5 tips to creating great long form marketing content

tips

Long form content is making a comeback in marketing. If you want to ensure your content successfully cuts through the noise, here are my five simple tips.

1. Be Unique: Content marketing is awash with “me-too” topics. “Understanding Big Data”, “Deliver a Great Customer Experience” etc. Give your audience something they haven’t seen before, or at least ensure you spin the topic to be less generic and more unique to your own offer and target market. Perhaps it’s “Understanding Big Data for Restaurateurs”, or “How Cinema Chains Can Deliver a Great Customer Experience”. Find your clear water.

2. Be Useable: Making content shareable is one thing; making it useable opens up a whole new realm of value. I’ve been sat at conferences only to watch a potential client present market insight that he’s pulled directly from one of our reports / whitepapers. It’s a huge sign of respect and trust – and a great ice-breaker!

Try offering readers supplementary content assets; if your long form content includes charts and data, offer them as individual, separate graphics files or as useable powerpoint slides (just make sure you include yourself as the source).

3. Be Confident: You are the experts in your field and you [should] know more about a topic than your target audience. You are sharing this content to a) educate and b) display credibility. Show that expertise and be bold in your commentary. No one wants to read “we think”. They want a strong opinion; they want “we know this to be a fact because….”

4. Be one voice: When dealing with long form content it’s easy to delegate its creation across multiple people and share the workload. “Bob, you take the section on customer value. Sarah, can you write the introduction and also ask Phil from Engineering to write a chapter on innovation.”Believe me, this just doesn’t work. What you’ll get back will be a collection of copy with different narrative styles and counter arguments. You’ll spend another week just editing and stitching it all back together. Whether you are writing this yourself or commissioning it out to a freelancer, make sure you have a single coherent voice.

5. Be peer reviewed: So, you’ve created your piece of long-form content. You’ve made sure it’s unique, useable and that it has a single voice. But is it accurate, effective and brand aligned? While the need to maintain a single voice is crucial during production, this doesn’t negate the need to consult with peers before publication to ensure that messaging is factually correct, that it will have the desired call to action and that it’s aligned with company values. Typical approval processes include marketing and legal; however also consider engaging with the sales team to ensure its hitting the pain points that their customers are talking about.

 

B2B marketing: Are we outsourcing creativity?

“You need to have not only a strong understanding of digital but also an inherently analytical approach and passion for data and numbers. Combine these attributes and you have a well-rounded marketer.”

I read this quote in B2B Magazine. It was from a senior executive with experience spanning Microsoft, Google and GoDaddy. As his “Top Tip” it seems innocuous enough; but read it again.

What’s missing?

It’s something that’s been bugging me for some time.

Creativity.

It used to be at the core of any good marketer. It’s what attracted me to the industry in the first place. Today, the ability to think creatively and find a unique solution to a business challenge seems secondary to the ability to operationalize its delivery.

And it’s hurting our industry.

The shape of most large [internal] marketing departments has changed beyond recognition in the last ten years.  It was once the case that creative talent stayed close to the brand and marketing operations were outsourced to partner agencies. Today this is reversed. It’s not uncommon to find entire marketing teams focused on operational delivery with strategy, messaging and creative development being delivered by an army of outsourced agencies and consultants.

No one denies that the role of the marketer has changed. Teams have had to adjust in order to stay relevant and new skill-sets have emerged. I’m in no way belittling those skills, or even the intent of the original quote at the top of this post; the ability to analyse data helps us to qualify and quantify some of our decision making and better track success; and the use of marketing automation platforms has helped to scale operations. But let’s not paper over the basics. Technology is there to enable, not to replace what should be core attribute and requirement of any marketing function – the ability to tell a story, to find creative solutions and to have a passion not only for “data and numbers” but words.

 

We’ve forgotten the value of long form content in B2B marketing

tipsThose who have been in the marketing industry for more than ten years will remember that once upon a time, the majority of content produced was long form. Lengthy whitepapers, detailed case studies and 2500 word by lined articles. These were the norm.

However, over the last few years, as the idea of “content marketing” began to explode (we’ll ignore the fact that we were doing this 15 years ago, we  just didn’t have a name for it), the art of long form content started to be lost. Gone were the in-depth pieces that conveyed deep domain expertise, making way for short, bite-sized content assets designed to appeal to the attention deficit that our time-poor culture seemed to demand.

Now, I believe, is the time to bring the art of long form content back.

I’m not suggesting that all long form content was/is good. It’s easy to lose the reader in hyperbole-filled rhetoric; key messages become diluted behind pompous prose. However I’ve long worried that a lot of short form content being produced misses the point; written solely with SEO in mind rather that the value that needs to be conveyed to the prospect in the later stages of the sales cycle. The result is noise; and a lot of it.

