“Content marketing doesn’t work. I have tried it and it was a waste of time, money and effort.”
Perhaps you have encountered people with that opinion or are facing challenges yourself.
Despite the entire buzz around content marketing, the fact is that content marketing does work if done right. So why do people say that it doesn’t work for them?
The problem may not lie in the strategy but rather in the approach.
Content Marketing Secrets: Your Audience Cheat Sheet To Increase Subscribers and Reduce Bounce Rate
One of the most common mistakes I have found is that people often produce content that addresses the wrong audience.
For example I had a major scaffolding company as a client that wanted to get DIY home renovators to use their services. When I fired up their website I noticed that they had content which by and large included the technical details of their scaffolding structures and lots of photos of major construction projects.
Now think about this…
If you were looking to do some home renovations and wanting to hire some scaffolding would you use the above mentioned company?
In fact you are likely to click that X on the browser window and try another search result. Why because the content is not tailor-made for attracting home renovators.
So if you have the right target audience in mind the challenge then is to engage them with content. Emotional content or content that engages with emotion tends to be better.
How to create content that resonates with your intended audience?
So what is the best way to create content for your audience?
Dr Jonah Berger’s principles of viral sharing and Karen Nelson-Field’s Science of Sharing provide valuable insights into what underpins the tips we will be talking about. Dr. Berger’s book talks about 6 key steps that drive people to share.
According to Berger they are:
- Social currency: It’s all about people talking about things to make themselves look good, rather than bad
- Triggers, which is all about the idea of “top of mind, tip of tongue.” We talk about things that are on the top of our heads.
- Ease for emotion: When we care, we share. The more we care about a piece of information or the more we’re feeling physiologically aroused, the more likely we pass something on.
- Public: When we can see other people doing something, we’re more likely to imitate it.
- Practical value: Basically, it’s the idea of news you can use. We share information to help others, to make them better off.
- Stories, or how we share things that are often wrapped up in stories or narratives.
Karen Nelson-Fields research shows that viral trends tend to happen when effective reach has been established.
1. Make a Headline
One of the key elements to content that gets shared is the headline.
Think about it.
People don’t begin reading a book or a blog post because they know the content is good. It is the headline that peeks their interest, enticing them to find out more. From a social media perspective whether it be Facebook or Twitter it is the headline that gets shared and talked about. The headline conveys expectations about the content and simple yet impactful idea.
In a crowded online world, people use headlines as a means to filter and qualify if it is worth their time to read or view more about a particular topic.
When it comes to content marketing that works David Ogilvy provides insights from studies and research.
EyetrackIII also backs research by David Ogilvy in that headlines are consistently the most viewed items on a webpage.
Takeaway: Don’t start your blog post with the content in mind. Start with the headline first.
2. Use Images
According to Hubspot 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text.
Newspapers have learned to use images in content over time and there usage supports David Ogilvy’s research. Here are some statistics worth taking note of.
Images above the headline are read by 10% more people than in cases where the headline was placed above the image.
Captions under images are read 300% more than the body copy itself. Take a look at this example from the New York Times
Content marketing secrets of babies and animals
Another content marketing secret is to use photos of cute babies or animals. In a marketing study in the Marketing Bulletin, researchers tried determine whether or not using a cute baby or cute animal would get more people to respond to a survey. They found that the cute baby increased responses rates by 88%, and the cute animal increased response rates by 42%. In fact they also found that cute pictures increased response rates while affecting other parts of the survey very little. find it hard to think of ways to incorporate cute babies and animals well remember the Evian ad. You can watch the video below. See, even though there is no real relationship between water and cute babies, the company made sure there product was very visible in the ad to increase and retain brand awareness.
Content marketing secrets of directional cues
Using directional cues to improve conversions is has been proven with studies like this. So it makes sense to use them in your design to guide your visitors attention to certain elements on your web page.
Here is an example from Geico making visitors follow the direction of the eyes in the image.
Another example from Kissmetrics of using and arrow as a directional cue.
Squareup also uses its product in action quite effectively on their homepage. See image below.
3. Use Stories
Another content marketing secrets is to use relevant stories. According to a recent Stanford study, stories are remembered up to 22 times more than facts alone.
In another study from Princeton University researchers discovered that when one person tells a story and the other actively listens, their brains actually begin to synchronize. This did not happen in every instance and only happened when the listener was paying attention and understood the story.
