In a recent American Marketing Association white paper, B2B content marketing company Netline Corp. offers 10 tips to make content marketing stand out among the crowd. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of these tips are the same ones I heard in my writing classes in school.
“Understand your consumer” is rule number one, which might as well be “know your audience.” When envisioning a written piece, it’s essential to know what the audience is looking for, and then provide exactly that service. Is your audience looking to pass the time on an airplane ride? Think pulpy thriller. Is it a broad information on technical subject? Perhaps a “ ____for Dummies” format is your best bet.
Rules two, “Be authentic” and “Tell personal stories,” are essentially akin to “Write what you know” — a.k.a, the number-one rule of writing. If you’re familiar with a subject matter, use that knowledge to create engaging stories that are personal and relatable. Readers don’t stick around unless they’re emotionally engaged. “By tapping into emotion, good stories build trust and can move people to action,” the authors write. “As with any story, make sure you have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Be purposeful, not merely descriptive.”
Ok, so maybe rule four, “Go the extra mile,” doesn’t have a direct writing corollary, but rules five and six, “Create a strategy” and “Maintain an editorial calendar” are essentially telling you to prepare an outline. Before sitting down to write, you must figure out what you want to say, how you want to say it and what information you’ll need to provide it. An outline — like a strategy and editorial calendar — organizes thoughts, provides a path to making a solid point, and helps you understand where to best deploy the information you have in a way that works strongest for you.
Rule seven, “Write naturally,” is the one writing instructors seem to hammer on time and time again. I recall my journalism professors consistently reminding us students that there’s no need for a word other than “said” to convey that someone was speaking. Flowery language and overlong descriptions only distract from the point you’re trying to make (oh, that’s rule number 8, “Focus on one point.”)
Rules nine and ten (“Use strong headlines” and “Make your content easy to read”) also hearken back to my j-school days. If the headline wasn’t direct, the story wouldn’t get read. Bonus points if you could be clever at the same time, but being direct was better than being cheeky, every time.
Meanwhile, page design and presentation — while derided by my “writer” colleagues — have grown increasingly important in the attention-deficit times. Never underestimate the power of a good photo, a bullet point or even a well-placed subhead to give the reader a break from text.
Yes, some of this is a bit of an oversimplification. And creating great content means it must be useful and “on brand” as well as informative. But the basics — know your audience, write what you know, and do it naturally — still hold, and once you understand those, the details are easier to manage.