Grand Theft Content: Steal These 6 Ideas From Award Finalists

So many good ideas get published on this blog in a year that it’s nearly impossible for one person to absorb them all.

Examples from 2018 Content Marketer of the Year finalists were so inspiring they stayed with me. When it came time to offer up our latest batch of ideas to steal, I found it hard to pick just one from each. But I made myself do it.

I looked for ones that can be applied in all kinds of organizations – B2B, B2C, big, small, and everything in between. Now I hope you steal at least one of these ideas – and then make it grand for your brand.

1. Use established channels to support experiments on new ones

Stolen from: Evan Parker, NASCAR

When NASCAR’s content studio sold an eight-part docuseries to Facebook for Facebook Watch, the social media giant’s new video-on-demand platform was in its infancy.

With its powerful story about the first African-American driver in the Daytona 500 since 1969, Behind the Wall: Bubba Wallace seemed like the kind of story audiences would rally around.

But rather than just expecting people to find it on the Watch tab, NASCAR and Facebook marketed where they knew their audience would learn about it. They took to Facebook Live and Instagram Stories, tapped other drivers and celebrities to promote, plus the series’ charismatic star made plugs in his post-race interviews.

The Behind the Wall With Bubba Wallace series had attracted more than 12 million views by the time we wrote about it in July.

Sure, you may not have the budget to produce an eight-part docuseries. That’s not the point. Here’s the takeaway: Produce each content piece in part as an experiment – and give it all the promotional resources you can to help it succeed.

Produce each #content piece as an experiment and give it all the promo you can, says @Kmoutsos.
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2. Find the story inside the story 

Stolen from: Glenn LaFollette, JLL

B2B marketers may assume stories touching people’s hearts abound for their B2C counterparts but are scarce in their industry. Sorry, B2B marketers, you’re not off the hook. You can find great, moving stories in any industry.

Glenn LaFollette, who leads brand strategy and editorial at JLL, helps his team find the magic in commercial real estate services, telling moving, impactful stories through text and videos on JLL’s Ambitions website. His secret? Focus not on the stories about the buildings but on the people who work and learn inside the buildings.

JLL’s Ambitions publication tells the story, for example, of the Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME), where JLL helped turn an abandoned building into an inspiring and acoustically appropriate space for a music school.

The passion and commitment of the group’s founders and the JLL team supporting them came across on the page and came to life in an accompanying video.

Similarly, a story (and video) about the company’s first patent starts not with a description of the patent but with the JLL engineer behind it, as a little boy tinkering with parts on the floor of his dad’s electrical contractor shop.

Meaningful, human stories are out there. Glenn’s work reminds us that our job is to find them in the B2B community.

3. Create room to react

Stolen from: Randi Bartelmie, Symantec

Few content teams can function without a content calendar – especially in an enterprise environment. But planning months in advance can make it harder to pivot when new developments or of-the-moment opportunities come up.

Randi Bartelmie heads the team that produces Norton The Internet Security Center content, which helps people understand (and make informed choices about) digital security. (Norton is Symantec’s consumer brand.)

Randi’s approach deftly addresses the dual challenge by planning for predictable information needs and leaving space for spontaneity. I love the thinking behind the three-pronged approach she uses:

  1. Create an editorial calendar based on topics relevant to what people are searching for according to input from the SEO team.
  2. Mobilize to help during rapid-response situations.
  3. Respond to seasonal needs. For example, both tax time and holiday shopping bring increased digital security threats.

By building in the ability to respond to the unexpected, Randi and the team could spring into action when news broke, for example, about the Equifax data breach. The team quickly created banner ads and social posts that clicked through to information about the breach and a soft product sell.

The takeaway? Plan, but don’t be a slave to your content calendar. Build in a little flexibility so you can respond to audience’s needs at the right moment.

Plan but don’t be a slave to your #content calendar. Build in a little flexibility, says @Kmoutsos.
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4. Create a snowball effect

Stolen from: Jason Miller, LinkedIn (now at Microsoft)

When you build success in one format, use the momentum to try out others.

Each of the examples we shared of Jason Miller’s work at LinkedIn is impressive. What stayed with me, though, is how Jason grew The Sophisticated Marketer content brand from its humble origins as an e-book into an impressive set of media.

Today, The Sophisticated Marketer brand includes:

If you build it and they come, you’ve done well. If they come and you keep leading them to more, you might just end up as a finalist on someone’s Content Marketer of the Year list.

5. Hire right, then hand over responsibility

Stolen from: Beverly Jackson, MGM Resorts International

Read through the stories of content marketing award finalists from any year and you’ll find they always mention their team. There’s a reason for that: Content marketing is a team sport.

And when you’re leading social strategy for a company with multiple brands (each with its own personality and distinct audiences) as Beverly Jackson does for MGM International, you really can’t go it alone.

That’s why Beverly makes sure to hire a mix of content creators, strategists, and community managers. Then she puts them in charge of finding the narratives in the work they do.

Most of her team can shoot and edit video, for example. They can capture interactions with the athletes and stars that come through the company’s properties and events on the fly.

If you hire the right mix of people (and Beverly emphasizes that means people who work well with others), it’s much easier to, as she puts it, “get the party started, help people have fun, and then make sure it keeps going.”

6. Bring influencers to you

Stolen from: Bertrand Cerisier, Xerox

We content types love to sit down at our keyboards or pick up our video cameras and create compelling, persuasive things. Sometimes, though, there’s just no substitute for a live experience.

That turned out to be the case when Xerox wanted to convince press, analysts, and tech influencers that the 100-year-old company has something interesting to say about the future of work.

Led by Bertrand Cerisier, the Xerox team developed a series of in-person events and on-site experiences to prove that Xerox understands the modern world of work. Part of that meant letting reporters and other influencers see the products in action and hear the Xerox team’s vision in person.

The resulting 518 pieces of coverage around the globe (400 million impressions) meant the effort paid off.

The takeaway? The adage, “Show, don’t tell,” applies to more than writing.

The adage, “Show, don’t tell,” applies to more than writing, says @Kmoutsos.
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Where do you look for ideas to steal?

You might notice that I didn’t offer any ideas to steal from 2018 Content Marketer of the Year winner Venetta Linas Paris, though she certainly has plenty to choose from. Don’t worry, you’ll hear more about them later in 2019.

When you’re looking for inspiration, where do you turn? Do you look to others in your industry? Award winners? Or something else entirely? Let me know in the comments.

Many thanks to Carla Johnson, who scoured the world to help us find these outstanding content marketers and wrote the articles the ideas came from.

Be one of the first to learn when entries open for the 2019 Content Marketing Awards. Sign up for CMI’s free weekday newsletter. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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How to Get More From Your Livestream After the Broadcast

Over 80% of people say they prefer to watch a live video than read social media posts, and four in five say they prefer to view a video from a brand than to read a blog, according to a survey from Livestream and New York Magazine.

4 of 5 people would rather watch a brand’s videos than read its blog. @Livestream @NYMag survey
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Consumers are naturally drawn to live video because it offers immediate real-time insight in a way that text and image cannot achieve. And companies love it because it gives them a chance to humanize their brand.

However, it’s not over once you stop filming. Video content – live or not – is a valuable asset for any brand. That’s why I’ll show you how to repurpose your live content to get more from your efforts.

You can stream content on most platforms these days. However, the most common are Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Apps such as Periscope, Tango, and BIGO Live also offer livestream options.

Most of the tactics I’ll share with you are relevant for whichever streaming site you use.

Save video for replay

As soon as the live broadcast stops, make sure it’s readily available for replay.


Before you go live on Facebook, you’re asked to choose where your video clip will be posted when you’ve finished.

Once your live video is saved and shared, you can edit and repost it as your featured video. It will appear at the top of your video section, making it easier to find. You also can access its embed link for use later on:


An Instagram Story disappears from your profile within 24 hours. But last year, Instagram introduced Story Archives and Story Highlights, both of which allow your videos to be seen until you take them down.

To save to your Story Archive, go to your Story and edit your Story controls. Then check the box to save to archive.

Don’t let your Instagram Story disappear. Save it to your Story Archive, says @IamAaronAgius
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Ensure that every Story is saved to the archive by changing your Instagram settings – check “save to archive” in the Story Controls.

To save your Story to Highlights, go to your profile page and, under Story Highlights, click the “+”. You can select any archived videos to appear in your new highlight folder.


When you finish going live on YouTube, your footage is automatically uploaded to your channel.

Create a killer title and description

Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube let you give your video content a title and description. These text-based tools allow you to entice people to watch the video and to make sure the videos can be found through search (don’t forget to include keywords).

Include a link to your website where possible. On Instagram, you can’t provide a URL within an individual post, so include a link to your site – or landing page – in your bio.

Cross-promote on social channels

Instagram and Facebook make cross-promotion straightforward. In the settings, choose to automatically share your Facebook Live broadcast on your Instagram account and vice versa.

With YouTube, simply click on the “share” icon below your video and select to share on your social profiles.

TIP: Make sure videos created elsewhere are uploaded to YouTube. Use an appropriate title, keywords you’d like to rank for (70 characters works best), a description (the longer the better), and tags that will help your video get found.