We can also learn from some of the best copywriters and successful ads. In fact psychologists at Washington University in St. Louis decided to test what the brain responds to in the telling of stories even simple ones. Their findings indicate that readers are not passive consumers of the written word but rather dynamically activate scripts of real world experiences to help us comprehend the story. Those scripts enrich the story beyond words and more like imagining a vivid event.
It’s possible, the psychologists say, that not just reading but all thinking may be similarly embodied in stored, real-life experiences. In this sense, language may have been an adaptive strategy for efficient and vivid communication of experiences to others. Put another way, storytelling may have evolved as a tool of survival.
Behavioral psychologist Susan M. Weinschenk Ph.D. notes:
“Research shows that stories create images in the mind that may also trigger mirror neurons. Use stories if you want to get people to take an action.”
Chip and Dan Heath in their book “Made to Stick” also say that stories are an important factor is creating ideas that stick.
So how do you turn your marketing messages into stories?
There are lessons to be learnt from story tellers including movie producers. Here are the main elements:
1. A protagonist
This is the main character that the audience empathises with or who will help the audience become emotionally engaged with.
Who or what is the protagonist in your business
2. An antagonist
This is the character that creates conflict by trying to prevent the protagonist from reaching their objective.
You’ll never find your brand’s true voice without identifying the outsiders. Henri Tajfel, a social psychologist, in a study titled “Social Categorization and Intergroup Behaviour” found that he could create groups of people that would show loyalty to their supposed in-group and outright discriminate against others even with the most trivial of distinctions. The Mac Vs PC commercials are just an example of this kind of marketing message.
3. A struggle
To engage the audience the story needs to have the protagonist take action to defeat the antagonist. There needs to be a struggle as opposed to things just happening to the protagonist.
Like all good stories yours needs a beginning where the stage is set for the protagonist. A snapshot of life for the protagonist is provided before the antagonist disrupts it.
Once the antagonist is brought into the picture, the middle of the story commences. In this section the protagonist and antagonist battle it out, in the protagonists attempt to achieve a goal.
Then we reach the climax where all seems lost for the protagonist, yet the protagonist makes one dramatic move defeating the antagonist completely. The ending is where the protagonist saves the day and restores order to his life.
All great stories also have an overarching message or moral.
For Beauty and Beast the moral is that we shouldn’t judge people by their looks. For the battle between Virgin Atlantic and British Airways was played out like a David and Goliath battle and the moral was that size didn’t matter amongst other things.
Here’s another 2 examples,:
Apple’s 1984 commercial
Takeaway: So what’s your beginning, middle and end to your story? Does it have a moral?
4. Use Quotes from experts – use authority
One of the best ways to engage audiences and lend credibility to your brand and the content being produced is to use quotes. Hubspot and Jeff Bullas are known for doing just that. Their articles and ebooks often feature, statistics and or quotes from prominent individuals. This and this are just 2 examples.
At times it is worthwhile to take a wider view of what your business is really about. A good example is Constant Contact a software company that services small to medium companies. They have grown their Pintrest following simply by taking the view that they are really about helping small businesses, not just software.
They have as a result other things that their customers are interested in and leveraged that to increase their following. It does require creativity but is not very complex.
For example the image below came from a Brian Tracy newsletter which they then turned into a visually appealing pin
5. Build a network
In a crowded content space, it is important to build a network of people who value your content. Content marketers that find the most success are ones who focus not just on creating great content but also on creating great relationships. Relationships that result in a network and reach.
So how do you build an effective network?
There is no one effective way. It could be through face to face interactions at a conference or perhaps interactions in the comment section of a blog. Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, forums etc are all platforms where one can build a following and a network. For content marketers with such a network, it accounts for a consistent flow of traffic to their site and regular sharing of posts as well.
Takeaway: The more relationships you establish the better off you are.
6. Focus on the subject matter
A lot of content marketing seems to revolve around images, blog posts etc. Yet one of the most underutilised content marketing secrets is that of customer reviews. According to the study In the 2013 MarketingSherpa SEO Marketing Benchmark Survey 92% of marketers consider it to be effective yet only 35% of marketers are leveraging it. It is also one of the most effective ways of tying into Jonah Berger’s principles of emotion, social currency and practical value.
Awe and Intrigue are powerful emotions to entice readers into viral activity. It can seem to be hard to inspire something like awe but the real goal is to give readers something to think about that they would not have naturally thought of themselves. Buzzfeed is a good example of this. Take a look at their headlines for example.
