Courtney Eckerle

Content Marketing 101: How to write compelling content in five tips

February 16th, 2017

Picture your ideal customer deciding where to spend his or her time and energy. They want something good for even a small time investment. Your headline, emphasizing value, gets their attention. They invest a click and continue reading.

That is the ideal scenario. But once your customer has clicked through to your full content, that’s when the real battle begins. How do you make it so impactful that not only do they read the whole thing, but they actually stay on your page and continue through the funnel?

Tip #1. Never bury the lead

We all know abstractly that people are busy, with a lot of other content competing for their attention. But when it comes time for pen to hit paper (or fingers to tap keys), many marketers don’t know where to begin.

There’s no need to be mysterious — tell them why they’re here and why they should stay. For example:

Why you’re here: You’re trying to find some marketing content motivation and/or tips.

Why you should stay: I have four additional tips coming (and boy are they good!), honed from years of writing over 2,000 pieces of (mostly) successful content for MarketingSherpa.

You don’t have that much time to grab people’s attention, so it’s imperative that you put your best foot forward.

Understand that your audience is most likely not reading, but skimming what you’ve written. Your content is up against the unlimited resources of the internet, so prove (quickly) why your article is the one they should stick with.

Note: This does not mean that your content has to be short, necessarily. Take the time to say what you need to — and no more, be Hemingway-like in your word stinginess — but make it so people can easily skim.

This means bolded sub-headlines or important sentence that let them know the main message in about five seconds. You may even want to do some testing to see what length article your customers prefer.  Who knows? Maybe they want to hear 3,000 words of what you have to say.

Tip #2. Clarity trumps persuasion

This is something Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director and CEO, MECLABS Institute (MarketingSherpa’s parent company) says constantly, and I’m always amazed at not only how many people need to hear it, but how many times I still need to be reminded of it.

Stop selling to your audience, and instead, offer real value. No one really wants to read an article that talks about all of the amazing things you or your company did. Tell them the eloquent facts, and let them come to that conclusion on their own.

Selling yourself that hard in content evokes the exact same response as it would in real life. People sense that something isn’t quite right, and they move on. Taking on a more natural tone will keep them interested. Reading a blog post out loud, as funny as it sounds, can help keep a natural, conversational tone.

But overall, make sure that what you’re saying is clear. Don’t get so caught up in your own marketing genius, office jargon or calls-to-action that you forget your readers. Always write so that it can be easily understood from their point of view.

In fact, an easy way to do this is to just focus on one key point or benefit, map it to their pain point, and solve it. Use words that convey the value to them, so they never forget who this piece of content is for.

Tip #3. Find your angle and stick with it

It’s fine to just tell people what happened, but it’s even better to tell people why it happened. How it happened. Who it affected.

For example, when I’m writing a MarketingSherpa case study, I don’t just plop the details of a campaign onto a page. I organize it around the most interesting facet. I do this in an article when I’m introducing you to the company, to the marketers I’ve interviewed, to their customer and most importantly: their challenge.

A quote by our dear friend Jay Baer, a former MarketingSherpa Summit keynote speaker, comes to mind: “If your stories are all about your products and services, that’s not storytelling. It’s a brochure. Give yourself permission to make the story bigger.”

A clear angle helps the audience care about what they’re reading — if they can identify with the subject of your article, or the challenge (or opportunity) that drove it, that’s how they’ll get the most out of it.

To help, give your piece of content a clear map you can follow to make sure you don’t get lost along the way:

  • How?  — methods, ways, steps, procedures
  • What? — reasons, replies, answers, proofs, evidences, clues, advantages
  • Why? — facts, elements, signs, truths, lessons, points
  • When? — phases, conditions, times, seasons
  • Who? — categories, types, persons, classes
  • Which? — options, alternatives, choices, paths, goals, objectives, solutions
  • Where? — sources, areas, places, localities

Your structure doesn’t have to be exactly like this, but what it does have to be is clear  clear on the angle that’s driving the piece and clear on what they’re supposed to take away from it.

