The days of building a business by writing 300-word SEO-optimized blog posts are over.
Content marketing has become an ultra-competitive field as its merits have been recognized, and it’s no longer enough to do the bare minimum if you want to succeed.
You need a workflow that lets you work efficiently and with accountability. You need deep expertise in your field and the ability to communicate that expertise. And as with everything else, if you really want results, you need an edge.
Your edge is what you do differently. Without that, you can invest tons of time and money into content and get nothing in return. That’s because in content, the key is to have your work become evergreen, timeless — if you want to do that, you need to be able to see into the future and do today what will distinguish you tomorrow.
How do you get an edge in content marketing?
That’s why we went out and asked 11 thought leaders in the content marketing space how they would answer a simple question.
“How do you get an edge in content marketing?”
Brian Balfour, Founder/CEO of Reforge
Gaining an edge depends on the audience. There are still some audiences where older, more well-known play books — Skyscraper, Hub and Spoke — will work. But many audiences that B2B SaaS companies are targeting are saturated with content.
The game has changed.
We used to live in a world where consumers didn’t have enough quality content to fill their time. We are now in a world where there is more good content than there is time to consume. That means your content needs to be good enough to replace the time your readers would otherwise spend on other content.
That is a higher bar.
So look at the content that’s already out there for your audience, and then ask yourself, “What would be the polar opposite of this?” Then execute on that.
- Short content? → Go super comprehensive.
- Written content? → Do video.
While everyone is moving in one direction, move in the other one to stand out.
Melissa Joy Kong, Founder of Iceberg Agency
The very first step to getting an edge in content marketing — this year and every year — is producing high-quality content that matters to your audience on a consistent basis. This seems obvious, but so few companies do it because it takes a lot of hard work and time.
The very next step is this: If you’re going to invest in creating content, make sure you’re also investing in conversion optimization.
You can have the best blog in the world, but if you’re not directly tying your content to conversion funnels, your efforts will never get you the results you’re ultimately looking for. Whether you want to collect email addresses, close a sale, or upsell existing users, make sure it’s as easy as possible for people who read your content to give you their email, sign up for a demo, or upgrade their current plan.
Len Markidan, Head of Marketing at GrooveHQ
You know all of those rich, research-packed, long-form content pieces that you’ve spent hundreds of hours working on these past few years?
It’s time to start getting more mileage out of them.
Rather than focusing on building new content from scratch every time, leverage the hard work you’ve already done to seed your new content. Turn a list post into an infographic. Break an important idea off of a larger article and publish it on its own. Compile the best tips and tactics you’ve already shared about a topic into a “best of” guide. Use bits and pieces of your content to answer questions on Quora.
There are so many ways to extract value (read: traffic, leads and customers!) from your content, and yet many marketers only ever use a piece of content once. Don’t make the same mistake.
Many marketers only ever use a piece of content once. Don’t make the same mistake.
Meryl Ayres, Content Marketing Manager at Wistia
“Get an edge in content marketing,” huh?
Always remember that you’re competing with a marching band of blog posts, podcasts, guides, and videos. To cut through all that brouhaha, you need to create content that truly helps and/or delights your audience. Make your reader’s job easier. Give ’em something to talk about at lunch. People like to look good. Help them do that, and they might just come back for more.
Video is increasingly becoming an effective medium for cutting through the noise (I realize I’m a bit biased).
Dynamic visual content grabs attention in news feeds, and it can add that extra touch of clarity or delight in a longer piece of content. While not all content requires video, we’ve found that our content strategy directly benefits from it. Increased time on page, more engagement on social… not to mention it can be a great driver of word of mouth (e.g. Did you see that video of their CEO singing in a field?).
If you haven’t already incorporated video into your content, now’s the time. No fancy equipment necessary. Grab your phone, and start shooting.
Archana Madhavan, Director of Content at Interana
Write about something your readers will find valuable.
This sounds obvious, but so much of content marketing these days is about building your company’s brand, trying to rank for a certain SEO keyword, link-building, and generating leads.