Edit the livestream and chop it into snippets

Audiences watch livestreams differently than they consume videos. For a start, they’re more forgiving. They don’t expect perfect quality or perfect presentations. Audiences of non-live videos expect more. They expect a higher-quality video and presentation. They’re also not as invested in spending a long time watching the video.

Saving your live video gives you the chance to take more editorial control over the broadcast to make changes and improve the quality. Even if you’re happy with the live video, consider snipping it into shorter sections that are easier to watch online.

Edit livestreams after they air. Audiences expect more from on-demand video, says @IamAaronAgius
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If you opt to edit the video, use an online video editor such as iMovie (iOS), PowerDirector (Android), or YouTube Editor (online). These offer the basic features for editing video – trimming, splitting, extracting audio, adding transitions, etc.

Pay attention to the lighting and play with filters to help the look and feel of the original footage. Some apps will give you the option of theming your piece with graphics or a soundtrack.

Create a custom thumbnail

When your live video saves to your social profile, its thumbnail image is automatically selected. You could wind up with an unflattering frame that wouldn’t pull in any interest.

However, you can change the thumbnail by choosing a frame from within your footage or by creating a custom thumbnail via software like Canva. The image should be high resolution (1280 pixels by 720 pixels).

On YouTube, for example, to change the thumbnail, go into the video and choose “thumbnail” on the top tabs. Then choose to upload an image file from your computer.

Use as a blog post

Blog posts incorporating video attract three times as many inbound links as those without video.

Your live content is great fodder for a blog article, especially when combined with the questions and comments that came through while you were rolling. You could choose to feature the entire video or chop it into segments and serialize it.

Likewise, the text content of your article might be a transcription of the video or you could simply write about the topic addressed in the video and embed it.

Once your video is saved to your profile, you can access the embed link.

On Facebook, it’s in your video edit window. YouTube provides an embed link in the video editing settings. On Instagram, choose to save your clip to your camera roll, which you can then upload to your blog post.

Use in an email campaign

Video makes for great email content. While security controls mean it’s typically not possible to embed a video in an email, you can insert your thumbnail and link to the video on YouTube.

TIP: Make sure your video fits in with the context of your email campaign and think about your call to action. What do you want people to do as a result of seeing your video?

Gather your comments and questions

Collect all the comments posted on your feed during your livestream. They’re like gold dust for your content. They give insight into your customers’ needs and goals in real time. Use these to create helpful, concise answers, with links to further information where necessary.

Gather these together to inform your future blog topics or for a FAQ section on your site. Connect the FAQ, which also is attractive to search engines, where it would be most helpful to your customers. For example, link to it on relevant product pages.

Create a podcast

Turning your video into an audio file is an easy way to gain more exposure and deliver your content to your audience on another platform.

Most movie editors – certainly iMovie and YouTube Editor – let you extract the audio file from your video. Next, turn the audio into a podcast and upload it to SoundCloud. You can submit it to iTunes using the SoundCloud RSS feed.

TIP: Review the audio version to make sure there aren’t any long silent sections.

Create a landing page to promote text, audio, visual resources

Now that you repurposed your video content in multiple ways, bring together the streams and showcase them on your site.

Dedicate one landing page to your various media, from videos and podcasts to social media channels. Invite your audience to subscribe to your channels and sign up for your email newsletter.

Remember to test

Going live on video is a surefire way of increasing your brand awareness and customer engagement. But its benefits don’t stop there.

Repurpose the livestream into an archived video hosted on your social channel or edit it to create a series. Podcasts can reach a new audience, while articles informed by the livestream comments can help your content rank in search and answer your customers’ inquiries.

Whatever you choose to do with your video content, make sure you test your campaigns’ engagement, traffic, and conversions. While it’s not possible to compare like-for-like, running some numbers might help you decide which tactics are worth persevering with and which to put aside.

Please note:  All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).

Get the latest insight and the most helpful advice on how to leverage technology to improve your content marketing programs. Register today for ContentTECH Summit April 8-10 in San Diego. Use code BLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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Dump the Sales Funnel in Favor of Lifecycle Marketing

The sales funnel is obsolete.

In fact, it has been obsolete for a long time.

Bold statement? Yes, but when you look at the facts, it’s obvious.

The sales funnel doesn’t help predict anything about buyers: Not their mentality, not their movement through the buyer’s journey, and not when they might make a purchase.

Modern buyers are too unpredictable. They have way, WAY more information at their fingertips influencing how they shop and buy.

In a recent Think with Google article, Lisa Gevelber, Google’s vice president of marketing for the Americas, discusses these new consumer behaviors and puts them in context:

People can’t remember what it was like to not be able to learn, do, or buy things when the need struck by reaching for the device in their pocket.

She goes on to name three new buyer behaviors/types:

  • “Well-advised” consumer – Buyers want to make the right decisions, no matter how small, and they’re using their smartphones to get informed.
  • “Right-here” consumer – Buyers expect mobile experiences, including shopping, to tailor to their physical location.
  • “Right-now” consumer – Buyers want purchasing power no matter the time or place.

But how do they fit on the old marketing charts?

New buyer types: (1) well-advised; (2) right-here; (3) right-now consumers. @ThinkwithGoogle #Lisa Gevelber
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The answer is no longer cut and dried. The sales funnel is too rigid to accommodate the modern buyer’s journey, and too cold to represent the nurturing stance of content marketing. That’s why we need a more fluid, holistic model.

Enter the marketing lifecycle.

From sales funnel to lifecycle marketing: a (brief) history

Before I get into the marketing lifecycle concept and why it works, let’s go back in history. The concept of marketing stages originated with the AIDA modelawareness, interest, desire, action – developed by E. St. Elmo Lewis in 1898.

As early as 1904, the model was illustrated as a chart, with each stage influencing and leading to the next stage. Here’s how it looked in the 1904 January-June issue of Salesmanship: A Magazine:

The idea of a “funnel” didn’t come into play until about 1924 when William Townsend wrote about it in his book, Bond Salesmanship:

The salesman should visualize his whole problem of developing the sales steps as the forcing by compression of a broad and general concept of facts through a funnel which produces the specific and favorable consideration of one fact … The funnel has helped many salesmen to lead a customer from Attention to Interest, and beyond.

Unsurprisingly, this sounds nothing like what we need to do today to win a sale. This may have worked nearly 100 years ago, but the question remains:

Why are you relying on a century-old sales model in a post-internet world?

CTT: Why are you relying on a century-old sales model in a post-internet world? @JuliaEMcCoy
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Image source

The reliance on the sales funnel might have something to do with hard skills vs. soft skills.

What the heck am I talking about? Dale Carnegie’s updated book, How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age, delves into this. Here’s the gist:

Soft skills include ones that are harder to quantify, like empathy, kindness, etc. Meanwhile, hard skills like aggressiveness, pushiness, and assertiveness are quantifiable (you SEE the results from using those hard skills – maybe because they make you as intimidating as an angry gorilla) – and that’s why bosses love them still.

But, in the end, hard skills alone are bad for business. A study on failed CEOs revealed their businesses sank because they had only hard skills and no soft skills.

You can’t measure kindness for your customers, including the way you relate to them (listening, allowing them room to think, building a relationship – all soft skills). You can measure pushy tactics (the read rate on your overbearing emails, your close rate on rehearsed sales calls). The sales funnel aligns with that approach. After all, hard skills push your prospect through the funnel by force (or should I say, “by forcing of compression”?)

Soft skills don’t gel with the sales funnel. But they do gel with a marketing lifecycle.

Enter the marketing lifecycle

It’s time for a new sales model, one that aligns with content marketing, soft skills, and real buyer journeys in the internet age.

Marketing lifecycle aligns with #contentmarketing, soft skills, & real buyer journeys, says @JuliaEMcCoy.
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This is the basic lifecycle chart I came up with after brainstorming, researching, and collaborating with my team.

The idea of a marketing lifecycle is not new, but it’s newer than the sales funnel. Ardath Albee, who has been a longtime pioneer in our industry, spoke about “lifecycle marketing” on the Marketo blog.

She talks about shifting from “buying journey funnels” to “full-on customer lifecycle management.”

The difference is clear. A funnel focuses on squeezing your prospects into narrower and narrower stages, which ignores their freedom of choice and even their personal whims – both of which are influenced by the giant rabbit hole known as the internet, including:

  • Online communities and forums
  • Third-party reviews
  • Social media
  • Conversations online via email or chat (think peer referrals and recommendations)
  • Search
  • Content and resources

Imagine, for example, your buyer is in the interest-and-intent stage and finds competitor content that more thoroughly addresses their information needs. The buyer loses interest in you but is still aware of your brand. Whoops – the buyer just jumped backward a step in your marketing lifecycle chart.

Is that type of journey plottable on a sales funnel? No.

So, why a marketing lifecycle?

How the marketing lifecycle works, and why it’s more relevant to today’s buyer

The talk in the marketing circles I’m in, from Mark Schaefer’s latest blogs about trust to LinkedIn conversations with executives and marketing teams, is about how slimy, cold sales tactics in marketing are falling by the wayside. That includes the overly aggressive sales funnel mentality. It runs directly opposite to the way buyers decide to buy online.

