel or food, because they don’t just want to read about Portugal or Australia, they want to see the stunning details of those places.
  • Weave a narrative through your story. It doesn’t have to start with “once upon a time” and end with “happily ever after,” but a little creative storytelling can tie your content together and make it more memorable to your readers. That can be something as simple as introducing a question or idea at the beginning and then addressing it later on, or calling back to a point you made earlier with a joke.

Lastly, when it comes to your conclusion, end your story on a hopeful point: provide a meaningful takeaway that convinces your reader that whatever you’re suggesting is worth doing.

In the end, quality will win

2016 will be the year that content marketers start focusing more on creating quality content. It’s a challenge, sure, but if we use our readers’ interest as a guiding principle, we’ll be able to craft more engaging and more compelling content that will please our readers so that they’ll keep coming back for more. In the long run, quality is the key to standing out in a landscape overrun by same-faced brands.

Image: Christopher Gower/Unsplash

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