Companies like Chevrolet, Unbounce, Timberland and Lego are already doing epic content marketing. Here’s how you can do the same.
This time of the year is when many marketing pros share their industry predictions for the new year.
My prediction is fairly simple: epic content will rule content marketing in 2016.
I know what you’re thinking: isn’t this the case already? Actually, not yet. The truth is while many companies already create a huge amount of content, their content is rarely epic. The marketing graveyard is littered with mediocre content. Lots of it.
The stats on content marketing are staggering: as of 2015, 88% of B2B companies and 76% of B2C companies do some form of content marketing, according to the Content Marketing Institute. A study by PQ Media is predicting that content marketing will become a US$313 billion industry by 2019, highlighting the continued growth of this practice.
Creating good content is no longer good enough, and the pressure to stand out will only increase. Just ask Buffer. By many standards, the social-media management company has amazing content, but it has seen a significant drop in social media traffic in the past year. This just goes to show that even content marketing rockstars could find themselves struggling to increase (or even maintain) traffic and attract new audiences.
For you to build an audience with your content in 2016—for you to generate leads and sales—you need to stand out from the crowd. The way to do that is to be epic. Be bold. Be better than your competition.
Here’s how you can do that, along with some examples.
Embrace radical transparency.
The current content marketing landscape is not for the weak. Being epic means doing things other companies aren’t willing to do.
One way of doing that? By becoming more open than anyone in your industry. By embracing radical transparency.
“Being epic means doing things other companies aren’t willing to do.”
Some brave companies are already using content to be very open with their customers, investors and the general public. One example is Unbounce, a Vancouver-based marketing software company that blogs about its business performance on a regular basis. In December 2014, the company shared its user and recurring revenue numbers along with things it could have done better, ditching the typically boring earnings report or press release. Some of its staff regularly share customer success metrics and customer feedback on their employee blog.
Imagine a traditional company doing that. They won’t because transparency is not the usual path that marketers take. Spinning things positively is the typical and predictable route.
I already mentioned Buffer before, and the company is worth mentioning here again. In addition to sharing some of their analytics (as they have done in the example above, when they shared their social referral traffic), the company also published (and recently updated) its employee salaries. The company has a public salary calculator where potential employees could go and see how much they could make at the company given their role and experience. Right now, that level of transparency feels risky and fresh, but I suspect (or at least hope) that more companies will embrace it in the new year.
So how can transparency help you sell more? Well, people buy from companies they trust. Being transparent builds trust with your audience over time.
Of course, transparency is somewhat relative. Depending on your industry or your business model, it may not make sense to share some information about your business. But the point is you need to consider how you can use content marketing to be more open. Transparency is an effective but often unexplored path to epic content marketing.
Be extremely helpful.
If you really want to attract a bigger audience and get more in-target leads, you need to stop using content marketing to constantly talk about your company, your products and your services. You need to stop using your blog posts, infographics and slideshares as thinly veiled ads.
Stop focusing on just you, you and you.
Instead, your goal should be to become ridiculously useful for your target audience. Your ultimate objective: to be such a great resource that prospects seek out your content and your expertise.
One example of creating very useful content is the Q, a blog operated by the upscale fitness club Equinox. The blog offers recipes, workout and fashion tips (complete with animated GIFs) and even celebrity playlists—content that’s super relevant to and useful for its hip, professional audience.
So how do you create content that’s useful? Talking to your customers is a good start. Get a deeper understanding of their motivations, aspirations and pain points. When you have a clearer picture of the people you’re trying to reach, it’s easier to create content that’s useful for them.
Create long-form content.
If you’re limiting yourself to 500 to 700-word blog posts, you’re doing it wrong. Data shows that investing in longer, more comprehensive blog posts is worth the effort.
- Articles with a word count between 2,250 and 2,500 earn the most organic traffic.
- Articles with a word count over 2,500 get shared the most on social media.
- Articles with a word count over 2,500 earn the most links.
Admittedly, the study only includes Hubspot’s own blog posts, but it does show that you should at least experiment with longer, more comprehensive blog posts to see if it’s worth your effort.
One example of how awesome, longer articles could look like comes from Chevrolet. Recently, the company published a blog post that highlights 24 of its models that helped define its brand. Online advertising software company Wordstream had this to say about Chevrolet’s blog post:
Beginning in 1914 with the Royal Mail Roadster, the article chronicles not only the development of new automotive technologies during the past century, but also the unique position the Chevrolet brand occupies in American culture. The piece features striking images of Chevy’s most iconic vehicles to accompany the surprisingly modest copy, including photos of classic models like the El Camino, Camaro and Corvette.