In contrast, if you think of our buyers in terms of where they land in the marketing lifecycle, you give them room to be human. Rather than a rigid chart, the marketing lifecycle is more of a series of open pathways. The buyers can move from one stage to another fluidly as they often do in real life – sometimes even backtracking or skipping a stage altogether.

Give your buyers room to be human – following the marketing lifecycle, says @JuliaEMcCoy.
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Luckily, each fluid stage is mapped to the type of content that will win them back. Targeted content marketing will continue to nurture your leads all the way to loyalty and through your marketing lifecycle on a continuous loop.

That’s hugely important, because, as Robert Rose writes, content marketing is the “heart” of any digital marketing strategy:

In B2B, the entire lead generation strategy centers on customized content interactions that build trust over a long and complex buying journey … In B2C, today’s digital marketing is about the content-driven customer experience – and how to develop content that earns the ability to be organically shared.

#Contentmarketing is the “heart” of any digital #marketing strategy, says @robert_rose.
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How can you tie together content marketing with the marketing lifecycle and the buyer’s journey? I’ve outlined the four stages:

1. Awareness

A potential lead first hears about you. Your content here should be more value-focused, less promotional (leads are easily turned off by a sales pitch at this point).

Where is your lead in the cycle? Aware of your brand

What will appeal to leads at this stage? High-quality content that builds authority around your brand and domain, and establishes a base level of trust 

What type of content/activity will encourage customer action?

  • High-quality SEO blogs
  • Original research studies, case studies, or round-ups
  • Blogs that build brand awareness (creative stories, real-life experiences, pieces with entertainment value)
  • Web pages and site guides
  • Books published by a brand leader
  • Lead magnets and e-books
  • Social media content, videos, and copy
  • Community around your brand and creation of intimacy with content

2. Interest and intent

Interest and intent stand for two, usually separate, stages of the sales funnel (interest and desire). The problem with that: Smart online buyers can move from interest to desire in a heartbeat.

Too many brands say goodbye to leads when all it takes is one moment for them to flip to wanting to purchase (or one well-timed coupon sent in an email). What propels this flip most often? Real-time human conversations, whether via live chat, a Skype call, or over the good ol’ phone.

Once your leads are warm (thanks to your awareness-targeted content), getting them to have a conversation with your best salespeople is easier. And, those conversations have a ton of pull, especially if you sweeten things with a discount (with an expiration date attached).

According to GeoMarketing, customers exchange more than 2 billion messages with businesses on Facebook every single month. Whatever platform you use, if you can engage with prospects one to one, you’ll have a better chance of moving them to want to purchase.

Where is your lead in the cycle? Interested in your brand with potential intent to buy

What will appeal to leads at this stage? Conversational marketing, including live calls and chats, and offers (seasonal or client-specific offers work well)

What type of content/activity will encourage customer action?

  • Conversational marketing (e.g., live chat, messenger bots, and booked calls with your best team members)
  • Clear website navigation, strong CTAs, and contact forms (I.e., make it easy to contact your team from your website)
  • Lead magnets and e-books
  • Digestible client success stories (white papers and case studies)
  • List-building (including exceptional email marketing)
  • Webinars
  • Retargeting campaigns

3. Decision

The decision stage is the action stage. The desired action is, of course, the sale. If your targeted content has worked well at the other stages (filling information needs, answering questions, building authority, building trust), and your product/service is strong, this stage is where it all pays off.

Where is your lead in the cycle? Primed and ready to purchase

What will appeal to leads at this stage? Work/product samples and price quotes, good reviews from happy customers, and booking sales calls

What type of content/activity will encourage customer action?

  • Conversational marketing (following up and answering customer questions)
    • A team quick on its feet to get back to customer inquiries (According to a study by Lead Connect, 78% of customers buy from the first brand to respond to their questions.)
  • Positive reviews on major third-party sites
  • Product demos if they make sense for your brand

4. Loyalty

The loyalty stage doesn’t exist in the traditional sales funnel, but it’s incredibly important for longevity and profitability online. Instead of spitting out your customers after they purchase, lifecycle marketing keeps them in the loop. It’s about providing consistent value through content, touching base with them with conversational marketing, and maintaining that relationship you already built. This is how you earn loyal brand advocates.

Earn loyal brand advocates by providing consistent value through #content, says @JuliaEMcCoy.
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Where is your lead in the cycle? Delighted, satisfied, and ready to refer/recommend you

What will appeal to leads at this stage? Fantastic service and great products, friendly follow-ups, addressing any possible dissatisfaction

What type of content/activity will encourage customer action?

  • Regular follow-ups
  • Thank-you gifts
  • Email marketing with content updates
  • Releases of new products or offerings
  • Combination of great service and great products

Marketing lifecycle is a better framework for online buyer’s journey

Which model would you rather have as part of your marketing strategy: (1) One that’s 120 years old and speaks to buyers making purchase decisions in person or (2) One that directly correlates to the online buyer’s journey, that aligns with the warmth of content marketing, and guides you on what to create to keep prospects in your circle?

Lifecycle marketing is not easy, but it’s a better way to serve your customers who are looking for value and brands they can trust. Companies that provide quality content and service at each stage will rise above and beyond, and will ignite loyalty in their customers, who will become devoted fans and advocates.

And that’s better for everyone.

Whether it’s recognizing the shortcomings of the sales funnel or finding a better avenue for your content marketing to deliver what your audience needs, 2019 is a great opportunity to learn. Register today for Content Marketing World this September for the best available rates. Use code BLOG100 to save an additional $100. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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How to Deal With the Blasphemy of Email Unsubscribes

You send a well-designed email with a meaningful subject line, follow all the best practices, and somebody still clicks on unsubscribe — the worst nightmare for any email marketer.

While you cannot have a zero unsubscribe rate, you can mitigate your unsubscribes. A good unsubscribe rate is less than 0.5% (0.2% is within the norm). An unsubscribe rate above 0.5% indicates you need to work on the issue.

Negative and positive reasons for unsubscribes

According to MarketingSherpa, the top reason why your audience unsubscribes from emails is that they get bombarded with them from many sources. Receiving irrelevant emails was the second most frequent response, while volume of emails from the company was the third most cited reason.

Reason for #email unsubscribes: 1. Overloaded inbox 2. Irrelevance 3. Too many from 1 company. @marketingsherpa
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Unsubscribes mean a higher customer churn rate, disengaged readers, and a drop in the conversion rate, but it’s not all doom and gloom.

Now, let’s look at three benefits of unsubscribes.

  • You maintain your sender reputation. An unsubscribe indicates the subscriber chose not to hear from you without reporting your email as spam.
  • You can find out why people unsubscribe. Direct your unsubscribe requests to a preference center and let the person select what he or she wants to unsubscribe from.

Avoid all-or-nothing unsubscribes. Create an #email preference center, says @imkevin_monk
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Here’s an example of Travelocity’s preference center:

You can also seek feedback from customers regarding why they’re unsubscribing from your emails by offering a drop-down menu of options (though don’t require them to give a reason to unsubscribe).

This information can help with an email marketing audit. It also acts as a motivator to create more relevant emails.

  • Your list contains only qualified contacts. Unsubscribes can be like bitter medicine. Your unsubscribes include prospects who are not that interested in your products or services. Therefore, your list is higher quality when they go. After all, you’re paying a price for every email you send. Why not send it only to the qualified prospects?
HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: Email Lists: When Smaller Is Actually Better

How to minimize unsubscribes

While unsubscribes have some benefits, your goal likely still is to reduce the number of recipients who opt out. Here are some ways to do that.

Segment your list

Segment your subscriber list based on relevant parameters like age, gender, educational qualification, job designation, purchase history, and pages browsed. Segmentation helps you to send tailor-made emails according to the preferences of the subscriber. That personalization reduces the likelihood the recipient will think of the emails as irrelevant to them.

TIP: Send personalized offers that give a feeling of exclusivity to the subscribers and make them feel special.

Map the content to the buyer’s journey

When it comes to email marketing, knowing your buyer’s journey is half the battle. Gather subscriber information through lead-nurturing campaigns and use it to map the content based on their buying patterns.

TIP: Use an Excel spreadsheet to sort out this information and draft the right content for the most relevant segments. 

Keep a watch on the number of emails

Be proactive and test the frequency of the emails you send. Use a unique frequency for every segment. As you take different approaches, keep an eye on your response rate. This trial-and-error strategy can help determine a more ideal number you should send.

TIP: Follow a consistent email schedule so that your subscribers know when they can expect your emails.

Follow a consistent #email schedule so subscribers know when to expect them, says @imkevin_monk
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Give options for alternative communication

Include social media icons on your unsubscribe page so they can continue to connect with you on those platforms. Look at this example from Blurb:

TIP: Add a “take a break” option on your unsubscribe page. 

Use the feedback shared on the unsubscribe page

As stated earlier, ask for subscriber feedback and reflect on it to figure out the problems with your email strategy. Make the necessary changes to curb further unsubscribes.

TIP: If a subscriber requests to receive only informative emails, don’t send them promotional emails. Respect the feedback.

