Marketing Bootcamp

It's Time to Create Content That Customers Actually Want

It's Time to Create Content That Customers Actually Want
Image credit: Kevin Dooley | Flickr
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If you're like me, you have goals in writing marketing content -- like sharing expertise and maybe even helping other marketers succeed. But you'll also have more business-oriented goals, like raising your credibility in the field and attracting new opportunities. That demands an effort to create content target audiences truly want.

Related: Content Strategy: 4 Questions You Need to Ask

So, here are three lessons I've learned, courtesy of the (good and not so good) performances my own content has achieved:

1. 'Hot' doesn’t always mean right.

Consider the articles I’ve written for Entrepreneur.com and the numbers they've gotten. How many shares did each get via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn? And how many comments were left for each? Obviously, the most poorly performing piece of all was the infographic I shared, titled "How to Find Your Next Marketing Rock Star." Can I tell you a secret? That was the one I was personally most excited about. After all, as a marketer, I know the impact of visual elements. I’ve seen ROI studies (and created winning campaigns myself) that proclaim the benefits infographics have in marketing. I just "knew" this one would be a hit.

Well, I was wrong. While the piece didn’t totally crash and burn (it was still liked and shared by a good number of people), it definitely wasn’t the ticket to a viral response. The main takeaway here is that sometimes the trendiest, most-talked-about marketing idea isn’t always the best one.

Infographics may be a hit for certain topics and buyer personas, but for mine, infographics didn't produce the performance I expected.

The lesson: When deciding which marketing tactics to pursue, do a gut check. Is this something your customers have actually asked for? Do you have any substantive reason to believe one particular tactic will be irresistible to them or address their burning questions? If not, buck the trends. Go with what you know readers will want.

2. Focus on engagement.

The cliché of the past few years has been that "content is king." Truthfully, though, the content itself doesn’t matter if nobody is responding to it. As I mentioned, the marker for the success of my articles was how many times they were shared through social media channels, along with how many comments were left about it. These indicators reflect the impact each piece made on readers. The greater the impact, the greater the chance that someone would pass the link along to friends, or take a minute to leave a comment.

When it comes to the sometimes elusive concept of "engagement," there are different levels. For example, hitting a Twitter button that instantly reposts the link to an article is fairly easy. Leaving a comment, on the other hand, takes a bit more thought and energy.

The lesson: Going by the number of social shares alone isn’t an ironclad way to measure success. We’d have to weigh the engagement of each individual who interacted with a piece to truly know how it measured up. I won’t get too mathematical here, but it’s fair to say that the articles with the greatest return are those that encouraged the highest-quality comments.

Related: Are Your Blog Posts Falling Flat?

Judging by this criterion, my article on 4 Ways To Revamp Your Marketing to Mesmerize the Crowd was the winner. The fact that it generated 5,000 thousand shares was great, but what tipped it over the edge was the in-depth conversation that resulted with one interested reader. The quality of the questions he asked, and the interest he paid to the answers I gave, showed that his engagement level was extremely high. You really couldn’t hope for more.

3. Push outside your comfort zone.

Finally, we all know that headlines matter. As marketers, it sometimes feels like half our battle is just coming up with an email subject line or a "call to action" that will get somebody to click it. Content can be the same way. As we search for ways to give our customers written material that they actually care about, we must remind ourselves that it’s truly about them, not us. Sometimes I think about writing about the subtle nuances of high-level, complex marketing. But the fact of the matter is that my article, 5 Things CEOs Don’t Ask about Marketing, but Should, is the rather unsubtle topic that elicited 2,000 Facebook shares.

The lesson: My ideal client (and therefore my target reader) probably wants more of these quick and dirty tips that can be implemented today. He or she apparently doesn't want to read my philosophical waxings about the trajectory of marketing.

Something else the evaluation of my content has taught me: Sometimes you have to go outside your comfort zone. Some of the highest-performing headlines are those that are a little bit edgy or incendiary. I prefer to be more direct, but if I want my content to connect with my target audience, it’s important that I capture their attention first. There’s no better way to do that than with a provocative headline or timely topic.

There’s no doubt that quality content can help your customers and satiate their needs, as well as get you and your company noticed. When I started writing for Entrepreneur last year, my Twitter followers jumped from 2,300 to 3,600-plus. If you stay focused on finding out what sort of content your audience craves the most, then work hard to deliver that and you will experience similar success.

So, in the spirit of giving our customers and readers what they want, it’s your turn to chime in!  What marketing topics are you most interested in? Leave a comment!

Related: How to Create Compelling Online Content That Gets Traffic