5 Reasons to Read Epic Content Marketing

epicbookEvery 1.6 seconds, someone publishes another blog post about content marketing.

Okay, I made that statistic up, but reality cannot be far off. Isn’t there enough out there already on the topic?

Indeed there is. There may be too much written about content marketing, and it’s not all helpful.

The Wall Street Journal apparently equated content marketing with native content. Others call it brand journalism. Another blogger called it a glorified term for blogging.

I’ve contributed to the noise myself with this blog post on Content Marketing vs. Marketing with Content. We may be spending more time writing about content marketing than actually doing it.

In his terrific book Epic Content Marketing, Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute offers refreshing structure and clarity on the subject, starting with a clear definition and following through with practical advice about implementation.

Whether you’re a content marketing practitioner or trying to make sense of it all, here are five reasons to read the book.

  1. Build a business case. Content marketing requires resources, and to get resources you often need to convince somebody to spend the money. The book provides fodder for getting buy-in for your content marketing efforts.
  2. Get strategic. In our eagerness to start creating content, we sometimes skip the strategy part of content marketing. Without strategy, your content is just words or pictures. The book dedicates chapters to defining your niche, your content mission and goals.
  3. Create manageable processes. Get practical guidance on processes, from creating editorial calendars to getting employees or others to contribute.
  4. Learn how to market your content. It’s not enough to create the content – you have to market and promote it.  Joe offers guidance on using social media, search engine optimization, content syndication, and influencers to extend the reach of your efforts.
  5. Get inspired. From blogs and mobile apps to print publications and seminars, the book offers practical advice for a wide range of content types. I guarantee you’ll find new ideas in this chapter.


Stop Stealing My Attention!

If you believe that attention is valuable currency in today’s world, then advertisements that force themselves on our attention are like people stealing money from our pockets.

Attention aux PickPockets (dans La Tour by dullhunk, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  dullhunk 


Interrupt-driven advertising or marketing is becoming less effective as we find ways of ignoring the messages that don’t interest us. As a business model, interrupt-driven advertising is fading fast. And when advertisers insist on our attention – whether by raising a volume level, disabling fast-forwarding, or other schemes – it can work against the brand image they’re trying to project.

“The web visitor only has to look at the image for 10 seconds before they can click through,” says the advertiser. “We really need the leads, so we have to ask them to fill out a form first,” says the marketer.

The seconds spent on uninvited interruptions are taking our precious attention. If we don’t feel that we received something of value in return, we’ll simply resent the brand.

The talking campaign mailer

Anyone who says thinks print advertising is dead clearly doesn’t work for a political campaign. The number of mailers arriving at our household this campaign cycle was overwhelming.

Aside from its environmental implications, direct mail is a less offensive form of advertising, because you can decide whether to read or recycle at your own pace.

But one campaign earned my resentment by including a recorded speech on a sound disk in the printed mailer. When I opened the piece, a voice started exhorting me about the candidate’s qualities and positions.

From my perspective, that’s on par with a robo-call – and we all know how much we love those. I felt like my attention had forcibly taken from me by the mailer. (Plus, to recycle it we had to strip out the recording device first.) The speech didn’t deliver any information I could not read elsewhere, including on the mailer, nor was I willing to spend the time to listen to it. It had no value to me beyond annoyance.

I was an undecided voter on this local issue, and the mailer made me question the candidate’s good judgment.

The essential practice of content marketing is to consider the message from the audience perspective. If we, as marketers, create content that delivers value in the eyes of our customers, then they will gladly spend their attention on it.

Content Marketing vs. Marketing with Content

Content has always been a part of marketing. B2B technology marketing in particular relies heavily on content like white papers, demonstrations and case studies to explain the technology.

This fact leaves some marketers wondering about the distinction between marketing with content and content marketing.

To my mind, the difference lies in two key areas: strategy and perspective.

Not just content: strategy

I’ve heard it said that content marketing is simply another term for blogging. Yikes. That’s like saying that running shoes are a fitness training regimen.

Blogging is a key part of many content marketing strategies — not a replacement for strategy.

Content marketing is the strategic and intentional creation of content that is valuable and compelling for the audience you want to reach, at the times they need it. It requires a firm understanding of buyers’ specific needs at each phase of the journey. It’s not just about having more content.

Here’s how Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, defines content marketing in his excellent book Epic Content Marketing.

“Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing valuable and compelling content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience— with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

A matter of perspective

The other key differentiator is perspective – and that shows up in the types of content that you create.  While traditional marketing content is created from the business perspective with the objective of making the sale, content marketing requires you to understand the buyer’s perspective.

Tiree Perspective by MacJewell, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  MacJewell 


You develop buyer personas because you need to understand and address the customer’s needs. Using that perspective, you can create content that educates, informs or entertains those personas, rather than simply selling. Content marketing is about finding the alignment between the customers’ needs and your business, and being generous with content.

Michael Brenner published a post recently on the 3 Vs of content marketing (riffing on the famous 3 Vs of Big Data, I believe.) He suggests that effective content marketing starts with value, then adds volume and variety.

