Keep Your Content Working All Summer Long

Keep Your Content Working All Summer Long

"Looks like everyone is back from vacation and ready to roll!" one of my clients commented to me recently. The week after the fourth of July! Vacations? We don't need no stinking vacations. Or at least that's the way it seems for many Americans. The conventional wisdom is that activity dies in the summertime as people take weeks or long weekends off away from the office.

Don't believe it. The statistics say something very different.

Read All About It: Brand Journalism Is Taking Hold

There's a growing phenomenon in the content world called Brand Journalism. Some say it's the same as content marketing, but that's not exactly true. I would contend that Brand Journalism is a subset of content marketing. Where content marketing can consist of anything from blog posts, infographics, white papers, and ebooks, Brand Journalism strictly follows the traditional news/feature article format. One definition of Brand Journalism is "using the credibility and influence of news to tell a corporate story." It's based on the fundamentals of traditional journalism and good storytelling. It's content marketing because it informs rather than sells, it isn't focused on specific brands, and it's meant to highlight thought leadership.

Brand Journalism can be used in many ways. Some larger companies have set up their own microsites and treat them as separate news outlets focusing on industry and company news. Others place news articles in industry or business magazines. Even some longer form blogs from company executives are considered Brand Journalism.

Many businesses find they don't have the expertise on staff to handle this type of content so they're either hiring former journalists or outsourcing to writers with a journalism background. As a former newspaper reporter, I have a number of clients contracting with me to produce this type of content. The disciplines I learned in journalism school and honed as a working reporter come in handy when researching, interviewing, and composing these articles. The goal is the same as when you're on deadline at a newspaper: develop a compelling story and craft it so it's interesting to the reader.

Here are three reasons you should consider including Brand Journalism in your overall marketing plan.

1. You control the message

Instead of putting out a press release and hoping some news outlet publishes it or spins it into a bigger article, you control the content from the outset. You decide what's interesting to your target audience and then tailor the content for them. If you're publishing on your own site, you're not bound by space or editorial restrictions that may alter what you want to say. The piece still has to be well written and worthy of a reader's time, but now you're in charge.

2. You speak directly to your customers

Instead of an editor interpreting or filtering your message, you're able to reach out and touch your prospects and customers directly. This ensures that your views and opinions get delivered accurately and the way you intended them. It also allows you to provide a vehicle for direct responses so you can get valuable feedback, crucial in today's business climate.

3. You cut through the clutter

With marketing information reaching overload in today's "always-connected" digital world, people tend to tune out many marketing messages. Framing your content as informative, journalistically crafted articles helps you break through the fog of negative thinking that sometimes blocks marketing collateral. People no longer want to be sold; they want to be informed. Brand Journalism done correctly accomplishes that goal while helping you reach your target audience.

Brand Journalism won't replace traditional advertising or other commonly accepted content marketing vehicles. It just becomes another arrow in your marketing quiver and can be an effective way to promote your brand.

Have you  begun to use Brand Journalism? How can this format fit into your marketing program?

Ring in the New Year with a Content Review

The hectic run-up to the holiday season is usually a time of finishing up projects before the end of year lull. Once through the festivities, activity ramps up again and the new year can sometimes present a blank slate - perhaps even a clean desk - and offers a perfect opportunity to start a few new projects. One of the more productive things you might consider is taking a look at your content. Start by reviewing what you have and then determine what you might need in the coming months. Here are five ideas to get you started.

1. Take advantage of untapped resources

Coming up with content ideas can sometimes be a struggle, especially with a bulging to-do list of other priorities. The solution may not be as difficult as you think. domain owner . You're likely surrounded by several fertile sources that you may not have considered - your resident subject matter experts.

Most companies, especially those in the technology space, have SME's who are carrying around valuable knowledge about your industry, business, and customers. Unfortunately they probably lack the time to get that information down on paper where you can share it with current and prospective clients. Why not arrange to tap that extensive knowledge and put together an eBook or white paper on a topic relevant to your business?

Not only will this provide you with an outstanding content piece for lead generation or thought leadership, but it'll also allow the SME to share his or her valuable insight - something they may be eager to do.

2. Document a customer success story

The end of the year is always a good time to look back to last year to find situations where your product or service helped one of your clients. Crafting several compelling case studies fills two needs: It provides your customer with some always welcome publicity and it also gives you an effective proof of concept piece.

One of the biggest influencers with potential clients is evidence that your product or service does what you say it will. Demonstrating it with a real world example from an existing customer is one of the most powerful sales tools.

