8 Ways to Deliver a Punch to B2B Writing 👊

Fact: writers rarely get trained for B2B technology writing, it just kind of happens. You deliberately or accidentally fall into a tech company, breath in all their communications, the bytes and bites, brand style guide (if they even have one), and somehow it all comes together. Rinse and repeat for next company.

But no matter how much writing experience under your belt, it doesn’t mean you’re cranking out good, compelling writing – that task requires a more Herculean effort.

For starters, writing about features and benefits of non-human technology has innate issues: How do you make those products interesting? How can you move the reader along to the next step? How can can ensure they won’t yawn, or worse yet take a power nap?

Writing B2B copy over two decades, I’ve seen my share of snoozefests and poppin’ copy. We all know that in the digital age of distractions, smart, engaging copy isn’t a nice-to-have; it’s the mandate. Competing with thousands of other websites and incoming messages, texts, plus other online choices, your content needs to stand out – or your reader is out.

Here are some techniques I use to turn up the volume and make my writing count.

Focus on helping your customer—always❤️                                                                         I know, obvious right? But you’d be surprised how many times I run across copy that is me, me me: let me tell you how great my product is, look at all my shiny bells and whistles. But that is not solving the customer’s problems. I still have to check myself, especially when I’m working with a product manager or marketing mucky-muck who thinks his or her widget is the best thing since sliced…circuits. It’s an essential ingredient to any good B2B writing, better yet all marketing writing.

Ixnay the jargon and buzzwords🙄                                                                                      Let’s play a drinking game: how many times do you see the words “leverage” or “enable” in technology marketing writing? Yeah, we’d all be drunk by now. Cut those altogether. No one talks that way nor should they unless they’re an AI-fueled robot. Though it’s tempting to use easy-access words, especially when you’re under deadline, take the time to find that perfect synonym. If branding will allow, use “craft” instead of “expertise,” or “technology muscle” instead of “innovate.” Swap “very easy” with “effortless.” Or even small tweaks like “exceed expectations” to “defy expectations” can make a difference. Be creative, not lazy.

Surprise Your Reader😮                                                                                                        There’s nothing like a one-sentence paragraph to stop your reader in his or her tracks.

A sentence that stands by itself in a sea of others beckons the reader and gives you a potential hook to read the entire blog post, case study or whatever you want eyeballs on. Make sure that sentence has impact. If your reader is scanning (trust me, they will be), it could be the only words they read. Choose carefully.

Or try a skillful use of the em dash — which can create drama and emphasize an important point — but don’t be overly dramatic with every sentence, make it count.

Flip Clichés Upside down🙃                                                                                                  Many a corporate communication organization, especially global companies, wisely implement a no-colloquialism policy. Americanisms like “follow the leader” or “the stakes are high” can cause confusion to non-native English speakers. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use well-worn phrases that most cultures do know. For instance, “Time is on your side” can be turned into a statement to create urgency and also give a confident spin, such as “Time is not on your side when…”

Be a Person, not a Monolith🙋🏻                                                                                              Some larger companies like to mention their name over and over in communications as if the person didn’t realize where they were, while others use the “we” and the “you.” Smaller companies tend to be more comfortable with this language but frankly, the big multinational ones need it the most – they are impersonal corporate entities. In the real world, people like to be spoken to and with directly. Personal pronouns are warmer and help build a connection. Don’t get carried away with it, but weave in various places to keep that thread going.

Use Provocative Questions and Bold Statements🔥                                                       When writing my first direct mail campaign early in my career, my boss said to me, “Never start an email with a question because if the answer is no, they’ll stop reading.” Point taken, but there are still plenty of ways to sidestep the inevitable yes or no and get your reader to think and engage with the copy. It could be a rhetorical question like “Why are you paying for extra services you’re not using?” Or a statement like “XYZ thinks everyone should pay for full service, but we disagree.” Don’t be shy about challenging your reader’s thinking and throwing in some fun with language. Speaking of which…

Inject humor –But With a Slow IV Drip🎭                                                                              I’ll be the first to laugh at a good pun, funny joke, or amusing alliteration. And there is definitely a place for it in B2B copy – it just needs to be the write one. (sorry couldn’t help myself). But before you trot out your comical stylings, make sure the brand voice has the flexibility, the wit is in context, and humor that is accessible to all. If your reader doesn’t get it, the joke’s on you. Making someone smile or laugh is one thing; turning them off is quite another. Irreverent, self-deprecating humor like on this CB Insights page, strikes the right tone: “In God We Trust, Everyone else Bring Data.” 

