Write Content That People Actually Want to Read

This feels like a pointless blog post – the think I’m going to say seems so obvious, I shouldn’t need to say it. Still, I see examples where this doesn’t happen, so perhaps it’s worth re-iterating the point.

Here’s the incredible insight – if you want people to read content that you write, then it has to be genuinely interesting or useful for them. Erm, that’s it.

Standard marketing practice is to find customers, acquire them and retain them – not complicated (extremely difficult! But not complicated). Inbound marketing turns the first of these on its head – you help customers to find you; then you acquire and retain them. And the main point I want to make here is that for any of this to work, the content you create has to be something people actually want to read, comment on and share. I don’t know why this point needs to be made but, as I say, I see examples all the time of content created which ticks the boxes for the marketing department (it’s about our products, tick!), but which no-one in their right mind would ever actually be interested in.

There are 1000s of books, articles and blogs on inbound marketing – about being non-interruptive, matching the customers’ journey (rather than forcing them down an artificial journey of your own making), the importance of SEO, of remarkable content and so on. For a great primer, I’d strongly recommend HubSpot’s book Inbound Marketing: Attract, Engage, and Delight Customers Online (and more on them later).

But the model is simplicity itself – whether you’re B2B, B2C, appealing to Gen X, Y or Z – customers today don’t like being interrupted. As a marketer you need to gain their permission to interact with them. How do you do that? By creating things (blog posts, videos, webinars etc) that they genuinely find interesting. If people find it interesting, they’ll share it on social media, comment on it, link to it from their own sites. This leads to Google rating it – and your domain – highly in search results for a given topic. People then find it (for free, not via Adwords), and because the content is strongly associated with your brand, customers find out about you, see you as a thought leader, trust you and give you permission to tell them about your products.

As I say, simple (just not easy). But at the heart of the model is the need for content customers genuinely want to read or view. Otherwise the whole model breaks down – the content isn’t actually read, it isn’t shared, no-one comments on it, and all that work just gets lost amongst the billions of other web pages out there. The worst culprits are thinly-disguised adverts for products. If, for example, a product’s unique proposition is that it works in a certain way, then endless articles about how you, the customer really have to work that way – may seem clever (“It’s not about our product really, it’s advice on how we think you should work! Honest!”), but the customers can generally see right through it. It’s hard to give concrete examples, without naming and shaming companies, but just this week I read an article from a company about how their very specific methodology for implementing software development practices was obviously the one and only way of working. So blatant!

And yes, this gets a tick for being relevant to your company, and the marketing team are happy because they’ve done their job of producing some content about their product, which isn’t just a glossy advert.

But who would share this article? With their friends and colleagues? “Look Twitter followers, can I share with you a blatant advert for someone’s product?”. I’ve almost never seen this happen in the real world. Why not? Well I don’t know about you but I find it slightly embarrassing sharing what is, clearly, just company marketing with people I know. Of course as marketing folk we’d love this to happen, but it’s not realistic.

What people share is content that’s genuinely useful or interesting. NB: It has to be in your domain – I could post an article about Radiohead’s new album coming out this summer. Might get a few readers, but they’re not the same people who are likely to want the software produced by my company.

The masters of this, IMHO, are HubSpot. Look at their marketing blog – http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing. As the headline states – “Where Marketers Go To Grow”. And the articles are exactly that – if you work in marketing they repeatedly write content which I find genuinely interesting and useful. Things that help me do my job better. And I share them with colleagues at work, because I think they might find them useful too. Sometimes I share them on Twitter or LinkedIn. Why on Earth would I do that? It’s certainly not because of some allegiance to them or because I want to promote them – why would I do that? Weird. I do it despite the fact that it comes from a corporation, because of the quality of insight. And obviously because all their articles are about sales and marketing – and sales/marketing software is what they produce – then the impression that HubSpot “Know what they’re talking about” only grows in my mind. And when we came to look at marketing automation software – HubSpot was right up there at the top of our list.

And this is what you have to produce too.  Stop thinking about flogging your product and start thinking about what people want to read in your domain. If you sell bathroom tiles, what about some articles showing off inspirational ideas for your bathroom from top designers? You can imagine someone sharing this with their other half, “What about this as an idea for us?”. If you’re a taxi service, articles about getting around big cities for new visitors? Shared as “I found this about transport in Detroit, let’s use it for our trip next week”. If you make machine-learning software for banks, how about some simple how-to articles on current methodologies, that a potential customer can share with her boss to explain all the clever stuff she’s working on?

I don’t think it’s complicated – something in your domain that people actually want to read. Sure, you then need to make sure this leads to opportunities for your business, and that takes a little faith and measurement. But it’s all based on a foundation of great content – without that you’re just doing traditional advertising in a different format.

If a Brewery Can Innovate, So Can You

This weekend we went to Southwold and Aldeburgh – two of my favourite places in the UK, for various reasons. One of these reasons is the Adnams Brewery, based in Southwold. It’s been going for over a century and has always produced wonderful beer (as well as other drinks).

But a few years ago I noticed a new range of beers in the shop. It’s a new brand – “Jack Brand” in fact, and includes 4 or 5 beers, all of which I can happily say are really interesting, new beers. They are to an extent riding the wave of “Craft beers” of various sorts, the beers are often quite hoppy and will appeal to customers who like that sort of thing (including me), but that’s not quite the point.

The thing that’s most impressive is that a company working in what is generally perceived to be quite a staid industry has managed to do some interesting commercial innovation. And they’re a small company too, I doubt they have enormous research departments to look in to this sort of thing.

They’ve innovated in terms of the product (they’re not just re-labelling something else, but have come up with new, different tastes) and the brand. I also like the names of the beers (e.g. the one pictured – “Innovation IPA”!).

And I’m pretty sure it’s been very successful – I’ve seen the beer in a lot of pubs in Cambridge and it seems to be doing well.

So, if a brewery can do it, why can’t you? If they’ve managed to get their marketing team and their brewers together and come up with something this successful, what’s stopping you from doing the same? Of course there are 10s of thousands of articles and books on how to get the innovation process going, how to manage it in a standardised way and so on. But I’m not sure it’s that complicated – I’d be surprised to learn that the small group of people at Adnams spent months instigating a complex innovation process at the office.

So the question is, what’s stopping you re-creating something like this in your business? A new representation of an existing product? A new, innovating way of using your product a different way? A new pricing system (monthly payments, daily even, free for non-commercial etc etc!?)? A radically cheaper, stripped down version for a different market? Or a much more expensive version with added services for a different market? Different brands for different groups of customers? Combinations of your products for different people?

And the list goes on – many of these innovations are easy to implement, but they’re often not easy to make happen, particularly in larger organisations.

And maybe that’s why Adnams managed to do this so easily – they’re a small company, presumably with little red tape and a culture where these things can happen without too much pain. What can you do at your org to foster this sort of activity? Do you block new ideas or nurture them? What can you do to help?