Ten rules for excellent content creation
Find out how to create content that keeps your readers engaged and delivers results. 10 essential rules to lift your content marketing
Ten rules for excellent content creation
1. Document that strategy
Document your content strategy
When content is led by a clearly defined strategy, your team is far more likely to move in the same direction
Experts have been pushing this nugget of advice for years, yet only 39% of B2B content marketers have a documented content strategy.
Around 1 in 4 don’t have a strategy at all (CMI, 2019). If you’re one of them, then consider this a personal call to action.
The people you want to build relationships with need to be at the centre of your strategy
The most successful content marketers have content strategies, and 65% of them have it documented, versus just 14% of their less successful peers – a difference that speaks volumes.
The benefits of a documented strategy
- Aligns content team around common objectives and priorities
- Provides a clear understanding of target audiences
- Steers content production agenda
- Guides the allocation of resources
- Establishes performance indicators and accountability
If you have a documented strategy, it can’t hurt to revisit it regularly to make sure it’s as strong and up to date as possible.
There are lots of different templates out there for the ideal document, but whatever form or shape yours takes, make sure it includes the following:
Everything you create should tie back to the overarching purpose of your business. For instance, at Turtl, we want to help marketers toss the PDF into the digital rubbish bin by supplying a superior alternative.
Outline the business objectives which your efforts tie into and set relevant, measurable goals against them. This will help you determine how to allocate resources, measure results and prove the impact of your efforts.
The people you want to build relationships with need to be at the centre of your strategy. Detailing who they are in your document will help keep your team focused on creating content that speaks to them.
With a strong documented strategy as your guiding light, your content will always be driven by the bigger picture.
2. Put the
Make it about them
We've said it already, but it bears repeating as a rule of its own. Put your audience's interests and needs first – not your product, service, or brand.
Some marketers argue against allowing any sort of reference to product or service in a piece of content marketing. It doesn't need to be this black and white. Just make sure that any reference to your brand, product or service makes sense in the given context, and doesn't read as self-promotion dressed up as something else.
A brilliant example of this is Grammarly's weekly progress emails. Customers are given information about their own writing skills benchmarked against other users. Their common errors are highlighted, serving as both useful personal insight and a nudge to keep using the tool.
90% of successful content marketers prioritise the audience’s informational needs over their sales/promotional message
3. Create content
for the journey
Cater to the buyer’s journey
Customer experience is king. Content creators need to craft high quality content experiences that speak to the needs of a buyer at each stage of the journey.
You'll struggle to attend a marketing event this year that doesn't present some kind of commentary on customer experience.
Business consultancy Walker predicts that by next year, it will be the key brand differentiator, overtaking price and product. CX is the battleground of 2019.
At the heart of customer experience is the buyer journey. Understanding the different stages a buyer goes
through, the different stages a buyer goes through, and the content experiences they are met with at each point has never been more critical.
This means ensuring that the communications produced in marketing, sales and customer support teams are aligned, as they all contribute to the same relationship.
You need to map out your content against each stage of the journey to make sure that they're all catered for.
Who are you?
What do you do?
Why is it important?
How does it work?
Does it matter to us?
Would it work for us?
Is there proof that it works?
How long does it take to get going?
What are our next steps?
Am I getting value for money?
Are you worth recommending?
Create and use personas to guide your creation
Clear personas help you keep the interests of your audience at the heart of everything you create
Have you ever been told to explain something as if you were talking to your mum? Then you've used a persona.
Personas help us to determine the topics we should be talking about, the language we use and how we best make our case. They can also help us decide whether to create a blog post series, a white paper or a video.
Every time you're preparing to create new content, ask:
- What level of knowledge do they already have on the topic?
- Which of their particular pain points are you addressing?
- Which channels are they active on?
- When and where do they spend their time looking at content from brands?
- What do you want them, specifically, to do with the content?
Answering these kinds of question will help you determine the most appropriate subject and format.
About 3 in 4
of the most successful content marketers use personas for content marketing purposes, twice that of lesser performing marketers.
How to research your personas
Creating robust personas requires a mixture of research and an iterative approach. The best starting point for B2B marketers is to speak to your sales teams. They often have the best understanding of decisions makers within a business and the challenges and priorities the different roles tend to have.
Speak to your account managers too. They will typically have complementary insight and can help to arrange interviews with customers so you can learn straight from the horse's mouth.
Further insight can be gleaned from keyword research, literature reviews and primary research such as quantitative surveys.
Partner and collaborate to expand your reach
There are plenty of opportunities to access the audiences of people and organisations in your network, and not all of them carry a price tag
According to research by Raconteur, 51% of the c-suite think content produced by brands lacks credibility. One way to address this problem is to create content in partnership with an established authority within your field.
This is what influencer marketing is all about, but in the B2B world,
it's more about co-branding and guest posting, less about youtube stars and Instagrammers. For now.
If you have money to spend, consider sponsorship opportunities with established publishers who share your audience.
See Investec on Wired.com:
Investec on Wired. Click for case study.