Embrace the writing rhythm🎼                                                                                            Short sentences are great for understanding. Long ones can be woven in to make a point when they need to (but 25 words max). Much like the way we speak, writing has its own pattern. Otherwise, we’d be completely monotone. Make sure you mix it up so you’re not fatiguing the reader. Get it?

That also means mixing bite-sized paragraphs mixed with chunkier ones to keep the tempo going. And don’t forget to add guideposts like bullets and headlines so you keep the reader moving through.

What are some of your tips? What’s your pet peeve or joy in writing and reading B2B copy? ☺️😜🤓😩😖

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5 Tips For Working With Freelance Writers

ODNS+meme+FTWA

Ever wonder why some of freelance writing projects go smoothly and others sink like the Titanic? Peek inside our brain with some first-hand insights that will help your content hit the nail on the head – instead of the last one in the coffin.

Be a Great Partner

Collaboration is key in content development. We don’t automatically flow words together without effort. We rely on the best information to create that fabulous writing for you. We do our part by getting all the materials to the job done, including asking smart questions and confirming details. Your part? Help us close the understanding gap, like legacy knowledge or a relevant back-story, so we don’t risk missing the mark. Say, for instance, I’m the second writer you hired for this job. Why didn’t that first engagement work out? How can we improve this one?

Chart the Course

Set expectations about the project – that means the schedule, reviews, logistics, milestones and any “gotchas” along the way (um…we may add in a new product at the end). Most of these questions can be answered with a project plan – even a loose one. Schedules change but at least we’ll have a roadmap. For example, a recent website client didn’t include all the players for early reviews, so near final copy, major changes were required. That added up to wasted time, resources, and money for everyone.

No “Sh*tty First Draft”

Writer Anne Lamott aptly stated the truth about first drafts years ago and it won’t change – mark my words (sorry couldn’t resist). By the time you see our work, we’ve put a Herculean effort to make it the best it can be – but we do expect changes. It’s rare that the first time you see a document it will be “perfect” and require nary an edit. We can pine for this utopian scene but don’t expect it (that’s why it’s called Utopia, people). We are prepared to revise and get constructive criticism. Those writers who can’t deal should pick another career. Which leads us to the next tip…

Show Me, Don’t (Just) Tell Me

The way you review matters: Slap-dash or vague verbal comments will produce a sub-par result. “This paragraph doesn’t work” isn’t specific. Why? What’s the issue? If the tone of the document is off, that’s one thing, but if there are parts you want to change, be clear and note it on the document, email, or whiteboard – anything. But know that verbal feedback can sometimes be tricky to interpret. A former client would not review documents in writing as she was “too busy.” The result? A protracted review loop with misunderstandings and ad hoc changes all along the way. Bottom-line: Clarity early saves time later.

Shift Happens

Sometimes mid-way or at the very end (see “gotchas” above) someone, somewhere decides that this document needs to serve another purpose, the messaging has changed, or a response to a competitor should be weaved in (and of course deadline hasn’t changed). Hopefully, the entire document doesn’t have to be scrapped, but sometimes that’s the reality. Know that we will likely need to add to the budget and schedule if it’s not baked in. Small changes? Fine. A rewrite is a whole different animal. We’ll be fair and work with you on this, but know there is a difference between revisions and starting from scratch.

Circle-Slash Whiney Writers

Occasionally, there is a piece of content that just doesn’t work – period. Maybe the CMO jumped in and forced a paragraph that changed everything; or a success story wasn’t all that impressive; or the blog post is watered down because too many people got their hands on it. None of these situations is anyone’s “fault,” but they do need to be resolved. Moments like this can also be a breeding ground for misunderstandings and delays. Writers take a lot of pride in what they do and will help solve the issue if we can. But ultimately it will be your decision, knowing we’ve done our best work and it’s out of our hands. Though difficult, this is the life of a freelancer. The end result may not be our perfect ending, but it’s yours – and we have to accept that and walk away.

The Wrap

Freelance writing projects are an intimate exchange of partnership, jumbled words, and moving parts that can churn out a great result – or turn into a failure to launch. The best outcome? That the content serves the purpose, it will be read by your audience (and shared too!), oh, and you get well-deserved kudos. The beauty is that we can learn something from each engagement – about you, ourselves, and how to improve our writing for future projects.

