The hunt is on for good content

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Tony Spencer-Smith of editorial consultancy Express Editors is a corporate writer and writing trainer. He is also an award-winning novelist and former editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest magazine. He is giving his new writing course Writing captivating content in Sydney on 14 July 2016.

Marketers have seen their world turned upside down by the digital revolution.

As canny, impatient consumers exit print, TV and radio, and advertising’s star wanes, content marketing is increasingly becoming the best way to reach out to potential customers.

As Australian Marketing Institute CEO, Lee Tonitto, says: “Content marketing is the way the world is going, with organisations using it to build audiences of subscribers with whom they have open dialogue.”

But content marketing only works if that content is interesting, engaging and valuable to your target audience – and there’s the rub for many companies. Such content does not grow on trees, and traditional marketing degrees have not generally taught writing and other creative skills.

So it is no surprise that the Content Marketing Institute/ADMA 2016 benchmark survey found that the biggest challenge for marketers was generating engaging content, with 84 per cent saying their top priority over the next year would be to make their content more engaging.

Says Lee: “One of the most valuable skills a marketer needs is written and verbal communication. We are in an ideas boom and marketers need to articulate the unmet needs of customers.”

She said the best way to ensure a flow of good content was to have a documented content strategy and really execute it, without becoming stuck on metrics. “Content marketing is a long-term project. It takes 15 to 18 months to start seeing benefits.”

Julie Toma, GM – Marketing and Communications for health giant Sonic, said there was no doubt that content marketing was a very hungry beast and it was vital to find people who could write good, engaging, quirky content.

“I look for good writing when I hire. I need marketers who are good copywriters, have good communication skills. So I put recruits through copywriting and proofreading tests.

“Consumers these days are much more savvy. If you want to really differentiate your company, you need really good, customised, relevant material.”

Julie said one of the most successful forms of content marketing undertaken by her group was the CEO blog. “Our CEO has a high public profile, but the content still needs to be topical and timely.”

John Batistich, Marketing Director for Scentre Group (Westfield in Australia), agreed marketers often had a problem getting good content marketing material. “A lot of wasted, irrelevant content is produced that does not produce a return on investment.”

He said branded content only resonated if it was topical and culturally relevant. He said a good example of this was Unilever a few years ago, with its Dove videos that took a courageous stand on behalf of women, empowering them to accept themselves as they were and underlining the fact that idealistic versions of beauty were no longer acceptable.

He said storytelling remained a very powerful force in content marketing.

John said his key message for markets would be to have all the metrics in place to continuously test content, measuring readership and engagement so as to be able to refine it.

Michelle Rossier, Marketing Manager for the Electrolux group of brands, said consumers today wanted content that was relevant to them. The good old days of millions of dollars for advertising were a thing of the past.

She said a real pain point for marketers was properly defining their content strategy. “Our content comes from a variety of sources, including global content which we tailor to our needs.”

Some of the most successful content marketing of her group was built around food. For instance there was Electrolux’s The Secret Ingredient page which was full of cooking advice from top chefs. There was also lots of content around the group’s sponsorship of the Taste festivals.

She said a great example of other companies providing useful content was the Huggies website of Kimberly Clark, which had built a community around the subject of having babies. This website gave advice and information not only to those who had already given birth but around the whole process of having babies, from when a woman first tried to conceive.

Whatever sort of content you need to generate, good writing is essential – even if the end product is a video. World content marketing authority Ann Handley asks in her book Everybody Writes: “Who cares about writing anymore? In a time-challenged world dominated by short and snappy, by click-bait headlines and Twitter streams and Instagram feeds … does the idea of focusing on writing seem pedantic or ordinary?”

She answers her own question: “Actually, writing matters more now, not less. In an online world, our online words are our emissaries.”

In the same book she writes: “As someone who’s been editing marketers for almost 20 years … I assure you an awful lot of content meandering goes on in articles, posts, PR pitches and emails.”

But what about marketers who feel they will never become skilled writers – or skilled judges of what others write for them?

Handley has good news for them: “Writing well is part habit, part knowledge of some fundamental rules, and part giving a damn. We are all capable of producing good writing. Or, at least, better writing.”

As a corporate writing trainer, I can vouch for the fact that being introduced to the “fundamental rules” of writing – whether these are about grammar and punctuation or sentence length or how language works to engage and persuade readers – can be very helpful to people who want to write better.

One of the most important of these rules, when it comes to content marketing, is to avoid clichés and buzzwords. We need to write like real people who are empathetic and think of the needs of their readers rather than their own needs.

Handley again: “Our writing and our content are still littered with revolutionary, value-added, impactful, cutting-edge, best-of-breed … words designed to leverage and incentivize and synergize the current paradigm.”

Australian Bernadette Jiwa writes in her book Marketing: a love story: “Great content changes how people feel by being either useful, entertaining or inspiring. Think about what you want your readers to feel as they read the last line of your article. What do you want them to do next? That doesn’t mean getting them to click on a ‘BUY NOW’ link every time.”

She adds: “Great content doesn’t feel like marketing – it feels like a gift.”

Tony Spencer-Smith of editorial consultancy Express Editors is a corporate writer and writing trainer. He is also an award-winning novelist and former editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest magazine. He is giving his new writing course Writing captivating content in Sydney on 14 July 2016.

 

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