7 Characteristics of Great Marketing Content

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Executive Summary

Content drives business, and at any given moment buyers are searching for information that will inform them, educate them, or help them solve a problem. Whether it's a data sheet, white paper, demo script, or web page, marketing content needs to speak to the needs of your prospects and customers while being geared to targeted points in your sales process.

It can be a delicate balance, but getting the right message to the right person at the right time offers tremendous upside: it establishes credibility and authority, creates brand affinity, and - maybe most importantly - reduces sales resistance.

So how do you craft great marketing content that gets results?

While there's no cookie-cutter methodology for every business, there are specific characteristics that most, if not all, successful marketing content shares. This guide gives you the top seven characteristics - and also gives you the seven best practices for developing content that resonates with your target audience, no matter where they are in the buying cycle.

Great marketing content...

  1. Speaks to a targeted audience
  2. Fits a specific place in the buying cycle
  3. Tells your story with customer-centric examples
  4. Uses meaningful images
  5. Can be used in interesting, varied media
  6. Employs a clear call-to-action
  7. Can be parsed into additional pieces for optimum use and visibility

1: The targeted audience: Know who you're talking to

Imagine pitching specialty cat food to a dog person. Promoting the benefits of a buffalo steak to a vegan. Pushing a SaaS solution to a person who isn't familiar with cloud hosting.

We've all experienced it: mismatched promotions and messages that clearly demonstrate the sender either doesn't know what we're interested in, or doesn't know where we are in our information-gathering process.

Writing your content for "everyone" is precisely the wrong thing to do. Not only does it miss the key markers of your sales cycle, it also tends to be too general and diluted to have any meaningful impact.

Instead, pick a target reader - a specific persona - and direct your content to that person. By focusing on a single individual, you give yourself the freedom to pursue a meaningful conversation, which helps you create content (a single piece or a series) that addresses the person's unique issues, challenges and aspirations.

"It's amazing how much [content] is published without ever answering the questions, "Who is this for?" and "What do I want her to do?"" Doug Kessler, Co-founder and creative director,
Velocity

2: Know where content fits in the buying cycle

Whether they're prospects or returning customers, buyers go through several process steps when making a purchasing decision. By understanding these steps and aligning your content with them, you can satisfy their concerns, answer questions, ease objections, and increase their confidence at each stage, all of which prompts them to take the next step.

Common buying cycle steps include Discovery, Interest, Consideration, Purchase and Reconversion. But regardless of how many steps you identify or what you call them, the takeaway is to have a well-planned buying cycle for each persona, which will help you craft content that appeals to each type of customer at each stage of their process.

3: Tell your story with customer-centric examples

Storytelling works, particularly when it's relevant to your prospect's needs and concerns. So instead of describing your product's features, tell the story of its benefits, showcasing real-world examples of how it can be - or is being - used to solve specific problems or achieve specific goals.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Customer success stories
  • Case studies or use case scenarios
  • Solution briefs
  • Best practice summaries or reviews from existing customers
  • Matrices showing outcomes or ROI comparisons

By positioning your messaging to focus on what your customers want and need, you'll not only increase your reach and readership, you'll also make your offering feel safer and more appealing to buyers.

"One or two stock photos are fine, but how many more beautiful women standing in server rooms can we take?" Paul McKeon, President,
The Content Factory
Woman in Server Room

4: Use meaningful images

Images make everything better - at least, everything online. Case in point: according to recent research by MDG Advertising, articles containing relevant images have an average of 94 percent more total views than articles without them. And when searching, 60 percent of consumers are more likely to consider or contact a business that has an image show up in local search results.

The benefits of graphics are well documented. From intriguing photography to informative illustrations, countless studies have confirmed what we all know: the human eye likes pictures. But just because you can capture attention doesn't mean you can keep it. In fact, the sheer volume of visual stimuli has made us somewhat inured to a lot of it.

So the key is to ensure your images are meaningful to your target audience, and that they communicate original and relevant information.

For example: use real people, real quotes, customer logos, infographics, charts, and photos of actual customers using your product. Don't use irrelevant stock images.

Images can make your marketing content pop, improve searchability, and increase interest and engagement. But use them wisely to ensure they relate to your prospect's needs and your content's message. Otherwise they may have the opposite effect.

Did you know … you can easily optimize your images for search engines? For a comprehensive guide to today's SEO, download our white paper: SEO 101: The Basics (and Beyond).