3. Refresh your blog

Spend a minute going through your list of blog posts. If the most recent one is three or four months old, you're sending a message that either you have nothing new to say or you've abandoned the blog section entirely. This could be the right time to reach out to customers and prospects with a series of posts to refresh that area of your site.

You don't need to commit to a daily blog blitz, but presenting one post a week for the next few months will show that you're making an effort to communicate with your audience.

4. Update your web site

While you're on the site, take a look at other copy that may need updating. Is your bio page still relevant? Does it include new hires and has it been edited to delete those no longer with the company? How long has it been since you posted a new entry in your press release section? Does the main message on your home page still accurately reflect the company's direction?

I'm not suggesting you invest heavily in an all-new design. Sometimes revisiting and updating some of your key content elements is all you need to breath some life into your site.

5. Get published

One of the best - and most cost effective - ways to get publicity for your company is to publish an article in an industry magazine or newsletter. Those publications are always looking for content so they'll likely welcome your reaching out to offer your expertise. This is an excellent way to share your thoughts on a hot industry topic and get some props for your organization at the same time.

After the article is published, you then have a solid marketing piece you can share with prospects and customers to reinforce your thought leadership profile.

Lots of resolutions are made at this time of year and many of them wither and die before too long. Reviewing and upgrading your content program doesn't have to be one of them. By taking a few simple steps now, you can establish a year long program that can yield significant benefits.

What are your content plans for 2015?


Vacation Time? Not for Your Content

Summertime and the living is easy, as the old song goes. It's true that between vacations, half day Fridays, and long weekends, things tend to slow down in July and August. That doesn't mean you should stop communicating with your prospects and customers all summer. When I was in the corporate world, I was amazed by the amount of time businesses let slip away. Starting around Thanksgiving people would begin their "we'll pick it up after the holidays" mantra. Things got going again in January for a few months but by June everyone would talk about doing things "in the fall." Add it up and you'd be looking at losing three or four months of productive work a year.

In today's competitive environment, that's a luxury most businesses shouldn't tolerate - especially when it comes to your content marketing program. Several studies estimate that 60% of the buyer's journey is completed before a prospect reaches out to a vendor. If a buying cycle is four months, that means prospects are out there making preliminary decisions for two and a half months before they even contact you. If that time frame falls during the summer and your content is lying in a beach chair somewhere, chances are you've already lost the business.

Taking time off is necessary to recharge your batteries but you need to make an exception when it comes to your content. This is no time to shut that down. Not only is it a bad idea to go dark with your inbound marketing for a few months, it might actually be the perfect time to do the opposite.

Here are a few reasons you should make sure your content is alert and on the job all summer.

Stand out from the crowd. The fact that so many companies let their content go stagnant during the summer months can work to your advantage. It will highlight the fact that you are up and running. Prospects in the early stages of the buying process can get frustrated if they don't find the information they need. Providing the fresh content they're looking for puts you on the fast track to a potential new customer.

Downtime means more time. Things do slow down in the summer but that actually can work in your favor. People that are in the office during vacation season may find additional time in their schedules. Freed from the normal hectic pace and never ending meetings, they may actually dig deep into their "to do" list to get to things they've put on the back burner. Some of those could require spending extra time researching a product or service they're considering. This is the perfect time to get fresh, longer content pieces - an eBook or white paper - into their hands.

Prospects are mobile. You might even reach those prospects that are out of the office at the beach or in the mountains. Unfortunately the days of completely unplugging from the business world are long gone. Smartphones and tablets are too hard to resist and most people will take the opportunity to tune into some work related reading while they're away. Advertising Age states that the average US adult spends almost two and a half hours a day using a mobile device. Chances are the number's even longer during a vacation. You should have some content out there ready for them when they start doing some business related surfing.

Front Load Your Fall. The problem with "holding off until after vacations" is that eventually summer ends. All those "to do's" you've been "holding off" on - including your content schedule - continue to build and then explode on your desk right after Labor Day. Summer is the perfect time to get a head start on those content needs so they won't get lost as the early fall activity ramps up.

Go ahead and enjoy yourself this summer. Just make sure your content is still hard at work while you're gone.

What are your content plans for the summer months? Can you afford to unplug from your customers for 20-25% of the year?

Photo Credit: [Duncan] via Compfight cc

3 Reasons an eBook May Be The "Just Right" Content You Need

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 AppsThe 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?