What follows is the second and final post summarising the Digital Marketing 101 session looking at content marketing and the key to success, delivered by Jamie Lawrence, Editor of HRZone.com. You can read part 1 here.

Having looked at the importance of the WHY in content marketing it’s essential to ensure relevance and value to the reader. Here we’ve identified a number of steps to developing better content marketing.

Six steps to better content marketing

1. Understand and codify your company’s WHY
The key aim for the company is to bridge the gap between the prospect and the company by aiming for emotional connection – this makes people less wary, more trusting, and more open. Understanding the why gives direction and direction helps ensure consistency and brevity in content marketing. This is very collaborative with our clients – we work together on the WHY, and this can be taken from different sources (e.g. from employees, from the founder, from the customers etc). Long-term clients often have evolving WHYs and this is very interesting.
How do you go about the WHY? A good place to start is with a mission statement, a vision statement, or both. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Mission statement/value statements

Clearly Nasa’s is very short and sweet, while eConsultancy’s is a little more in-depth. If you go on to create one for yourself, your WHY is likely to stem from it. Be prepared for this to be a lengthy exercise; it may involve talking to employees and leaders, looking at the history of the company and its successes, trying to find what you do best and why you do it.

A really good tip here is to always use VERBS for your WHY – so rather than ‘innovation, sustainability,’ use “always do the right thing,” or “we will protect our customers at all costs.”
Apple’s mission statement is: "In everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo and thinking differently.”

When we produce content, we know that every stakeholder has to be on the same page. That includes our campaigns team who promote the content, editors (or freelancers) who create it, and our marketing department too. If we have the WHY nailed, we have a unified journey from cradle to the grave.

2. Understand how people consume online
People read online very differently from offline. If they open a newspaper they are likely to work their way through it, but online if they aren’t happy they’ll go to another piece of content in seconds. You have to make it easy for them. As a content producer we have to make an ongoing commitment to maintain abreast of all the latest developments in effective delivery methods online and the research that shows how people consume content.

People don’t want to wait for the pay-off – so your article should get to the point quickly rather than spend too much time setting the scene, unless they are primed for long-form editorial (for the most part this is unlikely). If a client is convinced that long-form editorial is for them, we need to ensure we’ve primed our audience to receive that long-form editorial, because if the experience jars, you’ll ruin the opportunity for emotional connection.

With video content, if they see it has a running time of 8 minutes, often it’s an immediate close – they don’t have time to wait for the pay-off. This is why it’s important to START WITH WHY – that way every second of your video, or every sentence in your article, is delivering your core message. The one experience you don’t want to give your prospects is FRUSTRATION – that leaves a very sour connection with your company.

3. Work out who you are creating content for
This is another important part of the content marketing process and you really only need to do it once. You should develop caricatures of your main customers/prospects and look for commonality among them. You may of course produce content that targets either one at a time or a couple, but it is realistic to assume that a lot of your content will target them all.

These caricatures are frequently known as ‘personas’ and they can be built up by asking key questions about the people who may use your services or view your content. It’s important that these personas are built on objective data rather than your ‘opinion’ of who you want to target. You want to build personas based on the evidence rather than your current organisational viewpoint, which may be misinformed.

One of the greatest assets when it comes to our communities is the sheer size of our ‘people database’ – many of our communities have been going 10 years+ and we can segment our audience based on personal details which helps to drive persona development

4. Work out what drives these people… and link to the WHY
You need to consider what these personas need and care about and how this links to the WHY of your company. Something to remember here is – your WHY can be influenced and shifted by who your prospects are and what they want. When it comes to content marketing, you’re looking for alignment – or a way to bridge the two.

Things we need to consider in this case include: current market conditions, news developments, new product launches, recent thought leadership in the area, the vertical the people operate in.

5. Decision-time – curation v creation
Do not assume that you always need to create content for it to be worthwhile. Many of the world’s most popular websites are based completely on curation models. There’s easier curation, such as putting together articles with viewpoints from different people – and these can work well… And there’s also more complex curation, such as Intel’s algorithm driven IQ-Innovation Everywhere platform which really connects with the company’s WHY. This is a site which provides content on technology culture, news, trends, innovations, and the people behind them, all brought together by the employees of Intel and their global partners.

In the B2B sphere, curation is very useful – time is the common factor that many professional people lack and if you can get into their mindset and understand the information they need to make their lives easier, curation can be a very cost-effective way to connect with them.

