Editor’s Note: This post is based off of a presentation that Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, recently gave at Content Connections, Acrolinx’s online, virtual conference. Held in November 2015, the event attracted more than 2,000 content professionals from around the world.
I’m a big believer in the importance of creating quality content. But sometimes I wonder if that belief is at odds with the basic need so many marketers have for quantity. After all, no matter how good your content is, you usually need a lot of it to generate leads and fill your pipeline. The problem, of course, is that when you hit the gas on content creation, the quality usually takes a nosedive as a result.
But does that mean that quality and quantity are mutually exclusive?
Of course not. They can absolutely coexist. And good content can scale, provided that you’ve got the basics right. I’m talking about things like being bigger, braver, and bolder — three points that I’ll explain in more detail in just a minute. They all help address what I see as the biggest missed opportunity in content marketing right now: most people play it too safe.
At a time when there’s so much content and noise, playing it safe makes it really difficult to cut through and stand out. And standing out is exactly what you need to do. That doesn’t mean creating more content (though you will need a lot of it), but rather creating better content that people find engaging and actually want. And that means striving to be bigger, braver, and bolder. Let me explain.
1) Creating bigger stories
Bigger stories often have bigger impact. To make yours bigger, you have to put your product or service into the context of the lives of the people you’re serving. Remember it’s not about you, it’s about what you do for others and why they should do business with you.
The most effective way to do this is to think about how you can use your story to convert people to your tribe, so that they become interested in you and what you’re all about. One company that does this really well is Blue Bottle Coffee.
Although I was familiar with their brand, what piqued my interest about these California-based coffee makers was that they had produced an online course on Skillshare about how to create an amazing cup of coffee. While I admit that I was pretty skeptical about taking an hour-long class about something I was pretty sure I knew how to do, I signed up. As it turns out, I learned a lot and wound up buying some of their coffee.
What Blue Bottle is doing with its course is telling a bigger story by converting people into their tribe. They’re providing highly informative, valuable content that makes their customers smarter. I’m not talking about basic, run-of-the-mill stuff. I mean really great content that taught me a lot that I didn’t already know. By teaching people why better coffee matters, it puts Blue Bottle into a bigger story, making folks like me not only feel smarter, but also like we’re part of something.
Of course, there are lots of way to get to create bigger stories besides creating a Skillshare. Take MailChimp, for example, which has been giving away its style guide for quite some time. You can download it, edit it, and use it anyway that you want — all for free. MailChimp does this because its bigger story is that it wants to make the world a better place by making e-mail less annoying. Well played, MailChimp. Well played.
2) Embracing braver marketing
The key to braver marketing is figuring out how to make people part of a tribe by creating content that they not only want, but that they also want to be part of. I think that the best way to be braver is to tell braver stories.
One company that does this really well is Slack. In case you don’t know them, Slack is a team communication tool that replaces things like project management tools, instant messaging, and to a certain extent even e-mail. A few months back, they launched a podcast called “The Slack Variety Pack.”
Rather than focus on how great Slack is (and if you haven’t used it yet, trust me it is), the podcast covers a mix of business stories that are all about making work less worky. It’s both serious and fun, kind of like “This American Life” meets “The Office,” which is why I think it’s bold and brave.
What I also like about the podcast is what we can learn from it as marketers and steal two great ideas. The first is the importance of refining your point of view over time. Slack has taken an iterative approach to its podcast, changing it up based both on listenership as well as the input that the producers get from an internal feedback loop. That means they’re constantly improving the show.
The other great idea you should take from them is that they produce two versions of every show. One is a half-hour version that gives the full program, while the other is a series of shorter segments sliced up from the original. This is really smart because the shorter version, called “Slack Single Serves,” is much better suited to sharing for those people who don’t have time to listen to the full program.
So be brave and try new things. You might just be pleasantly surprised with the results.
3) Becoming bolder with writing and tone of voice
Imagine for a minute what would happen if you were to strip away all of the visuals from your company. Logos gone. Images gone. Color scheme gone. If all that you were left with was your content, would others still be able to recognize your brand? Would you?
I think that for really great brands, the answer is yes. They use a bold tone of voice that’s instantly recognizable to help not only engage their audience but also differentiate themselves from everyone else. And it really pays off.
Your tone of voice is all about who you are, why you do what you do, and what you’re like to deal with. In many ways, it’s your customers’ first indication of what they can expect when engaging with you. Not only that, your tone of voice reflects your culture. It amplifies your story. And it communicates empathy with the people you’re trying to reach.
Want some examples? Check out the websites of companies like M+R Consulting and Chubbies Shorts. They both have a very distinctive tone of voice that they use to attract like-minded people, while repelling the timid. It really works.
Achieving Quantity without Losing Quality
While quality should always be your first objective, it doesn’t have to come at the cost of quantity. The key is making sure that you’ve got the basics right. That you’re telling a story, that you’re inviting people to be part of your tribe, and that you’re talking to them in a way that stands out and is memorable. In short, it’s all about being big, brave, and bold. If you can master that combination, you’ll find that you can create amazing content whether at scale or just one piece at a time.