Oh, and one more thing of beauty – that you’ll call me back for your next project.

Newbie Does Content Marketing World: The Good, the Bad, and the Orange

This is not a top 10 takeaways listicle. Or a shameless crop of speaker quotes to get retweets. This is a story of a thrifty writer who went to Content Marketing World in Cleveland, the apparent “Capital of Content,” thanks to doubling down on promo codes.  It was everything—and nothing I expected. 

Cult of Orange Kool-Aid

If you didn’t know this by now, the Content Marketing Institute LOVES its orange. A lot. I urge you to bring shades if you go to CMW. Be prepared for hordes of attendees that wear it on various parts of their bodies; from hats to shoes to everything in-between. Then there are the signage, carpet, and yes, even orange food-colored products (that I did not imbibe in). In my complete ignorance of Planet Orange, I thought it would be mildly amusing to wear my coincidentally-coral top to the first evening reception. Bad idea. I became an instant, unwilling cult participant. Part of me likes the rah-rah team spirit and the other thinks it’s a tad creepy. I do love purple, so maybe if it was Planet Purple I could have gotten into the color craze more.

Run With Precision of Surgery

Speaking as a former event planner and attendee of a bajillion conferences, it’s my second nature to find mistakes or mental note what I would change–-you know for the fun of it and to feel superior. But I was hard-pressed to find any major boo-boos no matter how hard I tried. CMW was a well-oiled logistics machine from start to finish. The sessions started on time, the speakers were 90% top notch, and the events were memorable. Even the most basic details like lunches—normally a hassle when you have to leave the conference or sit in a stuffy banquet room— were grab-and-go to run to a session or hang out at the convention center. It’s a detail, but one that makes a difference in the overall experience. The opening reception held in the newly-revamped Flats area had it all: food, drinks, a pool, networking, groovy lighting, content geeks awkwardly dancing. But it worked. Cheap Trick concert in one word: epic. Though I loved them when I was a teen, I wasn’t that excited, thinking they were more AARP than OMG. Boy was I wrong, these badasses put on a rockin’ show. I even got one of the guitar picks that was tossed in the audience! #groupiemoment

Mix and Match Theme

Make no mistake: the theme of the show was “Content Strikes Back” and there were Star Wars posters everywhere, cheesy references to it in most presentations, and the grand stage opened with Joe Pulizzi on a starship deck that looked like it came from community theater (I think on purpose?). Added strange bonus: Pulizzi’s ending included a contentized Matrix scene, replete with Keanu Reeve’s trademark black jacket. Similarly, many attendees, including myself, wondered what the hell the former Luke Skywalker could contribute to the content conversation. But we were wrong—the guy proved to be an engaging, funny, and honest speaker about celebrity content and could talk a good game about his Twitter-follower competition with Carrie Fisher. He even trashed Star Wars franchise for making him lose 50 pounds for his one scene in “The Force Awakens”that only showed his face. Other daily keynotes were engaging—in fact the speaker with the highest rating automatically gets top spot at the start of the conference.

Attack of the Corporate Packs

There are an estimated 3,500 people that attended CMW event from 50 countries and 50 of the Fortune 100. In other words, the vast majority are from a corporate environment, which was evident through the massive content marketing teams traveling in packs. Armed with occasional orange clothing and an expense account, the roamed the convention center hallways in droves. Admittedly, I did feel like an oddball as a freelancer. But there were plenty of friendly people to network with. It would have been more inclusive, however, to have sessions catering to us content outliers.The closest was one on best practices to hire freelance writers (you can bet I was there). There was also a “Writing Salon” for consultants  in the spiffy new Hilton, away from the action. In the future, I would like to see more events for corporate and freelancers to network directly.

Dare to be “Different” or Die

Remember I said this won’t be a list of takeaways? Indulge me with my few random observations. Speakers in many of the sessions said in their own unique way that content has reached peak so you must think and do differently. As content marketers, we can no longer crank out the same old stuff—with so much noise you absolutely, unequivocally must stand out. Obvious yes, but how to get around it? Idea-planting included: call attention to a provocative question that no one else answers in the industry; take a stand on an industry issue; find that missing stat and capitalize on it in a big way; extract insight from data for a non-obvious answer; dig for interesting correlations and weird ideas to pounce on; come up with “unthinkable” ideas no one else is doing (like freeing gated content or doing a negative campaign that speaks the truth). Though none of these ideas were exclusively new, together they lent a shot of creativity and deeper thought to bring home.

