The internet has become an evidence room for countless content crimes committed by businesses desperate to engage with their markets, yet failing to understand the laws of the land.
The blueprint for a great content strategy starts with some solid detective work to better understand what your business goals are, and what customers or clients care about, and finishes with exceptional execution.
1. Failing to understand what your audience cares about
It’s no good producing fact-filled guides to IR35 when your 85% of your customers don’t hire contractors, or painstakingly educating your readers on the Construction Industry Scheme when their business strategy is to target a whole new sector.
When planning what to write, work backwards. First, get to know your business better. What is the long-term ambition? What are the barriers to achieving this? And then finding out what your customers care about. What matters to them personally? What are their frustrations? What don’t they care about?
The first step involves having in-depth conversations with the C-suite and making sure the marketing strategy aligns with theirs. The second involves – shock horror – actually speaking to customers present and past. You’d be amazed how few businesses invest money in really knowing who they’re making content for.
2. Writing for yourself instead of your audience
This is all too common when marketers – under pressure to deliver leads and meet revenue targets – resort to churning out easy to produce, inwardly-focused content in large quantities, rather than delivering fewer high-quality pieces that really chime. Or, worse, when businesses palm off content generation to anyone with the time.
This is why you’ll see otherwise serious companies publishing 800 words on ‘What Management Can Learn From Marvel’. Far from taking inspiration from the needs of their audience, the writer is defaulting to what interests them – it’s a fruitless, time-wasting effort.
3. Not making its purpose explicit
There’s a real risk of the content appearing directionless, even if there’s a valid reason for its creation. Be explicit about what you’ve created and how it can make things easier, faster or cheaper for your audience.
You could produce workbooks that walk the customer through the stages of meeting their challenge. Or best-practice guides that bring together the latest thinking on how to approach key issues. Or diagnostic tools that help customers analyse where they are and what they need to do next. Don’t leave audiences in doubt about the value your content offers.
4. Failing to structure your argument
Content should be active. Often we’re trying to change minds and influence behaviour. So you need to create content that builds a case (rational and emotional) for change. This needs to take people from where they are now to where you want them to get to.
Research and map out your argument before starting on the writing or production. It simplifies the process, saves times and improves the quality.
5. Creating something that’s already been seen a million times before
Knowing exactly where you’re entering a debate is critical. Writing about something when there are already a thousand or more pieces of content on that subject will at best be ignored and, at worst, will demonstrate your brand is simply playing catch-up.
That’s why some thorough research and time spent coming up with a fresh take on industry issues will be well worth the investment.
6. Poor writing
Jargon-filled, badly constructed, un-edited and un-proofed writing is littering the internet. This is because some businesses fail to realise the huge difference in quality a professional copywriter can bring to a project. Writing is a skill, invest in it.
7. A failure to be human
This has to be the most common crime of all for B2B content makers. There’s an irrational fear of injecting personality into business content and a view that, tonally, we must strive to be ‘corporate’ and ‘professional’.
Yet you’re making content for people who want to be talked to as the human beings they are. Write like you’d speak in a business context. (And yes, it’s fine to start sentences with ‘and’.)
8. Poor production values
Presentation is far more important than many realise. There’s solid psychology behind how readers interact with content. Choosing the right image can be the difference between in-depth engagement and none at all. Ensuring videos are well lit with professional sound marks you out as a serious player. And spending time on improving design will pay dividends in long-term brand distinctiveness.
Give your content a fighting chance by investing in high-quality production, and you won’t fall at the first hurdle.
9. Not thinking through distribution and promotion
If you create it, they won’t necessarily come. There is a ton of content available online (most of it bad). To get yours in front of the people that matter, you will need to invest in distribution. This may mean running advertising and InMails on LinkedIn. It may mean paying for syndication. It may mean partnering with a key publication. Yes, this costs money but not as much as investing in content no one will ever see.
10. Producing ‘thought leadership’ that is, in reality, ‘unthinking followership’
You see this on LinkedIn all the time. Lazy influencers depart ‘wisdom’ that’s so bland and generic, one wonders what the point is, other than to stay visible.
The secret to good thought leadership is contained within the title. Thought. And leadership.
The standard to aim for must be very high. You are competing not only with other vendors’ content but with mainstream publications and a never-ending number of extremely well-written business books.
At a basic level, you need to be focusing on developing thinking that moves a subject or debate forward. More than this, your thoughts need to be relevant to both your prospects’ businesses and yours. When reviewing your content, look at it through a cynical customer’s eyes. Keep asking, “So what?” Cut out any fluff and filler – people simply don’t have time.
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