5: Think beyond the PDF

Medium matters. Just as important as the content itself, the format it's delivered in plays a significant role in how well - or not - it speaks to your prospects.

Although PDFs still have a sizable fan base in the B2B space, today's digital options have essentially blown the doors off the old paradigm, opening a brave new world of opportunities in delivering information.

For example, instead of defaulting to the standard PDF, could you create a slide-share? Animation? Infographic? Video? If a PDF is still the best choice, could it be interactive?

As possibilities and reader preferences continue to evolve, be sure to consider your personas, messages, business type, and sales funnel when determining which format (or formats) are the best for showcasing your content.

6: Use a call-to-action

The goal of marketing content is to spur action. Whether it's a download, a phone call, a form completion, or a purchase, your content is ultimately meant to move prospects down the sales funnel and convert them into buyers.

To accomplish this, you need to tell readers what action you want them to take. And the more explicit, the better.

So rather than simply adding "contact us" at the end of every piece of content, create calls to action that match where your prospects are in the buying cycle - their questions and concerns. Be specific about what your prospects can do next, guiding them along and helping them take the next logical step.

7: Create once, amplify everywhere

After taking the (often considerable) time to thoughtfully develop and design a great piece of content, it would be easy to publish it and check it off the to-do list. Done and done.

But don't do that.

Instead, make the last 100 yards of your publishing effort about expansion - extending your content's reach in order to maximize its visibility and increase your brand's authority.

This concept goes by many terms including scaling, optimizing, repurposing, re-using, and Rule of 5. But essentially it's a form of "write once, use everywhere," where the goal is to capitalize on your primary content-creation effort by making it available in as many touchpoints as possible.

Here are the key practices, with examples, to help kick-start your brainstorming.

Build content that can be used in several different ways:

  • Have a meaty white paper? Extract two main ideas from it and create two briefs, a handful of blog posts, and an infographic.
  • Planning a webinar? Make it available on-demand from your website, iTunes, or YouTube. Post the presentation deck on SlideShare. Create a Q&A from the session.
  • Conducting interviews for future content? Consider turning the interviews into thought-leader Q&As, capturing them as videos (each with its own landing page), or creating a webinar.

Cross-promote content to increase traffic and extend brand reach:

  • Include social and share links in your content whenever and wherever appropriate.
  • Distribute your content across as many appropriate social media platforms as possible. Social media management tools can make this a relatively quick process.
  • Link to previously published content. For example, if you mention a complementary piece of content in a blog post, link to it. By cross-linking your content, readers have more opportunity to spend time with your brand and get introduced to other content (read: expertise, offers, products, and services). The cascading effects of this practice can be significant.

A note about content creep

It's a common problem among most businesses: they create new content but keep the old stuff. Sometimes for years. Even when it's no longer relevant.

Retiring aging content can feel wrong somehow, but retire it you must, particularly when it can be replaced with content that is newer, fresher or more up-to-date. A helpful guideline is to practice the 1:1 swap; that is, for every new piece of content, you retire an older piece.

Keeping your content fresh and current has several benefits, primary among them being that search engines love discovering new content. And since search engines are the main way prospects find you, a natural extension of new content is that it demonstrates your company is active and engaged in the industry, which increases the perception of credibility and authority. It's all upside.

Ensure content can be found by the search engines:

  • Incorporate keywords and metadata appropriately and correctly - including what the audience sees and what the search engines see.
  • Write compelling headlines to draw in potential readers. Be sure to leveraging keywords.
  • Unsure how to optimize for search? Our white paper, SEO 101: The Basics (and Beyond), can help. (See what we just did there? If not, re-read the "cross-promote content" section directly above.)

By keeping a strategic eye on these content optimization practices, you can expand your visibility, amplify your messages, and increase your authority where it counts: with prospects, current customers, and search engines. It's about working smarter, not harder.

Crafting the Conversation

No matter what business or industry you're in, creating effective, useful content is critical. Is it easy? No. Not if quality is your goal, which is should be - it must be - if you want to stay relevant and grow in a world overflowing with unprecedented competition for the most valuable of resources: time. But it's also completely doable.

By focusing on the needs, pain points, and preferences of your target audience, you can create content that encourages new conversations, provides the right level of information at the right time, and ultimately gets results.

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