content marketing

Aim Digital Content at People, Not Search Engines

When you create marketing content, should you write for your audience or search engine algorithms? One expert says write for your audience, providing informative, useful and relevant content.

When you create marketing content, should you write for your audience or search engine algorithms? One expert says write for your audience, providing informative, useful and relevant content.

When you write a blog or some other form of digital content, is your target audience real people or a search engine? It is more than a theoretical question because without search engine optimization, your content may never reach the eyes of your intended audience.

Writing for Search Engine Journal, Sam Hollingsworth claims writing for a search engine is a mistake. He says digital content producers should focus on “the human beings who are actually reading the content” and let ever-improving search engines do the rest.

“Google’s role in the everyday lives of humans across the world becomes greater each passing minute, deeply rooted in its dedication to ensuring its search engine is giving users the best-possible answers to specific search queries, anytime and anywhere,” Hollingsworth says. “For these reasons, Google (or any other search engine) doesn’t need us to write content that is specifically designed for it. Google serves its users, and it wants content to serve them as well.”

That sounds good, but does it really work that way? It does, Hollingsworth insists, if you follow some basic rules of the road for search engines. Here are for writing “quality content:”

  • Quality content should have a purpose – a topic matched with an audience. The topic should be of interest, relevant and useful to the intended audience. It wouldn’t hurt if it also was entertaining and had some presentational value. Stick to a single topic in each piece of content so you can fully engage readers, not confuse them.

  • Quality content has a unique voice. If your content sounds like anyone could have written it, then you provide little incentive for readers to search for you. People may have favorite genres, but most people appreciate a variety of writing styles. The surest way to write in a unique style is let your writing reflect how you think and speak about topics.

  • Quality content is well researched. It should cover a topic thoroughly and not be limited to a specific word count if the topic demands longer treatment. Solid research should be showcased by effective packaging – headlines, charts and illustrations.

  • Quality content is well written. Copyediting is a must to catch typos and grammatical flubs. Editing for writing style and clarity is also important to put forward your best wordsmithing. Maybe most important, attack your story in an arresting way so it will seem fresh and inviting. It never hurts to make your first sentence the best sentence.

  • Quality content should have an author. Readers will want to know who they are listening to, so tell them. Bylines become reputational business cards attached to quality content. If people trust what you write and find it interesting and informative, they will follow you, which after all is the point of content marketing.

  • Quality content cites sources. Saying where statistics come from is essential to establish credibility. Citations also reflect the reliable sources you are monitoring to prepare your content. Relying on sources has the salutary effect of curbing any temptation to hype a fact.

To the extent content generators need to worry about search engines, they should concentrate on the relevancy of their content. This goes beyond the purpose of the content to the purpose of content marketing. What are your consumers or clients searching for and how can you deliver the content they search?  Your expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness need to bend to the simple proposition that you must provide the answers for your intended audience’s questions. There is no other reason for marketing through content.

There are different strategies to consider. You may want to appeal to a wide universe and build a large following. You may increase your clicks and stimulate word-of-mouth engagement. Or you may zero in on a smaller group of people, who have specific questions that, depending on your answers, could convert them from readers to buyers.

Relevance written small or large doesn’t change Hollingworth’s main advice – quality content should aim at people, not algorithms. Understand how search engines work because they are critical to connecting with your audience. But really understand what your audience wants to know – and give it to them.

 

A Story about Public Relations and Advertising

With its latest TV commercial, Subaru shows storytelling and advertising can combine to deliver a powerful brand message in just 30 seconds.

With its latest TV commercial, Subaru shows storytelling and advertising can combine to deliver a powerful brand message in just 30 seconds.

Public relations and advertising are separate disciplines. Sometimes fiercely separate. It is fun to see the virtues of both come together to tell a brand story.

Subaru is airing a TV commercial for its Forester model titled, “A Life Story on the Line.” In a brief 30 seconds, the ad traces the life of a young couple through school, marriage, the birth of twins and a devasting traffic accident. The family survives and credits their Forester for “keeping their story going.”