Content creators should be using analytics to understand what kinds of topics and what types of posts really resonate with their readers.
The core question at the center of content creation should always be,Is this useful?
Janet Choi, Senior Manager of Content at Customer.io
Just doing content marketing isn’t enough. It’s about how you do it.
Basically, don’t be shitty to people and just put out words to “capture” people for your lists. Attention is a valuable and scarce resource for everyone — including yourself. Provide value and serve your audience while connecting your efforts to meaningful metrics and feedback.
Your edge is created and honed over time while putting in the work to deliberately connect with a larger audience on one side and to your business/product on the other. Content and how you’re communicating with people provides the connective thread throughout the lifecycle. That’s what’s going to provide the edge — the experience you’re creating for people.
Content marketing is an investment for the long-term, so your measurements of success should take into account long-term goals. Are you creating sustenance that will help your audience and your business grow in some way, or are you just pushing more words out into the vastness of the internet?
Jimmy Daly, Editor-in-Chief at QuickBooks
Write for a sophisticated reader.
The quality threshold for content keeps dropping, making it easier than ever to stand out if you write smart content. Be the place that offers something challenging and smart. Borrow principles and trends from corollary industries and see if you can make them work for your own. Find ideas that have stood the test of time and apply them to your own strategy.
Whatever you do, don’t regress to the mean — it’s a race to the bottom.
Suneet Bhatt, Chief Growth Officer and Devin Bramhall, Director of Content at Help Scout
Content marketing is a compound phrase for a reason.
It’s easy to put your emphasis on the “content” side of the equation. It’s fun. It’s about creation. It’s about ideas and creativity. Unfortunately, the reason why so much content marketing is ineffective, is because teams forget, or underplay, the marketing side of the equation.
If you’d like to get an edge, we recommend one thing: avoid the Field of Content Dreams scenario (“If you write it, they will read.”)
Spend as much time amplifying and promoting a piece of content as you did producing it. It’s a surefire way to keep you honest and focused on getting the most mileage out of each piece.
It will also ensure you learn from what worked and didn’t work, because you will be actively managing that piece of content for a committed period of time. All of that insight will be invaluable as you jump back into the production of subsequent pieces.
Mathilde Collin, Co-Founder/CEO of Front
Truly great content marketing shouldn’t feel like marketing at all. Instead of focusing on lead generation and conversion goals first, and trying to game your content strategy to fit them — start with your content.
Delivering value to your audience should be your top priority. Write content that stands out by providing unique, valuable insights that readers can’t find anywhere else.
Focus on consistently providing actionable insights that your team is uniquely equipped to provide, and the results will follow.
Delivering value to your audience should be your top priority.
Julia Chen, Content Marketing Manager at Appcues
Content marketing will become even more creative in medium/formats and research. Content marketers are weaving in more multimedia elements to tell really immersive stories.
To keep up, I’d encourage searching for inspiration widely. Pay attention to how other forms of media — newspapers, movies, podcasts, etc. — find new stories, put fresh angles on old stories, and work in different perspectives. Take a piece that you admire, try to figure out how it was made, and apply some of those techniques to your own work.
Having a strong knowledge of your industry is crucial, but it’s important to step back and remember that inspiration for creating great content is everywhere.
Hiten Shah, Co-Founder at Quick Sprout
You need to constantly experiment with new channels to find your edge. Facebook is still underutilized, Instagram is up-and-coming and Snapchat probably won’t work (yet) for most businesses.
In marketing, there’s no such thing as proven patterns that last very long. Some marketers have declared that content is dead, but it will continue to drive user acquisition in 2017.
We end on a quote that, in many ways, sums up many of the themes these thought leaders talked about.
All content is marketing and all marketing is content.
There are a number of challenges facing content marketers in 2017, and all seem to be growing. There’s a ton of noise out there. There’s a ton of competition. There are a ton of different options for how you want to do content, from videos to infographics to short posts to long, comprehensive guides.
When the rubber meets the road, though, the key to success is the same no matter what form you choose for your content: make it great. Make it for a particular audience. And make sure it gets in front of them.