The rise of content marketing has marketers scrambling for solutions to the content creation conundrum – the truth is that producing engaging, shareable content is difficult. And so, like manic dieters, businesses are searching for quick fixes, racing to find “the solution.”
And that often means turning to technology for a “scalable, turnkey solution” – there are plenty of VC-backed companies promising to solve your content needs with their magical algorithm-based content machine. The proliferation of marketing automation tools such as our friends at Hubspot (which is an incredibly useful platform, but not the entire answer) has led many marketers to think that all they need to do is flip the switch on the process and it will take care of itself.
It seems to me that we’ve tipped a little too far in the direction of science and away from art when it comes to content creation. Content marketing works for brands because it builds trust with the audience, and it builds trust because you are “giving away your thinking” – demonstrating expertise, engaging the audience and sparking a conversation. This is the era of preference marketing – research shows that 60 percent of the sales process occurs before you ever hear from the prospect, and that means marketers must build trust and create a preference well ahead of any potential sale.
In order to do this, it must be as much art as it is science.
Let me be clear – I’m not a Luddite who scoffs at analytics and thinks the number crunchers are ruining writing. No, I think you’d be a fool to disregard the science of content creation and be satisfied with your beautiful prose. That’s just willful ignorance. I don’t see much point in being an artistic success but a business failure.
Content creation should be built on a foundation of science – understanding the analytics and keywords that help attract your audience is a critical starting point for any content strategy. You can’t move the conversation if no one ever sees what you’re producing.
However, a lot of folks are overdoing it, and the result sounds a lot like the synth-based, soulless music of the 1980s. Your content must have soul if it’s going to connect with the audience. To do this you must embrace the human aspect of content. You must tell stories, and you must tell them with emotion. And you must use the technology at your disposal to measure and improve your content.
For most of the last decade, online content has been a mathematics-based pursuit, as SEO firms and content farms created millions of words of gibberish designed to game the search engine algorithms. It worked, but it doesn’t anymore because of Google’s Panda and Penguin updates. His new reality threatens to shove SEO firms to the sidelines. To combat this, many SEO firms are launching content divisions, but will they do it right? Do they understand content, or do they only understand the numbers you wrap around the content? When they say “content,” do they simply mean strings of keywords lumped together? As the Content marketing Institute’s Joe Pulizzi wrote earlier this Spring, “most SEO agencies don’t know jack about content.”
It seems to me that too many marketers are trying to over-engineer their content; they’re putting too much emphasis on the content driving prospects to Calls-To-Action and leading to a sale. This is a point that has to be finessed because, yes, that is the goal – however, if your only purpose is to include as many keywords as possible, your content likely won’t be very good. If every piece of content you produce is driven by a mathematical equation, it isn’t going to work, because the content won’t engage the audience; sure, you might be able to attract them to the page, but you won’t be able to get them to finish the article. In other words, you will have failed in your goal of demonstrating your expertise, or educating them, and of building trust with them.
To activate both the science and art of content, you need to have smart analysts who can understand the numbers aspect of creating an audience, and you must also have great writers and video producers who have the ability to create something beautiful.
If you’re content becomes formulaic, the audience will see right through it.
And you will fail.
So our advice is to try something radical: Be human.