Work on your subject lines and email copy

The only way to reduce unsubscribes is to deliver value to the subscriber from the email subject line through the copy. Write an interesting subject line and preview text that conveys the purpose of the email right at the outset. Then, focus on crafting copy and visual elements that resonate the most with your audience segment.

The only way to reduce #email unsubscribes is to deliver value to the subscriber, says @imkevin_monk.
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TIP: Keep your emails light to ensure a short loading time and a smoother subscriber experience. 

Add an emotional quotient on the unsubscribe page

Tap on the emotional appeal of the subscriber through a cute unsubscribe page.

When added pictures of sad-looking dogs, it observed an 82.2% decrease in unsubscribes:

An image of sad-eyed dogs made PetDoors’ #email unsubscribes drop by 82.2%, says @imkevin_monk
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Final thoughts

Delight is the way to a lucrative business. The better your emails, the happier your subscribers will be. You’ll see fewer unsubscribes and a higher conversion rate. It’s a win-win for both brand and email recipients.

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How to Use Scrum for Content Marketing

Certain Agile concepts and ideas have been part of the content marketing conversation for some time now. Scrum is one concept that’s often part of these conversations. But bundling it with Agile causes all kinds of confusion.

This article focuses on how a Scrum-based approach to content marketing could work, as told through the experience of a hypothetical content marketing team.

Scrum is incremental

The Scrum concept revolves around iterative, incremental delivery. In software development, the Scrum team strives to deliver increments of working software in short, time-boxed iterations called sprints. These sprints have a clearly defined beginning and end (between one and four weeks) and a clearly defined goal.

A content marketing Scrum team would operate similarly, with a set sprint length (which should remain the same for all sprints to make track efficacy easier) and a defined goal or goals. The content team collaborates to reach that goal within the designated time frame.

It may seem counterintuitive to adopt the Scrum approach for something like content marketing, which is an ongoing effort. In practice, however, this way of doing content marketing can be quite eye-opening.

Scrum for #contentmarketing seems counterintuitive, but can be eye-opening. @BabicJug
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Example: The content team decides on a two-week sprint. The goal is to write a comprehensive post for the company blog (complete with keyword research, visuals, etc.), to share the post on social media, to formulate a link-building strategy, and to reach out to third-party sites for the purpose of building links to this article.

Scrum benefits for content teams

This iterative approach gives the content marketing team clearly defined increments of work, which can be analyzed and modified quickly without wasting time on something that provides no value to the blog, the company, or the readers.

Scrum’s emphasis on empiricism encourages Scrum teams to be fully transparent, to review and analyze their work, and to adapt accordingly.

Sprints provide added structure and focus for the team, enabling it to identify and work toward achievable goals. This aspect of Scrum creates an atmosphere of steady accomplishments, which is important because content marketing can feel like an endless endeavor.

Finally, executing content marketing in sprints helps teams better understand how much time and effort is needed for certain types of work, so they can improve their planning.

People on a Scrum team

The official Scrum Guide™ (you can check it out here if you wish) prescribes three distinct roles with distinct responsibilities for an optimal functioning Scrum team:

  • A product owner, whose main responsibility is to maximize the value delivered by the Scrum team. The PO maintains the product backlog (I’ll explain that later), clearly defines and orders the product backlog items, and makes sure everyone understands them well enough to work on them.
  • A Scrum master, who acts as a servant-leader for the team. The Scrum master helps everyone understand and practice Scrum through advice, coaching, and making sure the framework is applied properly. The Scrum master is also responsible for removing any impediments (internal and external) that prevent the team from doing its work.
  • A development team, which includes people who deliver a “releasable increment of the product” (more on this later) and which has the final say in what will be done in a sprint.

The development team has no hierarchy, titles, or sub-teams.

Some teams have product owners and Scrum masters who dedicate their time to their roles. For content marketing Scrum teams, it is more likely the product owner and the Scrum master also will be part of the development team, i.e., doing practical work.

Organizing content work

Scrum provides a great structure for organizing the work in a way that makes clear who is working on what and why something is being done.

Scrum helps #contentmarketing organize work so teams know who does what and why. @BabicJug
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Product backlog

The product backlog is a prioritized list of everything needed for the product. For a content marketing team, that product may be successful content pieces that bring in leads and boost conversion rates (or anything else that your team is focusing on).

The product backlog includes product backlog items (PBIs), which describe the work the team must do to add value to the product (successful, sustainable content marketing).

All PBIs have the following:

  • Clear descriptions
  • Order in which the items will be done
  • Value (determined by the team)
  • Estimate on how long it will take to complete

As I mentioned, all of this is the responsibility of the product owner. The product owner can (and should) consult the rest of the content marketing Scrum team about the product backlog. But, being the sole person responsible for the backlog, the product owner can bring focus and clarity to it.

Not all product backlog items are described in great detail. The product owner only goes into details on product backlog items being addressed in the next sprint or two. Also, remember the product backlog is a living thing and can change over time.

Sprint backlog

When it’s time to start a new sprint, the development team pulls the product backlog items needed to reach the sprint goal into the sprint backlog – a list of ordered PBIs to be worked on in that sprint.

Example: Our content marketing Scrum development team pulls these product backlog items into the sprint backlog to execute in the new sprint:

  • Decide the topic for the blog post
  • Research the topic
  • Research keywords for the blog post
  • Write the blog post
  • Create visuals for the blog post
  • Proofread the blog post
  • Publish the blog post
  • Set up a social media sharing schedule
  • Create visuals for social media sharing
  • Work out a strategy for link building
  • Research possible websites and owners
  • Write outreach emails
  • Start an outreach campaign

No one decides on how all of this will be done except for the development team, i.e., the people who will be doing the work. For example, the development team would select the tools and the process to use to find the topic and research keywords.

The development team is the one with the final say on what will be done in a sprint.

Scrum board

While it’s not a formal concept from the Scrum Guide, most Scrum teams use a Scrum board to visualize the work in a sprint. It can be a physical board with sticky notes or it can be a virtual one for teams that use Scrum software.

Here is an example of what a Scrum board would look like for the example:

You can see all the product backlog items have been pulled into the sprint. Some of them are completed, while some are in progress and some still need to be started. This example illustrates how work moves across the Scrum board.

As you can see, Scrum enables a clear, transparent, and effective way to organize work, providing data on who did what, where the holdups might be, and how the sprint is progressing.

Organizing work this way encourages collaboration among team members to move them toward the sprint goal without wasting time and resources.

Organizing #contentmarketing work on a Scrum board helps teams collaborate, says @BabicJug
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For example, if the team notices that the PBI “work out a strategy for link building” is stuck too long in the “In Progress” column, additional team members can jump on it and get things rolling again.

Scrum meetings

Scrum meetings are held regularly and help improve the teamwork and the product.

Sprint planning

The sprint planning meeting happens before a sprint starts. At the planning meeting, the product owner suggests product backlog items that the team should work on and the development team then discusses what to take on and the best way to do the work.

Example: The content marketing Scrum team’s product owner suggests that the team should write a blog post, share it on social media, and conduct an extensive link-building campaign for it. The development team points out there is no way to accomplish all of that in a two-week sprint. The team agrees to take on writing the blog post, sharing it on social, and planning the link-building campaign. They then talk about how to do the things necessary to accomplish this set of goals.

Daily Scrum

During brief daily Scrum meetings, the team talks about what they’ve done, how everything is going, and what they plan to do that day. It’s the perfect opportunity for the team to identify possible bottlenecks and impediments and come up with a way to resolve them.

Example: In a daily Scrum meeting, the development team member working on the social media sharing strategy has spent time on it, but it isn’t progressing as quickly as necessary. Another team member offers to help to move things along.  

Sprint review

After the sprint, the Scrum team members meet to review the work accomplished. They talk about what they did well and what could be improved in future sprints. The sprint review is also the chance to showcase the team members’ work for others. It also can be used to elicit feedback from other stakeholders in the company and explain how the work done by the content marketing team will contribute to the company.

Example: In the sprint review meeting, content Scrum team members review the blog post and identify ways it could be improved. But they agree that the social media content developed for it went well and the link-building campaign is on solid legs. 

Sprint retrospective

The sprint retrospective focuses on how the team collaborated as a unit, the obstacles they ran into, and how they can become a more productive and collaborative team. The purpose is not to assign blame but to have a positive meeting that reinforces the feeling of belonging to an ever-improving unit.

A #content sprint retrospective isn’t about blame. It’s about being part of an ever-improving unit. @BabicJug
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Example: In the sprint retrospective, the content team realizes that crucial input was missed because one person felt uncomfortable voicing their concerns about another team member’s ideas. The retrospective enables the team to be open about things often swept under the rug and to correct this kind of behavior.

The main goals of all these Scrum meetings are to promote transparency around what the team does, to honestly and objectively inspect the team’s work and how it works as a unit, and to adapt the strategy and the practices to ensure that the team delivers as much value as possible.

TIP: Check out some Agile tools mostly aimed at Scrum teams to support your team.

A few considerations

Though it was once a tech-focused process, Scrum can bring benefits to content marketing teams. But it shouldn’t limit content teams from applying other practices and ideas. That’s the point of Scrum – to provide a framework that will help establish what delivers value and what doesn’t.

