useful information

The Architecture of Effective Content

What you say is important, but how you arrange it and make it useful to your audience is what really counts.Engaging content is an impressive, effective way to strut what you know. While it is important where you post your content, it may be more important to consider how you organize it.

Blogs, white papers, case studies, webinars and books are established venues for thought leadership. But you won't necessarily connect with your intended audience unless you package your ideas in a way that attracts and sustains attention and delivers useful information of value.

In all likelihood, your audience isn't all alike. Some people will want the top-line details of what you have to say. Others will want more detail. Some may want the whole magilla. The architecture of your presentation should simulate an onion. The more you peel, the more layers you find.

Effective website design capitalizes on layered information, but there is no reason it cannot be incorporated into all thought leadership content.

The most readable blogs are shorter and to the point, but they can add depth and detail, without extending the length, by inserting charts, infographs and links. In addition to providing the motivated viewer with more information, charts and infographs offer visual variety and lengthen the time someone looks over your blog.

White papers are usually 10 pages or longer, which can be a lot to read for the casual viewer. The key here is providing a quick synopsis up front of what's in the white paper. Liberal use of subheads will break up the copy and make the content easier to digest. A good way to add emphasis to points are pull-out quotes or small vignettes that illustrate your point, which can be positioned to the side of the main content, much like a newspaper sidebar. A bibliography and links can fill out the white paper's potential to deliver a large-scale pop.

The advent of e-books creates an opportunity for a multi-media, updatable content platform. Unlike a traditional print book, an e-book can tell a story using words, photography, podcasts and video.

Case studies don't have to be dry, self-aggrandizing commercials. They could be in the form of a SlideShare presentation that resembles a TV commercial, with a quick explanation of the problem, what you did the solve the problem and a testimonial by the customer or client you helped. You can always back up the movie version with a more traditional case study narrative, which provides specifics on your research techniques and communications strategies.

Webinars have become commonplace because they allow people from a wide geographical area to attend while sitting at their desk or in a coffee shop. Too often, webinars take the form of college class lectures, with an invisible talking head. Other than questions emailed to someone who filters through them, there is typically little interaction. Instead of telling webinar participants what you know, a novel approach might to use one or more examples and show them how you work, encouraging group engagement as you proceed. This way, your attendees go from listening to the master to watching the master work her magic.

Original content is a persuasive tool. But how you say it is as important as what you say. You can achieve the optimal result if you think in advance of how to arrange your content to appeal to all of your viewers. The arrangement you choose should reflect what your viewers want to know, not just what you want to say.

Storytelling as Your Elevator Speech

You need to be able to make your pitch in 30 seconds. Just as important, your elevator speech needs to focus on why what you do is important to your customers or clients. 

The elevator speech has taken on added importance as more people realize you have only one, fast-moving moment to make a memorable first impression.

But the last thing you want is a first impression just about you. That first impression needs to center on how your work uniquely benefits your customers or clients.

This difference parallels the evolution from advertising to content marketing. Instead of shouting a message, you deliver useful, relevant information. The elevator speech, in its slim 30-second format, needs to follow the same pattern. Don't shout, solve a problem.

So instead of rattling off your list of services or products, your elevator speech should focus on a simple story about how you helped a client or customer. You only have 30 seconds, so offer just enough detail to showcase your value.

People have a hard time remembering lists of things or key messages without a lot of repetition. They can and do retain the essence of a good story. And stories are a tried-and-true way for people to absorb complex information, put it into context and coat it with a positive feeling.

Staff meetings and marketing retreats often stress the need for a solid elevator speech that everyone in an organization can use to underline a brand promise or identity. Too often, the elevator speech exercise in a staff meeting or retreat is just that — an exercise, not a new habit.

Rarely can a group write concise prose that conforms to the way different people actually talk. And elevator speeches need to be more than a glib tagline. A story with the right stuff can be told in various ways to the same effect. It is a perfect answer for a widely accepted and commonly used "elevator speech" in your organization.