The commercial conveys the Subaru brand promise in a nutshell or, more precisely, in a story line.

In previous years, Subaru storytelling ads talked about their vehicle’s durability through the eyes of a dad cleaning out memories from a car he is giving to his grown-up daughter. In a well-known series of ads, a dog family puts a Subaru through its paces in human terms from vacation traveling to a front-seat first kiss.

TV advertising earns its way by pushing messages in a visual envelope. But the creative instincts needed to produce an eye-catching 30-second spot are closely related to those employed by filmmakers to produce movies. They also are the stock and trade of public relations professionals. Storytelling may not work to announce a furniture sale, but Subaru used it effectively to promote the safety of its cars in flesh-and-blood terms.

Mac Schwerin, writing in Adweek, pans the use of storytelling in advertising. He says globalization has eviscerated brand stories, which tend to be tied to a specific place. Stories, Schwerin claims, are parochial and advertising needs to be global.

“Advertising is an objectively terrible format for storytelling,” he adds. “Commercials are not given enough breathing room to reward characterization, voice, humanity and a bunch of other nuanced literary stuff.”

Ana Gotter of Disruptive Advertising disagrees. “Stories communicate messages in highly specific and emotionally impactful ways,” Gotter says. “They’re memorable and give us something to identify with and hold on to. Statistics tell us what the reality is – stories tell us why it matters and why we need to care.”

Subaru has taken Gotter’s advice, not Schwerin’s, when producing TV ads. A simple, fast-paced narrative with a beginning, a moment of truth and a happy ending gives viewers a potent 30-second brand message: Subaru vehicles are safe.

The ad doesn’t try to lure you to a dealership with a discount or special promotion. It only tries to convince you that could save your family’s life by driving one of its cars. By anyone’s measure, that’s a powerful story – and an effective brand story.

The age of content marketing has achieved a lot, including bringing PR and advertising professionals closer together. The notion of paid advertising no longer is the exclusive territory of the Don Drapers and creatives who work on beanbag chairs. Paid advertising extends to storytelling in print, video, audio and social media formats.

Stories can sell, often better than confetti, screaming typefaces, overbearing announcers and unbelievable celebrity endorsers. Check out your own brand story and think about ways to share it with your customers and prospects.

Social Media: ‘Evolving, Not Just a Fad’

What may seem like a fad to some is actually a serious evolution in people’s need to connect with family, friends and brands. Social media has already evolved and will evolve even more, but unless you engage, you will never know when it has evolved to something else.

What may seem like a fad to some is actually a serious evolution in people’s need to connect with family, friends and brands. Social media has already evolved and will evolve even more, but unless you engage, you will never know when it has evolved to something else.

Social media has exploded onto the firmament, but is it just a fad or here to stay? One Millennial expert says social media will hang around and evolve.

“Social media staves off extinction by creating new updates and evolving in order to keep their users interested,” writes Sophia Meyer*, a senior at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication. “Twitter has evolved from being a place to tweet about what you ate for breakfast to a hub for news sources and live updates.”

Social media staying power and adaptability erases the excuse for many business leaders to wait out its demise. In fact, the evolution of social media argues for why it is imperative to hop aboard.

Sophia Meyer wrote an essay about social media’s staying power as part of a job interview as she prepared to graduate and enter the professional PR job market.

Sophia Meyer wrote an essay about social media’s staying power as part of a job interview as she prepared to graduate and enter the professional PR job market.

“Social media users today are not only using social sites to connect with their friends and peers, but they are increasingly using them as their primary news source,” Meyer observes. “The popularity of social media and the opportunity it provides for engagement with customers has made it the number one tool for companies to build their brand and target specific audiences.”

Where once social media was a medium to share your “status,” it has evolved into a platform to share content, including commercial content, Meyer says.

There may be a better venue down the line, but for now social media is the key channel to connect with potential customers and deepen loyalty with existing customers. A big piece of evidence is the rise of influencer marketing. Influencers, who can range from celebrities to bloggers, rank nearly as high as friends in trust and the ability to influence a buy decision.