Scrum usually doesn’t come with instant success. It takes time for teams to find the best way to work under the framework within their company. Some teams might emphasize certain practices and avoid others that make little sense for their situation (i.e., assigning value to individual tasks). But the key benefits of Scrum – transparency, inspection, and adaptation – lead to better ways of doing things.

Learn more about marrying technology and content to make your content marketing programs more effective at ContentTECH in April in San Diego. Register today and use the code BLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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Opportunities for AI in Content Marketing Easily Explained

Until recently, the closest I’ve come to understanding artificial intelligence is knowing that it powered tools in my martech stack (e.g., marketing automation, predictive lead scoring, etc.).

Beyond that, I found the concept hard to grasp until Chris Penn’s presentation at Content Marketing World, How to Use AI to Boost Your Content Marketing Impact.

Chris, co-founder and chief innovator at Trust Insights, covered several real-world applications of AI. His examples helped transform abstract concepts into tangible use cases.

Chris implemented these examples himself via hands-on coding in the R programming language, using a deep understanding of mathematics, data science, and machine learning. But most marketers don’t have data science and computer programming skills. Later in this article, I share Chris’ advice about how marketers can apply these AI concepts.

Here are several of Chris’ experiments.

Driver analysis: What results in profitable action?

When you have a bunch of data but you’re not sure what matters to the outcome you want, driver analysis is an effective tool, Chris says.

Machine learning software excels in this case. You feed in all the data and it tells you what matters in it. Chris explains that the analysis concludes with something like, “Hey, this combination of variables seems to have the strongest mathematical relationship to the objective you want.”

AI in #contentmarketing: Driver analysis to show what factors drive the most leads. @cspenn
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Chris performed driver analysis on the popular PR and marketing blog, Spin Sucks, where the primary business objective is lead generation.

“(It) determined that organic search was the third most powerful driver. The team focused a lot of time and energy on it, and they should, but email was the No. 1 driver,” Chris says.

By understanding better what drives leads, the Spin Sucks team could decide to shift more of their time to email marketing because it was the most effective source.

Whether your objective is page views, social shares, leads, or revenue, a ranked list of drivers can help you plan resources, priorities, and budgets more effectively.

Implementation detail: Chris used the R programing language to implement Markov chain attribution. For a detailed look at one such implementation, read this post by data scientist Sergey Bryl, which will give you a good sense of how much mathematics and data science is involved.

Text mining: Reveal topics, keywords, and hidden problems

Text mining is an application of AI that ingests content (e.g., text) to classify, categorize, and make sense of it.

Chris notes that text mining uses vectorization, which transforms words into numbers. It looks at the mathematical relationship among those numbers and determines how similar those words are. It is a form of deep learning.

Reverse engineer Google to reveal key topics and terms

The Google algorithm, which uses a heavy amount of AI itself, is an example of a deep-learning system. “Google’s search algorithm is so complex now that no one knows how it works, including Google,” Chris said. “They have very little interpretability of their model.”

You can use text mining to reverse engineer the Google algorithm for your targeted topics. “We can deploy our own machine learning models to say, ‘OK, for a search term like content marketing, what words do the top 10 or 20 pages all have in common?’”

AI in #contentmarketing: Find #SEO-friendly #content topics via text mining. @cspenn
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Here’s a sample output from reverse engineering Google:

The resulting lists hint at what words or categories to cover when developing new content around your reverse-engineered keyword. Having this set of common words gives you a higher chance of success with organic search than simply saying, “Let’s write a really good article about content marketing.”

Implementation detail: Chris implemented text mining and topic modeling via the R programming language, extracting related topics from a corpus of text (e.g., the contents of articles found in the search engine results pages).

Extract hidden insights via text mining

In 2014, Darden Restaurants, the parent company of Olive Garden, replaced its board. The new group implemented changes, including enforcing its existing but mostly ignored breadstick policy (serving one per person plus one extra).

As Chris explains, employees then spent their time enforcing the policy by counting the number of breadsticks in the basket based on the number of people at the table.

Chris used text mining on 2,500 publicly available reviews written by the company’s employees on Glassdoor. Here’s a glimpse of the results:

Text mining surfaced breadsticks as a problem. If Olive Garden was looking to repair low employee morale and a poor customer experience, a manual review of its Glassdoor reviews, where the usual restaurant worker complaints like low pay and long hours abound, may have led them down the wrong path.

AI use in #contentmarketing: Use text mining on reviews to reveal hidden problems. @cspenn
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Text mining revealed the breadstick problem. (After intense public pushback, Olive Garden returned to its previous breadstick approach.)

Text mining of unstructured data can be applied in many useful marketing contexts: customer reviews, poor/high performing blog posts, transcripts of customer success phone calls, etc. Extracting that hidden gem of insight can point you to courses of action with a high ROI.

Implementation detail: Similar to the reverse engineering Google example, Chris implemented text mining via the R programming language.

Time-series forecasting: Analyze competitors’ brand searches

Let’s combine math, statistics, and AI to create a Magic 8-Ball.

“Wouldn’t it be great to know what’s going to happen,” Chris asked. “It would be so much easier to plan, to set budgets, to staff, to have an editorial calendar.”

Chris did an exercise of predictive time-series forecasting for Cleveland hotel search data. He looked at more than 12 months of branded searches — where searchers named specific hotels (e.g., Hilton Cleveland, Holiday Inn Cleveland, Hyatt Cleveland, Marriott Cleveland).

The results predicted when search volumes go up and down for each hotel:

“If you (worked at) the Cleveland Marriott here, you now know that right around the end of September you have more search interests than your competitors. You could be running campaigns against them to take even more market share away from them,” Chris said.

Any brand could benefit from predictive time-series forecasting – analyzing brand searches for your company vs. your competitors. You can search for when your brand underperforms, for example, and use that data to bid on your competitors’ brand names with a relevant content asset or promotional offer.

AI in #contentmarketing: Use time-series forecasting to predict lead-gen and revenue. @cspenn
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“Imagine search topics, conversations, social media. You can forecast more than search volume,” Chris said. “You can forecast lead generation from your marketing automation software. You can forecast revenue from your CRM or your ERP. Anything that is regular data over time you can forecast forward.”

Implementation detail: Chris used R to process five years of Google search data, then implemented a statistical method called autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA).

How content marketers can try these AI uses

I know what some of you must be thinking about now:

  • “Wait, really?”
  • “The data science and probability are over my head.”
  • “I’m too busy and can’t possibly learn to do this myself.”

These reactions are understandable. The good news is that you have options. And you don’t need to learn the deep nuts and bolts covered earlier.

Chris offered three recommendations for marketers thinking about approaching AI.

Do it yourself. This approach fits for the small percentage of marketers who have a genuine interest in data science and machine learning. You should be interested in going deep with math, statistics, and probability – and comfortable writing code.

If you decide to go this route, Chris suggests checking out Google’s Machine Learning Crash Course, available free online, which takes you through 40-plus exercises, 25 lessons, real-world case studies, and lectures from Google researchers.

Chris notes that IBM Watson Studio has an intuitive, drag-and-drop user interface. While Watson does enable programmers to write code on its platform, the UI can be useful for marketers who are not inclined to write code.

For those interested in coding, Chris recommends learning the R and Python languages, which form the basis for a lot of AI tools and libraries. Be prepared to spend six to 12 months to learn the programming language and another six to 12 months to learn the data science.

If you’re just getting started with coding, the Dummies franchise has books that may be useful: R for Dummies and Python for Dummies.

Tap your staff data scientist. The second option applies to larger organizations that employ data scientists (e.g., Google, Facebook, and Uber). “Staff with data science skills are quantitatively inclined and know how to use the technology properly, so they can be of great help,” Chris said.

Think back to the use cases I mentioned. For text mining or time-series forecasting, in-house data scientists will understand your objectives and goals, build the right models, then implement the necessary codes.

Outsource. This option works for organizations that don’t have AI and data science talent in-house. The answer is to outsource to the experts: people or agencies with the necessary AI know-how and experience.

Chris puts it this way: “Agencies and consultants can help you use the methodologies. You can do small projects on a one-off basis. If the need is ongoing or more frequent, they can help you build software that runs when you need it to.”

Next steps

No matter which of the three options makes sense for you, there’s one thing I urge all marketers to do: Learn about AI and understand the role it plays in marketing technology.

While you don’t need to understand Markov chain attribution or how to program in R, you need to know enough to determine where and how AI can help your marketing. Basic AI knowledge will also help you better evaluate vendor solutions and claims.

Think about the kind of knowledge you need to buy a computer. You don’t need to be a chip designer, but you need to know the difference between a 32-bit and 64-bit processor and whether a 1.5 GHz processor is better than a 2.7 GHz processor. With AI, when a vendor says, “Our predictive analytics solution uses the latest AI techniques,” you need to know how to question the claim and how to distinguish fluff from reality.

Since AI is a topic often covered in business, marketing, and technology publications, I’m soaking up as much as I can. Next, I’ll probably enroll in some free, online courses in machine learning.

What about you? What’s your interest level in AI for marketing and how are you staying informed and educated?