Fuzzy Line Between Journalism and Content: Demolished

As a former journalist (and a cynical reporter at heart) I was surprised, elated and deflated to see that the rise of “brand newsrooms” (oxymoron anyone?) is a real, established thing. Among content marketers and journalists alike, there is a resigned acceptance that newspapers are dying, content is thriving, and a way to make a buck on the side (which has become the main entree). As one speaker and former reporter put it: journalists don’t think they need anything from content, but content marketers know they need journalists. A journalism style brings a dose of reality to content. In essence, the mindset of journalism can lead to greater content marketing.  We should always be asking ourselves with every piece of content we produce: will it pass skeptic test? The only thing I disagreed with: that the pace of content marketing is significantly slower than daily deadlines of journalism, but then again, maybe it’s just my clients (and you know who you are).

KISS Principle lives aka no Friction

Several speakers focused on the importance of content simplicity from writing to delivery. Cut the resistance between where you are and where you want to go to make it easier for your readers. We’re not just left-brained or right-brained about decision-making. Our reptilian brain likes simple choices and hates change. This or that. Chocolate or vanilla. Try or buy. That also means that content should stay away from any sort of difficult, interruptive reading experiences, like rotating banners or tons of links. We need to prepare and communicate our content simply, elegantly and concisely, whether it’s an ad campaign, landing page, a blog post or even social media post. Another fact: Consumers don’t care where they get their information from, they just want it. So don’t be concerned about “credit,” be concerned about giving readers what they want—they’ll thank you later. Again, not rocket science, but  good to remind ourselves of every time we’re producing content, it’s not about us, it’s about freely delivering value and and solving problems for our readers. In other words, the fantastically-jargonny word: customer centricity.

My content marketing awards

Unsurprisingly, the award session didn’t include best freelance content marketer of the year or other  honored oddities. However, I’ve devised some of my own to fill in the gap. You’re welcome.

Best opportunity: 1% on the web are creating content, the rest are lurkers and contributors; this means infinite opportunity for content creators who want mindshare to be a leader not sheep

Best reality check: You may have great content, but quality alone cannot overcome the competitive landscape

Best quote: If you’re writing for everyone, you’re not writing for anyone

Best anti-best practice: Don’t follow best practices, great marketers craft their own

Strangest buzzphrase: “children of personas”: I dare you to bring it up in your next content strategy meeting just to see the dazed expressions

Most unrealistic concept: “empathy meetings”one presenter said, is when he meets with clients weekly to discuss and solve core problems; My empathy starts when I have to go to a meeting at all

Most overused word: Friction—it just rubs me the wrong way

Best live tweeting: Selfie Humblebrag aka @Shumblebrag. Brilliant at keeping the pretention, ridiculousness, and conference clichés in check. We need more of that—everywhere.

In a nutshell, I think CMW was worth the price (including my discounts, of course). It was some good learning, easy networking, and fun entertainment—but please don’t expect me to wear orange next year.

Author’s note: Next post I’ll be taking a look at the content produced by CMW trade show exhibitors to assess who is eating their own dog food and who needs to bulk up.

 

 

7 Ways to Better Marketing in 2016

2016
Let’s start the new year right: out with the old and in with the fresh.

#1 Get off the training wheels articles

Dear content experts: We know that images are processed 60x more than text. We also know that tweets with images get tons more shares than those without. We get it. There are hundreds of articles on these basics. If you want more SEO, be less of a sheep and more of a leader. Got an interesting take on why Twitter sucks for certain businesses? Or an argument to do long-form blogging instead of 500 words? Bring it. Make us think, provoke us and push us further in our education, don’t give us the same-old.

#2 No more gobbling up junk food infographics

Ratios are important, including infographics. For instance, when the largest element of an infographic is the logo of the company that produced it, it’s a clear warning sign. Many infographics these days are filled with fluffy, contextless stats aimed at showcasing themselves for shares and/or hopping on popular culture (not very well). We have more innovative data visualization opportunities than ever. Let’s use this information to educate and inspire ideas, not dumb down readers.

