Every company wants to be an authority in their sector - those that engage the media usually are

Media First designs and delivers bespoke media and communications courses that use current working journalists, along with PR and communications professionals, to help you get the most from your communications plan.

Adam Fisher
6th April 2018 - 5 mins read
T

o put that quantity in context, according to TrackMaven, over the past five years, the average number of blog posts published per brand per month increased by 800 per cent. 

Everyone wants their written content to engage, entertain and entice their readers, but with this content overload – or ‘content shock’ as I have also seen it called -  it is increasingly hard for your words to stand out.

So how can you ensure your written content gets read?

 

Adopt a conversational style

It might break certain grammatical rules, but adopting a conversational style when writing your content will help your readers feel you are talking directly to them.

When I write, I always try to use the same informal language I would use if I was talking to a friend.

That doesn’t mean I write exactly how I talk, but, to adopt a quote from American novelist Elmore Leonard, I don’t want my writing to sound like writing. Formality is boring.

I avoid long words and unnecessarily complicated language and I place a lot of emphasis on the words ‘you’ and ‘I’ because I want to make it personal. I want to foster familiarity and for you, the reader, to believe the content you are reading has been produced specifically for you and not everyone on our mailing list.

And I ask a lot of questions. Why? Well because conversations are full of questions. The only difference in my writing is that I also (hopefully) provide the answers.

 

Make your writing look appealing

Inserting picture and infographics and including lots of white space into your content will certainly help, but there are other subtle techniques you can deploy to make your written content more appealing.

Readers find huge paragraphs and big blocks of text daunting and ultimately off-putting. If you look at newspapers, and yes I know print circulation figures are in decline, almost every paragraph consists of just one sentence.

Similarly, long sentences can be a big turn-off. If your sentence is longer than 30 words it needs to be split up into smaller sections.

You may have been told at school not to start sentences with ‘and’ or ‘but’.  But now is the time to break those rules because there is nothing wrong with this in the grown-up world of content. And it is a great way of keeping sentences short and snappy. (See what I did there!)

Pull-out quotes, click-to-tweets and sub-headings are also great ways of breaking-up large sections of text.

 

Show you are human

People are interested in stories about other people.

The human touch lights up content and prevents the author sounding distant, detached and boring. It also builds connections with your audience.

I often include experiences from my career and even parts of my home life to illustrate points in my writing and the content which includes these examples and anecdotes is often the best performing.

Why? Because it make the content more relatable and also validates why I should be in a position to offer advice.

Strong personal opinions can add the human element we look for in an increasingly automated world.

At Thirty Seven, we thrive on creating authentic content which is original, credible and packed with human interest. Via: @37agency

 Offer something unique

Type ‘content marketing’ into Google and it returns more than 33 million results.

So your content needs to offer something different to stand-out from the noise.

That doesn’t mean you can’t write about the issues that other people in your sector have already been speaking about. But you need to offer a different perspective, point of view or an interesting twist.

You need to be able to add to the conversation, not repeat it.

Narrowing your subject down will help. I blog a lot on media training issues for our sister company Media First.

That is a broad subject area, so I often break it down into specific areas where it can be easier to add something unique or unusual. For example, I have written blog on how to handle specific types of questions, such as personal ones, and particular types of interviews, such as doorstep interviews.

 

Know your audience

The best way to attract readers is to ensure you know who you are trying to appeal to.

If you don’t know enough about your readers and the questions they are looking for answers to, it is unlikely you are going to be writing on topics that are relevant.

 

Spend time on the headline

The headline is obviously crucial for attracting people to your content. It is the gateway.

But it is a balancing act.

Over promise and you are in danger of creating click-bait which could result in people visiting your website and leaving again almost immediately (this is known as a bounce rate).

Under-sell it and you are not going to attract the number of readers your content deserves.

So how can you get the headline right?

Numbers are a good tool, particularly odd ones, and questions are enticing – just look at how often the Daily Mail uses a question in a headline on its website.

Words like ‘how’, ‘why’, and ‘who’ also have reader appeal. 

And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, keep it short.

