Last month I talked about using personalized content to better engage your audience and better measure the effectiveness of your content marketing efforts. The article ended with a thought exercise from Joe Pullizi for those who wanted to evaluate the effectiveness of their content marketing without using personalization to do so.
There’s clearly interest in this, as two other major content publishers (Copyblogger and Moz) have addressed this issue (doing the legwork to create compelling content without actually personalizing it) in the last month as well.
So, here’s a bit more about what you can do to help ensure your content is providing value to your target audience, without using personalized content.
There’s also a bit about using personalized content at the end, as a point of comparison.
Good Inbound Marketing Solves a Problem
I’ll get into the conversion aspect of inbound marketing in the next post. That pertains to what happens after a potential lead is already on your site. Let’s start with getting those potential leads to your site in the first place.
You need to identify a real problem your target audience has. Ideally this will be something your product/service can directly address, but even if it’s something you can only provide helpful information about and not a productized solution of your own, that’s still a win for you, from a content marketing perspective. That’s because if your content is helpful to your audience, you’ve associated your brand with a worthwhile investment of time in their minds- which is a very good thing. That’s what will cause them to come back even if they don’t fill out a form and get added to your newsletter list.
There’s two essential elements that will determine your success here: Is the problem actually a problem for your target market? Does your solution/information actually help that particular audience with that problem?
Let’s get meta for a moment and apply those questions to this very article:
Do you work in marketing and care about providing content that’s valuable to your audience, without having to familiarize yourself with personalized content?
If so, I’m halfway to success by providing this article– just by choosing the right topic.
Will this article have made it easier for you to deal with that problem (creating effective content without using personalized content)?
It’s probably too early to say yet, but if you walk away feeling like this article didn’t adequately address the problem, then I’ve chosen the right topic but failed to provide value. Obviously, if you walk away from it feeling like the answer was “yes” then this article was successful. Recall, my success or failure here will contribute to your perception of my personal brand and the Decisionaire brand.
If you’re going to take on a topic your audience cares about, you really don’t want to fall short!
This “fall short” could result from a narrower miss than you think. It’s actually not necessarily a matter of the quality of your solution; your content presenting the solution needs to be compelling as well.
Maybe the solution I’m going to propose involves a social media channel that you do not use nor have any interest in using. Even if it would have been helpful advice had you taken it, if I wasn’t able to convince you to try marketing through that channel, and done so in a way that makes you feel like it helped solve your problem, you’re still going to walk away thinking I don’t understand your business needs. That’s me seeming to fall short and that’s not good for my business- even though I offered free, non-self-promotional, helpful advice!
So how can you do well in choosing topics and providing value your audience will recognize?
Creating Good Inbound Marketing Content: Topics
In terms of choosing a topic, market research could be helpful here. Moz recommends interviewing three audiences: valid lead targets that aren’t leads yet, leads that have gone cold, and existing customers. If you already have a strong sense for what your target audience cares about, market research might be unnecessary- just be careful you aren’t wrong about that assumption!
A quick side-note about competitive intelligence and content marketing:
A common recommendation is to look at what your competitors are doing, to inform your own content creation. A few words about that: it’s fine to draw inspiration to make something even better, but do not just copy what’s working for them. First, that’s a defeatist strategy- can’t you do better? Second, it could blow up in your face once others catch on. Third, who says your competitors got it right? Even if it seems to be working for their target audience (which it may not necessarily be), that doesn’t mean that it’s a great fit for your audience.
That having been said, don’t be afraid to stand on the shoulders of giants. In this article, I’ve already stolen a bit from Moz and I’ll steal a bit from Copyblogger below- it doesn’t matter whether the information originated from me or not. You came here for value and you got it. If I regularly lean heavily on them, I might end up driving you to Moz and cutting me out as the middle-man, but otherwise, I’m in good shape. In fact, if you’ve heard of Moz and respect their SEO expertise, I’ve done myself one better by establishing some credibility with you that I know who to listen to when it comes to SEO.
Bottom-line: don’t be afraid of referencing content from creators your audience recognizes and respects, and building off of that content. As with competitors though, be sure you’re doing more than just copying.