6. Create with WHY in mind – aiming for connection
Here is where the creation process really takes effect and if you’ve followed the steps we’ve discussed carefully this process should be straightforward, because you have an end-point in mind – you aren’t creating in the dark. This step also encompasses the editing process – editing for WHY, moving onto copy editing, line editing and proofreading.

The marketing is also driven by the WHY and this process – We referenced earlier the importance of all stakeholders (the campaigns team in this case) understanding the client and sharing a single view of the WHY  – this should guide them into how to market it, where to market it, and the type of copy to be used.

Common content marketing mistakes

We’ve looked at the general process used on Sift Media content marketing campaigns, but lets take a look at some of the most common content marketing mistakes to help avoid the most likely pitfalls which can drag down a piece of content and decrease its effectiveness.

1. The reverse of the golden circle

This is what most content marketing aims to do – sell the benefits of the product, then move onto how the product is so much better than competitors. Many companies don’t even get to the why. In fact, what they are mostly doing is trying to solve problems.  This is a common mistake and it’s based on a view of the world that’s no longer true. Let’s look at a couple of concepts from Dan Pink, who wrote the NYT book, Drive – information asymmetry and information parity…

We used to live in a world of information asymmetry, which is where the salesperson – or the convincer – had much more information about the market and the product than the buyer. So if you wanted to buy a house, the estate agent held all the cards. They knew how much other houses sold for, they knew how the market was. This put the power in the seller’s hands.
Now we live in a world of information parity – pretty much driven by the internet – where the buyer has an equal or greater level of knowledge than the seller. What this means is that people solve their own problems and attempts to solve them for them will not make them receptive.  Now we can go online and find out historical house prices not just for the street but for the area. We know where the market’s going.

The buying process has to be a lot more collaborative. If it’s not, or dodgy information is given, the buyer will go to another estate agent. The power balance is even. The best we can hope for is to provide information to help them make their decision effectively.

2. Lack of originality
This is another common mistake and it’s bad for a number of reasons:
* Unoriginal content makes companies look amateurish and like they aren’t up to speed with the latest developments
* It annoys users who have wasted time clicking on the content
* It doesn’t connect with the WHY and is unlikely to be spread widely

If you’re coming up with ideas for content, write down 20 ideas on a piece of paper and discard the first 15 – the last five might be worth considering.

3. Overuse of emotive language
This one is linked to the problem-solving condition which unfortunately companies find it very hard to shake off. Case studies are a common culprit for emotional language.
Emotive language is typically invoked when companies focus on the WHAT and the HOW of the product without knowing what the WHY is. For example, ‘a unique solution’ or ‘stress-free implementation’ are phrases that risk driving apart the company and their prospect – they make it sound like the company is minimising the importance of the decision in the prospect’s eyes, and they show a lack of understanding. Some will see use of words like ‘unique’ patronising.

One of the biggest drivers of emotive language is the ineffectiveness use of some PR companies – it may be that they don’t know what the company stands for, what they believe in, what emotions they want their prospects to feel. Perhaps they don’t know much about the industry their client is in, so they produce overly-promotional pieces that are unoriginal. The collaborative process will be focused on what the product is and how it’s better – PR companies then use this to draft copy – and this is not the best approach.


1. STOP trying to solve problems – it’s no longer how you capture peoples’ attention and their decision-making power. Help people reach their own decision – provide them with information that simultaneously sets you apart by your expertise and knowledge – these are the silent benefits of content marketing

2. ALWAYS think about the WHY of what you’re doing and the WHY of what you want to say – even if you are editing a piece of content that hasn’t been doing very well, think about what you want the reader to feel and think and what type of connection you want to build with them.

3. RESPECT your readers – this means giving them credit for what they know and the tools they have at their disposal. Get rid of over emotive language or things that you should know are obvious to them – it just shows you don’t know your audience.

If we’d done our job properly with this post we’ll have left you with two major insights. One is that you now have an understanding of the content creation process at Sift Media and how we have developed a set way of producing content that carries across to every industry and every audience. The second is that you have a sound idea of how to create content ideas for your own company and avoid the common mistakes that stop content from delivering on its promise and its need to provide ROI.


Get more information on the other Digital Marketing 101 Workshop sessions on our main blogs page. Alternatively, why not download our free Campaign Optimisation Guide – full of advice on getting the most from your marketing investment.