How to build content that helps your buyers

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The value of content is in its capacity to answer questions and objections before a potential buyer (even existing customers) ever have a conversation with your business about a sale. It gives your point of view and context around what makes you different from other companies that have similar offerings.

The best content is useful and helpful to the person reading or viewing it without giving a hard sell. And it’s not hard to do. You’re already doing it every single day, but you aren’t calling it content creation. It’s just part of your everyday routine.

Here’s how you can turn day-to-day interactions into a source of content:

1) Answer questions.

Customers, prospects and even your staff ask questions all the time. But does your website answer your most frequently asked questions? If not, this is a great starting place. Don’t build a FAQ page either. Take a deeper dive and write a blog post, record a video or collaborate on a podcast. Answering questions can be done in a variety of ways, from instructional content to best practice guidance to informed opinions. And it’s okay to answer the same or similar questions more than once. After all, you learn more over time and there’s always a different perspective to consider.

2) Answer objections.

If you’ve been involved in the process of making a sale, you’ve had to answer objections. The objections people make to your offerings can be a goldmine of useful tidbits for content. The more you can address objections through content, the easier it is to have conversations when a customer transitions from their research to having conversations. Sometimes objections are sensitive so you need to delicately weave answers to those concerns into your content. Other times you can address it head on. And just like the questions you answer, give fresh answers to objections to reflect changes in your offerings and the market.

3) Tell your point of view.

You can’t be everything to everyone. But a lot of companies really try. One way you can stand out from similar companies is to take a stand. The best approach is to share your point of view on your industry. Maybe you have a somewhat controversial view: write it down and share why you feel that way. It might help you eliminate calls from outside your target market that won’t be worth your time.

4) Share relevant information.

What’s going on in your industry? News? Trends? Upcoming developments? Share it with your audience, even if it’s coming from another source (credible news sources are okay, competitors aren’t). Maybe you’ve been quoted in content or had your content published on another site, it’s great to promote this kind of content when it complements your messages and helps support your goals.

5) Promote community. 

It’s much harder for brands to grow communities now than it was even 5 years ago. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t try. The biggest promotor of community is being present and engaging on social. Reply to comments and messages on social sites. Share content with sources tagged and include relevant hashtags. Give time and attention to social content so it doesn’t sound rushed or too promotional. Social media is where your organization’s personality can shine.

What are some of your favourite examples of useful content?

The importance of content curation for your audience

"Content curation" is one of those phrases that gets tossed around the marketing and content creation world practically every second if you're following enough of us. (I might be exaggerating. Maybe.) It's not a buzzword, but it could be construed as jargon because the act and its benefits aren't immediately clear to those who most need it. So, before I launch into why you want to include content curation in your digital marketing activities, I'll explain what it is.

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Content

Dictionary.com defines "content" (the noun, not the adjective) in a few different ways I like for the context of this post:

  • "the subjects or topics covered in a book or document"

  • "something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing, or any of various arts"

  • "substantive information or creative material viewed in contrast to its actual or potential manner of presentation"

Content is information that expresses ideas, opinions, facts, etc. Before we had "social media" (and really, social media has existed far longer than the term we use to describe these digital tools), content was books, TV shows, home videos, photographs, journal entries, magazine articles and stories, newspaper columns and reports. The digital age has expanded the mediums we can use to create and the channels we use to distribute or promote.

Curate

The definition of curate is perfect:

"to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation, as music or website content"

The act of curation is essentially digging for those gold nuggets that are going to be interesting for others. Museum curators do this all the time, only they have to work much harder than I do when I'm sitting in front of my computer or other device reading through dozens of blog posts.

How do you curate content?

Good question. I'm glad you asked!

First you need to find people who create the kind of content you want to share

I go about this in several ways, and I've been following, unfollowing, re-following and so on for years now. I need variety and sometimes I need a break from the influx of information or the style in which it's presented. The information you need and want to see will evolve.

I find good content through Twitter chats, list posts that recommend "must-follow" experts/blogs on various topics, Twitter lists, etc. It will probably only take you about 30 minutes to find enough blogs that write in your area of expertise to create a repository of thought leaders to curate content from. 

That said, I try to follow in the way it makes most sense to share. 90% of the time, that's through Feedly, my RSS reader. Which brings me to tools...