Meyer suggests social media is not your grandfather’s phone book. And you shouldn’t expect social media to be your grandson’s fave.

“Social media is an ever-trending topic that has seen its fair share of positive evolution, and even fails,” she says. “One thing can be certain, however, social media is here to stay. While its users change and evolve, its features change and evolve, and its content evolves, individuals will always demand social media in one form or another.”

That is a nuanced argument for jumping on the social media bandwagon to avoid missing the next trend because you haven’t experienced the current one.

“Humans will always desire to connect with each other, share their thoughts and opinions, and consume a variety of content,” Meyer asserts. “Social media remains, and will remain, the main hub for all of those human needs.”

*Sophia Meyer, Gary Conkling’s daughter, wrote an essay about the longevity and adaptability of social media as part of a job interview.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

User-Generated Content Extends Your Marketing Bench

If the quest for fresh content for your content marketing efforts exhaust you, ask for help. You can ask for user-generated submissions you can share or for user participation in project partnerships that create new content.

If the quest for fresh content for your content marketing efforts exhaust you, ask for help. You can ask for user-generated submissions you can share or for user participation in project partnerships that create new content.

The constant quest for new content can exhaust brand managers. Sometimes the answer is to ask for help.

Here are two imaginative examples of how help in content creation can be found:

Making songs out of interviews

The manager of the Blind Boys of Alabama, a Grammy-winning singing group that made its debut album, 70 years ago, decided to look for new lyrics in the reflective words of the group’s founding members. He arranged for interviews of Jimmy Carter and Clarence Fountain, then sent transcripts of their interviews to some songwriters.

He got back 50 submissions, which became the foundation for the musical group’s latest album, Almost Home. One of the songs Carter performs on the album, Let My Mother Live, contains lyrics that were direct quotes from his interview – “Let my mother live ‘til I get grown.”

The inspiration for the interviews and the outreach to songwriters had a simple origin – Carter and Fountain had long, colorful lives. “The arc of their lives,” explained executive producer Charles Driebe, “mirrors the arc of some very important and sweeping changes in American and the American South.”

Driebe added, “They have a unique experience with those changes, and the things that they’ve lived through, which are very good fodder for songs.” The new album is proof. The songs are fresh, while the lyrics are authentic.

Hope Is Project

Sarah Takako Skinner, who goes by Takako, is a photographer who has made her mark with something called editorial portraiture. She seeks to blend emotional and artistic risk to produce pictures that expose risk, fear or passion. Takako’s work is visually challenging.

Now she is applying her photographic technique on a project to help people “photograph hope.” Takako arms subjects with a camera to capture pictures that express how they feel.

One project participant tracked his daily ups and downs of being transgender. After initial reticence, the man warmed up to a camera perpetually in hand and began capturing candid and revealing photographs, some pedestrian, others swirling with emotion.

“The Hope Is project is a project of change and impact focused on the discovery and harnessing of the power of hope – via an inspiring photographic process,” according to the project’s website. The ultimate goal is a “global conversation about hope” based on a “partnership between art and purpose.”

Both examples are imaginative forms of seeking user-generated content. You don’t have to produce an album or a multinational photo exhibit to recognize the value of asking for help to power up your content.

The ask could be as simple as inviting customers to suggest brand-related topics they would like to learn more about, share their experience with a brand or tell a personal story that connects with the brand.

Our firm proposed and helped stage Mac and Cheese contests that invited Tillamook Cheese consumers to show off their cheesy creations. Well known chefs judged the entries. The contest created buzz and provided grist and human-interest stories for earned media and social media that centered on the Tillamook brand.

Jimmy Fallon asks his followers to provide tweet-sized stories in response to weekly “hashtags” such as #MomQuotes, #HowIGotFired and #MyFamilyIsWeird. The submissions Fallon airs are hilarious, with strange stories even deranged comedy writers couldn’t come up with. Many of the tweets are posted on Fallon’s website.

Another approach is to invite others to partner with you on a project, much like in the two examples. Writing music to go with the words of singers or shooting photographs that express personal emotions are content creations in their own right.

