Well actually it's not the New Year yet if you go strictly by the calendar. But Labor Day marks the traditional end of summer and a kick off to new beginnings. Back to school for some and a resumption of regular work schedules for others. It's a time for getting back up to speed, refocusing your energy, and taking on new projects.
The used printing press we purchased had just been delivered and sat forlornly in the middle of our shop floor. Fred Hudson, our plant engineer, just stared at it, one hand on his hip, the other rubbing his bald head. The riggers who shipped the press deployed a unique method when disassembling the machine. Instead of properly disconnecting the wiring, they simply hacked all the wires off at the power source. So as Fred examined the carnage of tangled wiring, he was trying to figure out how to make all the proper connections. And of course no wiring diagrams or user manuals came with the old, used machine.
Luckily for us, Fred was a genius. He walked around the press for a few days and then pounced. Within a day, he connected all the wires and power was surging through our now running printing press.
Electronics wasn't the only thing in which Fred was expert. He knew everything about mechanical equipment, building construction, auto mechanics, HVAC, and safety. He was our resident subject matter expert (SME).
Regardless of your type of business - technology, software, analytics, marketing, healthcare, manufacturing - chances are you have a Fred or two on staff. They are often quiet, unassuming women and men who harbor a vast source of knowledge of your industry and company. That makes them an invaluable resource when it comes to creating content to help market your business. Whether you need a white paper, eBook, case study, blog post, or sell sheet, your SME's can provide the knowledge and insight to make your content pieces relevant and compelling.
Here are four ways to get the most out of your SME's when it comes to content creation.
Tap into their passion
Regardless of how quiet and reserved your SME's may be, they will open up if you can get them talking about something in the business they are passionate about. They carry around a ton of knowledge they rarely get a chance to share. Showing genuine interest and tapping into that passion often results in a treasure trove of valuable and compelling information that will interest your customers and prospects.
Be thorough in your interview
To get really good information from your SME's, be fully prepared for your discussion. Ask open ended questions and listen closely. Follow up and probe to get them to dig deeper. If the subject is particularly complicated, try to strip away the jargon and get them to explain in plan English. Oftentimes, SME's are so well versed in a topic, they forget that we mere mortals may not have any idea what they are talking about. Fred used to start most discussions with "As you know..." before going on to talk about something about which I was totally clueless. Don't be embarrassed to say "I don't understand. Can you please explain?" Have your SME use analogies to further clarify the subject to make it easier to convert your conversation into meaningful content.
Record the discussion
Before you begin, ask for permission to record the conversation. Even if you are master at shorthand - something very few people are these days - you'll never capture all the content gold your SME will share. They may be intimidated at first, but once you get them talking they will usually forget they are being recorded. Having a digital record of the conversation will be invaluable later when you parse the discussion into various pieces of content.
Keep them in the loop
As you convert their words of wisdom into blog posts, ebooks, or white papers, make sure you keep them involved. Let them review anything you write before publishing. This will not only reinforce that you appreciate what they had to say, it will also ensure that you haven't misinterpreted something or simply made some errors of fact. Keeping them involved will demonstrate that you truly care about what they had to say and will also make it easier if you decide to go back to them for more interesting content later.
As you put your content schedule together and scramble to do research, don't look past your internal resources. Engage your SME's and enjoy a bountiful content reward.
How do you use the knowledge of your SME's? What forms of content have you been able to put together with their help?
Pulitzer Prize winning sportswriter Red Smith once said, "Writing is easy. You just sit at the typewriter until the drops of blood ooze from your forehead." That's what it feels like for many people as they stare at a blank computer screen coming up totally empty as to what to write. The pressure builds as a nagging voice shouts in their head: More content! Publish or perish! Come up with an idea!
Writers are all too familiar with "writer's block" when typing that first sentence becomes overwhelmingly difficult.
Corporate marketing teams can sometimes face the same dilemma. You understand the importance of creating compelling content for your prospects and customers and you know it's a proven way to build relationships and drive revenue. Publishing blog posts, white papers, eBooks, or case studies is the best way to get in front of your target audience to convince them of your expertise in your field and reassure them you understand their issues and can help solve their problems.
But that doesn't make it any easier to create compelling content. Instead of a blank screen, though, you're faced with an empty content calendar. You just don't know what to write about. You're suffering from a problem I call "content block."
I've been on a number of calls with clients who want to produce a white paper, eBook, or blog post series, but are struggling with what the topics should be. To break the block, I'll walk them through a number of possible ideas and eventually we come up with relevant areas of interest we can convert into solid content.
Here are six ideas for topics that will get your creative juices flowing and help you overcome your "content block."
