A few weeks ago, my partner’s 82-year-old grandmother asked what I did for a living. I could have simply said: “content marketing”, which would have made perfect sense to a portion of my friends or anyone in the industry. But I knew that those two words would be like speaking another language to Nanny Rose.
You see, words mean very little if you don’t tailor them to the person you’re communicating with. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. You’ve got to think about who you’re talking to, and how to best craft the words so they not only make sense, but allow you to engage with that audience. It’s all about the audience, and always has been – especially when it comes to digital marketing.
Re-thinking the content crown
According to VentureBeat, branded content has increased 800% since 2012, while social shares have decreased by 89%. This tells us that despite the production of more content, engagement is declining and exposure through distribution of content is even more difficult. The average web user views hundreds of messages a day, making it harder than ever to get yours across. Our mission should be to cut through that noise rather than add to it.
Whilst I still believe that content holds a position as a member of the royal family, and should have its own kingdom (to avoid shoehorning content into website design at the last minute, messy Information Architecture, and buried blog posts!) I do think we need to first better understand the purpose of content. And stop with the incessant urge to create willy-nilly content for the sake of it.
In a world of content creators, we’re bombarded with content from all directions. There’s even articles out there about optimising your yawn – thanks Gwyneth. Do we really need to be told how to yawn?
Content should always be considered, purposeful and have its place. If nobody is reading it, or engaging with it, what’s the point? Create for your reader, prospective customer or loyal subscriber that you know and understand, and create content they will love. Simple as that.
The audience is the real King.
4 ways to put your audience first
1. Understand your audience
Build up a full picture of your target audience. I’m not talking about just their average age or gender, but their interests, likes and dislikes, and how and where they enjoy consuming content.
- Use analytics to delve into their behaviour and interactions with your existing content
- Ask questions about topics of interest through surveys and polls
- Use social listening tools to delve into their preferred interests
- Generate a list of pain points, popular queries and questions they ask
This will help you to create personas to align your content strategy with. Then keep digging… your audience research should be ever evolving. That chunk of insight from three years ago won’t cut it.
2. Stop broadcasting, start listening
Many businesses fall into the trap of just shouting really loudly in the hope they’ll be heard. This often has the opposite effect. Think first and foremost about why that topic might be of interest to your audience, what problem it could solve, or why it’s going to help them. Use natural language, and build an emotional connection with that audience. Storytelling and drawing on real-life experiences is also super effective.
To give a crude example: if I’m planning my wedding caterers, I would much rather read about Polly and Henry’s perfect wedding day, and their experience of happy guests tasting the amazing locally sourced food than an update about the caterer’s brand new van. Remember, what might be of interest to you, isn’t necessarily what your audience wants to hear.
3. Use an integrated approach
When planning, or writing content, distribution is key. It’s all about getting in front of the right people, in the right way. Using a cross-channel approach when you launch a product, or push out content will ensure you’re reaching your audience at all touchpoints. But consistency is important – ensure each channel is connected and the user journey is as seamless as possible.
4. Catch their eye
To stand out from the crowd, your content may need a little design help. This can be achieved by creating content in video format, or displaying your content alongside a data visualisation, or interactive element. Get creative and think outside the box to ensure your words get press coverage, improve time-on-page or stop the scroll in the newsfeed.
And what did I tell Nanny Rose? I broke it down by explaining that I helped businesses, by coming up with ideas to make sure people read the words on their website. I gave a few snazzy examples of brands she would have heard of, and showed some published work. I can’t guarantee she totally “got” it, but she does now ask me to help with her crossword.