I couldn’t agree more — start with the value you deliver to the customer or prospect. To provide value, you have to look at the world from the customer’s perspective.

Another Book Review of Everybody Writes

You don’t have to be a reluctant writer to get value from Ann Handley’s latest book, Everybody Writes.

ann-3dWith content marketing gaining ground, more people are now on the hook for creating content through blog posts, articles and other written pieces. The book is useful for anyone who finds themselves writing for work, and particularly on behalf of brands.

The blogosphere is awash with rave reviews – there’s no need for me to add another. (Read Doug Kessler’s entertaining review of the reviews of Everybody Writes – that’s how many reviews there are.)

This review is for the subset of writers who feel they are beyond the need for a ‘how to write’ book – people who are already comfortable with writing mechanics and their own personal styles. These are the writers who:

  • Are more comfortable composing a written email about a complex subject than calling someone on the phone
  • Are happy to engage in discussions about the pros and cons of the Oxford comma with like-minded individuals
  • Shudder when they see typos on billboards or in newspaper headlines
  • Majored in English or journalism
  • Are the ones that everyone goes to in the office before posting a blog or sending an important email
  • Leave comments on blogs to point out grammatical errors to the author

If you fit any of these descriptions, you might ask yourself why you need a book on writing. You’ve already got The Elements of Style, right?

I had those thoughts, too. But I bought Everybody Writes when it came out for two reasons:

  1. I enjoy Ann Handley’s writing, so I knew the book would be fun to read.
  2. As a writer, I always have room to improve.

After her earlier book Content Rules (which she co-authored with CC Chapman), Ann once again produces a book that is a joy to read and earns its place on the bookshelf.

Here are a few of the reasons I found the book valuable:

Well-articulated rules for the next time I have to explain my edits to others
Some grammar rules I know by intuition rather than by rote. Ann offers pithy explanations of those. For example,  you don’t hyphenate a compound modifier if the first word is an adverb ending in ‘ly’. Here’s how Ann illustrates the rule:

“Not cool: This is an extremely-simple rule to understand.

Cool: This is an extremely simple rule to understand.”

She’s gathered data on the ideal length for website text lines and paragraphs. You may find this helpful when justifying your ruthless edits.

Fun new words and facts
I did not know the terms mondegreen or eggcorn (misheard terms that gain a life of their own). My life is richer for the existence of these two words.

New tools and resources
Ann has done a great job of curating a collection of tools for writers. I have only started exploring these resources. For example, did you know about the site 750words.com to help you write at least 750 words each day?

Validation and support
The final take-away for the professional writer is this: people do care. When writing for industry, it’s easy to get sucked into jargon and industry-speak. Swimming against the tide can become difficult after a while. Throughout Everybody Writes, the unifying message is that it does matter – because everybody is also a reader.

I love the concept of having “pathological empathy” for the reader. It’s a guiding principle in content marketing and beyond. Here’s how she describes it:

“…empathy for the customer experience should be at the root of all of your content, because having a sense of the people you are writing for and a deep understanding of their problems is key to honing your skill.”

I’d recommend this book to writers at all phases of their careers and capabilities. Because while everybody writes, we all can find ways to do it better.

Improve Your Customer Focus with 4 Simple Questions

The better you know your customers, the easier it is to create the content that they find valuable and engaging.

The recent B2B Content Marketing: 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends—North America study by MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute asked B2B marketers about their challenges. What’s the #1 problem? Creating engaging content.

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 5.48.34 PM

Read more in the MarketingProfs article.

The first challenge of creating engaging content is to understand the audience. “Engaging” is in the eye of the beholder.

Focus on your target audience

Content marketing practitioners talk about developing buyer personas.  It’s a great practice. But in reality, many businesses skip that step in their content marketing strategies.

In all the companies I’ve worked with, I can count on one hand the number that have shared customer personas with me. Maybe the process of developing personas is too time-consuming?

So let’s make it less daunting and narrow it down to four simple questions. The questions get progressively more in-depth – the more you answer, the clearer your focus on the customer.

1 – Who are your target customers?

This first question is the most basic customer targeting. In the B2B sale, what type of business are you targeting? Who are the buyers within the business? Who will use the solution? You might have several different answers to this question. See if you can answer the following questions for each different target customer.

2 – Where are your customers?

In the B2B context, where do your buyers work? Where do they hang out during the day – either physically or online? Where do they look for answers to their questions or problems relevant to your offering?

3 – What are they doing today?

What are they doing related to what you offer? Do they realize they need your solution or do you have to educate them about the problem? Are they using a competitor’s product or nothing at all? Do they feel any urgency about the problem?

At this point, the target customer has come into sharper definition. But don’t stop yet – see if you can answer the following question.

4 – Where do they want to go?

What are your customer’s larger or longer-term objectives? Can you help them achieve those longer-term objectives? What are their values? How can you align your solution with their values or objectives?