#3 Overthrow the content monarchy drivel

…Is so 2013 (I’m guilty myself). No more using “content is king” or corollary: “content is queen” context, engagement or anything else that is sidekick to the King. (and why does the Queen always have the helping role?) These cliché terms are ubiquitous and mean nothing anymore. We’re way beyond this revelation (see #1). It’s time for the next level analysis when we write about content. Speaking of which…

#4 Doctor’s orders: marketing does not cure cancer

I do suggest one new monarchy term: “Content is the new court jester”. We’re a pretty humorless bunch. We do have the Condescending Corporate Facebook page, Clickhole, recaps of social media flubs, and the occasional catch-all. But more laughs and less self-importance is the prescription for what ails us. There are brands that get humor thankfully. Yes, meaty, relevant content is an essential ingredient for smart marketing strategy and contributes to revenue (fingers crossed), but let’s have some fun, people.

#5 A fresh litter is worth 10 copycats

A blog post compiling expert views is one thing, but regurgitating others’ ideas with few word changes has a centuries-old legal term: plagiarism. It’s spread online like rancid butter. If you have an opinion, state it and back up with well-thought ideas and research. While we’re at it, let’s do away with hijacking trending stories unless an authentic connection is there. The passage of time often reveals more interesting or thoughtful insights. Better yet, let the story ride out its 15 minutes and write about something original.

#6 Social media deserves a demotion

There, I said it. While social media continues its star billing, advertising (save for ethically ambigious “sponsored content”), events, and everything else in the marketing wheelhouse is relegated to the D-list. Social also gives  click-bait culture a huge boost. True, social media disrupted how we communicate with each other and brands, but ALL marketing is a part of the promotion landscape. Young marketers are taught to burrow heads into their screens 24/7 without understanding or caring about what they can learn by looking up and around. All pieces of the promotion pie are part of our rich legacy. (P.S. Apple does billboards, so you know it’s still cool).

#7 Time travel to forward-thinking content 

There are tons of articles about “next year…” this time of year, but what about visionary pieces that look at marketing five or 10 years down the road? The internet of things, mobility, and other technologies are reshaping the way we market. Let’s peek into future so we can plan for the Next Big Thing (or avoid a trending rat hole). Like: why virtual reality will change the way we shop or how robots are invading into journalism . Let’s learn about these futuristic ideas now and start planning for what’s to come . Even if these predictions never come true, it opens our minds to new possibilities and ways of thinking.

Here’s to a great marketing year in 2016….hold the filler.

 

 

 

 

 

What Becomes of Content in 2015?

cwordThe word “content” has supplanted itself as The Marketing Word in 2014, to the point that I’m hard-pressed to find a digital headline or article without it this past year. Then there are the white papers, conferences, books, and even the Content Marketing Institute (sounds very heady, doesn’t it?). You get the idea. But let’s get some perspective here: Content, in all its incarnations over the years, was simply called something else—be it copy, copywriting, promotion, website content, marketing blurbs, plain old writing, insert big etcetera here. With the rise of social media and other digital marketing to further a brand—whether posts or podcasts, vines or viral videos—this marketing expansion now sits under the same umbrella: Content. One and all. The blending of terms combined with the craving for sky high shares brought to the forefront big changes swirling around in advertising, journalism, and marketing the past several years. Some good, some not so good. I believe we reached a tipping point in 2014 and are venturing to the point of no return. Sure, there is plenty of smart, insightful, and creative content out there, but it is overshadowed by junky digital filler caused by “content mania” and insatiable need to feed the social media sharing beast. Let me explain.

Sponsored Content, aka Native Ads

This kind of promotion has been around for ages in other forms (corporate advertorial in trade magazine, anyone?) But online sponsored content is a bit more dangerous in such prolific quantities. Why? It’s more than a hoodwink; it confuses consumers expecting unbiased articles, whether they care or not.

Sponsored content has seen explosive growth in the past few years due to the expansion of digital publishers, coupled with news outlets desperately looking for a panacea to cover plummeting ad profits. Mission definitely accomplished, but the tricky (read: ethical) part is the barely-there line between “real articles” and those brought to us by our favorite and not-so-favorite brands. Even the bastion of buttoned-up news, the New York Times, got into the sponsored content business. You see, the lines have really (really) blurred, even for the Gray Lady. The FCC stepped in to help consumers identify sponsored content, but many readers eat it up if it’s “interesting” no matter how indigestible the thought of brand involvement might be. Studies show it decreases trust of content, but it doesn’t stop them from clicking.