Here’s an excerpt from Chris’ talk:

Further your tech skills in 2019 by attending ContentTECH Summit in April. Register today using code BLOG100 to save $100. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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These 7 Visual Tactics Can Boost Landing Page Conversions

Creating visuals for a landing page is kind of like dressing for a job interview.

Job candidates want the interviewers to see them as well prepared and a good fit for the company. You want the visuals on your landing pages to communicate to visitors that you’re delivering what they want in a manner that reflects your overall brand.

Another similarity between dressing for a job interview and finding the best visuals for your landing page? Don’t pick the first option. Try several to figure out which works the best.

Visuals provide subtle and subconscious indicators that help visitors choose to act. They can complement text to make a more convincing case, or they can replace text for a quicker impact.

Here are seven tried-and-true types of visuals, often used for product-focused marketing, to help your content-focused landing page convert.

1.   Show an intangible object in something tangible

There’s a satisfaction that comes with being able to unwrap a package and hold an object in your hands. But content offerings usually are digital products. To create a sense of what your visitors will receive, show your digital content inside physical items (like a smartphone or other device).

That strategy aligns with research we conducted at Venngage about Facebook ads that convert. The second-best performing variation featured a physical representation (the best performing variation featured a meme, to our surprise).

Take a look at our joint project with HubSpot’s landing page for an e-book:

This landing page offers an image of the content product displayed in a tablet, allowing visitors to visualize what they’re going to receive.

2. Offer visually interactive demonstrations

One way to earn visitors’ trust is to get them to interact with your site. Take Monotype’s landing page for example:

Its landing page cleverly shows visitors what Monotype is all about. Visitors can change fonts in real time to see what they look like. They get an idea of what they can expect before they are asked to commit to anything.

After all, you’d feel better about buying a shirt if you tried it on first, right?

3. Use icons and illustrations to tell a story

A lot of businesses use custom illustrations instead of stock illustrations. I love this approach because good illustrations can keep visitors engaged with your landing page. They create an opportunity for creative storytelling. And, since stories can help conversions, landing pages are ripe for good storytelling.

Custom illustrations on landing pages are ideal for engaging storytelling, says @sara_mcguire ‏
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Take Intercom’s entertaining landing page:

The illustrations reinforce the idea of fun suggested in the text. But they also tell a story.

In the first illustration, a group of “people” try and fail to communicate effectively, as shown in the confusing, crisscrossing arrows and frustrated facial expressions.

But the second illustration is simpler – a clean line of communication between only two people: you and your customer.

4. Use icons to replace or reinforce text

Icons also are useful because they can communicate an idea in one graphic. The audience quickly understands the meaning conveyed in imagery such as the Twitter logo – no text is necessary. And, in some cases, the icon’s meaning complements or reinforces the text.

Look at how WordStream used an icon for its e-book landing page.

The trophy icon reinforces the idea that this guide will help the visitors win at AdWords. It also entices visitors to read the text to find out what they can win or achieve with this offer.

Use icons on #content landing pages to replace or reinforce text, says @sara_mcguire ‏
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5. Use CTA button colors that pop

You’re going to get conflicting opinions on the optimal colors for driving conversions, particularly about the better-performing colors for CTA buttons. But one view that seems to have some evidence: CTA buttons are more effective if their color contrasts with the other colors on the page.

Unbounce’s landing page offers a good example of this principle: The orange CTA button contrasts with the background color:

When you pick the color for your CTA button, look at a color wheel and pick the one opposite your landing page’s dominant color.

Try a CTA button color that’s the opposite of your landing page’s main color, says @sara_mcguire ‏
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HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: How to Create High-Converting Content

6. Use images that offer directional cues

Point visitors in the right direction – nudge them to act. Visual cues – implicit and explicit – can indicate where visitors should direct their gaze.

An implicit directional cue could be a picture of a person looking in the direction of your CTA button. An explicit directional cue could be an arrow pointing directly at your CTA. Let’s go into each type in more detail.

Use implicit cues

The principle behind visual cues is what Malcolm Gladwell calls “microexpressions” – small facial indications or “fleeting looks” that we recognize in other people that impact how we interpret emotions.

Eye-tracking studies have found that facial features are the first thing people look at when they see someone new. When visitors see a picture of someone looking favorably at a product or form, there’s a better chance they will respond positively.

In visual #content, show a person looking favorably at your product to boost conversion. @sara_mcguire ‏
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Facial cues can be subtle. Look at this landing page on Copy Hackers:

The image is positioned so copywriting expert Joanna Wiebe faces the text and her hands are close to the CTA. Without directly pointing at the button, the image guides visitors’ eyes toward where they need to click.

An effective implicit visual cue will make clicking seem like the natural next step.

Use explicit directional cues

Implicit visual cues are subtle, while explicit cues are not. Arrows and illustrations unabashedly point to the CTA.

Take, for example, Bear CSS’s cute landing page:

The bear points visitors toward the CTA button.

If something quirky wouldn’t work for your brand, a simple arrow is also effective. IMPACT’s e-book landing page is a great example:

The arrow is animated to pop up after the page loads – another visual trigger to attract the visitors’ attention to the call to action.

7. Use real people

Pictures of real people (i.e., not models) perform well on landing pages. MarketingExperiments conducted a study comparing a landing page with a “smiling lady” stock photo with a landing page featuring a photo of the company founder.

Stock photo version:

Company founder version:

The results? Visitors to the landing page with the founder were 35% more likely to fill out the CTA form than those who visited the “smiling lady” page.

Note: Not only was the founder’s image used, text was included to let visitors know it was the founder.

Including real people in your imagery helps instill trust and can help grow your brand recognition.

Make visuals count

A landing page is your one opportunity to make a good impression. Pick visuals with the purpose of captivating visitors and nudging them to take action. Finding the right visuals to do that will probably involve some carefully planned testing.

While it might be tempting to use a visual just because it looks nice and charming, be strategic. Visuals are powerful tools to elicit reactions from people. Take care to use visuals that put your business’s best face forward.

Set your sights on San Diego in April for great visuals and great learning about technology. Register for ContentTECH Summit today. Use code BLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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3 Tools to Optimize Your Old Content to Build More Organic Search Traffic

You spent hours (and maybe days) creating that content. It enjoyed solid exposure when it first went live but, months later, it’s neglected and almost ignored.

How can you put that old content to better use? Reoptimize it.

Reoptimizing your old content has two important benefits:

  • Accumulated backlinks will make benefitting from your reoptimizing efforts – through improved rankings – quicker and easier.
  • Revisiting the old content creates an opportunity to refresh it by removing outdated data and adding something new. 

I suggest using a mix of criteria to identify existing pages worthy of reoptimizing:

  • Pages with outdated content (old data, discontinued tools, etc.) that still receive clicks. You don’t want your readers to leave. Edit the page to ensure its accuracy and optimize again based on its new performance.
  • Pages slowly increasing or decreasing in organic traffic. Recognize the signals to diversify the rankings and readdress your organic competition or reinforce growth by better optimizing the page.
  • Pages stuck on page two of Google search results. It should be easier to move a page from two to one in search results than it is to go from page 10 to page one. An article showing up on page 2 likely just needs a bit more work.

Reoptimize old pages that are increasing or decreasing in organic traffic, says @seosmarty #SEO
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Once you’ve chosen the pages to work on, these tools can help.

1. Text Optimizer: Include related keywords and concepts

I’ve written about how Google’s algorithm evolution is getting smarter every year. The good news is you can learn from it and adapt your copy accordingly.

Google’s algorithm generates snippets based on the excerpts from each page it finds that best relate to the query.

You can analyze those search snippets and extract related terms and concepts.

TextOptimizer (free and paid versions) does that for you. It analyzes Google or Bing search result pages, extracts common terms, and uses semantic analysis to provide a list of topics and keywords you should use to make your old content more relevant to the given query:

#SEO tip: Analyze Google snippets to find common terms to use when reoptimizing content. @seosmarty
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You don’t need to optimize the old content around all these terms. Try incorporating a set of  15 into your content, then run the tool to see how it improves your score. Repeat the process until the content scores 90 or higher.

The tool also gives editorial suggestions, i.e., popular questions around your topic that will help you build a more in-depth copy. If any of those questions are relevant to your old content, incorporate the answers into it.

Text Optimizer can operate as a Google Chrome extension, making it easier to access and run your pages through it.

2. Serpstat: Research keyword gaps

Keyword gap research is a relatively new tactic allowing you to discover which keywords your competitors rank for while your page is nowhere to be found.

Keyword gap research works best for pages that already perform well for some queries but not necessarily the same queries your competitors rank for.

To look at content gaps on a page:

The tool (which offers limited results free, with paid plans starting at $19/month) checks the well-performing keywords for your URL as well as those from two competitor URLs. It creates a handy Venn diagram showing you how far your page is from the other URLs.

Each overlapping section of the Venn diagram represents common queries. Your content gap is where the circles representing your competitors are not overlapping with your page’s circle.

Do keyword gap research to find #search terms your competitors rank for but you don’t.@seosmarty
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The Venn diagram is interactive. You can click inside any of its sections and the corresponding queries load with cool metrics that help you to evaluate the popularity of each term (search volume) and its commercial value (CPC and PPC competition).