When asking for user contributions or partners, make sure to go all-out in publicizing your request. Asking for user-generated content is part of the new wave of content you get when you ask for help.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Old Blogs with New Tricks

When your run dry of new ideas for your blog, thumb through your own portfolio of old blogs for fresh inspiration – and quite possibly a perfect repeat performance.

When your run dry of new ideas for your blog, thumb through your own portfolio of old blogs for fresh inspiration – and quite possibly a perfect repeat performance.

Old blog posts don’t have to be yesterday’s news. You can always repurpose evergreen content to publish as if it's something new.

Good blog content is timely and topical, which is what attracts clicks. But the advice contained in these blogs may live on and can form the basis for a new blog post or retrospective. In either case, the source for more material can certainly be your own old blog content.

Clever bloggers can think ahead and plan for a future use of their content, especially for that time when new ideas are are hard to come by or when an old blog suddenly becomes relevant all over again.

Another way to approach vintage blog content is to use it as a jumping off point for a new, related thought. Perhaps you’ve thought more about the advice you once gave and can expand on it. If have changed your mind on the subject, you can share the reasons why. Maybe you have more expertise or a new perspective now. 

Some subjects, like last year's food safety crisis at Chipotle, merit repeat coverage. You may have a product or a service with multiple aspects. You can write new blogs that highlight aspects you may have only briefly mentioned in previous blogs.

A new event might occasionally call for revisiting an old blog that was once more pertinent. Update it if you need to or re-post it if you don’t. Either way, make it clear you addressed the topic before – and your advice or service is still relevant.

A perfect trigger to resurrect archived blog content is in response to a customer question. Some may ask about a subject you’ve already covered, which gives you a chance to rework and update your thoughts in the form of an answer. You have the best of both worlds – responsiveness to a customer inquiry and credibility for having the answer already on the record.

Anticipating an emerging situation can be another terrific cause to revive an older blog that dealt with something similar. Think of your revived blog as a newsjacking opportunity.

Many content marketers and the organizations they serve complain about how hard it is to dream up material to write about. But maybe they should spend time thumbing through their own archives for new inspiration or old blogs that deserve another day in the sun.

You wouldn’t have to wonder where to look. Just pull up your own blog. Remember, old blogs can convey new tricks.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Brand Stories Where Brand and Story Are Inseparable

The best brand stories are ones where the brand and the story are inseparable, like GoldieBlox, which makes construction toys for young girls to spark their interest in eventually becoming engineers.

The best brand stories are ones where the brand and the story are inseparable, like GoldieBlox, which makes construction toys for young girls to spark their interest in eventually becoming engineers.

Storytelling is in. Brand stories and storytelling are the vehicles of choice for content marketing. But not all stories are created equal.

One of the better brand stories is by GoldieBlox, which was launched in 2012 as a way to "introduce girls to  the joy of engineering at a young age.” Founder Debbie Sterling earned a degree in mechanical engineering and was struck by how few women studied to become engineers.

“Construction toys develop an early interest in science, technology, engineering and math,” the GoldieBlox website says. “But for over a hundred years, they’ve been considered boys toys. GoldieBlox is determined to change the equation. We aim to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.”

The young company, which went from Kickstarter funding to a $1 million in orders in six weeks, features BloxTown on its website. This is a storytelling showplace. There are videos, apps, toys and “The Gang” – four young multiracial women who personify the goals of GoldieBlox. There is Goldie Blox (mechanical engineer and Ms. fixit), Ruby Rails (software engineer and dressmaker), Li Gravity (daredevil who calculates the physics of her stunts) and Valentina Voltz (gadget lover and musician). They even have their own compatible pets, like Nacho, Goldie’s basset hound sidekick who “eats, farts and drools.”

Products are placed on the web page as just another avenue to adventure.

GoldieBlox has a blog with frequently updated content, typically featuring women engineers and technologists, who are called #goldmodels. The blog invites stories from women with careers in scientific and engineering fields (“Engineers in the Wild”), as well as from young girls whose interest in those professions has been piqued.