Discuss an industry trend. Pick a hot industry topic and provide your take on it. This will show thought leadership and demonstrate to customers and prospects that you're in tune with current trends. The many newsletters you receive contain a wide variety of issues that would interest your audience. You can also check out brochures on industry conferences and review the list of breakout sessions for a number of topic ideas.
Interview an SME. Most organizations have valuable sources of content right under their noses in their product or service subject matter experts. These individuals not only possess valuable company knowledge but they are also well aware of what's going on with your industry as a whole. Unfortunately, we often fail to take advantage of their vast wealth of knowledge. Sit down with them and ask "So what's new?" Chances are within a short time you'll have an extensive list of topic ideas and the actual content to flesh them out.
Present an opinion on an industry article. We are all inundated with both physical and electronic magazines and articles on a regular basis. It's a good bet you've come across more than one viewpoint with which you disagree. That's great. Make it your next blog post. Linking back to the original article and then providing your unique opinion on it provides your customers and prospects with two sides on a topic of interest. That's the best way to get a dialogue going while honing your thought-leadership chops.
Analyze an industry survey or report. Chances are you often find a report or survey lurking in your email inbox containing information of interest to your target audience. Digest the report, cull out the pertinent points, and put together an analysis explaining what the data means for your prospects and customers. Even if they received the same report, your spin on it could make it more specific and relevant to them.
Offer an objective discussion of a technology you offer. This one can get tricky since if your goal is to be a thought leader, you don't want to jump up on the podium and give a sales pitch. A well written brochure is helpful at certain points in the sales process, but for thought leadership purposes, you want to present a broader look at the topic. For example, one of my clients is a leader in the waterjet cutting field. We did a series of white papers and ebooks discussing the benefits of waterjet technology without specifically mentioning the company's products. We wanted to help educate our target audience and by doing so, we helped cement the company as a thought leader in a growing manufacturing space.
Give a first person problem solving example. These occur on a daily basis but often go unnoticed and unreported. That's unfortunate since they can be among the most powerful pieces of influencing content. Check with your customer service team or sales group for examples of where your product or service solved a customer problem.It can be difficult to get permission from a customer to use their name, but you can make it generic and get the same impact. The result will be similar to a case study with the familiar formula of background, problem, solution, results. This is a great way to provide your prospects with an illustration of what you might be able to do for them.
You may feel the well has run dry when it comes to content will interest your target audience, but that's really never the case. Spend some time thinking about your company, your clients, and your industry and chances are you'll be tapping away at your keyboard in no time.
What have you done to break your "content block?" Where do you find your best content ideas?
This is a question I get asked often. Clients who know they want a content piece longer than a blog post are familiar with both white papers and eBooks, but have trouble understanding the difference between the two. Here's an analogy that might help. Think of an eBook as a friendly conversation with a family member or friend at an informal gathering. Consider a white paper, on the other hand, as a seminar given by a noted expert in the field. That doesn't mean an eBook isn't informative or a white paper has to be stern and stuffy.
Let's say the topic is the stock market. If you're chatting with a cousin who's a financial guru, chances are you're going to get some solid insight. And if you're seminar leader is good, she's likely going to work hard to make her presentation entertaining and enjoyable.
The topic can be the same and you'll likely gain knowledge from both an eBook or a white paper, but there are significant differences between the two.
You probably didn't plan on hearing about the stock market until you started talking to your cousin. But he caught your interest immediately so you quickly became engaged. Something similar happens with an eBook. You may have gotten a link in an email, the subject sounded interesting, so you checked it out. EBooks act as an effective introduction piece and tend to be used early in the customer journey. You're trying to spark a prospect's interest by discussing the general topic area involving your product or service.
The seminar is different. You probably sought it out, signed up for it for a specific day because you wanted to learn more about the topic from an expert. Like a seminar, you usually seek out the white paper and normally "pay" for it with your email address. It's this proactive nature that makes white papers more appropriate for buyers when they are further along in the customer journey - normally in the decision phase.
Like the party discussion, an eBook is more of a one on one conversation. Your cousin will most likely be talking directly about what "you" should be considering when it comes to the stock market, and how recent fluctuations or events in Washington will affect "you" and "your" investments. EBooks are similar in that they are written directly to "you." It's you and the author, face to face discussing the topic.
At a seminar, however, leaders may speak in more third person terms. They'll try to engage everyone in the room, but they're more likely to discuss how the latest drop in the Dow Jones affects "investors." Or they'll point out strategies "people" should be following. White papers take on this formal tone and are normally written in the third person.
Your cousin won't likely be wearing a suit and tie at the party. He'll be comfortably attired in a sweater or golf shirt. EBooks present that informal look as well. They're usually filled with colorful illustrations and graphics meant to attract attention. As I said, you didn't necessarily expect to be reading this piece so something needs to grab and hold your attention.