Using this information, you can update your old page with sections addressing the queries with the biggest gaps. You can read more about this analysis and how to use it here.

3. Featured Snippet Tool: Include “searches related to”

Google gives a lot of clues when it comes to content optimization. All you need to do is to look closer at those search engine result pages. One of the most useful sections is the “searches related to” box that shows related queries.

Unlike TextOptimizer, which relies on semantic analysis of one search result page, the “searches related to” section is based on user behavior – what users tend to search for before or after searching for the current query.

Some of the search terms may be distantly related. Keep that in mind as you decide whether to use the terms in revising your old content or to create new content:

Still, the behavioral nature of this analysis is useful because it lets you better understand your target audience’s related interests and how the page can be revised to serve those interests.

Featured Snippet Tool (developed by the company I work for) collects and organizes “searches related to” keywords for queries your page already ranks for (pricing starts at $99/month).

Input your URL and discover the featured snippets, “people also ask,” and “searches related to” for your page. Click through to the third tab to see most popular related search suggestions for all the queries where your landing page appears:

You can check any terms that you’re thinking of adding to your old content and export the list to help shape your content around them.

What to do with all those new keywords

Using the three tools above, you’ll end up with a solid list of new related keywords to include in your old content.

Now what?

Content optimization deserves a separate article of its own. But here are some tips on what you need to do (along with some resources for further reading):

  • Add new content sections covering the new concepts and terms you’ve discovered. Yes, in most cases you’ll need to write some new content. It’s not just about editing what you have. You’ll have a better, more in-depth article in the end, which is always good for both people and search engines.
    • Try the tips in this guide on how to format your content while editing and expanding it.
    • Read this great article on making your content better to include references, related tools, definitions, etc.
  • Use H2 and H3 subheads to introduce those new sections (as well as restructure your existing content). H2 and H3 subheads help search engines understand your content better as well as lead it to be featured in search. This article (with great examples) explains how to better word those subheads to capture more organic ranking opportunities (including using keywords in them and sticking to the question format).
  • Create and upload new images using basic SEO to include those core and related terms in the alt text. Don’t forget to optimize those images for mobile devices.
  • Make sure the updated live page is optimized for both search engines and the (mobile) user experience. You can pick a free tool from this list or use this guide. And read this article on what can be preventing your page from ranking higher to make sure yours is good to go.

Content optimization takes time and research. The good news is, when it comes to existing ranking pages, it’s mostly about tweaking and expanding your existing copy rather than writing from scratch.

Are you using any other tools to optimize your existing content? Please share them in the comments.

Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can mention all relevant tools. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments.

Get the latest (and sometimes refreshed) content from Content Marketing Institute. Subscribe to the free weekday newsletter. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

The post 3 Tools to Optimize Your Old Content to Build More Organic Search Traffic appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

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Rock Your Content With These 7 Songwriting Secrets

Songwriters are storytellers. And if you’re a content marketer, you’re also a storyteller. We’re trying to do the same thing – to capture the most elusive thing we can with words: a feeling.

Here are seven songwriting secrets that will help you make your content stronger.

1. Storytelling structure

Writers know strong stories capture audiences and bring concepts to life. Sometimes it’s hard to suss out how to tell a story in a way that will achieve the goal – to keep the reader reading.

Songwriters use the same storytelling structure over and over in their writing. They understand that the strongest components of a story structure are exposition, conflict, and resolution, as Bon Jovi illustrates in Livin’ on a Prayer:

Songwriters know the strongest story components are exposition, conflict, and resolution. @ahaval #content
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Once upon a time not so long ago
Tommy used to work on the docks, union’s been on strike
He’s down on his luck, it’s tough, so tough


Gina works the diner all day working for her man
She brings home her pay, for love, for love

She says, we’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got


It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not
We’ve got each other and that’s a lot for love
We’ll give it a shot

Woah, we’re half way there
Woah, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear
Woah, livin’ on a prayer

Billie Jean also follows this storytelling structure. When you examine the lyrics, you realize that Michael Jackson used exposition, conflict, and resolution out of order to bring even more tension to the story.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: 4 Secrets of Great Storytellers

2. Understand how the human brain processes sound

Songwriting is different than our type of writing, as songwriters must find a melody and lyrics that work together. But content writers also need to bring rhythmic qualities to their work.

The brain has a natural delight in melody, rhythm, and repetition, which begins with the first sounds we hear: the sound of our mother’s heartbeat in the womb. The snack food industry calls it the bliss point – the moment when the movement of your hand to the bag and back to your mouth and the rhythm of chewing become one. When the spoken or written word mimics a rhythm, you get happier readers.

How do you achieve that rhythm in your writing? Do these three things:

  • Read your content out loud: I evangelize this all the time. Nothing will give you a better sense of how your content sounds than reading it out loud. If you can’t speak and listen at the same time, and I know I can’t, record it on your phone and play it back. Immediately, I can tell where I need to add commas, etc.
  • Use long and short sentences: Intersperse long sentences with short sentences to vary the rhythm.
  • Clap it out: Think about how you’re clapping. What does punchy sound like? What does serious sound like? What does human sound like? Experiment with those cadences.

Clap out your #content to experiment with cadence. What does punchy sound like? Experiment, says @ahaval
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Part of reading comprehension is prosody – how does the content sound in the readers’ heads? Finding rhythm to your content will keep your readers engaged.

3. Be open to collaboration

We sometimes think writing is something birthed alone, by ourselves. And sometimes, that is true. But for many of us, we have editors who comb through our work to make it stronger.

What if we took the approach of pair writing, popularized in the UX community? Instead of seeing ourselves as the writers or original content creators and then having editors review it, what if we saw ourselves as collaborators, building pieces together?

In the ’70s Glenn Frey lived in the apartment above Jackson Browne’s. One day, Frey heard Browne trying to compose a song. Browne composed the first verse and chorus, but then he got stuck and couldn’t move forward.

This video explains what happened next.

Too often we put our writing on the shelf and forget about it or don’t realize its potential. Instead, we should send it to a friend or colleague, someone who could be a co-creator to produce something of merit.

Think for a moment if Glenn Frey didn’t live near Jackson Browne? The Eagles’ first hit, Take It Easy, may never have been considered one of the top rock n’ roll songs of all time.

Taylor Swift doesn’t just walk into a studio, sit down with her diary, whip out her guitar, and create a song. She brings ideas into the studio and works with a producer (which is maybe what we should start calling our editors) to help her fine-tune a song.

Maybe we should start referring to editors as producers like singers do, says @ahaval
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Here we watch her build the bridge for the song Delicate:

She collaborates with her producer, Max Martin, who has written and produced 26 No. 1 songs. They work off of her energy and build the lyrics together. Notice how Taylor claps out the rhythm and, when she loses her momentum, Max urges her forward. This is a classic example of pair writing – they are producing content together. We need to work toward that model, instead of an adversarial editor vs. writer relationship.

4. Beg, borrow, and (don’t) steal

When we work with editors and content producers, the goal is to collaborate to make it a stronger piece of content. When we make reference to previously published content, we connect our readers and consumers to something familiar and resonant. References and winks add major color to our writing.

However, we want to be careful that we’re doing attribution right for our references. “Stealing” is rampant in songwriting. With almost every popular album that comes out there’s an accusation of thievery. And this is true in our profession too – no one wants to get dinged for plagiarism.

We’re going to look at two examples of references and one of straight up plagiarism.

Fifth Harmony, an all-girl pop group, sang a feminist anthem called That’s My Girl. The lyrics include a reference to Destiny: “Destiny said it, you got to get up and get it, get mad independent.”

Who is Destiny? Destiny’s Child. And the lyric is a direct reference to Independent Women. By creating that connection with the audience, Fifth Harmony was saying, “We’re the heirs to this incredibly popular woman’s group who changed music.”

But references can be dangerous if they’re too close for comfort.

TLC wrote a smash hit called Waterfalls. The chorus may be intimately familiar to some of you, “Don’t go chasing waterfalls …”

Now, listen to this song by Paul McCartney.

When McCartney heard TLC’s hit, he said, “In fact, somebody had a hit, a few years ago, using the first line … then they go off into another song. It’s like, ‘Excuse me?’” McCartney later received a writing credit. Songwriters call this “change a word, get a third” because the publishing rights are so valuable.

There’s value to begging, borrowing, and stealing, but only if you attribute properly.

5. Be open to all sorts of inspiration

There’s a lot to be said for picking up other writers’ work and using it as a reference or a way to make a connection to your audience. But what about when you want to create something original or inspiration strikes?

Chris Martin from Coldplay described to Howard Stern how the smash-hit song Yellow came to him.

He expressed doubt about whether yellow was the right word. Stars aren’t really yellow, but it was an amazing hit for Coldplay. Yellow remains its most popular song. When inspiration strikes, don’t question it. Follow it along. Who knows where it will take you?

This next story blew my mind. Kathleen Hanna, who was the lead singer of the band Bikini Kill, was good friends with the male lead singer of another band. The two were engaged in a massive conversation about anarchy and politics. Later in the day, he saw that she had scrawled on the wall, “Kurt smells like teen spirit” and a revolution in music was born.

