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“If you really want to know about business, you should refer to Scott Steinberg.” -Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group

Content Marketing: 10 Essential Hints and Tips

Content marketing experts make no bones about telling speaking audiences and clients alike: Creating quality content that speaks directly to your customers can sometimes be easier said than done. The ultimate goal is create value for them by saving them time, money and effort, or by improving their condition—and in a way that they’ll find interesting enough to interact with and share with others. According to a recent study by Junta42 and MarketingProfs.com, creating relevant content is the number one challenge among marketers. Here are ten rules to follow to make this process more manageable.

1. Thou shalt know thy subject

YAny content you create has to have value for your audience, as content marketing experts often remind, whether it provides information, entertainment, inspiration, or insight. But to do that, you need to know what demographic you’re targeting, the needs, challenges or pain points they possess, and how to successfully address any or all. Moreover, you also need to know where they live online, how to best reach them, and in what voice or form. Take the time to get inside your buyers’ heads, learn to speak their language, and work to form a symbiotic partnership where you’re constantly creating content of interest and/or need, and in a form that invites ready sharing or pass-along.

2.Thou shalt be transparent

The goal of content marketing is to build relationships and deliver useful information. “Your customers care more about your knowledge than they do about your products,” states Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute. Transparency gives you the opportunity to stand up, stand out, and humanize your brand by demonstrating to your customers just how your company is run, its vision, its business ideals, how products are made, and/or how services are conducted. Likewise, if you’re using sponsored content, be honest and upfront about it to keep the feeling of trust intact. People identify and connect with others like themselves—the more you can build that trust and empathy, and create positive exchanges and interactions with your audience, the more you’ll succeed in the content and inbound marketing world.

3.Thou shalt remain original

Imitation isn’t necessarily the sincerest form of flattery, nor will it do you any favors in a world where unique and engaging perspectives and presentations are vital to stand out from the crowd. Original content goes a long way to resonate with your audience, and to improve your search engine ranking with Google and other providers. Readers favors fresh content with original spins or ideas, just as Bing, Yahoo and other online search engines reward those with previously unpublished content and information with higher search result placement.

4. Thou shalt be clear and succinct

Keep content short, sweet to the point, and clearly communicate your message, content marketing experts will always point out, unless you’re looking to present it as a whitepaper or other long-form piece of collateral. Infographics, video clips, diagrams and other visual-intensive assets can help you communicate complex messaging more adroitly, and do so at a more rapid pace. Likewise, stick to no more than one to three key sales points in all supporting materials, so as not to muddy the waters, and maintain consistently in messaging across all promotional pieces. Bullet points, catchy headlines, and boxouts can also help you break up dense walls of copy, and make presentations more approachable for your customer. Before you publish any content marketing materials, run them by others to see how they resonate, and give them one last review to make that they’re concise, complete, and quickly get to the point.

5. Thou shalt strive to be creative

Tens of millions of pieces of content are shared online daily: What’s to make yours stand out? From singular or arresting opinions to bold and counterintuitive headlines or eye-catching graphical materials, find ways to package and present yourself that differentiates your creations at a glance—and puts your signature touch on them. Similarly, when posting to social networks, don’t just curate or republish others’ content: Add your own spin on it in the form of analysis, opinion or responses and follow-up content postings. Ultimately, never underestimate the power of a great story, a captivating picture, or a singular and arresting video clip – just make sure it adds value, and to keep messaging clear throughout. Clever is good, but eye-catching and to the point even better.

6. Thou shalt respect thy customer

Why waste time guessing what type of content your audience wants when you can just ask them? Observe their behaviors online, what types of content resonate, and reach out to them through the online communities and channels where they congregate to seek their opinion while plotting your campaign. And don’t be afraid to do so as campaigns unfold, so that they can be more effectively updated and evolved. Your audience is composed of individuals who can tell what you’re doing right, what can use improvement, and what they like best about what you offer—think of the general public as the best focus group that money can’t buy. Ask for suggestions. Share ideas. Commend someone when they make a great point. Listen to your customer’s voice. Adapt accordingly.

7. Thou shalt understand thy medium

Think about what types of content work best for each medium and outreach channel. For example, if you want to demonstrate the newest design updates made to a product, a blog post may allow you to elaborate on them, but a short, hands-on video clip or teaser trailer may work more effectively. Likewise, if you’re sharing facts and findings from recent research reports or surveys, an infographic may provide a better way to tell your story than daunting walls of text. Remember that great content is specifically designed for the medium it will be presented in—and there’s no one-size-fits-all here… what works on Facebook won’t necessarily resonate on Twitter—and also shows users how to apply the information you are sharing in context.

8. Thou shalt have a plan

When planning a content or inbound marketing campaign in mind, begin with the end and work backwards, plotting strategies, tactics and messaging along the way. Set measurable business objectives for your campaign, and establish a way to measure its success—then begin creating the material, tone of voice, and tactical plan that will help you move step-by-step towards achieving. Creating phenomenal, engaging content is well and good, but it’s hard to hit your target when you don’t focus and aim. Likewise, it only benefits your if your readers if they can easily find and consume it, so think about how, when and where to best get it in front of them, which may including using specific keywords, cross-promotional tactics, and other marketing strategies.

9. Thou shalt keep it polite and professional

Regardless of tone of voice or subject matter, as dozens of content marketing experts would note, all material should be presented in a professional and respectful fashion—even humorous material. Content directly reflects on your organization, and associated public perceptions—any issues that arise can impact others’ opinions, and therefore brand equity. Make sure all material that you present is appropriate, accurate and aligned with the image you wish to present. And when citing, referencing, paraphrasing, quoting or utilizing others’ material, be sure to cite sources appropriately—you’d expect no less yourself.

10. Thou shalt be thyself

Act like a human—and someone that others will appreciate and empathize with. In today’s relationship-driven economy, where the buying process is more of a circular customer journey than ad-driven funnel, it pays to be trusted, respectful and viewed as a valued member of the community. The goal is to connect with audiences: That means creating positive relationships and interactions, facilitating conversations (and conversations are a two-way street… hear and acknowledge their insights and opinions), and building goodwill. More so than other forms of promotional activity, content and inbound marketing campaigns are about building meaningful connections.

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