What would be your response to headlines like:
- How To Take A Glamour Shot Like Teenage Taylor Swift
- 14 Bizarre Plastic Surgery Procedures That Will Make You Say WTF
- 33 Times Your Heart Just Couldn’t Handle One direction’s “Story Of My Life” Music Video
Takeaway: Use customers input to provide build content of interest to them. Create awe and intrigue to entice your readers.
7. Do something unusual
Awe and Intrigue can also be created with the unusual. It does have to be completely new or earth shattering but because there is little chance you would have come across this yourself. Pictures that will mess with your mind is an example of this from Buzzfeed.
Oreo also has great examples of unusual content. Take a look at the post below.
The posts above are not scenes that we would never have conceived but they do depict things that we would not normally do making them unique. To be honest they are things I would probably never have thought of doing on my own.
8. Simple writing
“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”
― William Strunk Jr.
Like in design and the web the art of simplicity or the minimalist approach seems to be impacting content as well.
Keeping your writing simple can take time. Ensuring that your content is simple and communicates the core or essence of the point without unnecessary words can mean wrestling with words. One of the simplest ways to keep your content simple is to write in a conversational style. A good rule of thumb is to pretend you are writing to a friend.
What does that mean?
Use the following:
1. Simple words
Use simple words that can be understood by just about anyone with a basic command of English, remember your audience may consist of people from different language, cultural and educational backgrounds.
2. Simple stories
Want to get a point across? Try using a simple story. Simple stories are more likely to be remembered than complex instructions and paragraphs. Tap into your audiences emotions and chances are that your point will stick.
3. Simple in structure and length
Simple structures can mean the use of bullet points, sub-titles and highlighted sections for your key messages. Avoid long wordy sentences that might require someone to re-read to understand the point. Write for scanners as well as readers. You can learn more from this article on creating magnetic websites.
4. Simple headline
Headlines get read 5 times more than the body copy. Simple headlines that convey the essence of the article and pique your audience’s curiosity are compelling. Writing headlines that are search engine friendly is important but it is more important to keep engage your audience.
5. Simple to implement
If you provide tutorials or “How To’s” then create simple steps that leads people literally by the hand one step at a time. They will love you for the simplicity and ease of learning.
6. Simple image
You’ve probably heard the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Add some impact to your content with simple images that serve to explain the article or identify with the essence of the content. This sometimes can take creativity and effort in order to keep the message simple yet unique. Use stock photos with caution, it could reduce trust and blindness to the message.
9. Make your audience look good
In applying Dr Berger’s principle of social currency you need to remember that the goal of your content is not just to produce content that will help your audience. It is to convince your audience to share the content with at least one other person.
Now think on this.
Most people will be more inclined to share something if they feel that it is likely to make them look better or better define who they are to other people.
Create emotional responses in your audience of fear, anger, humor or awe etc. This will compel them to share that emotion with others and connect with them in that sense.
If you were to provide solutions or answers to persistent problems or questions then they will feel compelled to share it as it makes them feel helpful and smart.
Takeaway: Ask yourself before you publish any content – how does this make my audience feel and look if they share it with someone else? If it doesn’t make them look good or connect emotionally then something is missing and you need to look over it again.
10. Leverage other people’s audience
This is one of the best ways to increase ones reach. It is however easier said than done.
Derek Halpern refers to a similar idea here by talking about the drafting technique in order to leverage of the work of others and their audience. Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income in an interview with Amy Porterfield also talks about him expanding his reach via FINCON and his most recent keynote at FINCON13.
You are probably familiar with 2 commonly used methods of doing this – guest blogging and interviews.
Takeaway: Look for opportunities where you can draft in on other peoples audience in order to expand your reach. At times you might even be able to leverage audiences that your competitors are tapping into as well.
11. Take a closer look at results – analytics
What gets measured get managed – Peter Drucker
According to the 2013 study by the content Marketing Institute 33% of B2B marketing budgets are allocated to content marketing. Along with the increase in expense comes the added responsibility of being able to understand why certain types of content have been successful. It is no longer sufficient to point which types of content generated the most traffic.
In fact the need to establish ROI requires data and tools in order to have the ability to show how content has a positive impact on web traffic, SEO, building up social media followers, email lists, blog subscribers, email click through rates, video views etc.
Content marketers need to be able to track both online as well as offline media, events etc. While marketing automation and CRM systems are commonly used. Call tracking is often missed out and can provide data and insights into print, events and other offline media forms.
What content marketing secrets have worked well for you tell me about it in the comments below. Is there another technique that you feel most bloggers miss out on, if so tell us about it as well.
Also do take a moment to share this post with your blogger friends.