Second, you will want to incorporate the right tools to keep content curation a manageable process.

My process starts with Feedly. As I flip through the unread articles in my account, I do one or more of several things:

  • Use a tool to schedule content to one of my accounts.

  • Save a post within Feedly, which automatically bumps it over to Pocket (via IFTTT). I do this with articles that I need time to read and consider what they say and how I want to act on the information. From Pocket, I may delete them, or (more often), they get saved to Evernote where I can reference the information later.

  • When I run across articles that I can read quickly and the value is clear, I may share using Buffer AND save in an appropriate notebook in Evernote. (I reference the same valuable blog posts over and over again when it makes sense. Putting them in Evernote means I waste less time looking for them.)

Within my Feedly account, I've connected Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Buffer, Pocket, Pinterest, Evernote and any other tools that I have accounts for and use in my content curation process. From Feedly, I can share content from the feeds I subscribe to with all the major networks I use without worrying that I'm being too repetitive. I mix it up!

Third, establish a consistent process that you run through regularly.

It doesn't have to be daily, but keep in mind that if you're scheduling content as part of this process, you want to be engaged with comments, replies, and other engagement that happens as a result.

I tend to curate a little bit almost every day. I used to try to get every post in my reader marked as read each week - by actually reading all of them. Now I'm content to mark them all as read when I want to focus on newer content coming out.

You don't have to read everything. You can't. Don't even try.

Why is content curation important to add to your social marketing mix?

  1. Sharing content from trusted industry leaders shows your followers that you are actively engaged in staying up-to-date with what's going on.

  2. Idea generation. This is my favourite reason for curating content. All those notes that I save in Evernote? Those are almost always blog ideas or supporting information for blog posts.

  3. When I read through the posts in my reader, I spend some time commenting on other blogs. Blog comments have decreased significantly over the years, but their value hasn't declined. The blogger that gets a thoughtful comment these days is more grateful than ever. Each comment you leave on that blog is one small step to building a relationship.

  4. It forces you to get away from thinking about creating content and learn from others. (Well, until you get an idea inspired from something you read.)

A caution about content curation

Read what you share.

Don't fall in the trap of scheduling content you haven't properly vetted just because you don't have time to read. There is no quicker way to lose credibility than to schedule something that doesn't fit your brand and principles. 

One final bonus tip

Subscribe to your own content.

Whether it’s by email or through a feed reader, you'll always know that your feed is working and you can mix your own content in with other content you're scheduling to share.

My process is not the only way to do it and you should definitely figure out what works best for you, but I hope this gives you a framework to getting started sharing excellent expert advice that supports the work you're doing!

Does what you share reflect you?

It's so easy to whip out your phone at any given moment of the day and share your thoughts and feelings about anything and everything that's going on in your world. 

In fact, plenty of people seem to have the view that if it's not on social media, it didn't happen. So, some of us get it on there as quickly as possible: 

Remember these early memes from back in the day?

Remember these early memes from back in the day?

I don't give much thought to what other people choose to say online. I can control what I see from other people no matter what tool I'm using. If someone I follow decides they want to say things that I find objectionable or offensive, they're within their rights to say those things. I sometimes respond with a different view, but I'm picky about when I share. (Sometimes it's better to just leave it alone and that's all I'm gonna say about it.)

Who do people see through your online self?

I don't want to get into the B-word ("brand" in case you were wondering) in this. Yes, this could definitely be part of a conversation about that word, but let's skip that particular discussion.

There is an old saying, "you are what you eat", which I think could be re-tooled for social media to tell the masses that "you are what you say". In a way, I really hope that's true for the vast majority of people. Even for those unflinchingly honest types that let it all hang out, I can respect a genuine opinion or reaction.

What happens when your online self isn't really you?

Several years ago, I wrote a recap post about a conference I attended. In the post, I said something about not working with brands. When someone asked me why I said that when I mentioned in the same post that I had driven a PR vehicle from a big car company to the conference, I realized I hadn't really made myself clear.

This lack of clarity was completely unintentional. I should have said I don't really seek out opportunities to work with brands as a blogger, though I've enjoyed it the few times I have. However, that is not now and likely never will be a major focus of my blogging. Will I work with brands? Yes, if the opportunity is right.

