The A to Z of content

Success in content marketing means knowing what content your audience wants to consume, where and when they want it served up, and how to tell your story for maximum impact

This A-Z sets out 26 ways companies can create great content and use it to talk to the people they want to reach.

Let’s begin at the beginning. The first questions at the start of any content programme are “who are we talking to?” then “what do they want to hear?” Why? Because the primary goals of producing content are to build an audience, develop a relationship with its members and then translate that into the action you want them to take.

Blogs aren’t the be-all and end-all of content. But they’re extremely useful. Good blogs are opinionated, have a strong voice and have something meaningful, even provocative, to say – think M&G Investments’ Bond Vigilantes and Dharmesh Mistry’s posts for Temenos. They are also very effective in driving traffic to your site.

Content marketing is about companies and brands becoming publishers. And that requires organisation. A regularly reviewed calendar acts as a central source of information on what’s happening and what’s coming next. It can be as simple as a spreadsheet – but the goal is to instil discipline in your publishing operation.

If content is king, then distribution is queen. What’s the point in creating mountains of excellent content if no one sees it? The many options include social media, native advertising, third-party vendors such as Outbrain or Taboola, newsletters and email – but, above all, effective distribution requires a strategy, time and resources.

Some content will quickly date, but most won’t – think of perennially useful pieces such as how tos, explainers, even A-Zs… A frequent look at what’s in your back catalogue will highlight the gifts that keep on giving – content that can be repurposed or repackaged and used another day.

How often should you publish? Keeping quality high is always the most important consideration, and your budget may also be a deciding factor. But research suggests that the more frequently you do so, the greater the results: companies that published 16 or more blogs per month got 3.5 times more traffic than those publishing four or fewer.

An unbreakable truth of digital marketing is that if you want to be an expert in a particular subject, Google has to see you as one. Which means publishing content. Incorporating search engine optimisation (SEO) and keywords mean you are writing for robots as well as humans, but quality, as ever, remains the most important factor.

Producing words and images that explain complex issues effectively can be both a headache and a hassle – unless you work with experts. Pain relief comes in the form of professional writers, editors and graphics teams who have each done the 10,000 hours in a newsroom needed to put them at the very top of their game.

Infographics can tell a complex story quickly, making them an important part of the content mix when the average amount of time spent on a web page is measured in seconds. However, they are only as good as the data they depict so should be based on up to 10 key facts or figures. Keeping it clear without over simplifying is the goal.

The best content marketing isn’t actually marketing at all, it’s top-class journalism – informed, relevant and making hard-to-understand topics interesting and accessible. Create something of value by thinking of angles that will appeal to your audience, challenging the subject matter and asking pertinent questions.

Back in 1996, Bill Gates wrote an essay called ‘Content is King’, in which he argued that the “opportunities are remarkable”. He was right then and he’s still right now. Enough said.

More than mere clickbait, they can be an effective way of breaking down complex subjects. Readers jump on numbered list headlines because they like the brevity of a Top 10 or 20, the certainty about what they’re going to get and the ease of absorbing bite-sized chunks of information that you’ve already distilled for them.

Know what you want to achieve with your content. What you produce should be useful and relevant, but also link back to your marketing goals. It doesn’t have to be heavy-handed – weaving in the sales or marketing message should be subtle – but it’s not contradictory to have great content that also ticks the sales boxes.

Like a newspaper, discipline is needed to marshal all the moving parts of the process of creating great content – commissioning, writing, editing, sub-editing and layout – because journalists can’t do it all on their own. Rigour is also required – you need to be thinking of the external world to shape what you do and curate a conversation.

Outcomes take many forms, but content has got to deliver something for your business. What has changed? What was the result of spending that money on content? Our top three outcome boasts are:

  • Developing a content strategy for Pirelli that has delivered more than 13 million visitors per year to its online platforms
  • Eighty per cent of new business leads for Temenos, the world’s number one banking software maker, are the result of the content programme we have helped build and run for the firm since 2016
  • A white paper produced for a Swiss fintech client was downloaded more than 90 times and resulted in 10 meetings that produced business for it

Sorry, it’s dead. Mostly. The internet blew up the model of writing a press release, sending it to a paper and seeing your client’s name in print the next day. Then social media came along and stamped on its grave. Companies no longer need the go-between of a PR agency, they just need to create and produce high-quality content.

One of the holy trinity, along with volume and frequency. Any creative idea for content has to be really, really good because only the best cuts through in a world where attention spans are short. Engagement is everything – and that comes from providing interesting, useful and informative content on a regular basis.

Aka, a love letter to sub-editors. Before anything is published in a newspaper it is seen by at least four pairs of eyes, and it is crucial that your content is thoroughly reviewed before it appears. A careful checking process ensures factually correct, engaging, readable content for your audience and avoids embarrassing corrections later on.

Keep things simple by smoothly generating a great programme of content through ‘speed dating’ your top executives. It’s not an interview; it’s a discursive, open-ended conversation, designed to unearth their true expertise and what’s big in their world, so you can generate lots of ideas for interesting and relevant stand-out content.

We all want different types of content at different times of day. You cannot only make one dish – you need a variety that appeals to different appetites and different attention spans. You also need a variety of registers, degrees of seriousness and styles: our client Mishcon de Reya is a great example of how to do this well.

Companies have never had as many options to tell their own stories in their own way. Great content uncovers the interesting stories and people within your organisation, turning your best thinkers into stars and boosting your brand.

As well as producing great content, you need to consider what volume is right for your audiences. Aside from the immediate benefits to brand awareness and thought leadership, building up a high-quality back catalogue pays ongoing dividends: HubSpot found that more than 90 per cent of its blog leads came from old posts.

A balanced diet is the best way to stay healthy – the internet may be killing our attention spans, but long-form pieces are some of the most shared online. Many subjects thrive when given space to breathe – a very successful example is the ‘A to Z of banking fraud’ that we produced with Swiss software company NetGuardians.

Brand content is about projecting your expertise and authority to a wider audience, building your following and developing your reputation as a thought leader in your sector. Content, unlike advertising, allows you to start a dialogue with clients, potential clients or employees and even industry rivals.

As in, it’s not all about you – content marketing is about your audience and what they want to hear. The broadcast model is broken and the number one rule of communications is to engage – so produce content to meet the audience’s needs first and the sales pitch can come later.

Great content will never induce sleepiness…

Creating the right content really can be as simple as ABC – once you know what you need to do.