FirstWord Media’s six golden rules of successful content marketing

FirstWord's six golden rules of successful content marketing

Vast changes in how we all find and consume content have turbocharged company and product promotion, just as older marketing methods have been running out of luck

The stranglehold that digital and social platforms now have on the way audiences find and consume what interests them has transformed the importance of good content writing and its successful distribution.

The scale of content and the possibilities of its reach are growing at a dizzying pace, meaning the struggle to rise above the noise to connect and engage remains tough. Success in content marketing means knowing what content your audience wants to consume, and where and when they want it served up. Oh, and telling your stories in the right medium, or a host of different ones, taking into account the differing needs for different platforms and attention spans.

Sounds overwhelming? It needn’t be, if you follow FirstWord’s six tried and tested golden rules of content marketing.

1) Thinking like a publisher is no longer enough – you need to act like a publisher

Digital disruption through the enormous growth of the internet and social media has pushed traditional advertising into a steep decline. And that means there has never been a better time to take control of your own content and publish it yourself, on your own platforms and on your terms.

What tells us trade advertising has fallen off a cliff? The exponential growth in ad blockers for one – with the latest stats showing more than 615m devices worldwide have one installed, up 30 per cent in 2016. That’s big: 11 per cent of the global internet population big.

Another measure is online display advertising click-throughs, which global stats put at just 0.05 per cent. Some context? You’re more likely to survive a plane crash than you are to click on a banner ad.

Meanwhile, sending out a press release and hoping someone will write about your cool new feature is almost entirely outmoded. The relentless decline in newspaper sales means there are fewer journalists writing for fewer people.

Taken together, the net result is that you must be publishing your own material on your own platforms to reach an audience that today largely finds and consumes material online, usually via Google. Great content builds business by driving traffic, which in turn raises profile, which then increases traffic – what FirstWord client Temenos has dubbed a “virtuous circle”. Taking charge of your own content creation and distribution is the best way to reap these benefits and make them work for you, too.

2) If you have something to say, just say it

Companies have never had as many options to tell their own stories, in their own way. These range from their own websites and marketing assets, through the wealth of social media platforms with varying user demographics and up to native advertising with media owners (which used to be called advertorial but has changed beyond recognition now and is frequently the best stuff in the paper). The challenge is working out what those stories should be, and the best medium to use.

Engagement is everything – and in a world where attention spans are short, that comes from providing content that customers will find interesting, useful and informative on a regular basis.

Telling stories replaces shouting about product – so ditch explaining the technicalities of this or that offering in favour of extolling its impact and how customers benefit.

And this new world works – a recent study of B2B marketers found that 89 per cent were using this story-telling technique, and half of the rest had plans to start.

And they’re not using it because it’s trendy, they’re using it because it brings demonstrable and quantifiable benefits. Back to Temenos, who after two years of working with us were able to calculate some of the effects of our work: Web traffic up by more than a third, a 14 per cent average global share of voice for their preferred search terms and 2,000 new LinkedIn followers a month.

Consider also Tesla, the US electric car company, whose global brand recognition is streets ahead of the company’s product output and sales thanks to founder Elon Musk’s adeptness at tapping into current trends towards greener travel and energy.

Talking to your customers directly? It’s not rocket science – in fact the only question in light of the successes above is why you’re not doing it already.

3) Content marketing isn’t marketing, it’s journalism

If there’s one overarching rule that informs all our work here at FirstWord, it is this: creating compelling content that people want to read needs a newsroom discipline and mentality. At its best, journalism is informed, relevant, beautifully assembled and often entertaining – and using an agency such as FirstWord where the staff are all Fleet Street-honed brings those same qualities, and the rigour that is necessary to do it again and again, to your content programme.

We said earlier that audiences are most likely to find you via Google – but they’ll find you only if the search engine judges that you are creating quality and expert content around your desired areas and ranks you accordingly.

The higher up Google’s search results you appear, the higher click-throughs to your site will be; ranking factors of expertise, authority and trust favoured by Google can be delivered only by a consistent programme of engaging content. And this needs journalists and their skills. In fact, this is arguably our most important rule – because none of the others works without the regular production of stuff that’s worth reading. You can call it content marketing – but we know it’s actually another branch of journalism, plain and simple.

4) Think QVR (Quality, Volume and Frequency)

Journalism isn’t just about writing, of course, it’s also about what you do with the result – and indeed how you decide your subject matter in the first place. The process of effective story-telling starts with the analysis of what audiences want to hear (as opposed to what you want to tell them), what is happening in the broader industry and what competitors are covering. It means, in essence, looking outward to the world around you, as well as in, for inspiration.

This story gathering element is as important as the actual storytelling, because this questioning informs the quality, volume and frequency decisions that every newsroom assesses constantly. In other words, what do we need to say, how are we going to say it, and how often?

Here at FirstWord we like to use a Tapas analogy for this – giving different audiences with varied attention spans multiple points of entry into the same story. So a large document might also find life as an executive summary distilling its key points, a list, an infographic, a video, analysis, opinion piece and so on – as many as make sense each time.

So it’s not just about having a good idea, or writing one great thing – a key part of successfully creating and maintaining audience engagement is the consistent and quality output that comes from regularly publishing your own content while thinking – and behaving – like a newsroom.

5) If content is king, distribution is queen

Creating excellent content is only half the battle – you have to find the right audience for it. And no matter how amazing the content, this doesn’t happen by accident – your stories need distributing where your audiences live online.

There are two main options for making yourself and what you produce more visible. The first is organic (and free), where you use your own platforms such as your website, social media, intranet, corporate brochure or event sponsorship to amplify your story-led content. The ideal, of course, is a unified approach across all these channels, and any others at your disposal, to maximise your message.

Paid content, where you reach for new demographics and markets by directing traffic to articles sponsored by you on your chosen media platforms, is also an important aspect of reaching wider audiences.

Most often, a mixture of the two that sees your stories distributed on multiple channels and platforms is the most effective combination. Consider too, the option of distributing through third party content vendors such as Outbrain and Taboola for even greater reach.

But whichever path you choose, keep in mind what exactly you want to achieve with each campaign – increase brand awareness, for example, or inspire an action – as that will inform where your content should be placed.

And always remember that all the distribution expertise in the world won’t help poor content get serious traction, but even good content can wither and die ahead of its time if you don’t get your distribution right.

6) Marketing departments also need newsroom rigour

The planning that goes into creating good content marketing does not begin and end with the words and pictures themselves – marketing departments also need a healthy dose of newsroom rigour to make the most of all these lovely new stories.

Up-to-date editorial calendars are key here, so marketing teams have consistent advance warning of what is coming up.

This is also the area where campaigns are monitored – what’s working, what’s not – and tweaked accordingly. Pushing content out without measuring how people engage with it – or don’t – remains a pretty pointless exercise. And doing more of what works should be a no-brainer.

Cross-team effort and planning is key here, as the single element most likely to lead to content campaign success.

7) There is no seventh rule…

…but if there was, it would be to use FirstWord for all of this.

Why? Because our team, which is drawn from respected outlets including the Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Wall Street Journal, BBC and Bloomberg, specialises in making hard-to-understand topics interesting and accessible.

We have also managed large commercial editorial teams at media brands, and worked in partnership with the FT and Wall Street Journal on native advertising campaigns, so we understand the discipline from all sides.

In short, we are the first and last word in content marketing. Welcome to our world.