We know our marketing content needs to be great to stand out from the competition to capture our audience’s mind share. There is no shortage of content telling us that most content is mediocre and we have to be sure our content is great.
But what makes great content?
That is exactly what I asked Eric Wittlake when I had the opportunity to interview him. Eric Wittlake is a leading B2B marketing blogger, thought leader and Media Director at Babcock & Jenkins.
What Makes Great Content?
Wittlake explained that great content is defined by the reader feeling that her time was well spent. He stated that on the other hand what makes horrific content is when the reader wishes she could get her time back. One of the things that provides a litmus test for great content is to ask yourself if this is something that people will come away from feeling fulfilled in some way. That could be how-to information, inspiration or entertainment. Being helpful is one of the easiest and least risky approaches to creating great content.
Be careful if you choose entertainment, cautioned Wittlake. He said he often cautions marketers when it comes to using entertainment for their content.
“Not very many people can compete with the entertainment that’s available online today. You’re not The Oatmeal. You’re not The Onion. You’re not Jon Stewart. If you’re competing with them, you’re probably setting yourself up to fail,” stated Wittlake.
One of the biggest challenges is that your competition is trying to create the same thing you are, shared Wittlake. He said there has to be some other elements that are going to make your content great if it’s going to compete against everyone else’s helpful content. Everyone else is putting out the same kind of stuff. It’s great to be helpful, but for your content to be really great content, you’re going to have to find some sort of angle on it that makes it stand out and become a better use of time for your audience.
Differentiating or Devaluing Content?
I recently read a post that Wittlake wrote, 7 Step Guide To Creating Perfect Content. In it he sarcastically provides readers the simple formula for creating perfect content. The formula includes such tactics as creating lists, bullets, subheads and skimmable content. The post intrigued me because I often hear people advising marketers to use these tactics and I also often hear people advising marketers not to use these tactics. When I got the chance to interview Wittlake, I was eager to ask him if he felt that these tactics devalue good content.
Wittlake summoned his inner-politician and stated, “I have two conflicting answers to that question.”
One of the ways that you can actually differentiate your content is by getting the same value across in less time, because I only have so much time to commit, explained Wittlake. If you can deliver more value in the same amount of time or the same value in less time, that can actually be a competitive advantage. If everyone else in your market is providing advice in a 500-word post and you can get the same amount of information across in only 150 words, your audience has a better return on time invested with your content than they do with other content.
He provided Lowes’ Vine campaign as an example of a company that is doing a really good job at short content.
“They’re able to show you how to fix something in six seconds. If Lowes has a solution for your problem on Vine, you know it’s not going to take very long to watch it. There’s real value in that,” shared Wittlake.
What you do lose is some of the content experience, stated Wittlake. He stated that the New York Times article, Snowfall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek, is an example of long content at it’s greatest.
“Snowfall breaks every single rule of what makes content good today, if you go by the typical content marketing advice. Yet, it’s content that we all know. It’s being put up on a pedestal. It’s the new higher standard content. It’s a kind of content that increasingly marketers are aspiring to,” said Wittlake.
He further explained that what makes Snowfall so great is that it was more of an experience than just simple content. That’s where the list, bullets, subheads and skimmable content lose out. They don’t provide a unique content experience. When you use these typical tactics your content starts to become a format that sounds and feels like what everyone else is doing.
Wittlake believes the drive to differentiate marketing content will happen at the extremes, from the most direct and concise content to the most complete content. Most marketers that sit in the middle will become just average and suffer from a lack of meaningful differentiation.
“Lowes’ Vine campaign is great examples of extremely short useful how-to content. The other extreme is 20-page ebooks or 200-page traditional books. Those extremes are where there’s differentiation from other people in your market,” explained Wittlake.
No One Has time to Read Anymore
I was speaking with someone before I interviewed Wittlake who said, “No one has time to read more than 800 words anymore.” As soon as he said it, I thought of my interview and was excited to ask Wittlake his thoughts on this tried and true best practice.
He replied that he believes most people choose not to take the time to read long content because they expect to get short bites. People expect to get the information that they need quickly, without a lot of extra fluff.
Most content doesn’t justify the time it takes to consume in long form, stated Wittlake, but when people are looking to understand complex processes or compare competitive solutions, they will take the time to read long-form articles, but not from a vendor. They want first-hand experience of people who have really experienced what they are about to undertake. Wittlake cautioned that if you are creating long content, you have to be sure that you’re not just creating a long form of the same stuff that’s already out there everywhere.
A few years ago Wittlake was trying to decide which WordPress theme to use. He came across a 5,000-word post, Thesis vs. Genesis – Comparing Premium WordPress Themes by Kristi Hines, that covered what the set-up and process was like, how you can customize and how the pricing models are different. It was an exhaustive review of two of the leading providers somebody might be considering. Wittlake said he read the whole post because at that point, he was trying to figure out which theme to go with, and that length of content was worth his time.
“Kristi Hines does a lot of blogging about blogging. She does it better than almost anybody else out there, in my opinion. All the other reviews that I was finding elsewhere were regurgitating the same stuff. Even though I could get through them much more quickly, I wasn’t actually getting value for my time the way I was out of her post in particular,” explained Wittlake.
Experts often advise marketers to focus on just one thing in a piece of content, stated Wittlake. He said that is generally good advice. It keeps you focused and it lets you keep your content shorter. But your audience might see the full topic as just one thing, while you are focused on a subtopic. He explained that Hines could’ve created several posts with one post being a review of the pricing and another a review of the implementation, and created ten different posts. It wouldn’t have been as useful because that information was available elsewhere, but what was really useful was the fact that it was all rolled up into a single long-form article.
“It was done at a level of quality, at a level of information value that made the whole thing worthwhile,” said Wittlake.
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