SEO, of course, remains a vital component in today’s marketing world but  a lot of marketers have forgotten that the use of content changes as you progress through the sales cycle. Short, pithy blog posts, visually exciting, shareable infographics; these are all wonderful tools to drive traffic to web sites, grow attention and capture a lead. However, they are something of a blunt implement when looking to convert those leads.

It’s at this point in the cycle, as leads start to evaluate prospective vendors, that the need to demonstrate credibility and domain expertise becomes paramount. The in-depth case study displays credibility, the detailed white-paper a sense of thought-leadership; quality long form content inspires the confidence that prospects are looking for before they commit to more meaningful vendor conversations.

Make no mistake, long form content is an investment.

You may allow your web team to craft snappy Tweets and blog posts, but long form requires more traditional communication skills. In my own team we have a dedicated resource whose job it is to create such content. First and foremost they are a communicator and writer; spending time across different internal functions to discover exciting stories – everything from customer behaviour through to technology development.

Of course there’s benefit to this investment. The advantage of a piece of long form content is that, if constructed properly, it can be broken into multiple shortform assets that will feed your content machine and SEO requirements for several months.

Every year we invest in a 30 page industry report; it’s a significant time (and financial) investment that takes several weeks to design, write and artwork. It’s a hugely valuable asset that is used to convert marketing leads into meaningful, qualified sales leads. The additional benefit is that its shelf life runs into months. The core document will be carefully deconstructed; the web team scheduling dozens of Tweets, blog posts and commissioning infographics with the data, the PR team producing short by-lined opinion articles and using snippets of the text to engage through the comments section of key influencer articles.  Presentation slides are even built for the purpose of conference engagements or for sales to use in client briefings.

I read that long form content is making something of a comeback. I applaud this. Content marketing has become too noisy and for most brands it’s become impossible to shout loud enough. If we want to protect our pricing, build a sustainable relationship and differentiate our offers we need to demonstrate our value in a more meaningful fashion.

If you make the time investment, so will your prospects.

There’s an accepted wisdom that our prospects are time-poor; that they all suffer from ADD and that to be successful we must communicate to them in bite-sized chunks. This is a horrid generalization.

Be clever in how and where you deploy content marketing. In the awareness phase of the sales cycle, those high-frequency, shareable, bite-sized, SEO-laden content assets are golden. This is how you capture leads.

However, two-thirds of the buying cycle now happens before the prospect even engages with the brand directly. They are evaluating vendors indirectly, so as you nurture those leads it’s imperative to deliver credibility and convey value to establish your base position. This is where your long form content investment will pay dividends.

* For the purposes of this piece I define long form content as a content asset comprising 2000 words or more.

Uber sneaky: The dirty side of the sharing economy

If press reports are to be believed, ridesharing company Uber has been playing a grown-up version of Knock Down Ginger (Ding Dong Ditch to US readers). Lyft, a competitor to Uber, claims that Uber employees have ordered and cancelled more than 5,000 rides since last October. That’s a huge drain on resources, effectively taking drivers off the road and potentially sending customers to Uber.

Where the rides aren’t cancelled, Uber employees take short journeys for the explicit purpose of recruiting the driver for themselves.

Lyft claims 177 Uber employees (likely temps on commission) around the US have participated in this activity suggesting this is a coordinated marketing effort from Uber. The Verge even has internal communications from Uber apparently supporting the campaign (codenamed SLOG),

I don’t necessarily have a problem with a company trying to recruit “employees (drivers)” from a competitor, but the practice of purposely wasting competitor resource for your own gain seems morally dubious from a marketing perspective.

Regardless, it was a hugely risky decision:

  • Regulatory lobbying: Ride-sharing companies are continually battling city regulators. In the US, taxi companies have used their local and state level leverage to protect the status-quo and restrict the operation of ride-share operators; or at least ensure they are regulated in the same way as a traditional taxi service. Uber has recently hired lobbyists to fight its case, but it’s an up-hill battle and negative publicity surrounding business practices will do nothing to make the process any easier.
  • Awareness for Lyft: Outside of the [US] West Coast the Lyft brand was relatively unknown until last week. The PR surrounding SLOG has raised awareness of a competitor. This is never a desirable outcome.
  • Negative brand perception: Uber has been riding the wave of the sharing economy. This movement has inherently become virtuous in its nature. Unethical marketing tactics put the Uber brand on the back-foot and risk diluting the virtuous elements of its brand. For many consumers this publicity will be their first exposure to the brand…and first impressions count.
  • Valuation & funding: Uber is one of the fastest growing tech companies to come out of Silicon Valley since Facebook. In June this year it raised a further $1.2bn, helping to value the company at over $18bn. There’s a serious group of investors behind Uber – from Fidelity Investments to BlackRock Inc. Those are names that won’t want to see their multi-million dollar investments put at risk by negative press commentary and consequent.