Creating Good Inbound Marketing Content: Value
In terms of providing value, you need to propose a solution to their problem (the content topic) that is easy enough for your audience to be willing to give a try, that’s not so obvious that they would have thought of it already, that’s not so labor-intensive to put together on your end that you’re not willing to give it away in a free piece of content, and most importantly: that’s actually a solution to the problem you’ve set out to address.
That last point may sound ridiculous, but it’s possible to address a topic and fail to present a relevant solution.
For example: you are trying to win your audience’s attention by talking about how they can change their social media strategy to focus on genuine community engagement rather than on vanity metrics and stat-chasing. However, in the piece of content you create to address this topic, you only talk about “why you should change social media strategies” and never address “how/what to change.” In this instance, you haven’t actually solved the problem. Admittedly, you need to demonstrate the ‘why you should do this’, or you might suffer the ‘narrow miss’ of good advice that doesn’t get taken (discussed above). However, if your article claims to be about “how”, then you can’t stop at “why”- or you’ll have failed to provide value.
So, how do you determine whether your solution is easy, not obvious, not labor-intensive for you, and actually a solution? Let’s start with a real example.
Here’s a solution I came up with last year for keeping up with the absurd volume of tweets that happen during an active Twitter chat. Let’s see how my solution measured up to these criteria.
(This is before the chat even really got started, nearly 200 new tweets in 9 minutes.)
Keeping up with tweet volume during a Twitter chat was a problem I experienced myself – but even if it hadn’t been, there were plenty of other people posting about it being an issue for them. That’s how I got the idea for the topic.
I came up with my own jerry-rigged solution to the problem (having two Twitter tabs open, one for the host Twitter account and one for a search for responses to specific questions). The solution was certainly easy and didn’t seem to be obvious, or someone else would have suggested it already. It wasn’t labor-intensive and it surely was a real solution because I came up with it as a solution to make my own life easier anyway – I just capitalized on the discovery by sharing it with others.
All that being said, the solution wasn’t very elegant and I felt like I needed to put a little more meat into the article before I could really be confident my audience would feel like it had been worth their time to read (value). As such, I added two other sections to the post – one addressing how to set yourself up to self-promote during a Twitter chat, and one addressing how to share the content of a Twitter chat with people who didn’t participate in it, but who would likely find the content relevant.
Great for me that I had a solution that met all my criteria – but what if you can’t come up with a solution?
Creating Good Inbound Marketing Content without Your Own Creative Solution
It all sounds easy if you are just as much a victim of the problem as your audience is, and if you’re able to invent something that effectively deals with the problem.
But what if you’re not?
You have at least three options.
- Research. You may not have the answer, but someone else might. Ideally, they only have a piece of the answer- leaving you room to break some original ground in the solution you offer your audience.
- Putting the horse back in front of the cart. Maybe you should start with what you know best rather than what your audience’s problems are. That doesn’t mean that you let yourself end up with something that your audience doesn’t care about, but maybe it will be easier for you to come up with a solution if you start with what comes to you most easily.
- Pass the mic to your audience community. Rather than offering the solution directly, ask your audience how they handle the problem. It’s not difficult to do so in a tone that suggests you want to know what their current process is, rather than suggesting that you are clueless about how to go about it. This has the added benefit of creating a sense of community among the members of your audience, as you’ve now got them engaged in sharing their thoughts on how to improve things for each other. Read more about the importance of turning your audience into an engaging community here.
If none of these options sound feasible, you may actually not be able to accomplish your goal without personalized content.
Why Bother with Personalized Content?
The tactics described above and personalized content are not mutually exclusive. Market research and user-generated content, for instance, can play a valuable role in informing what goes into your interactive online content.
However, if you’ve got the ability to utilize interactive content with your audience you can simplify many of the above steps.
By providing numerous options to choose from in your interactive content, you are increasing the likelihood that your audience will be able to find a topic they’re interested in. As mentioned in this post on personalized content, even if some of your options are duds, you can look at engagement activity to determine what’s worth keeping and what needs replacing.
By offering your audience a result that has been generated by input they’ve provided about what matters to them, you increase the likelihood that your audience will find value in that content – after all, you’ve given them exactly what they told you they wanted.
Personalized content 1) gives you more opportunities to provide value to your audience, and 2) gives you the data you need to continually improve, refine, and adapt your content to better meet the needs of your audience.
Feel free to contact us if you have questions about how personalized content can help you strengthen your brand and increase your ability to generate quality leads.