This example is particularly clever, as it not only provides gearheads with lots of information about the specifications of each vehicle (including horsepower, the number of cylinders each engine had and the sticker value at the time of release), it also reinforces the concept of longevity – not just of the Chevrolet brand, but of the manufacturer’s individual vehicles. By taking the reader on a journey through the brand’s history, Chevrolet appeals to consumers’ desire for a reliable and stylish car in an entertaining and informative way.
Other content marketing experts like Neil Patel have recently endorsed long-form blog posts. You should give it a try. Aim to experiment with well-researched, longer posts to see if it helps increases traffic and conversions on your site.
Collect, analyze and offer original data.
Build brand awareness and get higher quality leads by offering industry insight not found anywhere else. You can do that by running new studies and providing exclusive data about a hot topic affecting your prospects and leads.
Indeed, data is the next big thing in content marketing. In Harvard Business Review, tech strategist (and a former boss of mine) Alexandra Samuel says offering original data can help get you more traffic and build your company’s authority.
Sharing, curating, and analyzing data — particularly if it hasn’t been shared before — establishes your brand as the authority on a topic. If you can release a report or infographic that offers a new or definitive take on a key set of market trends or issues, you become the go-to source on that subject. That may bring earned media mentions and interview requests, but just as crucially, the report itself highlights your company’s expertise. For B2B companies in particular, underlining expertise is often one of the top aims of content marketing, and data-driven content accomplishes that goal very effectively.
Plenty Of Fish, an online dating site that was recently acquired by Match, provides a great example. The company offers interesting, timely research about dating—all drawn from aggregated data from its millions of users. From studies showing the top personality traits of singles in major North American cities to the dating behaviors and attitudes of single moms, Plenty Of Fish offers interesting research on its blog that will appeal to journalists and bloggers as well as to singles who want to learn more about other singles.
Consider new ways of storytelling.
So you’ve got a blog, you’re producing ebooks and you’re hosting webinars. All of these are great, but let’s face it: these are all common ways of doing content marketing now. So the question you need to figure out is this: how can you take advantage of new forms of storytelling—new mediums and tactics—that could set your company apart?
In B2B, marketers use an average of 13 content marketing tactics, according to a 2015 report from the Content Marketing Institute. The long list of tactics include social media updates, case studies, infographics and online presentations.
To stand out though, we must look for innovative ways of sharing insight, building thought leadership and attracting new leads. Experimenting with new ways of storytelling is key to epic content marketing.
Some companies are using what you might consider an old-school way of telling stories: movie-making. In 2013, Chipotle released The Scarecrow, an animated short film that aims to “educate people about where their food comes from. The company also released Farmed and Dangerous, a four-part web series “that explores the outrageously twisted and utterly unsustainable world of industrial agriculture.” The webisodes are available on Hulu.
If you think these Chipotle initiatives aren’t forms of content marketing, you’re wrong. Content marketing is about creating valuable or entertaining content with the intent of attracting potential customers. These films essentially do that. And because these films are of such high quality, they get critical acclaim and get the attention of younger millennials.
For a more recent example, look no further than the Lego Movie. As The Guardian notes, the movie is essentially content marketing guised as a full-length film.
While there are all sorts of great examples of content marketing, a common theme is that a brand will create useful or entertaining content targeted at consumers that will soon be in a position to pay for the company’s services/products; the actual content itself can be almost anything but it should stay within the spirit of the brand’s image, even if it is not strictly related. Think about Red Bull’s Stratos project among others – do you really need an energy drink to jump from space?
As a product, Lego is for kids, so the Lego marketing team’s main challenge is to make their products appealing to children; however, it is the parents, aunties, uncles, grandparents and godparents who hold the purse strings. This is where the joy – and the genius – comes in: The Lego Movie is a ripping adventure for kids, but is also great fun for adults.
Other companies are already using this new form of epic content marketing. At this year’s SXSW Eco conference, the shoewear company Timberland premiered a documentary that explores its tree-planting initiative.
“It gives us the opportunity to not only share with our consumers our commitment to environmental stewardship and being a socially responsible company, but it also allows us to tell a story of a different approach to creating a social business,” Morey-Reuner, director of strategic partnerships and business development at Timberland, told Fast Company about the documentary.
Your company doesn’t need to hire Steven Spielberg to create epic content, but the point is that you have to explore underutilized approaches to storytelling. Re-evaluate your tactics, and find new ways of telling your story.
Now that content marketing is mainstream, the imperative is for marketers to keep things fresh. Epic content marketing can get you there.
Just a word of caution: epic content marketing is not about gimmicks. Instead it’s about creating content that so valuable, so entertaining and so helpful that customers can’t help but pay attention. It’s about being creative, not about being desperate.
As you plan your content marketing strategy for the new year, think of how you can be more creative. How will you delight and surprise your target audience? What will you do to be more epic?