 

 

Don’t blame new technology for the age-old problem of poor parenting

Stuart Dredge has become something of an authority on the role of technology and children. I’ve often followed his recommendations for educational apps and have even had my eight-year old experimenting with coding through apps such as Tynker. Needless to say, I’m very much aligned to Stuart’s mindset; today’s youngsters will grow into a world where the skills needed to succeed professionally are light years away from those that I needed to master during the 70’s.

Of course, there are some constants; social skills for example. But how today’s children master problem solving and language have almost certainly benefited from the digital revolution. I say benefited with absolute conviction because I’ve seen first-hand how my own children learn through digital tools and the gamification of subjects such as mathematics.

And yet any suggestion of the benefits delivered to children from digital technologies still draws such vitriolic attacks.

Stuart’s recent piece in The Guardian (online) listed 25 of the best apps for children when travelling this summer. It was a sensible piece, comprising apps for entertainment, creativity, problem solving and education. And yet the comments section quickly filled with vitriol.

  • “What a stupid article highlighting more useless drivel to hinder their childs [sic] development. How about not relying on electronic devices to keep children occupied. Old fashioned parental interaction with the child should be norm.”
  • “Why bother when you can abandon parental responsibilities and give them a device that will impede their mental development? This is grotesque and is symptomatic of everything wrong with modern life. indicative of why the future will be worse than the present.”
  • “Prefer to keep my kids off stupid apps, thank you.”
  • “This article is nauseating.”

You get the point.

comments miss the point?

 

The arguments are strange, but expected. I imagine the same arguments being presented when the first computers were introduced into schools. People seem hard-wired to resist change, perhaps it’s the feeling of uncertainty or a loss of control?

The arguments assume a lack of parental control. The astringent commentators seem unable to comprehend that technology plays a role in balanced education. Instead the myopic assumption is that technology is used as a replacement for traditional learning or as distraction to keep children occupied.

I don’t doubt that there are some parents who use technology as a baby-sitter. But I also don’t doubt that many of these commentators grew-up in a generation where the television, radio or VCR was used in much the same way. We’ve all done it at some point.

But to assume that this is the sole purpose of apps is blindly ignorant. The same parental skills are needed. Managing screen time and vetting apps is just another skill to be mastered by today’s parents.

My daughters are both under eight. They each have a tablet and as a sensible parent I chose the technology based on my ability to control it. My youngest has a Kindle Fire HD and I applaud Amazon’s responsible approach; it allows me to set educational targets requiring my daughter to read for an hour before it allows her access to an entertainment app. I can block certain apps or ensure it can’t be switched on after 7pm. I am in control.

For my eldest daughter, technology is completely integrated with her learning. I’ve seen her spend hours on her tablet researching the solar system, then pick up a pen and paper and write a thoughtful poem about the planets. Sure she enjoys curling into her beanbag to watch something on Netflix, but no more so than she enjoys swimming, riding or any other physical exercise.

It’s about balance. It always has been. Don’t blame new technology for the age-old problem of poor parenting.

What do you think?

 

Churn & Customer Value Management in Telecoms

I’ll be speaking this month in Prague, chairing the Churn & Customer Value Management in Telecoms conference.

Some great speakers have been lined up (O2 UK, Tele2, 3UK, TTNET, Vodafone etc).

I’ll be keeping a live blog / Twitter stream throughout the event. If you are planning to attend, feel free to connect with me in advance.

More information at www.churnandcvmintelecoms.com

Why PR’s big-data, geek-laden rhetoric makes me cringe

Dear PR Industry.

It’s ok, we get it. Times are changing and PR needs to change too. But, please, for the love of god, stop with the “Future of PR rests with Geeks and Big Data” angle.

It smacks of desperation, misunderstanding and a genetic desire to associate yourself with the latest zeitgeist.

In your imagination you think that bringing someone to a pitch with a “data analyst” title is going to impress me. The reality is that it’s like listening to my five-year old daughter trying to be grown-up by using words she’s heard adults use, but that she doesn’t quite understand.

You throw the world “geek” around like a badge of honour, applying it to anyone with a Twitter account and an iPhone. And if one more agency pitches me with Big Data credentials, only to explain that what they really mean is that they have an intern that can use Excel I might very well implode.

I’ve just read this and it made me feel sorry for you. I know you are relevant, but throwing buzz words at the problems is not the answer. Heck, this post even tells PR professionals to develop their big data skills by taking a course in Excel.

Excel? Really?

Yes, we need a different skillset in the industry. Measurement is vital and the ability to extract a story from data correlation is hugely advantageous, but it doesn’t make people geeks, it makes them effective workers who have skilled themselves for the 21st Century.  The ability to craft a “countif” statement in Excel is not big data and it doesn’t make you a geek. It just makes you employable.

NB – PR industry, I say this because I love you.