Generating different types of content (Part I)

There's very little I do nowadays that doesn't relate to generating content. As a result, I’m always talking to clients about the different types of content that they could deploy within their marketing and communications efforts. When you really set your mind to it, it’s surprising quite how many different content ‘asset’ ideas you can come up with.

The inspiration here is any decent newspaper or magazine. After all, if the ultimate aim in our content-heavy business world is to think and act more like a publisher (which I believe it is), then why wouldn’t we try to mimic the tactics which they use so successfully?

Sadly, my memory seems to be letting me down on occasions. I’m not so good any more at rattling this list right off the top of my head. Therefore, I thought it was about time I started getting this list down in writing.

So, if you’re thinking about upping your game when it comes to generating content but are wondering how you’re going to do that with yet more press releases and client testimonials, read on. There’s more than one way to skin that cat.

generating content

The news story (and the news release)

If you’re serious about thinking and acting like a publisher, then news must clearly feature somewhere in your content mix. New wins, new hires or other corporate announcements; these are all fair game. However, there has to be something in there which can genuinely appeal to the audience outside of your office.

The clue is in the title. “News” story. Do you know why journalists get so annoyed with all the news releases sent to them? It’s partly down to the sheer volume clogging up their inbox but it’s mainly down to the fact that they contain no news. When preparing a news piece, you must be ruthlessly cold in your appraisal of its editorial appeal. Publishing ‘non-news’ content diminishes the value of your own publishing platform and your brand and it will harm your media relationships if you send it to them as well. You’d actually be better off without it.

Do

Give your “proper” news the treatment it deserves. To give it more credibility, write it like news being supplied by an objective third party reporter, not like a corporate puff piece. Tell readers why this matters, not just what it is (find out about 'using the power of why' here). If possible, include a decent photo and maintain strong media relationships for when you need to sell the story in elsewhere.

Don't

Start gushing about how great you are. Adjectives like ground-breaking, cutting edge and revolutionary probably aren’t yours to use. And avoid those empty platitudinal quotes about how delighted you are. No-one believes you.

generating compelling content

Op-ed (a.k.a. the insight piece or the soapbox)

For years, I thought that op-ed stood for “opinion editorial”. Yet when fact-checking this piece, I realised that it actually stands for “opposite the editorial page”. That’s because, in 1921, the editor of The New York Evening World decided to clear the page opposite his main editorial page and fill it with opinionated copy. He used his own staff’s opinions to do this. It remained common practice until the 70s when The New York Times started running the opinions of noteworthy thinkers who weren’t on the staff. Huh, who knew?!

Anyway, regardless of its history, I believe that the op-ed remains one of the most powerful weapons in your content armoury. Used properly, it grabs attention, provokes debate and highlights the talent within your organisation. It’s a shop window for the depth of intellect that you’re able to place at your clients’ disposal.

The amount of data, facts and figures you want to cram in is up to you. Some might say opinions without facts are worthless. Others say that credibility can stem from merely who the author is and how experienced they are and that a lack of data points doesn’t diminish a strong, engaging opinion. I’ll let you make your own mind up.

Do

Get your most senior and/or talented people generating content by talking about the issues that really matter. Turn a particularly timely topic into your personal soapbox; come back to it time and time again.

Don't

Turn it into a thinly veiled sales pitch. The answer to solving issue A doesn’t always have to lie in selling product B. You can just talk about stuff, you know? It’s like having a conversation. Despite everything you may have heard, people do still indulge in them from time to time.

newspaper reader

The blog

I’ve only left this one on the list because, otherwise, people will wonder where it is. However, a blog isn’t really a type of content. It’s a catch-all term for a whole host of content assets published in a single place.

It started life as journal-style content (the original “web log” from which the term “blog” emerged), often written by a single individual and in a very conversational tone of voice – but look at what it has become now.

One of my favourite go-to sites is The Content Strategist. Run by a US company called Contently, it’s a huge repository of well-written, magazine-style content, written about….well, content. You can access it from the Contently site by clicking on “Blog” in the top navigation menu. However, it’s as far removed as it can possibly be from the traditional corporate view of what a blog should be. It’s an entire magazine to which dozens of expert writers regularly contribute. In fact, more than that; it’s Contently’s entire public-facing marketing strategy (which makes you wonder why they persist with the term “blog” but I guess that’s down to ingrained public expectations and ease of navigation).

Do

Continue with getting people to write in a relaxed, conversational, opinionated tone. If a senior figure says to you, “Should we have a blog?”, snap their hand off. They’ve just given you a publishing platform. But then set about turning it into something so much bigger than a selection of pieces which open with, “This week, I have mainly been doing….”

Don't

Get too attached to the word “blog”. In fact, swap it for “content generating engine” and treat it as such. When this engine starts to crank out content, don’t treat it like an old school blog, tucking the results away in the darkest recesses of your website. Stick it front and centre of your online presence. Treat it as the beating heart of your business development activities.

relaxed reader

Advice points (a.k.a. the how-to guide or top tips)

Ok, so this is where you start to think about monetising your content. If you can’t offer sound, practical solutions to a client’s issues, then what are you in business for? The explosion of content marketing in recent years means that such list pieces are decidedly in vogue at the moment. Judging by how they feature on almost every content site you visit nowadays, audiences clearly have an appetite for these things.

This doesn’t mean they’re easy to put together though. There’s the danger of being overtly commercial (a common bugbear of mine) and of the tone becoming more like a lecture than a conversation.

For every organisation laying out their entire commercial proposition in an advice piece (bad), there’s another one shying away altogether for fear of giving away their intellectual property (just as bad). I’m afraid that ship set sail a long time ago, once the internet changed our expectations about accessing information. You’re going to have to give something away for free. Just because you’ve told them what to do, it doesn’t mean they won’t still need you to help them do it. What’s that line about giving a man a fishing rod versus teaching him how to fish?  Yep; better start giving away some fishing rods.

Do

Give away something of genuine benefit. Make sure that there are a few pieces like this in your editorial calendar. However, remember that they’re best utilised some way down the sales funnel once people have already been attracted to your content. Think about how these pieces could be packaged up in downloadable guides and e-books which clients (and prospects) could return to time and time again.

Don't

Change your tone of voice just because you’ve moved into a more educational mode. This may well be more heavyweight than content elsewhere in your portfolio but it doesn’t mean it has to sound grey and corporate. And make sure that the advice you give is more creative than making explicit links to your products and services.

There's plenty more still to come on this list - but that's enough for now. Read more in Part II of the series.