My unclear statements could have led some to question my credibility and integrity if they witnessed me posting content about working with brands on a regularly on social channels. That wasn't a concern, though, since my content shows I don't.

Does the sum of your content add up to the real you?

Some people consciously choose not to share certain topics that are near and dear to their hearts. The reason doesn't matter. The choice not to share is valid. So, of course, the pieces of our lives and thoughts about the world that we choose not to share create a variable in the equation. That should be the only variable, though.

The parts we do share are telling. They give our friends and followers small glimpses that they use to form an overall impression of who we are. (Still not talking about the B-word.) 

  • The friend that shares daily news and opinions about politics cares about what's happening in the world.

  • The friend that posts stories and pictures about their kids every day has an unwavering devotion to family.

  • The friend that has a "tragedy" at least once a day is unhappy.

  • The friend who posts vague statuses and never replies to comments clearly wants attention.

  • The friend who complains about work and family is overwhelmed and frazzled.

But what if these aren't entirely true?

  • Political friend is also an avid gardener and runner, but it's hard to tweet when they're elbow deep in weeding and planting or pounding the pavement.

  • Family-focused friend has a demanding, interesting job they can't talk about online. Family is a safe topic.

  • Tragic friend is actually a pretty happy person, but social media has become an outlet for those moments of chaos in life and they haven't noticed that they mostly only post when something goes wrong.

  • Vague friend is a lot like tragic friend.

  • Complainer friend wouldn't know what to do if they were less busy. They find the hectic moments entertaining to share, especially family shenanigans.

Share your truth.

I've gone through phases a couple of times when I have turned into excited friend. Everything is wonderful, fabulous, and amazing, even when real life isn't actually going all that well. When I catch myself in these slightly disingenuous moments, I re-evaluate what I'm saying. The world may not need to know what I'm dealing with, but I don't want to be misleading in the positive OR the negative. 

Take a look in the mirror.

Go through your social media profiles and see what you've been posting. Try to look at yourself as if you aren't you. What words would you use to describe your content? What assumptions would you make about your life?

You’re basically looking in a mirror: Do you recognize the person you see?

Clarity in copywriting: Stop confusing your customers

Every touch point you have with a customer is an opportunity to market your value to them. And why should you market to customers? Because they've already bought from you and they're the most likely to buy more or upgrade. You already have a relationship with customers, but there's a certain level of trust that you're still trying to build with the people you haven't sold to yet. 

Unfortunately, I see businesses - especially in the software subscription area (*cough* money-related stuff *cough*) - make their help files so confusing you just want to bang your head against...something. For businesses that aren't in the software space, there are many examples of confusing copy - in physical locations and on the web.

When help files don't help, how long do you think people will keep using a service when there are other options available that can meet their needs?

It's a great time to be in business in some ways because the number of options we have is staggering. But it costs time and money to switch. It also costs time and money and stress to be aggravated by confusing copy all the time. That's why it's so important to make sure what you're saying is clear. 

A friend of mine recently shared some copy from a vendor site where they were doing research to get answers for a client who used that particular vendor. I can't tell you how bad I wanted to paste that copy in here to share with you, but it's the web and you can trace it back to them, so I resisted.

Instead, I decided to share a little advice that will hopefully filter its way back to some of the people who have sites with the confusing copy. If I can make a difference for anyone on this, I've succeeded.

Before you hit the button that sends that help copy out into the ether, remember these things:

1) The people using your software aren't experts in your software.

If you use specialized terminology for everything in your software, you can't expect people to know what you're talking about, especially if they're hiring a third-party or only occasionally access the system. Think about all the different ways your software is used and the complexity of the information. If it's Facebook-level, your copy is going to be pretty easy to make understandable. But if you're talking about bookkeeping/tax software, for example, that's far more complex. It's going to be hard work to make sure that users can understand and still cover all the legal bases that are inevitable in highly regulated spaces.

It's worth the effort. Remember, the better your users understand, the more you're differentiated from your competitors. We marketers like differentiation - especially when it comes to those regular touch points with customers.

2) Step-by-step screenshots are essential for complex UI.

I'm gonna brag on a company I've been using for almost 9 years. This website you're looking at right now is built on Squarespace (and if it isn't, someone has scraped my content - shame on them). I use a separate domain registrar that has a confusing-as-heck domain manager. Actually, that might be a requirement of domain registrars - making the DNS settings user interface (UI) illogical and incomprehensible. Then they change their UI every 6-12 months to keep you on your toes.