Sites like CoSchedule will analyse your headlines and give tips on how to improve them.

 

Nail the intro

The introduction is a crucial part of any written content - it is the hook to get people to invest time reading the rest of what you have written.

The first thing I would say here is don’t repeat your headline in your introduction. This is something I see quite a lot of and it is incredibly dull and pointless.

It is also a good way of ensuring readers will quickly lose interest.

To entice the reader your introduction needs to show them they are going to read something relevant, timely, unusual or controversial (without offending them).

As with the sentences in the rest of your content, you need to keep your introduction short.

 

Promote, promote, promote

As much as I would like to tell you it is all about the writing, promoting your content properly is vital.

Email marketing, social media, PR, guest blogging and paid promotion are just some of the tactics you can consider to attract more people to your work and ensure your content marketing works.

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper. 

Marketing

Content should be more than just marketing

Tom Idle 29th March 2018 — 8 mins read

I couldn’t bear to sit around on the sidelines any longer while some agencies just messed things up,” is how James puts it when I ask why he’s decided to venture into the world of content marketing.

In his six years as MD of Media First, James and his team have been asked more and more to help with different communications challenges – to present better, to deliver more impactful messages, to shoot and edit film, to hone communications. “We’ve been naturally moving towards helping with content marketing over the years. Now, with Thirty Seven we will get to help our amazing clients in a much more involved way.”

James is joined by Mark, an ex-Microsoft application development consultant, who has been running his own content and design agency for the last five years. Having worked together enhancing Media First’s own content marketing and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) performance, the pair decided to team up.

“We’ve built a loyal following and I enjoy knowing that what we are producing is worthwhile and entertaining,” adds James. “I knew that, so long as we kept enjoying the creative process and stayed true to our journalist-led concepts of always putting the audience first, then there was a good chance that people would continue to enjoy reading, watching and listening to the content we were making.”

Enjoying the frisson of their new business launch, the pair were keen to tell me how and why they plan to do content marketing better.

 

It seems that your decision to establish Thirty Seven was based on a belief that most content marketing is poor. What’s wrong with it? 

Mark Mars (MM): So much content is produced without any strategy behind it and the quality just isn’t there.

When it comes to SEO, there has been such a focus on creating pages that rank for certain keywords. What you often end up with is lots and lots of content which might create a decent search ranking, but the quality is so poor that visitors don’t stick around for long. Google has caught up with that and now has more quality measures in place.

James White (JW): SEO and content are still considered by some agencies to be separate pieces of work. But they need to be considered together. You don’t produce good SEO with poorly developed content; it just doesn’t work.

Also, the content marketing industry seems to be in a race to produce the most amount of stuff. Quality is coming second to quantity.

 

But clearly your customers are increasingly aware of the need to improve content quality. How have you evolved to cope with changing client needs?

MM: A hell of a lot has changed in the last five years. Back in 2014, spend in content marketing was about £125 million a year. By 2020, it is set to jump to around £350 million, so brands really understand that this is the best way to reach their audiences.

There is also more appetite from consumers to digest content in many different forms, which opens up plenty of opportunity for publishers and content creators.

But that is not to say that it is being done particularly well. About 80% of B2B marketers claim to use content marketing. But 70% of them lack a consistent or integrated content strategy—and that’s a big problem. There has been too much focus on quantity over quality.

JW: ‘Quality’ is such a generic term because it’s all subjective. You need to develop the right content, for the right audience, in the right format, at the right time and in the right place.

Brands need to think more like publishers to really get the value out of content.

 

You use journalists to deliver content for your customers. The benefits of doing that might be obvious, but what is it you’re getting from journalists that you might not get from other content creators?

JW: Well, content should be more than just marketing. It’s not just good enough these days to tell good stories. You have to educate, entertain and excite audiences. You have to give people a reason to care.

Journalists inherently get this. They know how to sniff out unique stories that make people stop, sit up and listen. My wife is a journalist and she has a great ability to be brutally honest. I could spend all day coming up with, what I think is, a great idea. I’ll go home and tell her about it and she’ll challenge me by saying something like, “Who cares? Why will your audience give a damn?”