Or you could collaborate on a piece of research, sharing the cost of the project and gaining exposure to your partner's audience.
Content Marketing Insitute and Marketing Profs did just that for their B2B content marketing 2019 report.
On the cheaper end of the scale, seek out guest posting opportunities and invite prominent people in your network – including clients – to contribute content to your channels.
Use storytelling to win and sustain attention
B2B buyers are humans too, and the human brain loves a story
The magic of storytelling is its ability to tap into our capacity for empathy. When listening to a story, our brains respond as if we, personally, are experiencing the events described.
This comes with some pretty significant benefits, including better retention of information. Behavioural scientist Susan Weinschenk explains:
"You are literally using more of your brain when you are listening to a story. And because you are having a richer brain event, you enjoy the experience more, you understand the information more deeply, and retain it longer."
Character-driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points and better recall
Paul Zak, Professor of economics, psychology and management
Storytelling in B2B
B2B marketers are being lazy if they believe storytelling is only relevant in the B2C space. Research reveals specific characteristics of communication that stays with the audience that B2B marketers and thought leaders should leverage.
Professor of economics, psychology, and management at Claremont Graduate University, Paul Zak wrote in an article on Harvard Business Review:
"My experiments show that character-driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points a speaker wishes to make and enable better recall of these points weeks later."
One of the best examples we've seen comes from HP and features Christian Slater, cleverly riding on the coat tales of his role in Amazon's Mr Robot:
You don't need to be able to afford Hollywood stars to pull off effective storytelling in B2B.
Take a look at Cisco's Sea Change story, which showcases their solutions in the context of an unusual use case for the Internet of Things: regattas.
There's also Microsoft's Stories microsite, which shines a light on the people and ideas behind the brand, from researchers in India to engineers in Kentucky.
Show, don't just tell
Telling stories and putting the audience's needs first isn't just about choosing the right words and messaging
What the content examples shared in previous chapters all have in common is a commitment to high-quality presentation. It's not just the words that are compelling, it's the delivery, and when we're talking about the written word, this means visuals and layouts.
According to Adobe, 38% of people will leave a website if the content or layout is unattractive. Digital content producers can learn a lot from how print uses visuals to please readers.
The internet is overrun with B2B reports that could quite possible contain significant research, but they are presented so horrendously only the most devoted of readers stay tuned in long enough to know.
You could be offering the holy grail of insight, but if it's in a plain, copy-dense PDF with no visuals, good luck with getting people to pay attention. Kill the PDF.
People following instructions do 323% better with illustrations
W.H. Levie & R. Lentz
8. Incorporate interactive features
Offer more than a passive experience
Interactive content keeps audience attention for longer and is more memorable
There was a time when you couldn't log onto Facebook without encountering a quiz promising to reveal things about yourself you never knew you wanted to know.
Thankfully, the interactivity of content has diversified a lot as technology improves. Take Black Mirror's recent interactive episode, Bandersnatch, on Netflix as one example.
Interactive content examples:
- Polls and surveys
- Interactive or in-page video
- Interactive dataviz
- Interactive maps
Do you intend to create more interactive content?
- Yes, definitely
- I don't think so
- Definitely not
One of the reasons interactive content is so compelling is that it by its very nature offers a certain degree of hyper personalisation to users. Your experience changes depending on your personal input or action.
Interactive video ads boost viewing time 47%
Interactivity should give users something in return for their engagement: a faster route to their end-point or a hyper personalised output.
of marketers consider interactive content creation a top priority for inbound
Prove your excellence
If you want to know just how excellent your content is, and prove it's value to the business, you need to understand how people are engaging with it
In our experience, many a B2B content designer has shied away from analytics and the accountability that comes with it. There's little point dragging your feet on this front. If your organisation isn't demanding proof from you now, they will be soon.
New tools and analytics platforms provide more precise and more accessible data, making it easier than ever to demonstrate value and connect the dots between marketing and profit.
Are you reporting on content ROI?
- No, but will in the next 12 months
- No, and no plans to in the near future
If you can't answer the following questions about your latest piece of written content, you should rethink the format you're using and your current analytics toolkit.
- How many people have read the content piece?
- How long did they read it for?
- How many sections did they read?
- Which sections?
- How long did they spend reading each?
- Did they share it with anyone?
10. Optimise, optimise, optimise
Iteration is everything
If your content meets rule #9, then the fun doesn't stop once you've sent your creation out into the world, oh no. Sign off is not the end.
If your content is seeing the results you expect - like a high bounce rate or low time on page - take another look and see where you can make improvements.
Perhaps you need to delete sections that people aren't showing interest in or restructure a post to get your point across more quickly. Would adding more visuals help people stay engaged?
One benefit of modern digital content formats is that they're never set in stone;
you can fix typos, restructure sentences and improve layouts at any point and improve the experience for the next reader.
Don't be afraid to continuously tweak content to test improvements and drive better performance.
Even if you're not as on top of tracking as you'd like to be, it's always important to revisit existing content to update and improve it as time goes by (like we've done for this one, originally published in 2016!).