Seminar leaders will likely be wearing semi-formal attire like a suit. They understand people are coming to them for in-depth knowledge, so they want to begin earning your respect with the way they dress. White papers also take on a formal look. They are primarily text with some charts but very few illustration or graphics. This may not sound exciting, but remember, buyers are already in the decision stage. They don't need whistles and bells - they want hard information and data so they can make a choice that could have a major impact on their company.
EBooks and white papers both have a place in your inbound marketing plan. Just understand the difference so you can employ them appropriately.
Over the past few weeks, I've had a similar discussion with two separate clients over what type of content I was going to generate for them. The question: Blog, eBook, or white paper? The more we talked, the more I felt like we were revisiting Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You know the story. The little blonde breaks into the Bears' house looking to eat, rest her feet, and ultimately get some shut eye. As she wanders around, she finds bowls of porridge that are too hot and too cold before enjoying the "just right" temperature of Baby Bear's. She follows a similar process with the chairs - too hard, too soft, then just right. Up to the bedrooms for the same analysis - too high, too low, and finally, just right.
What does this have to do with copywriting?
Working on content development with clients, I'm finding more of them are focused mainly on the message they want to get out and not so much on the type of content vehicle they will use.
Some feel they need a white paper. After talking about their target audience and goals, we often come to the conclusion that a white paper isn't the right choice. It may be too formal or technical for what they hope to accomplish. Now don't get me wrong. White papers, as I've written before, are still a popular and effective content marketing tool. They're more appropriate further down the sales funnel - when prospects have already made up their minds to buy and they need more detailed information.
Often the request is for a blog post. Again after finding out the amount of content they hope to squeeze into what what should be 500-1000 word post, it becomes clear that a blog post isn't quite right either.
So what's the answer? In many cases the "just right" choice is an eBook. This is especially true when you're focusing on top of funnel activity trying to build brand awareness, establish thought leadership, and generate leads.
That could be why ebooks are exploding in popularity.
In 2010, less than one in ten marketers were using eBooks, according to the annual B2B Content Marketing survey from MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute. In the 2014 survey, that number had jumped to more than one in three. In the past four years, eBooks have leaped over print newsletters, digital magazines, podcasts, and virtual conferences as a content vehicle of choice for marketers.
Here are three reasons more businesses seems to be jumping on the eBook bandwagon every day.
1. Length. Most of us skim blog posts trying to cull out the relevant data we need. But sometimes we want a little more depth and the eBook provides that. I actually describe eBooks to my clients as expanded blog posts.
Lengths can vary - I've done some as small as 1200 words and others as long as 8000 words - but the most popular eBooks tend to be in the 2000-4000 word range. That translates to about 10-15 pages depending on the graphics. (We'll get to that in a minute). As a rule of thumb, if your goal is brand awareness or lead generation, you should shoot for an eBook a reader can finish in one 30 minute session.
Again that's just a guideline. If you're exploring a topic in depth, it can be much longer. The point is that you have the flexibility to make it the "just right" size for your needs.
2. Tone. You also have flexibility when it comes to the tone you use in an eBook. car rental Appropriately, white papers usually focus on technical issues and tend to use a more serious voice. They're usually written in the third person: "The growing omni-channel world of the empowered consumer is forcing retailers to examine their entire IT infrastructure."
You can be more informal in an ebook and address the audience directly. The same point in an eBook could be written like this: "Hey retailer, are you looking for your customer? Well they're everywhere - in your store, on line, or talking to their friends about you on Facebook. Is your IT system ready to help your business respond to them?"
Again, the key is developing the right tone for the right audience. Here are two separate eBooks with the same basic goal of presenting "How To" information. This one on Mobile Marketing and PPC is fairly straightforward and gives the reader a step by step guide on what they should be doing to adapt their paid search to users with mobile devices. This one, The Wizards Behind Google Apps, provides tips and advice on managing Google Apps installations, but the tone is much more whimsical. Both get the job done but knowing your target audience is key.
3. Visuals. Probably the biggest advantage of an eBook over a white paper or blog post is the flexibility - there's that word again - it gives designers. Most engaging eBooks have interesting graphics throughout to draw the reader in and break up blocks of imposing text. According to Content+, articles with images get 94% more views that those without. A well designed eBook enhances the information presented and encourages downloading and sharing. Take another look at the Wizards Behind Google Apps. The graphics are captivating and inviting.
eBooks are not about to replace white papers, blog posts, case studies, infographics or the many other useful content pieces that make up your content marketing portfolio. In many cases however, it may be "just right" for you.
What is your experience with eBooks? How effective have you found them to be?