In the last few business days of 2012, there are many things to process as I prepare for 2013. My email Inbox (which is almost alwys at capacity) needed a pruning. I recently viewed a lot of leftover messages from regular email marketers and LinkedIn Discussion Groups. These messages were only a fraction of all I had received from these senders. These had stayed because they seemed particularly informative, but were not urgent. There were only a handful that I bothered to click through and read.
I enjoyed the act of deleting, and watching my Inbox size decrease. With each headline, I asked myself questions like: Did I trust the sender? Was the agenda too obvious, too urgent? Did the links they shared contain useful information? If the links were to their own blog or website, were they producing content that was incisive? Intellectually honest? Something more than a sales letter in disguise?
You may have the sophistication of a savvy marketer or just the horse sense of a consumer. Fear, cynicism, sophistication, and stealth all dull the effect of any branded marketing content. It’s a wonder that we’re even doing it at all.
Is the purpose behind your branded marketing content clear? Do you know who your audience is and what motivates them? Do you know (or care) what your audience even needs? Based on my experience with the “Delete” button, very few people are clear enough to make their audiences clear as well.
Branded Marketing Content ought to be:
- Timely – Current with the aspirations of your reader, in tune with your audience; Try to find common cause with the people you’re reaching out to. Touch on current events, cyclical activities (such as budget and performance reviews), and seasonal activities such as awards submissions or major holidays.
- Attuned to Real Customers – people and companies that you’ve actually served, and could continue to serve, perhaps by offering another service or program that relates to prior work. Recognize that your real customer is not some imaginary or idealized (and as yet unattained) customer.
- Consistent in frequency – People who overdo it raise up red flags about their trustworthiness, intentions, or value. Can people take you seriously? Are you just doing this to goose your site traffic? Are you really any good? There are lots of content marketing and copywriting techniques out there. Whose playbook are you following? Is it one your customers would ever use? What frequency inspires trust and respect?
- Inside Your Industry – You may be developing content for your website, email newsletter, direct solicitations, announcements, product information, business case studies, “thought leadership” pieces (criticism, think pieces, reviews, analysis, advocacy, rants), or simple shout-outs and shares. (Note: Design-product Systems can help you with all of these, thus the exhaustive list). Whatever you are generating needs to fit your industry’s norms for communicating. What works to sell training programs may not work as well for selling professional services. When people are seriously ready to buy both items, they come with different expectations. What are they?
- Delivered at the right moment – in the reader’s day, in their week, in their life. It’s easy to be off on this one, especially after the time and momentum you’ve built up getting something ready to post. Before you deploy your content though, you should stop and ask yourself how much more valuable it will be to your reader to time your posts and emails to drop just right so it will be seen in the mailbox, on the Twitter feed, etc.
- Digestible – What you write needs to be short enough to actually be read. Wherever possible, your title needs to promise that it will be short and, at least, skimmable. A magisterial multi-part analysis may indeed stand the test of time and demonstrate your authority. But they aren’t quick reads, and so they will not get the kind of commentary, following or social sharing that make them worth writing in the first place.
- Unabashed – Marketing isn’t journalism. Anything you develop will highlight what you are selling, or a concept that is friendly to your value proposition, mission, business model, raison d’etre.
- Believable – Avoid bogus statistics, sham research, or other trickery. Even if your audience doesn’t see through it right away, they won’t let you fool them twice.
- Non-threatening – No urgent headlines, all caps, implied threats. Leading or obviously loaded questions will work, but use this tactic sparingly.
- Engaging – Your content needs to engage the reader as a customer. Tell the reader what to do, what you offer, why it’s important, what is available, what their first or next step should be, and why you can help.
- Relevant – Too many articles gush knowledge about the writer’s area of expertise, but do not demonstrate any knowledge of the target audience’s industry, their use for that knowledge, or their needs. Social Media Consultants are notorious for this. Anyone can write a “Social Media 101” article, but who will find value in yours?
These are the points I am striving for based on my observations of the past year – not only what I’ve written, but also what I’ve read, what I’ve deleted, and what I’ve been impressed by. I hope you find these useful, and worth a comment below, or sharing with a friend or colleague.
Happy New Year from Design-product Systems!