To understand what makes good content today, all we have to do is look back to the ’50s and ’60s—when it was called copy. Back then, advertising’s primary focus was copy. Copy, it turns out, sold—and sells—products.
And while it has evolved into this thing we now call content, the principles that drive its creation haven’t changed:
People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.
—Howard Luck Gossage, advertising icon
I don’t know if Gossage—an original Mad Man—could’ve envisioned that the phrase he penned decades ago would mean even more in today’s world of blogs, white papers and web content, but one thing’s for sure: people liked a good story then, and they like it now.
Advertising 101: If you can create compelling stories, people read them.
What’s that, you say? People don’t read? My domain is strictly business-to-business nowadays, so I’m more skeptical about that mantra. I believe a decision maker with a budget and a goal will read whatever they can to ensure they’re making the right purchasing decision—especially if that purchase involves hundreds of thousands of dollars, which isn’t uncommon for many of my clients’ solutions.
The Fundamentals of Good Content
Good copy—or, content—has an easy recipe. The only challenge is finding quality ingredients. Strategy, structure and style are a solid foundation, but in the end, good content is:
- Supported by facts
- Brief, but linked to the deeper story
The last item is the most commonly overlooked. I’ve seen some wonderful infographics that don’t give me a trigger to a deeper discussion on the topic. That’s a lost opportunity to engage me at the next level.
Credible Content is King
When we enter the decision-making process, we want insights from the best people in the industry. If you are a large organization, you probably have Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) on staff already. But you’d be surprised how little they’re tapped by the marketing group. Use them. They were hired because of their insights and expertise, so drain them for everything they know. Buyers will be deeply interested in their perspective, lessons learned, and knowledge base.
Facts are Permission to Believe
Factual support is arguably the most important component. Without it, you’re probably just pushing an opinion piece. My clients sit on enormous amounts of data. Their software collects hundreds of thousands of pieces of information that can be analyzed to show anything from trends to user habits. For instance, if you sell clinical technology to doctors’ offices or hospitals, there’s a wealth of information hidden in the 1’s and 0’s that begins accumulating from the time it takes a patient to enter a system to when they’re discharged. While we’re not talking specific patient information, key facts (like the amount of time someone can get back by using your product) make very good factual support if your claim is one of efficiency improvement.
At this Point in My Search, I Don’t Care What You Sell
If I detect that you’re selling me your product rather than your expertise, I will automatically discount your credibility (See first point). I am likely searching your content for a solution, and since I didn’t go into your content for a personal pitch, avoid changing my expectations when I actually dive in. There’s room for that at the end, along with your article attribution.
Be Brief, but Deep
First, you have to interest me in what you have to say, so I need to know if what you have to offer is worth my time. Give me the gist of it in a bite-sized piece – executive summary, first three paragraphs, infographic – something that doesn’t require a lot of time, or my personal information. I’ll only assume I’m being set up to get spammed. I’ll willingly make that exchange for the deeper content later.
These are simply guardrails for good content. The next issue will cover structure and style—the parts that get them to read more, more, more.
Dan Hansen is a Senior Partner with Red House and a 30-year veteran of the marketing industry. In addition to holding a master’s degree in advertising from Syracuse University, he works in a marketing consulting capacity with Red House clients such as McKesson, Elsevier, Equifax, and AT&T.