I've built many Squarespace websites and, without fail, I can go to a page dedicated to my (major) registrar that has step-by-step instructions with up-to-date screenshots of everything I need to change to connect my domain. Squarespace help is one of the many reasons I stay with them year after year. They make painful processes easy to navigate. That, my friend, is truly helpful. Because I don't have time for complicated explanations and neither do you.

3) Every piece of copy about your product leaves an impression.

Don't you want that impression to be a good one? If your copy inspires an experienced, knowledgeable professional to post it to social media because it's so incomprehensible, you're missing the mark. Your bad copy is literally costing time and money. In this instance, research time that - if it wasn't being billed back to the client (quite possible) - was actually costing a small business owner money. Do you really want to be known for that?

There's a simple solution, but it takes a commitment from you - the software maker - to spend the extra time it takes to clean up your copy. Microsoft learned this lesson back in the late 90s when they overhauled all of their MS Office help files and people noticed the difference. 

Build checks and balances into the process

You've got teams of really smart people, all with varying expertise. The product people know the product intimately, but they may be too close to it to edit themselves when it comes to producing help content that's easy to read and understand. For that, you have to tap into people who aren't experts on the product or the nuts and bolts of the regulations.

Ideally, find writers who can dig in and ask the right questions so your highly technical explanations can be simplified. And don't confuse "simplified" with "dumbed down." They aren't the same thing. Simplifying content is about taking out jargon, industry-specific terminology, and fluff. What's left behind is useful, to-the-point, and easy to digest.

Stop confusing your customers and start taking the extra time to help them instead.

Storytelling gone wrong: When I can't relate, you lose me

I was doing some research for a blog post recently and came across a post that - based on the title - had exactly what I was looking for. I was trying to find practical advice for storytelling in a particular context. I eagerly started reading the post, curious to see what the author could add to my research.

The post was written in a storytelling format, offering up examples of how the author had used the tactic they were writing about. But I was lost by the second line of the blog post. 

Why?

The author was writing about how they explain the difference between two different things. I think they were describing their own products. But only the customers and users of these products would be able to relate to this blog post. 

The irony? It was a post helping others relate.

I've talked about the idea of selfish communication before and reading this post reminded me of why it's so important to avoid creating content that creates confusion. 

There's a bigger picture to content marketing

With every piece of content I create, I think about:

  • How it will be perceived by someone who doesn't know my work
  • What value I'm giving to readers who click through
  • Whether there are applications beyond my niche

You see, if you tie content too closely to your products, you're automatically limiting the audience who will be interested. You're also limiting the story you can tell about your business. 

There's a better way.

1) Focus on the problems you solve

When it comes to content, it really doesn't matter what your product does or how it works. What matters is the problem you solve. Most businesses have a big overarching problem they solve for clients and customers. 

But there are also related problems - big and small - that they solve. Talk about those problems. Talk about solutions that don't have anything to do with your products.

Assert a philosophy that fits your values and point of view. Have an opinion about what works best and why.

All of these things build a case for why you're so good at what you do.

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2) Give away all the knowledge

Don't worry about losing business because you share the what and the how of your solutions. If this is your fear, remember:

  1. People who take your content and use it on their own aren't your ideal client.
  2. Or they might not have the budget...yet.
  3. Others may ignore your content; they're also not your ideal client.

The point of showing your expertise through content is that your ideal client has a better chance of finding you. It's the marketing equivalent of the impact of compound interest. You put the regular effort in and it adds up over time.

3) Go back to the beginning of the story

You're really smart and you have a ton of knowledge about a specific subject. The audience you want to attract does not have your knowledge, which is why they need you. 

So, don't open the book in the middle and start reading as if they know what's happened in the first half. Always set your audience up to understand your message by giving enough explanation of anything that's specific to your business or expertise. 

The picture is complete when there are no more questions

Will all the questions ever truly be answered? I sure hope not. But in each piece of content, you can answer all the questions.

You'll know you've been thorough when you've accomplished the goal of the piece, there's no lingering clarity questions about the content, and you've provided value that isn't exclusively aimed at your customers.