GoldieBlox is an excellent example of a brand built around and fueled by a story. The story and the brand are inseparable. The GoldieBlox brand story works for several reasons:

  • The story about the brand is authentic
  • The story has human appeal
  • The product and the brand story are closely linked
  • There is a clear call to action.

Too many brand stories are forced or superficial. They come closer to brand hype than a brand story.

Like any other good story, a brand story needs to resonate with its audience, to touch as many of their senses as possible so people feel transported to where the story takes place. That place can be as close as the family living room where a young girl constructs her first whirligig.

Putting Entertainment into Your Content Marketing Mix

Viewers today demand content that is useful, relevant and entertaining. Usefulness and relevance are easy, but entertainment is harder to deliver. Airbnb offered up a good example of how to deliver a message in an entertaining illustrated story as seen above.

Viewers today demand content that is useful, relevant and entertaining. Usefulness and relevance are easy, but entertainment is harder to deliver. Airbnb offered up a good example of how to deliver a message in an entertaining illustrated story as seen above.

Good content must be useful, relevant and entertaining. Useful and relevant are fairly obvious. Entertaining, not so much.

Let’s face it, most of us like to be entertained but aren’t entertainers. So how do non-entertainers entertain? Here’s how: Turn a clever phrase. Tell stories. Show funny videos and photos. Hop aboard breaking stories. Share personal feelings. 

Your words, stories and images don’t have to be Oscar winners. Their purpose is to deepen interest in your useful, relevant content. Knowing how to fix your toilet is useful and relevant, but we probably wouldn’t pay attention unless someone showed us how in a clever, humorous way.

Entertainment isn’t the main act in content marketing. It's the set-up to your main message. If your entertainment is too entertaining, viewers won’t remember why they were watching it, like the TV ad that is so captivating, you remember the entertainment, but not the product.

Clever Phrases

Yes, it is hard to channel William Shakespeare and procreate a new word or pithy phrase. But you can write a snappy headline that turns heads. The snappy headline can parrot a clever phrase you coin in your copy. Nobody churns out chiseled prose like an assembly line. It takes time – and maybe some reflective moments in the shower or on your morning run. All the phrase has to do is spark a smile and encourage the viewer to read on.

     Examples:

  • “Success by Choice, Not Chance.”
  • “Fat Makes You Thin.”
  • “Six Instant Confidence Boosters."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Telling Stories

As children, we listen to stories to learn. As we grow older, we trade stories with friends. Older people share stories to pass along wisdom. Stories abound in our world, and our brains are wired to tap into their meanings. Stories can take many forms. Children’s books artfully blend text and illustrations. Stories can unfold in videos and picture galleries. Good writers can spin tales with words. The form in this case is less important than the function. Tell entertaining stories with a point that connects to the useful, relevant information you want to convey. 

     Examples:  

 

 

 

Videos and Pictures

Visual assets such as videos and pictures don’t always have to tell a story to draw attention. Sometimes they can just be fun – or funny. Good judgment is required to avoid images that mock or offend. But there are plenty of ways to use light-hearted and good-natured videos and pictures to entertain your viewers into spending more time on your website, online newsroom or blog to consume useful, relevant content. Videos are popular to share, so take pains to brand your visual content so it doesn’t spin away from the purpose behind posting it.

     Examples:  

 

 

Newsjacking

If you can be a free rider on a breaking story or trending topic, you will have a built-in audience. Your “newsjacking” may be a local angle on a national story, a deeper dive into a trending topic or a contrary take on the news. The newsjacking should lead to your useful, relevant content or at least point to the path to your content. This is entertainment by feeding the curiosity aroused by someone else’s story.

     Examples (good and bad):  

 

 

 

Sharing Personal Feelings

In this era of engagement, sharing feelings can be a path to establishing a solid connection with your consumers. There is an element of risk in becoming personal, but it is that exposure that creates an opening for interaction. Sportscaster Jim Nantz shared his personal story of caring for a family member suffering from Alzheimer’s as he urged people to donate to find a cure. A sizable number of supplicants on Shark Tank begin their investment pitches by relating a personal story that resulted in their product invention. As with any relationship, getting personal can get sticky, so choose what feelings you share carefully and make sure they link somehow to your useful, relevant content.