And that’s what’s great about journalists. They can easily put themselves in somebody else’s shoes and work out how people tick. That’s why I’ve loved working with our team of journalists at Media First these past six years.

 

Back in 2014, spend in content marketing was about £125 million a year. By 2020, it is set to jump to around £350 million...

 

All of your customers will have very different needs. How do you approach each piece of work to deliver the best results?

MM: Well, you need to get into the mind of the client to find out what they want to achieve, rather than just blindly creating content. You need to help build a cohesive and coherent plan that includes not just what content you will create, but also how you are going to publish it and promote it.

JW: It’s all about meeting objectives. Is this content to raise awareness? Or is it to convert lurkers on a website into buyers?

It’s also about looking at data to find out what types of content a client’s audience wants and how it wants that delivered.

When we get into content creation mode, we work like an editorial newsroom to script, write, edit and sub-edit. That then goes through a cycle of refinements until we are happy for it to leave our office and reach the client for sign-off.

 

There’s a continuous debate about the virtues of long- versus short-form content. Which do you think is best?

MM: It’s not really about what’s better. It’s about what’s most appropriate.

We do live in a fast-paced world, but to say that nobody wants to read more than 500 words just isn’t true. Long-form content has always received more shares and links than shorter pieces. People do appreciate the time that goes in to creating quality long-form content. And Google does too, with their algorithm generally favouring longer content.

 

So, are there rules for creating great content that you stick to?

JW: We like to use the simple TRUTH test – that the content is Topical, Relevant, Unusual, Trouble (solves, raises awareness of or discusses) and importantly, contains Human interest.

But it has to be delivered in the right format as well. Many people were surprised to hear that Media First and Thirty Seven have joined forces to create this magazine. Yes, it might seem a bit retro but not all audiences are the same; not everyone wants to read a blog or get their information from social media. I have a Kindle and iPad at home but still buy books, newspapers and magazines.

 

The General Data Protection Regulation is coming, giving individuals more control over how their personal data is collected and used online. What will it mean for the content marketing industry?

JW: It’s certainly something our clients need to be aware of, not least because the new regulation is so far-reaching. It will affect not just marketing but internal comms and even supplier contracts.

You can either hide under your desk and pretend it’s not happening. Or you can see it as an opportunity to be proactive.

I personally think it’s a great thing. I will have more control over my data and who markets to me. And as a content producer, I will know that we are providing our audiences with information they want.

 

So, what does the future look like for content marketing?

MM: We are drowning in content and it is getting harder to get results. The average number of shares of any content has been steadily falling over the last few years. So the whole practice does need to evolve.

That means content marketers need to be a lot more strategic about the type of content they create, backed by better research. And instead of asking inexperienced or new writers to churn out low-quality pages of blogs for long-tail keyword targeting, content teams will be comprised of creative designers, developers, AI experts, videographers, as well as plenty of experienced writers and journalists too.

JW: We also know that it’s going to be important to work closely with our customers’ teams. I hate the concept of a full-service marketing agency, where everything is outsourced. I hate to see comms teams dwindling in size. We want to support our customers to retain in-house teams because we’ve seen just how important they are during the last 35 years working with Media First.

 

What’s with the name, Thirty Seven? How did you come up with that?

MM: Well, if you ask somebody to pick a random number between zero and 100, a disproportionate number of people will choose the number 37. The more you delve into the number – the fact that it appears more regularly than any other number in films, for example – you realise just how special it is. It’s attractive and we’re in the attraction game, so it made sense.

 

What’s it like working with each other? Do you always get on or are there things you disagree on?

MM: We’re very similar. We’re both ambitious and want to succeed.

But our work lives have been very different so we have different ideas about how things should be achieved.

JW: Sure, sometimes Mark and I approach things from a different angle. Occasionally this leads to disagreements. But we complement each other. If we were both the same, we wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as a team.

Ultimately, we both want to deliver projects that excite and motivate us. That’s the reason we get out of bed in the morning; not to just earn money to pay the mortgage. It’s about more than that.

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper. 

Adam Fisher
9th April 2018 - 5 mins read