Brand Journalism

Which leads us another trend from the content explosion—brand journalism—companies who deploy articles the way a news reporter might—factual information? Yes, but with words that supports the brand’s message, liifestyle, or agenda. This content fuels brands with a great resource for well-written blogs, C-level ghostwriters, and sponsored content, not to mention spawning new careers for jaded journalists, frustrated fiction writers, and corporate careerists looking for a fresh start.

Hootsuite’s CEO Ryan Holmes even nonchalantly dropped a reference to its corporate “newsrooms” at a conference earlier this year. A reach perhaps, but it appears to be the future of The Brand. Welcome to the new blurry world of the “news” where articles you read might not have a clear bias but the source of the materials will.

Attack of the Content Creators

Another way content has taken hold lately is the crazy-big growth of “content creators,” “content experts,” and other fill-in-the-blank content titles (full disclosure: I brand myself this way too). Hardly anyone is simply a “writer” anymore. Sure, including a white-hot industry in your title might make your keywords stand out more, but consider the downside: lots of competitors use this title too, making it a crowded field.

Digital publishing outfits like the Huffington Post, Gawker, and other media companies large and small often won’t pay or divvy out peanuts based on article shares. After all, if you won’t write for free, someone else more hungry for the lure of digital fame will. The more that writers that offer their services without compensation or laughably low pay, the more devalued the profession becomes. This cannot be undone (another disclosure: I have written for zero pay to get my name out there). I get why it happens—it’s called supply and demand—but there is collective power in writers holding out for what we deserve instead of giving in to this pressure.

On their own, none of these trends is necessarily catastrophic for content. But when you put them together it gives me great concern to think where content is going in 2015 with the jumbling of words, images, and audio breeding only as share fodder, the cocktail of news and brand agenda, coupled with the cheapening of writing as a craft, I wonder if we’ve lost some of our core quality standards and beliefs in what content is about. Like the “click-bait headlines” that trick us into thinking we’re getting one thing instead of another, we’re fooling no one but ourselves to say it doesn’t matter in the future.

Image: Velocity Partners

5 Ways to Avoid Your Content Jumping the Shark

fozI think we can all agree that August exposed the dark side of content overload capitalizing on horrific events, specifically the many news-jacking incidents of the Robin Williams death story to tell a branding lessons, public relations exercises,  or a host of other bad coverage decisions. Content surpassed the tipping point on good taste long before Robin Williams’ death, but it’s a sad reminder that we’d all benefit from sticking to some basic rules.

With no formal “content code of conduct” in this digital wild west, I believe it benefits everyone to create articles and posts that avoid blatant self-interest or all-out sensationalism, otherwise, readers will look away out of boredom, indifference, or outright disgust. Sure, quality varies in any profession—whether it’s graphic design or accounting or anything else—but content has gotten pretty sloppy these days. And with branded content increasingly contributing to the bottom-line for companies and publishers, there’s even more potential for a downward spiral.

As someone once said: “Just because you have a pen, it doesn’t mean you should write.” So, if you’re going to produce content, consider these five ideas to help toggle that fine line.

No Knee-Jerk News-jacking: In the race to produce the first or competing angle on a trending topic, the temptation to get in on the action because everyone else is can be a fool’s game. If you have nothing new to add or merely seems an opportune moment to spout expertise or make a vague connection, you’re probably better off keeping quiet. Sitting on a trending topic before hitting those keystrokes allows time for ideas to marinate, the opportunity to leverage real-time media insight, and ultimately produce more thoughtful content if you choose to do so.

Write for Your Audience, Not SEO: Despite my marketing chops, I’m still a former journalist so I generally leave the keyword ninja moves to the pros. That said, I gladly encourage and promote clicks to my articles, but not at the price of quality. I care that three (alliterated) criteria are met when I write: It should educate, enlighten, or entertain (or the miracle of all three). If an article doesn’t do any of these, it’s back to the drawing board. In the end, as the saying goes, “the best SEO is good content.” Amen to that.

Consider the “So What?” Factor: By now we can all agree thousands of posts abound on blogging best practices, do’s and don’ts of emails, or writing the killer LinkedIn profile—you get the idea. Though they all bring their own unique value to the table, most have been done before. The question to ask is: What differentiates my content from everything else out there? I know personally how many times I get all excited to write about a topic only to find out it’s already been done ad nauseam. But I am happy to say I have many ideas rattling around in my brain that will one day make their singular debut, so I move on.

