Most marketers do it wrong, but here are four top secrets for getting it right.
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Every business I know creates content, and for various reasons — exposure, engagement, authority and sales, to name a few. But very few do it well. So, what are the secrets? For insights, I turned to my friend Jeremy Knauff, CEO of Spartan Media. He’s a digital marketer, entrepreneur and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. Recently, he presented on all things content at the Military Influencer Conference (MIC2019) in Wash., D.C. and broke the process down into four key elements.
Content is vital, Knauff says, in that the more effective exposure you get, the higher your sales. But he adds that while your content needs to be fairly constant, it’s also vital that you get in front of your prospective audience with the kind of information they want. They’ll learn your values and your brand personality, and they’ll learn to trust and rely upon you for the right expertise.
If you hit the right emotional buttons, your content allows people to engage, to trust you and to want to talk with you rather instead of about you. Even polarizing content can serve a purpose if your company sells a product that some people might consider controversial, like workplace drug testing, that can cause big reactions from the people who see it, whether pro or con.
We have a lot of employers who are in favor of testing for safety reasons or are even required to test for regulatory compliance. But others may see the matter as intrusive and a violation of privacy or personal rights. Neither side is likely to have their minds changed. But ideally, your content should compel the right customers toward you while repelling the wrong ones away. Your information may provide all sides with factual education that enables them to think more productively and deeply about the matters that will come into play.
If marijuana is medically prescribed, is it okay for some regions and roles (such as office work), but less advisable for others (like airline pilots or operators of heavy equipment)? What about the workers who cross state lines in the course of their business into arenas where some states consider marijuana illegal and others do not? By providing information that is practical and thoughtful, you may spur insightful dialogue that can garner a deeper level of thought and greater respect from both sides of the aisle.
Whether it’s content you write or the places you appear as an expert source or a quoted advisor, your ability to share value-add perspective and information makes you a known and trusted authority. Share your knowledge freely. It will compel your audience to purchase more from you, not less, and to think of you first when they have a need. Knauff has an equation he cites: Expertise + Social Proof = Authority. What’s social proof? It’s the authority you gain by proxy when you’re associated with something, whether it be a highly ranked publication or citation in the news or the speech you give at an event. Google coalesces these results into a trail that provides you with independent validation (as the press or the conference found you worthy of including) that your expert opinion is sound.
Now, with so many good reasons to produce content, what are the biggest pitfalls that trip most organizations? Here are the top four.
- The company does a little bit, then gives up. Early stage publishers tend to write a post or two or publish a video or two, and if the needle doesn’t move, they give up. “Nobody read it!” they wail. Think about this: Dennis Yu has pointed out (and stated at the same influencer conference where Knauff spoke) that nine out of 10 Facebook ads don’t work. But the one that “sticks” makes the overall effort worthwhile. A great deal of your content may not resonate with the market, but that’s okay. You will likely need to stay at it a while before the consistency of your efforts begins to pay off.
- It seems like too much work. A strong article may take a fair amount of research, and a great article will likely require several edits, with periods of rest in between. But when it’s complete, you can break the 1,000 words into a series of tweets. You can do a short video on the topic. Even better, embed the video into the article. Talk about the theme on a podcast. The message that resonates is now “polyphonic,” and you will be able to make your points and leverage your results in a number of ways.
- They are scared. What’s more frightening than exposing yourself in writing? For most, getting on a stage or in front of a video is tantamount to death. Get some pointers from the people whose material you admire, but from there, it’s largely an issue of practice. No one will notice the small mistakes you might make except you. “When I produce a video I don’t even watch it,” said Knauff. “I just edit the ends and publish it.”
- They write to be seen instead of writing for their audience. This, in my own opinion, is the biggest blunder of all. Authors write to be seen instead of writing to serve the needs of their audience. “We need to tell our story!” they say. Well, people don’t really want to hear your story, necessarily. They want to solve their own problems, or learn a new insight, or even to be entertained. Provide them with all three and they’ll love you for life, or at least be eager and willing to read.
In all, thought leadership publishing continues to be one of the most valuable things your organization can do, but heed these secrets to ensure your own endeavors go well.