Is Your Content Classic?


Epiphanies and pop music

Epiphanies – those magic Aha! moments that change our thinking – often occur at the most unexpected times.

I had an Aha! moment of my own recently as I sat in my favorite diner, eating nachos and reading a challenge from Fame Foundry's Tara Hornor to return to tried-and-true marketing tactics. As a writer, I was naturally prompted to think about that challenge in terms of how it pertains content development.

In today’s Information Age, the best way to build trust with and win over new customers is to go above and beyond in giving them value, and content is one of the most effective tools we have to deliver that value. Indeed, content is king, but in the push to fill every corner of the Web with our "thought leadership," videos, photos, posts and tweets, we've created such a vast cacophony of information that it’s simply impossible to take it all in. So – it begs the question – how can your singular voice rise above the din to be heard by your clients and prospects?

Suddenly, my thoughts were disrupted by heavenly tones descending from the speaker above my table and into my psyche. It was Roy Orbison singing "Only the Lonely."  In that moment, I had an epiphany.

More than 50 years after he recorded it, Orbison's pop-music masterpiece – his form of content – is still loved by masses. He and so many great artists like him poured themselves into a few dozen songs, a handful of which have become classics that continue to be discovered and adored by new audiences decades later.

What if the content we produce as marketers had that kind of staying power?

Here are six key strategies that can help you create classic content that resonates with readers and stands the test of time.

Keep calm and carry on.

There's a lot of pressure these days to produce content at breakneck speeds for an increasingly diverse array of mediums. If you cringe when a hot new social media network emerges because you dread having to master and manage yet another touchpoint, you are not alone.

So give yourself permission to hit pause on the content-o-mattic. Take a breather, set aside the “How much?” for a moment and reflect on the “How?”.

There's no denying the value of producing content. We're going to keep doing it. But let's think about how we can do it better. How we can make more of our content classic?

Know your stuff.

There's an old saying among writers: "The best writers are prolific readers."

The idea here is that consuming a steady diet of the thoughts and talents of others will inspire and enhance your own. Essentially, you're standing on the shoulders of others as you reach for even greater ideas and insights.

We can easily apply this principle to our marketing content. It's important to have a broad understanding of the greater conversations that are taking place in your industry as well as a keen awareness of the primary players and messages that are buzzing about your own market niche.

Keeping up with what others are saying is often a great source of inspiration for new perspectives that haven't yet been considered. Alternatively, you can also avoid rehashing subject matter that has been entirely overdone so that you don’t waste your time developing yawn-inducing content that seems unoriginal and redundant.

Balance timeliness with the timeless.

Providing commentary on current trends is a proven content strategy because it shows that you have a finger on the pulse of your market.

The problem with this type of hot-topic content is that it can have a short shelf-life. So to stretch the value of this content, find a way to tie trends to timeless principles. Demonstrate to your readers where these “of-the-moment” opportunities fit into the bigger picture. This kind of insight can still be valuable weeks, months or maybe even years after the market has moved on from the news that inspired it.

Call in the experts.

It takes time to get input from experts, but the payoff in credibility is huge.

Your company probably has a good many subject matter experts (SMEs) already on the payroll who can provide valuable insights for prospects and customers – and can do so from the perspective of your company.

Identify the SMEs in your company, and invite them to lunch to chat about the pieces you're working on that relate to their specialties, and if possible, give them credit as contributors.

And don’t forget to venture outside of your organization to seek the input of other resources, such as university professors, journalists or consultants. These individuals are usually happy to have an outlet to share their expertise and advice on the subject matter that they’re most passionate about.

Focus on substance and style.

Making your content classic is as much about style as it is substance. Roy Orbison built a hip, sophisticated look with his shades and suits that complemented his brand of smooth songwriting.

When it comes to your written content, following the basic principles of good writing will help your content resonate with the greatest number of people and for the longest period of time possible.

First, write well. If you don't have writing talent on staff, pay someone. If you have a decent writer, pay an editor to give you feedback and guard the voice of your brand.

Second, avoid hype, clichés and stereotypes. Don't simply squawk about your products and services. Making unsubstantiated, too-good-to-be-true claims is a sure-fire way to kill your credibility. And nothing says "lazy and unoriginal" like expressing concepts using the same examples and references as everyone else.

Speaking of which, illustrations and examples are important to helping your readers understand complex concepts, but don't use ones that may be irrelevant in six months. For example, a story that draws parallels to the philosophies of Martin Luther King will be relevant long after one that references whichever celebutante is making tabloid headlines today.

Third, don't use obscure references that the majority of your audience won't understand. The effect you create by doing so is very off-putting to readers, like being in the room when someone makes an inside joke and you don't get it. You feel out of the loop at best or left out intentionally at worst. The exception here is if you’re writing for a niche audience that you know will get the reference (for example, jokes about what Klingons eat in an article written for a Star Trek blog), as this can show your audience that you’re really one of them.

Finally, proofread. Sure the culture of the Web has made casual writing the norm, but punctuation errors, misspellings and poor word choice will diminish the perception of expertise and professionalism you want to convey. A tweet with a typo is no big deal, but a white paper riddled with misspelled words is quite a different matter. Never publish content that hasn't been proofread by someone else. Better yet, keep an editor on retainer for that purpose.

Be a Buffet.

Inevitably, when it comes to content marketing, there are demons to battle, such as writing to advance your SEO objectives at the expense of reader experience or producing "fluff" pieces that deliver little real value just to keep the insatiable content machine fed.

We can learn a valuable lesson here from the world of investment, where there's a lot of energy wasted on getting in early and growing by building buzz. However, this kind of Bernie Madoff behavior will eventually catch up with you and undermine your relationship with your readers.

Instead, you’ll always be better served by taking the Warren Buffet approach: focusing on the big picture, building on what you know and refusing to sacrifice long-term gains for a quick payoff.

So when you find yourself facing the temptation to take shortcuts or chase trends, remember which approach has been proven to be the most influential over the long term. After all, which of these men will be remembered as a fly-by-night shyster and which a luminary?