[CURATED] 8 things non-writers don’t understand about content

Posted by Samantha Steele

Our senior content strategist, Samantha Steele, digs into some of the lesser-understood facts about content.

As a journalist, online editor, and now senior content strategist at Spitfire Inbound, I’ve lived and breathed content since I joined the media and marketing landscape close to a decade ago.

My biggest surprise, in transitioning from media to marketing, was learning just how much people out of my industry don’t understand about content. That being said, in the past two years, I’ve had some incredible clients. We’ve pushed each other into writing great, educational, and interesting articles; then turned those articles into hard sales and ROI — and won awards while doing so.

Now that I’ve worked with multiple clients in a wide array of industries, I’ve found some key lessons everyone should learn before their content can fly. I wrote about it here, and it is the most read and shared article on my personal Medium account, but now I want to expand on some of my lessons in the original article by looking specifically at content in an inbound context.

1. Not all your content should be hard sell

This is by far the biggest mental hurdle faced by most clients taking on an inbound strategy. After decades of promoting their products on billboards, TV ads and other marketing methodologies, writing an article about “100 workplace safety tips” without mentioning your product at all can seem so far from your brand that you can’t see how it will ultimately move product. The key here is about building trust. There are actually many reasons you’d want to publish content like this. Firstly, a hard sell if you’re not looking to buy is interruptive, irritating, and useless, and might actually turn away potential customers who feel bullied or bothered. Secondly, it’s impossible to build trust in your content, and by extension YOU, if the impression people get is that you just want to make a sale — you have no interest in solving problems or helping clients with their pain points. The ideal ratio is the 80/20 rule: use 80% of your content to be helpful, and only push yourself as the solution in that last 20%. This goes back to HubSpot’s Flywheel philosophy: the customer should really be at the heart of everything you do. Is your content talking to them and their needs, or is it talking to your need to sell something?

New Spitfire customer flywheel small

2. Write copy that people want to read

This can be a bit of a mind-bender, but really spend some time thinking about the content you enjoy engaging with. Even B2B businesses need to remember that the people reading their articles are people too, and are intrigued and triggered by the same things as people in a B2C environment. People are people! It’s really  pivotal to understand which content you actually like, and even more importantly, what your customers will enjoy, versus what you want your potential customers to read. This all comes back to the Flywheel - your customer really needs to be at the heart of your thinking and planning. What makes content memorable? What makes it enticing, intriguing, shareable? What makes you come back for more? Repeat those winning factors in your content, too. Good writing, telling a good story, and most importantly making it worth the click — actually providing new, useful information — are all parts of the puzzle.

3. Regular copy isn’t good enough

There is so much content out there that the real competition is for attention, not space, so don’t add to the overwhelming noise just for the sake of it. Make sure your content is well-written, well-researched and — I’ll say it again — INTERESTING. I’m a bit biased here but I honestly believe journalists have the edge when it comes to creating great, accurate pieces of content (here’s a great article on the difference between content and copy). Apart from the quality of your copy, it’s also crucial to look at your content strategically. When I develop content strategies for clients, I consider things like:

  • Buyer personas
  • Business goals
  • Does the content strategy encourage further research?
  • What pain points am I talking to?
  • Buyer journey stages (I also include delight in this)
  • Calls to action
  • Distribution opportunities

There’s more to it than a clicky title and an intriguing wireframe; it needs to form a narrative with your other content and other marketing messages so your brand gives a user a cohesive experience that gently guides them through a buying journey with your brand.

4. Different formats = a rich variety of readers

Video, long form, podcasts, infographics, data visualisations — there are many different ways to tell a story and it’s important to remember that different people prefer to consume content in different ways. Make sure your strategy and content gives people a variety of formats and alternate ways to consume your information.

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5. Reputable sources and quoting experts OUT of your organisation is key to building credibility

Obviously don’t quote competitors! Like any good journalist would, find an array of experts to support your article and to provide useful and interesting information.

6. YOU are the expert

Many clients don’t realise quite how much they know, and how much value they can add. That’s why interviews are an essential part of producing copy for clients - it helps to dig a little and find out the golden nuggets that make you and your company the experts in this topic. I can promise you that no matter how well researched it is, an article composed only from a Google search will add little value and sure as hell won’t make you and your brand stand out from the noise.

7. Dry doesn’t equal authoritative 

This is one of my biggest bugbears and one of the things I think is most frequently done incorrectly across B2C industries. It’s easy to conflate dry, boring articles and ebooks with being authoritative, but a serious tone doesn’t make you an expert. You can be funny, playful and conversational in any industry, and often a light tone and real human talk will be what differentiates your client from their competitors! This will also appeal to your client’s clients, who are often stuck in a web of jargon and don’t understand enough of the inside-industry basics to make the decisions they need to. Feeling empowered, and not spoken down to, is a powerful drug in the more serious, complicated industries.

8. What’s controversial for you in your bubble isn’t controversial for everyone else

Here be dragons! Remember the people you’re selling to aren’t as deep in the industry niche as your clients are, and what your clients might find shocking, their clients might not. Don’t publish incorrect or provocative content for its own sake, but starting a conversation by publishing an unpopular opinion shows courage. Inciting debate isn’t a bad thing.

Content should be a pleasure, or add value, or introduce you to something new, and if it’s not doing any of those things, why are you publishing it? I hope these hard-earned lessons will help you approach content in a different way.

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