     Examples:

The Secret Sauce of Delectable Content

The secret sauce of content marketing is fresh, authentic content that is delicious to consume. 

The secret sauce of content marketing is fresh, authentic content that is delicious to consume. 

Here’s a content marketing idea: Have something to say and say it with some panache.

It doesn’t take a master chef to understand the key ingredient in content marketing is content itself. If you want your dish to sizzle, the content has to taste good, be presented well and go down easily.

There is a lot of content out there that resembles processed food and frozen dinners. You might consume it, but you would rather not. You certainly wouldn’t make a special trip to the grocery store to buy it. 

When thinking of content, your mind should go to fresher fare. Like the new Portland restaurant that mixes up gourmet meals for 10 people at a sitting who watch the preparation and eat at an old-fashioned counter. You eat what you see and interact with the cook. It’s like having your own personal chef. 

Writing a blog, op-ed or white paper isn’t something you can customize for each potential reader. But you can personalize content by making it relevant, useful, entertaining or evocative. That’s what separates hot dogs from veal scaloppini.

To understand whether to whip up veal scaloppini, beef brisket or shrimp louie, you need to understand the appetites of your diners. The same is true for content development. You need a deep dive into what your audience craves. You need to know much more than their age, gender and time preference to check out social media. You must discover what interests them, concerns them or inspires them. That becomes your editorial menu for what content to create.

This kind of audience taste-testing isn’t something you can farm out to the folks who make your bar stools or repair your dishwasher. As the master chef of your content, you have to be on top of your customers’ taste buds. If you are in harmony with customer cravings, you will never be at a loss of what to cook up. 

Content marketing counselors urge creating good content, but they often fail to describe the recipe. Good content, like good food, should be authentic and satisfy the palate as well as the tummy. It makes you want to hug the cook. Good content makes the same kind of strong connection between the content creator and consumer.

While good content is easy to spot, it is not always easy to see. That’s where the “marketing” part of content marketing comes into play. The marketing job is to get good content on the table in front of diners. If great content is teamed with lousy marketing, the tables will be largely empty. Likewise, great marketing and so-so content discourages a return visit.

As in fine cooking, content generation requires trial and error. Failure isn’t a bad thing, especially if it forces you into a more productive direction and a refined approach. This is why engagement is so important. A good cook wants to hear compliments, but also needs to see what part of a meal goes uneaten into the garbage can. The same is true for content marketers who should ask for viewer feedback and measure consumer reaction. It’s okay to try out some diner ideas or maybe even let them grill a meal once in a while.

Content marketing success starts with content that makes your consumers’ mouths water and then satisfies their hunger. Content should be dished up with visual appeal. And your consumers should know where to find you and when they can sit down to feast. But above all, have something to say.

Content Marketing Example

Alaska Airlines continues to shine as a savvy content marketer. The airline delayed the takeoff of a flight from Anchorage to Honolulu earlier this year to allow a swarm of eclipse chasers – and a planeload of other passengers – to see a total solar eclipse over the Pacific Ocean, capturing national media attention.

Top designer Luly Yang demonstrates how to best prepare your wedding dress as a carry-on item when flying to your destination wedding. 

In its most recent blog post, Alaska Air featured fashion designer Luly Yang, who will reimagine fight attendant uniforms. However, the blog focuses on something more down-to-earth – how do you pack a wedding dress when flying. In short videos, Yang demonstrates how to fold a flowing gown into a suitcase and even a carry-on bag to ensure it arrives with minimal wrinkles and no damage, avoiding a bride’s worst nightmare.

This is content geared for people who fly on airplanes or who have daughters who will fly on airplanes to go to faraway weddings. The content is useful, and it’s presented in a visually informative and entertaining way. The advice, by the way, might just as easily apply to a guy’s suit coat or silk Hawaiian shirts.

This is how good content marketing is done.