Be Human: Digital content readers tend to be an intelligent, curious bunch and can usually be found hunting the web for good stuff—they have no patience or time for self-promotion or articles with the substance of popcorn. The smarter, more relatable your articles are, the more they will spark a conversation and as a bonus, your personality will also shine through. I’ve also found it serves no purpose to “play Switzerland” by staying neutral on a topic. Taking a stand is what separates you from the sheep and gets your audience engaged and responsive, whether they agree with you or not.

Stoke the Passion: When you write about a topic that piques your own interest and curiosity, that enthusiasm will come out organically. I create lots of content on marketing and technology, but I never write about something that doesn’t interest me. It might result in less-than-stellar readership sometimes, but I’ve learned something myself (and for the small group of readers interested in controversial billboards of 2013, you’re welcome).

The endless tidal wave of content these days is only going up (and up), so don’t be tempted to jump the shark, no matter how high the SEO results might be.

The State Of Content With Martin Jones

martin jonesAs we hit the halfway mark on 2014, it’s time to see how brands are living up to the hype and promise of content, clearly the biggest marketing trend of the past few years, with no indications of slowing down. For an expert view, I talked with Martin Jones, Senior Marketing Manager at Cox Communications, and a leading authority on all things content. Martin first caught my attention with a presentation at New Media Expo earlier this year and one of the most Twitter-worthy soundbites of the conference: “Social is how customer hear about you, search is how they find you, and content is how they’ll remember you.”

Let’s start with the content marketing trend for companies. We know thousands of companies are doing it, but who actually gets it right, and why?

I’m happy to say a lot of brands are doing it right. General Electric, Whole Foods, Home Depot, to name a few. They are going beyond Facebook and social across multiple channels. People are turned off by seeing the same content on all platforms. Take Home Depot, for instance: With 160K followers, they are continually updating and making it relevant to their different audiences—by seasons, interests, etc.

We’ve been hearing the term “content shock” lately. With so much content out there, eventually the barriers to entry will increase and only the strongest (best) content will win. Agree or disagree?

One of the arguments against content shock is that whatever you give to your consumers must have purpose. Don’t just throw content up on your site to meet some sort of quota. Unfortunately we still see a lot of decisions made in marketing, PR, IT, and other silos, which can lead to this. There is not always a strong discovery process for content programs or campaigns. Always start with a question about the consumer and ask it. Figure out what problems you can solve for them. Otherwise, people have this natural filtering process and get burnt out on content. What’s important to consumers cannot go by the wayside.

So what can small businesses do to leverage content marketing with teeny budgets and resources?

There are a lot of small business tools out there: Ones like SocialEars let you plug in different terms and see who the influencers are, letting bloggers and marketers quickly see what things are being talked about and what’s the most engaging content right now. It’s critical to know what to talk about by monitoring, rather than falling back on what you know best. It should be about what the consumer is interested in and gearing your content towards that.

I was surprised you mentioned GE: Something I often hear is that B2B brands have difficulty making their content resonate with customers. What do you think the trick is there?

With B2B, it’s about personalizing content in the right voice—your voice. Again it comes down to relevant content. You have to be careful not to alienate your audience if all of a sudden you try to change to the snarky, cheeky Taco Bell-style. It’s not going to work. What’s important is that the content is going to be helpful to the consumer, that it’s personalized, and it answers questions. That’s what your audience cares about most.

What are content marketers still struggling with?

There’s talk of the sales funnel being dead, but it’s really that marketers are creating a lot of content on top of the funnel and then they get to the middle and don’t know what to do with these people. This is where evergreen content really pays off, along with paid media. Your content can still be providing leads to the organization and can move them through the sales process.

What are some of the trends we’ll be seeing as we get closer to 2015?

Deeper content and, again, more consumer-focused. One shift we’re seeing more of is horizontally rather than vertically-focused content on products and services. For example, what are your readers’ passion points? What are they interested in? Talking to companies about growing your business, how to scale, engaging in common interests. Recently I was at a conference where one of the speakers said “Social media is the new golf course”: now that conversation is happening online. Consumers don’t want to talk about products and services, they want to carry on a normal conversation.