Senior Marketing Manager and copywriter for Articulate Marketing. Specialist in writing about writing, marketing, strategy, technology and geekery. Writer of puns and the words between puns. They say talking to yourself is the first sign of content marketing. Expert parenthesis user (so it is said).
The Difference Engine
An Articulate Marketing Guide
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Good writing is grounded in what E.B. White referred to as 'the eloquence of facts'. Writing marketing content for businesses is easy, but achieving a high standard of quality is much more difficult. There are plenty of pitfalls. Not enough research. Careless editing. You need form and function working together to engage your audience. These tips will help you elevate your marketing content to this end.
In the time since this article was originally published, we have split this content between several articles, so if you’d like to read our original comprehensive guide altogether, download it using this form:
1. Make sure you’ve built up the right foundational strategy
94 percent of B2B small businesses use content marketing, yet only nine percent think that their efforts are 'very effective'.
Your customer has a need or a question and your content allows them to fulfil the need, provides the answer and builds trust. Start with your customers and ideal prospects. What do they need? What are they searching for? Map out their journey. Search common questions they might ask on Google and try to answer them. Do keyword research and analyse search intent. Find the golden crossover:
Keywords that people are searching for
Things you audience cares about
Things you know about
2. Don’t think ‘it’s just writing’
Anyone can write, but not everyone’s a writer.
It can be tempting to strike out on your own and write your own copy. But if you try to do everything yourself, you’ll burn out.
Effective copywriting is more than just stringing syntactically correct sentences together. It’s about distilling the features of your product or service into benefits that your customers care about and finding the right style and tone of voice to get the message across. And, it’s about doing that within a strategic framework.
Delegating some of your content creation means giving a writer the opportunity to bring your vision to life, letting you focus on growing your business. Each part of the process, then, is handled by an expert.
3. Avoid the Apple defence
With 16 years of video uploaded every day on YouTube, 1,879 blog posts published every minute, and 500 million tweets posted a day, you’d be tempted to say we've hit peak content. So, what does this mean? Have we entered a post-content marketing world?
Decriers of content marketing will often invoke 'the Apple defence'. It goes something like this:
'Apple doesn't do any content marketing and look how successful they are!'
If you have a die-hard fan base, your products are an omnipresent status symbol, and you have a market cap larger than most countries, then, yes, feel free to not worry about content marketing.
But even given all that, 'the Apple defence' still doesn't stand. Apple does do content marketing; it's just far subtler than their other efforts to get noticed. They focus on showing what you can do with the product, not what it can do.
A copywriting strategy isn’t a sales strategy in a different form. Rinse. Repeat.
Practise less is more. Content should be a like a good waiter – conspicuous when needed, but not pushy. Some of the best newsletters and promotional emails are sent only once a week, or even just once a month. And you’ll know when someone's spent some time crafting it; it’ll feel more considered. On the other hand, getting sent an email every day feels impersonal, robotic and spammy. A little bit of absence does make the heart grow fonder.
4. Go back to the source
A good brief will include helpful collateral. As an agency, we know clients will always have some document, brochure or video that they can share. We will devour and break down whatever we are given. Client briefs will not only tell you important objective information, but also how the client likes to see themselves and their offerings, in terms of tone and attitude. You can do the same process in your own business.
5. Ask an expert
Whether it's a product expert from inside your company, a third-party specialist, or a happy customer, there is always someone out there who knows more than you. People love to talk about what they're passionate about, so aim high and try to talk to the best in the field. And remember, interviews should be guided and informative conversations.
For a company like Articulate, which writes a lot about tech, there are plenty of occasions where we get crossover topics. If you don’t have time to run interviews, then it may be you can find that expertise elsewhere. Dig through your archive, you'll probably be surprised by what you uncover.
Warning: never plagiarise yourself, but feel free to use yourself as an informed prompt.
6. Google it
...Ok, maybe that's a bit simplistic. Try using things like Google Scholar or Google News search. Looking at what comes up in the headlines, and where in the world that topic is buzzing is a brilliant way to tap into the heart of the current conversation..
Wikipedia is fantastic for getting an overview of a person, a definition or, well, finding out pretty much anything. That being said, use it to give yourself a grounding, but you should never cite it as a reliable source.
Be prepared to wander down the rabbit hole. Some people write well-researched blogs that just happen to get very little traffic, perhaps because they don’t do much marketing, or use SEO best practice. But, page four or five of Google is worth a look if you’re a researcher and the first results don’t offer anything of use.
7. Spend more time editing than writing
‘The first draft is you just telling yourself the story,’ as the late Sir Terry Pratchett said.
Now - granted - some of us edit as we go, tweaking things, changing the structure and so on. Even then, every piece of work will benefit from a few rounds of careful editing. So, allocate your time wisely and give editing the space it’s due.
Here are some top editing tips from our very ow Editor in Chief:
Do a macro read-through
Read the blog as a holistic piece of content. Think about how the overall structure fits together, and if each point flows onto the next. Consider if there are any sections that feel over or under-serviced, giving the piece an unbalanced feel. Does the introduction draw you in? Is the ending (we call this the ‘kicker’) punchy or attention-grabbing? Make some notes as you go.
Review with track changes and comments
If, like most of us, you’re using Word, then save the document as ‘version 2’ or ‘v2’ so that you have a complete track record of your alterations. Then, turn on ‘track changes’ and make use of the comments tool to record what you’ve done to modify the content. This is as important for your own work as it is for someone else’s.
Do a couple of sweeps through
Start at the top and work your way through the text. Make the bigger changes first, then go through again to refine. Check for the basics, like:
Making sure quotes and statistics are appropriately sourced
Consistency with the brief
Think like a cyborg
Hopefully, your blog will have been written with SEO best practices in mind. However, it’s worth checking during the editing process. Read through with one eye out for search engine optimisation and one eye out for human readability. These considerations are still important, even as search engines become more and more sophisticated.
Kill your darlings
By this point, you probably know what you have to do. There’s something in this blog that sticks out like a sore thumb, no matter how much you edit it. If it’s just not working, for whatever reason, don’t be precious about it: cut it out.
Use apps like Hemingway to ensure your blog is at the right readability level. This is marketing material, right? Not an academic essay or a technical manual. It’s meant to be light and breezy. People are reading this stuff on the commute to work, or in their breaks, or when they’re relaxing, or as a Monday morning ease into the day.
Read it out loud
Yes, you might be embarrassed about sitting in a café muttering to yourself, but reading your blog aloud is going to help your editing process. You’ll be able to identify long sentences, repeated words, awkward transitions, and all those little stumbling blocks.
Give it a final polish
If you’re writing a blog for yourself, give it another once-over or get a friend to look at it before you schedule it for publication. If you work in a team, get someone else to edit your content as well. If you’re working for a business client, then have them review the work. Fresh eyes are always helpful.
What doesn’t matter
There is no point in trying to make the perfect blog post. Too many people get bogged down in endless rounds of content edits, adjusting the scope of the piece, or wanting to add in extra, unnecessary information. In other words, the ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ problem.
At the end of the day, if you feel like there’s more to add at a later date, you can always update your marketing content. Quality can be iterative. Don’t let perfect get in the way of good enough.