Kurt Cobain (yes, that one!) thought Smells Like Teen Spirit was a perfect anthem for what he was trying to express. However, what Kathleen Hanna really meant was “Kurt smells like his girlfriend’s deodorant Teen Spirit.”

What if he had known that? He may not have written this song that changed a generation. When you hear inspiration calling, follow it.

What if Kurt Cobain had known Teen Spirit was deodorant? Hey, if inspiration calls, follow it, says @ahaval
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6. Break all the rules

When we’re original we can really try to move outside of our comfort zone. Sometimes, when we’re lucky, we’re inspired to break all the rules. The song Baby One More Time was written by the Swedish songwriter/producer Max Martin. He didn’t have a native speaker’s command of English when he wrote the song for Britney Spears. He used the word “hit” because he thought “hit my phone” was another way to say “call me.” When you listen to the song, imagine “call me” replacing “hit me” in the lyrics.

It’s not just in the creation of content where people can break the rules. In 2013, Beyoncé released a self-titled album without any fanfare. Releasing 13 songs and 17 visual pieces without any fans knowing was an impossibility until then. Beyoncé said she chose that approach because she didn’t want anyone telling her how to release her record to her fans.

A lot of us follow best practices when it comes to distributing content. But what if we experimented? Instead of dropping on every channel every day, what if we decided to do it differently? What if we used the drip philosophy instead of the flood philosophy and tried it on different channels at different times like Andrew Davis suggests?

I mean if everyone is sending out an email at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, the content gets lost in the noise. What would happen if we followed Beyoncé’s model by breaking our content distribution and promotion models?

What if you followed Beyonce’s song-release model and broke all the content distribution rules? @ahaval
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7. Be brave enough to follow your own process

Every content creator has their own process for making content great. Some people procrastinate. Others like to write at certain times of the day. But what almost every artist says is that their motivations and process work for them.

McCartney describes, in this clip, why he and John Lennon decided to start writing their own songs:

And finally, this artist, perhaps America’s greatest known songwriter, was under tremendous pressure to create a hit right before his seventh album was released. His manager, Jon Landau, demanded that he write another hit, and Bruce Springsteen went home and in fury wrote Dancing in the Dark.

A song that we all consider a love story? Turns out he is describing the process of writing.

When Springsteen sings, “Come on baby, just give me one more look,” he’s talking about that elusive thing we all strive for, wait for, demand – inspiration to keep creating.

Don’t let anyone tell you content is easy. It takes practice, collaboration, inspiration, sweat, blood, and tears. Songwriters know discipline is the way to bring ideas to life. So do content marketers.

Want to hear the “live” version of Ahava’s rock star writing secrets (it’s worth it – she sings) or any of the other Content Marketing World presentations? Subscribe to CMW video on demand.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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How to Create a Good Brief for Better Content Marketing

Every editor knows what it feels like to sit exasperated in front of the computer, screaming internally, “It would have been easier if I’d done it myself.”

If your role involves commissioning and approving content, you probably know that same sinking feeling: You’re 10 seconds into reviewing a piece and it’s already obvious the creator hasn’t understood a damn thing you told them. As you get deeper into it, your fingertips switch gears from polite tapping to full digital Riverdance as annoyance spews onto your keyboard. We’ve all been there. It’s why we drink. Or do yoga. Or practice voodoo.

In truth, even your best writer, designer, or audiovisual content creator is capable of turning in a bad job. Maybe they were having an off day. Perhaps they were rushing to meet deadline. Or maybe they just didn’t understand the brief.

The first two excuses can be put down to the content creator’s professionalism. You’re allowed to get grumpy about that. But if your content creator didn’t understand the brief, then you, as the editor, are at least partly to blame. 

Taking the time to create a thorough but concise brief is probably the single greatest investment you can make in both your work efficiency and your sanity. The contrast in emotions when a perfectly constructed piece of content lands in your inbox could not be starker. It’s like the sun has burst through the clouds, someone has released a dozen white doves, and that orchestra that follows you around has started playing the lovely bit from Madame Butterfly – all at once.

Creating a thorough but concise #content brief is an investment in efficiency and sanity, says @daniel_hatch
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Here’s what a good brief does:

  • It clearly and concisely sets out your expectations (so be specific).
  • It focuses the content creator’s mind on the areas of most importance.
  • It encourages the content creator to do a thorough job rather than an “it’ll do” job.
  • It results in more accurate and more effective content (content that hits the mark).
  • It saves you hours of unnecessary labor and stress in the editing process.
  • It can make all the difference between profit and loss.

Arming content creators with a thorough brief gives them the best possible chance of at least creating something that is fit for purpose – even if it’s not quite how you would have done it. Give them too little information, and there’s almost no hope they’ll deliver what you need.

On the flip side, overloading your content creators with more information than they need can be counterproductive. I know of a writer who was given a 65-page sales deck to read as background for a 500-word blog post. Do that and you risk several things happening:

  • It’s not worth the content creator’s time reading it, so they don’t.
  • Even if they do read it, you risk them missing out on the key points you want to get across.
  • They’ll charge you a fortune because they’re losing money doing that amount
    of preparation.
  • They’re never going to work with you again.

There’s a balance to be struck.

Knowing how to give useful and concise briefs is something I’ve learned the hard way over 20 years as a journalist and editor. What follows is some of what I’ve found works well. Some of this might read like I’m teaching grandma to suck eggs, but I’m surprised how many of these points often get forgotten.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: How to Write a Great Creative Brief

Who is the client?

Provide your content creator with a half- or one-page summary of the business:

  • Who they are
  • What they do
  • Whom they service
  • What their story is
  • Details about any relevant products and services

Include the elevator pitch and other key messaging, so your content creator understands how the company positions itself and what kind of language to weave into the piece.

Who is the audience?

Include a paragraph or two about the intended audience. If a company has more than one audience (for example, a recruitment company might have job candidates and recruiters), then be specific. Even a sentence will do, but don’t leave your content creator guessing. They need to know who the content is for.

What needs to be known?

This is the bit where you tell your content creator what you want them to create. Be sure to include three things:

  • The purpose of the piece
  • The angle to lead with
  • The message the audience should leave with

I find it helps to provide links to relevant background information if you already have them available, particularly if the information inspired or contributed to the content idea, rather than relying on content creators to find their own. It can be frustrating when their research doesn’t match or is inferior to your own.

A brief should include purpose, angle, and the message audience should leave with. @daniel_hatch
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How does the brand communicate?

Include any information the content creators need to ensure that they’re communicating in a way that sounds authentic for the brand concerned.

  • Tone of voice: The easiest way to provide guidance on tone of voice is to provide one or two examples that demonstrate it well. It’s much easier for your content creators to mimic a specific example they’ve seen, read, or heard than it is to interpret vague terms like “formal,” “casual,” or “informative but friendly.”
  • Style guide: Giving your content creator the style guide can save you a lot of tinkering. This is essential for visuals but also important for written content if you don’t want to spend a lot of time changing “%” to “percent” or uncapitalizing job titles. Summarize the key points or most common errors.
  • Examples: Examples aren’t just good for tone of voice; they’re also handy for layout and design to demonstrate how you expect a piece of content to be submitted. This is especially handy if your template includes social media posts, meta descriptions, and so on.

Put examples in creative #content briefs so writers/designers see what you want to accomplish. @daniel_hatch
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All the elements in documented brief

Here are nine basic things every single brief requires:

  • Title: What are we calling this thing? (A working title is fine so that everyone knows how to refer to this project.)
  • Client: Who is it for and what do they do?
  • Deadline: When is the final content due?
  • The brief itself: What is the angle, the message, the editorial purpose of the content being created? Include here who the audience is.
  • Specifications: What is the word count, format, aspect ratio, or run time?
  • Submission: How and where should the content be filed? To whom?
  • Contact information: Who is the commissioning editor, the client (if appropriate), and talent?
  • Resources: What blogging template, style guide, key messaging, access to image libraries, and other elements are required to create and deliver the content?
  • Fee: What is the agreed price/rate? Not everyone puts this on the brief but include it if appropriate.

Depending on your business or the kind of content involved, you might have other important information to include here, too. Put it all in a template and make it the front page of your brief.

Prepare your briefs early

It’s entirely possible you’re reading this, screaming internally, “By the time I’ve done all that, I could have written the damn thing myself.”

But much of this can be done well in advance. The background information about a company, its audience, and how it speaks doesn’t change. You can pull all those resources into a one- or two-page document, add some high-quality previous examples, throw in the templates they’ll need, and bam! You’ve created a short, useful briefing package you can provide to any new content creator whenever it is needed. You can do this well ahead of time.

Hopefully, these tips will save you a lot of internal screaming in the future. Not to mention drink, yoga, and voodoo.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: Ready to ‘Fire’ Your Content Team?

A version of this article originally appeared in the November issue of  Chief Content Officer.  To get more tips to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your content marketing, subscribe to CMI’s free weekday newsletter.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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Affidabilità, reattività e approccio propositivo, queste sono le caratteristiche che riassumono
i tratti fondamentali di It-Communication.