On its own, content marketing is a reasonably new job function. But it has always been around, in some way or another. From TVCs to long-form print ads, advertising and marketing have always relied extensively on the written word and audio-visuals to produce relatable, memorable content.
But in the age of new media, the role of content marketing has become that much more important. From thought leadership to lead generation, there is very little that content marketing cannot achieve for brands now. That being said, there is still a severe lack of legacy, do’s and don’ts, ethical guidelines and best practices for new content marketers. Most brands – especially those that cannot afford expensive content marketing agencies – are grappling with technical know-how in order to create high-quality, relatable, and relevant content.
In my opinion, anyone who has the intellectual capability to quickly grasp the nuances of a domain and is a good writer can make a sound content marketer. But before that, there are lessons to learn everywhere you look. Here are some lessons from the world that content marketers need in order to enhance their work and its impact:
Lessons from product teams
Your writing needs to serve a purpose: I often grapple with this. For me, writing is a deeply personal, impulsive process. I can only relate with authentic, straight-from-the-heart content. But content marketing is a different ballgame. As a content marketer, your role is to create content for an audience. Your job will not be done till your readers engage with it. Product teams have a legacy of focusing entirely on customer needs when developing new features or entirely new products. Content marketers need to start looking at their writing as a product too. Only then will they be open enough to understand their audience better and develop content that they can relate with.
Patience pays off: Once you start playing to the audience, you will see yourself write content tailored exclusively for them. Let’s say the purpose for your content was to get sign-ups. Don’t lose hope if the sign-ups don’t come flowing in. Product teams don’t expect customers or other stakeholders to buy into the product or feature immediately. Sometimes, they need to keep tinkering. Other times, they just need to be persistent enough. The role of content is similar too. It needs to catalyse a connection between the reader and the brand. If the reader doesn’t adhere to your call-to-action immediately, it could just mean that you need to spend some more time either polishing your content, or just stay persistent. Deeper connections and buying into a piece of content or a product is a game of trust and relationships. It comes with time. Product teams understand that. Content marketers must do too.
Lessons from journalists
Don’t bury the lead: Good news articles start strong. The headline gives away the most important part and the story builds up to it. The content of a journalistic piece is organized in decreasing order of relevance or importance. Content marketers must adopt the style whenever possible in order to engage readers and audience from the get-go.
Industry trends and third-party quotes build credibility: Journalists always rely on industry trends to build relevance and on expert quotes to build credibility. Readers rarely engage with articles that are low on relevance or credibility, the recent virality of click-bait headlines notwithstanding. Content marketers can strengthen their branded content work by reaching out to and quoting experts. Industry trends not only give them the SEO edge, they also make branded content more relevant.
Lessons from Public Relations
Reputation is an ongoing process: As a full-time PR professional, it was exhausting to remind clients, over and over again, that reputation is not built with a press release here and a thought leadership by-line there. It needed consistent effort at putting your news and views out there and building relationships. Today, content marketing sits at the core of reputation efforts. Your content will not become sought-after overnight too. It is not about coming up with that one amazing viral video. It takes persistent effort in coming up with angles, story ideas, formats, platforms, and more before readers start looking you up proactively for engaging content.
Everything is not a story: A struggle PR professionals often deal with is client and stakeholder persistence that everything the brand does must make news. PR is the art of identifying and relating relevant, important stories. It is not just about finding print space with ineffective – or worse, useless – news. Similarly, content marketing is also the art of telling sound, relatable stories and not just about getting website hits and social shares. When planning your content, be ruthless about what you keep and what you discard. Focus on telling stories that matter.
As both brands and consumers become more and more connected, content marketing is going to only become more important from here. The sooner content marketers understand the impact and power of their words and visuals, the faster they will be able to raise the bar for great stories and amazing, impactful content.