I said the questions were simple – getting the answers takes time and work.  But the payoff is big. If you can answer these four questions for your target customers, you’ll know just what you need to do to create engaging content.

3 Reasons to Love Long-Form Content


Someone asked me recently, “Do people even read white papers anymore?”

The question is understandable, especially if you’re not in B2B technology. The trend in content marketing is towards short, “snackable” content that’s easy to share. And I applaud that trend – to a point.

Longer papers still have a role to play in lead generation, thought leadership and lead nurturing. The traditional white paper has other, long-form cousins that are equally useful, such as:

  • Recorded webinars
  • Ebooks
  • Research reports

Your content marketing strategy should include lengthier content for three key reasons:

1. Improved SEO
Search engines love long-form content – the more words, the better they can analyze.
According to Andy Crestodina at Orbit Media, the ideal length for a blog post from an SEO perspective is 1500 words.

(Thanks to Ann Handley for sharing this fact in her wonderful book Everybody Writes.)

My blog posts aren’t that long, so I don’t practice what I preach in this regard. And I certainly don’t advocate writing massively long web pages. Always consider human readability first.

The content marketing take-away: Put a longer paper up on your website so web crawlers can find it, and see what happens to your organic search results.

2. The psychological pay-off
Here’s a fun bit of research I found in the book Absolute Value: What Really Influences Customers in an Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information by Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen:

“When we deliberately seek information, we are more likely to use it.”

When I read this, I started thinking of the content marketing implications:

  • You create an informative or actionable piece of content and make it easy for your audience to find.
  • Your audience searches it out, downloads it, and invests time to read it (paper, ebook) or watch it (webinar).

The fact that they deliberately sought out the content makes people more likely to use that information. If the content was good, then you’ve already delivered value to the audience.

The content marketing take-away: Figure out what questions your audience has and try to answer them. Do original research or interview experts if necessary.

3. Generating more content 
One long piece can result in many other content assets. Repurpose a white paper or report into multiple blogs or infographics. Use it as the basis for videos, a webinar, or a SlideShare presentation. And by all means create those snackable tweets and quotes.

For inspiration, here’s a post I found today by Justice Mitchell on the Maximize Social Business blog on how to take a five-minute video and turn it into multiple pieces of content.

The content marketing take-away: Find one paper or video on your site that has useful insight for prospects and customers. Now try to generate four or five new content pieces across different channels from that single piece of content.

Minimum Viable Messaging for Startups

Few things make a content developer (aka writer) happier than a complete product messaging roadmap. For details, see What the Writer Wants from a Product Messaging Document. We know that content development and review cycles will be smooth sailing if there’s a well-developed product messaging map at the start.

But as with any rule, there’s an exception – the early stage startup.

Product messaging is critical in any business, start-ups included. But in an early startup, product messaging has a shorter shelf life than a peach in summer.

In the early stages of a product or solution’s life, messaging is bound to change, no matter how much work and research you’ve put into the messaging process.

What’s your minimum viable product messaging?
In The Lean Startup, Eric Reis recommends coming out with a minimum viable product and seeing how the market reacts. This protects you from spending a time (and money) on the wrong strategy.

Marketing teams can take a similar approach, even when the solution is ready for production. Come up with a minimum viable messaging platform, then test and perfect it based on its reception.

The elements of the minimum viable messaging map
An ideal messaging document is concise, so you can change it easily. Most startups go out the gate with the messages that their founders and investors feel are most important. If those messages don’t resonate with buyers, you want to know quickly.

The startup messaging map includes all of the main points of the standard product messaging map in a condensed version. Doing research is good, but experience with real customers is better.

Here’s what the product messaging map might look like for a startup:

  • Target markets/buyers: Start with just one or two, and assume there are others you don’t know about yet.
  • Key pains addressed or problems solved: Identify the key issues you’re trying to address and what people are doing about them now. Continue to listen to the market to validate those pains. Your solution may solve problems you don’t even know about. Did Apple know that the iPad would be a hit with octogenarians? No, but my mother is one of its biggest fans.
  • Top benefits: Identify what you think the top two or three benefits are, then let early customers tell you what they think based on their actions. They may surprise you.
  • Competitive differentiators and unique value proposition: Start small and test the messaging about why you’re different. Things you think are critical may be unimportant to customers.
  • Key features: Choose a few essential features and see which are most interesting or important to early users.

Put the most energy into testing the target market and top benefits. The key features and value propositions depend heavily on the value that people perceive they are getting from the solution.

You can track what people think about your messaging in several ways:

  • Use your content:  structure the website by benefits and features, and track where people click and read.
  • Track which kinds of content they download from your site or which blogs they read.
  • If you have insight into product usage, identify which features people are using.
  • Use customer research for additional insight.

Be ready to rewrite and revise the content produced in the early days, because it almost always changes. Revision isn’t a sign that you failed in your messaging – it’s a sign that you’re learning.

If you have other strategies for handling messaging in the fast-changing start-up world, please share them in the comments.