Contrary to what it seems correct, the purpose of a piece of content isn’t to make you or your company look smart — it’s to make your customers feel smart. Give them something they can walk away from and share at the watercooler.

Make your customer the hero, like HCSS did in its Best-in-Show Award winning campaign for MarketingSherpa Summit 2017.

If you’re writing a shorter form piece, like a blog post, a good place to start is by reviewing customer problems. Probe your colleagues on what issues customers have been having lately, and solve it. Customers will thank you, and your colleagues will thank you for freeing up their time.

Tip #4. Take advantage of different content formats

Sometimes, no matter how compelling your content is, your customer isn’t interested. It’s the fault of the format you’re using. Maybe you’re writing a blog post, but your customers would be more responsive if that same material were put into a video.

It’s easy. You already have the content, just use your mobile phone, web cam or any other recording equipment you have around and tell your customers about it face-to-face. It doesn’t have to be a professional-grade video — in fact, your customers may appreciate an under-produced, off-the-cuff video.

For additional details on video strategy, read this case study on what Max Anderson, Video Producer, Nextiva (who is speaking at MarketingSherpa Summit this year), was doing low-budget at his cloud-based communications company.

It doesn’t just have to be blog to video though. There are plenty of content formats that your customers might respond to; it’s just a matter of testing to find the right one. Or, if your customers are diverse, providing the same content in a few forms and letting them choose how they want to digest it.

Here’s a short list of a few common content formats:

  • Written blog posts
  • White papers
  • E-books
  • Video (which can not only be used on YouTube, but repurposed in a video blog post and               shared via social media)
  • Webinars (which should be saved and shared on the website via an on-demand library)
  • Slidedecks from webinars shared via sites such as SlideShare
  • Infographics
  • Podcasts

Not only will your content calendar thank you, but repurposing the same piece of content into your customers’ preferred format will increase the amount of people who will have the opportunity to read, hear or see it.

Tip #5. If you build it, they will come  

Anyone with a computer can post a blog or article, so where does credibility come from?  Well, one way is through years of consistent hard work, offering up quality, valuable content pieces.

A short cut to credibility is to borrow some from your customers. Your customers are much more likely to believe one of their own than you. After all, you are a marketer — it is literally your job to make your brand look good to them.

User-generated content (UGC to the cool kids) includes your consumers’ pictures, videos and words, and it establishes credibility for your brand. You can use these in your marketing campaigns to connect consumers to other consumers through your product or service.

Any of the below tactics may be used to get quality user-generated content:

  • Comments
  • Testimonials
  • Reviews
  • Social media interactions
  • Contests

If you don’t believe me about the awesome power of user generated content, take it from Jimmy Wales, the CEO and Founder of Wikipedia, who we interviewed in the MarketingSherpa Media Center at IRCE 2014:

In order to convince people to get involved and provide you with UGC, Jimmy said, it’s important to have an “if you build it, they will come” mentality towards getting that content, and first start out answering the question: “What do people want? What do they need?”

Then, you build an infrastructure around the answer and put customers’ needs in front of your need to develop content. It may be more up-front work, but you’ll be setting yourself up for consistent compelling content down the road.

You might also like…

Learn more about content marketing at MarketingSherpa Summit 2017

5 Inbound Marketing Hacks Your B2B Company is Missing Out On

Creating Engaging Content: A five-step method for busting writer’s block

Social Media Marketing: Which type of content is appropriate for different platforms?

Courtney Eckerle

About Courtney Eckerle

With a focus on aspirational, customer-first marketing, Courtney’s goal has been to produce clear, interesting and actionable external content for MarketingSherpa readers. This has included writing over 300 case studies, moderating live event interviews, and producing video content. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, Mass Communications and Film Studies from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., and was a correspondent for USA Today College prior to joining MECLABS Institute.

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