All content is marketing

Everything you write should be crafted with the intention of selling, educating, or increasing customer loyalty.

The phrase “Content Marketing” describes marketing by attracting potential customers with content that interests them. All content should have that goal however, not just the stuff produced by the “content marketing” project. Blogging, eBooks, and webinars are universally regarded as marketing materials, but other equally important content like FAQs, Docs, Press Releases, Welcome messages, etc. sometimes fall into some other bucket of “Content That Does No Marketing™”.

Bullshit. It’s all marketing when you’re doing it right.

Aim High With Content

When your business decides to produce content, whether it’s help documentation, or a webinar, there are different levels of quality you can shoot for.

  • Functional: This is the zero-points solution. The bare minimum you can do is provide documentation.
  • Comprehensible: Provide material that is easy to understand and digest.
  • Usable: Ensure your customers can find the right material to resolve their particular problem.
  • Enjoyable: Is your content enjoyable to read or watch? Is it interesting, funny, or inspirational?
  • Motivational: Does it make customers or potential customers do something that benefits your business? This can be buy, sign-up, upgrade, recommend, refer-a-friend, etc.

The vast majority of content produced by businesses out there, from start-ups to Fortune 500s, barely hits level two.

Improving written content

Here are 3 rules of thumb for written content…

  1. Images will be viewed before words, so if you include them, make them interesting.(i.e. not this junk)
  2. Headings are read before, and often instead, of paragraphs. Ogilvy used to say “By the time you write your headline, you’ve spent 80 cents of your dollar”. Writing headings like “Introduction” or “Background” is just lazy. There are more gripping ways to write.
  3. Short paragraphs get read, long paragraphs get skimmed, really long paragraphs get skipped (credit: Jason Fried). Short, punchy paragraphs will keep a reader engaged; once they start skimming, you’ve lost them.

If the first 20% of what you’ve written isn’t interesting, then start over. No-one will read the rest. If I didn’t catch your atttention with the opening paragraph of this piece, you’d be on another tab by now. Even novelists are advised to throw away their first chapter and their readers are relaxing, your readers have a cursor on the back button waiting for you to lose them.

Clarity versus length

Your copy must short enough to be read in full, but long enough to be clear. This can be a tricky balance. On one side you have the vague action buttons like “Go”, and on the other side you have the abundantly clear (but rarely read) pieces like “Click here to edit your account settings“.

Improving Videos & Seminars

You have three options when you record a screencast…

  1. Tell your customers what things they should do in your application.
  2. Show your customers how to do to these things.
  3. Teach your customers why these things are important.

Customer seminars should focus on education. A quick tour of the application will ground your customers and make sure everyone is on the same page, but beyond that it’s important to teach them bigger ideas.

Project management seminars could focus on “running profitable projects” rather than “how to post a message”, and email campaign tools should focus on “writing emails that convert” rather than how to customize a template.

It’s a nice idea that your customers literally can’t work out how to, say, “invite a teammate” and have registered for a one hour seminar just to find out, but it’s more likely that they’re looking for some better insight into how to get the most from your software. Boring seminars are a waste of everyone’s time.

Ask Better Questions

The quality of your question defines the quality of your response. You get what you ask for.

Many Intercom customers learn this the hard way by asking closed questions such as “Is this report screen okay?”, and getting useless answers like “Yes”, “It’s fine”, “It’s okay”, and “Not really”.

“How could we improve the report screen?” feels like the same question when you’re asking it, but on the receiving end it’s a far more explicit question. Similarly if you replace “Did you find everything you need?” with a slightly more abstract “Why did you visit this screen today?”, you’ll get a better insight into what drives your customers.

Content is powerful

Bad content disappoints your current customers and turns prospects away. Mediocre content ensures no-one ever listens to anything you say. Good content is transformative. It takes a simple feature launch and gets the whole web talking about it. It takes a product seminar and turns it into a sell out lecture series. It takes an employee handbook and turns it into the best recruitment tool ever seen.

As George Herbert says “Good words are worth much, and cost little“. Make them count.