6 Rules for Content Creation

More and more the job of marketers is to deliver content to customers. But not everyone has gone through film school or studied to be a writer or journalist. So here are six rules to keep in mind when developing content for your brand.

1. THE NEW 80/20 RULE

Content is, ultimately, a tool for marketing a product. But it’s important to remember that the majority of content you produce won’t directly convert into a sale. 80% of the content your share should be content you and your team find interesting that is related to your industry. 20% of the content you share should be stories you produce about people solving problems. 0% of it should be about directly selling your product.

2. TELL A STORY

Whether you’re producing a video or writing an article there’s one thing you should always be doing and that’s telling a story. We’re human beings, there’s over 4,000 years of documented stories. All of these stories share a few common elements. 

  • They introduce a few main characters
  • Introduce a challenge for them to overcome
  • Create tension around their potential success
  • Have them learn a key lesson needed to succeed (through trial and error, the learnings of an expert or the intervention of a god or nature)
  • Overcome the obstacle and be viewed by others as successful

Notice that none of these elements lead to the author or narrator explaining how their services are the industry-leading or most “innovative”. The marketing language we’ve been taught in college and through osmosis via contact with modern media isn’t compelling to the average customer.

3. PEOPLE FIRST, PRODUCT SECOND

As marketers we love the products and services we’re selling and we want everyone to know that they’re the best solution out there. I hear marketers and sales people of all types express frustration when a customer chooses another option they know won’t work for them. The question to ask yourself is,”Was I helping the customer contextualize their problem so they could solve it? Or was I touting the features of my product?” We know that sales often fail because we try so hard to be competent that we forget to empathize with the customer’s point of view.

Content is the same way. The goal of any piece of content is not to promote a product but to reveal the solution to a challenge through a unique lens. That lens, or perspective, is the unique perspective that your company brings to market. It’s the same as the moment of clarity that inspired the creation of the product or service in the first place. “Why can’t I just…”

If you tell this story 20% of the time, through self-generated, high-quality content then customers will listen. What does your product solve for?

4. MAKE IT EASY TO FIND

I remember, years ago, trying desperately to convince each and every client we had to put their video content up on YouTube and create RSS feeds of their written content. At the time it was rare for companies to see themselves as distributors of content, that was the realm of publishers. The fear was often “If we publish it once, we’ll have to keep publishing and we just don’t have a team that can handle that.”. Today we see that companies are now building teams internally who can publish constantly. There are also new types of agencies that exist simply to create compelling stories that brands can distribute and we see traditional publishers offering their large pool of writers up to companies to generate content about and around the challenges companies are solving for.

5. INVEST IN QUALITY

Sure the first time we say a video on YouTube we were shocked at the low quality of production, the chunky compression and the amazing number of people viewing and commenting on it. It seemed crazy that people would rather watch random, low-grade content on YouTube than high-quality television. But we now know that that point of view was based on some fairly significant biases. The evolution of the Internet has shown us that the creation and distribution of content is no longer determined by either a single industry nor by the device. Video production and distribution is no long solely owned by media companies. Nor is your television or the local movie theater the only place you can watch it. The great disruption of the Internet, and computing for that matter, is that a single device can provide nearly limitless functionality.

But if you look back at the evolution of YouTube, you’ll notice that the quality of content has increased dramatically. Consumers of content are willing to accept low quality in exchange for convenience but once that convenience is available to everyone, the novelty wears off. Quality must come back in.

In print you can see this in the recent string of memes are “The Best Article Published on …” highlighted by a post from Esquire on the 7 best articles. Now that we read material ubiquitously, the quality is ever more important. I’d argue that our aggregate ability to identify quality is even going up with the demand. 

So invest in great writing and great video when dealing with established platforms but feel free to skim when it comes to the new ones. 

6. NEVER SELL

The goal of great content should be to tell a story about an experience a person has had. Ideally, that experience is a challenge, there’s an arch to it from discovery to endeavor to resolution. The story is intended to connect with your audience. The problem is, that connection is fragile. Any whiff of a product name slams the curtain back and reviews the little man with the levers hidden behind. I’ve observed this affect most clearly among young consumers who are so surrounded by branding and advertising that they’re hyper-sensitive to things that feel like advertising.

Instead, show them something they’ve never seen before. Most products do something nothing before has been able to, this is what your audience wants. An example is “Will is Blend”. This YouTube channel is there to sell blenders but the shear amazing feats of destruction that these professional blenders inflict created a massive following. Sure the style is similar to an infomercial but the focus is on what they’re going to put in the blender next not the sales pitch.