Content is one of the most overused words in marketing these days. Every agency tries to understand it and use it to promote their clients’ products – the major issue with this is the lack of understanding about what content really is.
Strategy is Everything
First of all, there can’t be a content pitch without a specific strategy, and this strategy is meant to be followed. What this results in is that content most of the times is just a paraphrased pitch; most companies, which means most clients, don’t have the patience for an actual content project. Content brings in plenty of results, but those are not as quick as outbound marketing. Content is an inbound strategy, which means that it needs ways to bring people to read it, to view it, to share it.
Should we ditch outbound marketing for good?
This is another part of the content enigma: outbound and inbound strategies are not mutually exclusive. In fact, if you have a content strategy that is promoted through the help of outbound marketing channels like Adwords or Social Media Ads, it helps it take off. And it is okay to mix both, even as a long term strategy.
“Viral”: Every Agency’s Nightmare
Every client’s dream is to have their content go viral. What makes this word, “viral”, so frightening and annoying for most agencies is that most of the times there is no sure way to tell if something will go viral or not. The reasons why it happens are still, for the most part, a mystery.
However, there are some things we already know that might help.
Content must have a few specific traits in order to work: in other words, to be shared. Viral content always has some disruptive element to it: something that is out of the ordinary, but that doesn’t come off as “fake” or “trying too hard”. It should seem almost natural; as if you were watching a movie, you use some kind of suspension of disbelief in order to get inside the experience that content provides.
Suspension of what?!
Suspension of disbelief allows you to enjoy something that would make no sense in the real world, something that you would, in other occasion, dismiss immediately as a fabrication. This phenomenon was first stated in the XIXth century by Coleridge, and it became one of the main elements in storytelling. The person which comes into contact with the story does not make an effort to get into its world; it is immersive in a way that you feel as if you were part of it almost instinctively, automatically.
“Immersive” is not just a buzzword
Immersion is also a difficult concept. It has been used to describe a lot of experiences which are everything but immersive. However, you don’t need to create a videogame to induce an immersive experience. A book can be immersive in a way that it pulls you inside its story and keeps you there until you realize it’s been a few hours since you last took your eyes off the pages. True storytelling is immersive: it is built in a way that all parts fit like a puzzle; nothing is superfluous, and nothing is missing.
To make your content compelling and shareable, there are several ways to do it. You can use content that creates strong emotions in your audience; a sort of creative joy that pulls your audience into wanting to share it with other people. This kind of content makes people happier, it changes their day. It’s the kind of story in which some seemingly impossible wish becomes true; it’s about the kind of things we wish were true in our life. Some of them can be true. They might just not be the kind of thing that happens every day; the challenge is to find that wish and make it real in some way. It makes us happy to believe in a better world: this world can be real inside the story we create.
Let’s get personal
There is also a way to create experiences that are unforgettable: to make those experiences personal using information that your audience has already provided to you willingly. Your client is a bike brand; and you have some elements in your audience that have shown to be really interested in mountain bikes. The advertiser should also become a curator of content; if people are talking about things that you know that matter to your audience, you must be aware of it. In a world where everyone is overwhelmed by information, it is important to be able to pick the articles that matter and package them in a way that even though you provide attribution to the author, you are able to use them for your brand in a way that your audience is thankful for that work.
Let’s go back to the mountain bike example. You can use the info you have collected to provide articles about the best places to go mountain biking to those customers that you know will appreciate it. You don’t need to use branded content; in fact, most of the times, you should avoid it. You are trying to draw attention to your brand and you are showing your customers that you are listening to their needs. You should not bother them with a pitch if you are in the Awareness Stage. If you use a content strategy, there are two stages before the Purchase Stage: the Awareness Stage and the Evaluation Stage. Content should lie in the beginning: you are creating awareness or you are helping people who know your brand in their evaluation of your ways. If they like your content, they will be more willing to buy from you. If you are annoying them, then don’t expect any customer to spend their money with you.
Smart: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely
Smart content is also a way to create an experience that will be valuable to your customers. Let’s say you’re working with a company that runs several gym venues. You develop an app that will help their customers plan their meals, plan their workouts, that offers nutrition tips, that you can use to input the kind of meals you are making so that you know if you are staying true to your goals while keeping yourself healthy. That app is available for everyone, not just gym subscribers. People who are interested in a healthier lifestyle, but don’t know about your brand yet, might download the app. It is useful for anyone who is trying to lose weight, to be fit, to gain muscular mass or any other goal in that matter. It’s about integrating information and experience. Your app is useful; that’s why people use it. Content brings something new to that person’s life.
There are also other things you should have in mind. If you are running a blog for your brand, SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages) should be your friends. Optimize your texts not only for people, but also for search engines. In this time and age, search algorithms work in a way that if you are optimising for them, you are optimising for people as well. Repeating random keywords you want your page to rank well for does not work anymore. Write for people first and SEO should come easily. Content is mostly about quality, not quantity. Also, you can, and you should, link to other articles and websites.
In the end, it’s all about the story
Keep your articles consistent and develop a connection between them. Your articles should write a story of their own; you are writing your brand’s history, after all. That’s an opportunity you can’t miss.