There was a time when PR pros and their counterparts in marketing measured success by the number of impressions a campaign generated. I’ve never cared much for the fleeting impression. In my mind, unless it turns into a measurable outcome, impressions are simply an abstract estimate of the number of people annoyed by a campaign.
There, I said it. “Annoyed.” Interruption is not viable communications model, not in this day and age, when our audiences are so firmly in control of the content they consume. Rather than barging our way into our audiences’ minds, instead, communicators have a new charge. Our brands have to be viewed as smart, interesting, useful, accessible and human by our audiences. And it’s up to communicators not to just craft this image, but to deliver the experience.
“Experience” is the cornerstone, and communicators have to consider customer experience as they create and publish content. To determine if your content is on the right track, ask yourself if the content you organization is publishing is “REAL,” which I’m using a handy little acronym for the following:
Relevant: Too often brands tell the story they want their audiences to hear, not thinking in terms of what information their audiences are actively seeking. The first step to achieving relevance is listening to what audiences are saying. What questions recur over and over in online discussion groups? What are the search keywords that are most often used in your industry category? What questions do your customer-facing teams field most often? Aggregating this data will help your organization understand what your audience really cares about. In addition to answering these questions outright, the organization can also use this valuable intelligence as a framework for messaging. Creating relevant content is the best way to ensure the audience you acquire is indeed qualified.
Entertaining (or engaging, or both): No matter what subject matter your content addresses, in order to be successful, the content must be entertaining or engaging — and preferably both! Some subjects lend themselves well to humor, which makes the entertaining piece a slam dunk. But if your subject matter is of a drier nature, and doesn’t lend itself well to being funny, that’s still no excuse to be boring. Lively writing peppered with anecdotes and real-life stories will make your content more interesting to readers. Bullet points and lists will draw readers in. And visuals – even simple charts – add appeal and dimension to otherwise flat content.
Actionable: Will your content improve the lives of readers? That’s a big question, but ensuring the answer is “yes” will virtually guarantee the utility of the content you’re publishing. While your content may not be the answer to lifelong happiness, it should enable your readers to do something better. Does it offer tips to help them use your service more efficiently, save budget dollars or do their jobs better? Does it offer insight that will help them make a more informed buying decision? Ensure your content offers a course of action your readers can follow that will make positive impact on their lives.
Leading: While many of us love writing, the content we’re producing really does need to have a point. It needs to offer a pathway for interested readers to follow – and to further qualify themselves as prospects for your brand. However, the path you lead your readers down doesn’t need to be (and probably shouldn’t be) as overt as requiring them to fill out a form for more information. Instead, if you have developed a set of interesting and useful content, trust it to attract and guide your prospects. Offer more useful information, which drills more deeply into specific needs and answers ever-more detailed answers. Effectively, you’re mapping content to the buying cycle, putting general interest information at the top of the funnel, to attract prospects, and then qualifying those prospects as they pursue more information. By the time your prospects do reach out and contact your brand, most of them will have done extensive research, and eliminated potential vendors – and they will be very well qualified prospects.
Anyone who has a hand in creating content for a brand knows of the ceaseless demand for information generated today’s information marketplaces. And let’s face it, content creation is time consuming and expensive. However, content that is truly “REAL” and is mapped to the different stages in your organization’s buying funnel can be a tremendously efficient generator of qualified leads for your business. Before you publish, take the time to get the content right, and make sure it’s “REAL.”
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Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media. She is presenting on the topic of Driving Qualified Audiences into the Funnel Using Rich Media and Distribution Networks at the upcoming Online Marketing Summit. A 30% discount) on event registration is available to readers of this column – click on the link above for details.