How Do You Create Compelling Content That Engages Your Audience?
We each have our own process or steps towards creating compelling content. I have the honor of teaching “Content Marketing” as part of the Integrated Marketing Communications program at West Virginia University this Fall. I wrote about my experience of creating a course in 8 weeks in “A unique way of repurposing your content: create a university-level course.”
Throughout the course, students need to read the lessons I created and respond to weekly discussion questions and assignments. The question for the 3rd week is “What are some steps or processes that you can take to create compelling content?” Although I spelled out a content creation process in my book, Global Content Marketing, here are some steps, suggested by my students, that you can take to create compelling content. I think they are pretty good!
Alyssa Gregory (Founder of Small Business Bonfire):
Compelling content is not a nice-to-have. If the content is going to perform well, it has to compel readers to read it, and engage them enough so they share it.
For me, whether I’m writing a blog post or an ebook, I follow a process to create compelling content that looks something like this:
Consult my idea file
A notebook in Evernote with hundreds of content ideas I came across on blogs, in books, on TV, in conversations, through research, etc.
Consult my community
I regularly check-in to see what readers want to see, what topics they are most engaged in, and what formats they prefer for content. In many cases, interviews or user-based insight is a great way to make sure new content is engaging.
Outline, then fill in the blanks
For all content, I start with a topic, then list out the main ideas, add a few bullets for each main idea, fill in the blanks under each subheading, then add an intro and a closing.
Past performance of content can be a great indicator of what content should come next.
Write an engaging headline or title
Once you have a draft of the content, it’s time for the headline or title — one with “clickability.” Headlines can be one of the most important elements of your content. Not only does the headline determine if the content will be consumed, but it can also change the way people read an article and the way they remember it. The headline frames the rest of the experience (Konnikova, 2014). I like to use various analyzers to measure the success of the title. MailChimp does this for email marketing. CoSchedule does it for blog posts.
Ashley Peterson (Client Services Manager at Synchrony Financial):
The steps that I plan to take to create compelling content include:
Research my target audience
As our text states, “Create content with a purpose and an audience in mind” (Didner, 2014).
The more extensive my research is of my target audience, the greater knowledge that I will have to move forward with a purpose that is fully relevant to the audience. For example, with my client being a furniture retailer and my target being Millennials in a metropolitan city, making sure that my research goes beyond Millennial consumption behavior to include how Millennials shop specifically for furniture has helped me to understand a deeper purpose behind the content that I look to create.
Pulse internally and externally for the input
These internal sources would include anyone from senior leaders to peers in my function or other functions to front-line employees. Looking outside the company, external sources can be typical consumers, customers, vendors, or investors. Every person in an organization or interacting with one has a different view of what is being done within the company and a different view of the customer and/or target audience and I would want to maximize my knowledge of what they see. Any insights that I can get from another lens by using such avenues as focus groups, surveys, or quick face-to-face meetings would help to drive additional creativity.
Compile, brainstorm, and create
After meeting with and hearing from various sources, I would want to move forward to compile and make sense of my findings to pull into the brainstorming process and create the first draft of content.
Get feedback on Content 1.0
Through my interactions, I can get some or all of my engaged sources of input to agree to give feedback on the content that I create based on their input. With their feedback, I may learn that I misinterpreted something that they shared or can expand more on that one nugget of insight in the content that I create to better attract the target audience, for example.
Create Content 2.0for Promotion
Based on the feedback given following the first round of content production, the next step is to decide what feedback to incorporate and edit the content appropriately to move forward and promote it.
Repeat as necessary
As I continue to create compelling content, these steps will ultimately become a cycle and hopefully. Over time, my selected team members can depend on our internal and externals supporters to continue to serve as our “go-to” extended team. With their help, this cycle can normalize so that we can get content developed and promoted quicker and quicker each time.
Elizabeth (Libby) Blanchette (Freelance Writer):
To create compelling content (in my opinion) is just as difficult as nuclear physics — but instead of working with atoms and a reactor you’re trying to get the desired reaction out of Adam.
In fact, to create compelling content that attracts the attention of consumers and generates the desired response can seem, at (most) times, impossible. So how do you do it? In my experience and opinion creating compelling content is a creative process that is just that: a process. When visualized, it takes the form of a model that includes four key stages: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification (Griffin, G. & Morrison, D., 2010). In my opinion, which is based on my experiences as a copywriter, these four phases of the creative process usually manifest themselves into the following:
In my experience, this should include a “start-up” meeting where the creative team is presented with all the information they need to get started on content creation. This is also where a creative brief of sorts should be distributed to highlight the purpose, timeline and appropriate delivery methods of said content. The creative team conducts any necessary background research — familiarizing themselves with the goods, services or ideas driving the need for content, as well as the target market and so forth.
Consequently, this is when the creative team takes a step back from the content campaign to let what they’ve learned in the preparation stage sink in. This is perhaps one of the most ignored and impractical stages of the process. At one of my previous positions, the manager of the creative department would encourage us to leave the building for thirty or so minutes after intense sessions of background research. Often, the creative team would take short field trips to a nearby farmers’ market or the local Starbucks to help get our mind off the task at hand so our brains could absorb what we just spent hours discovering.
This involves the process of creating concepts (or “concepting”). Here writers and designers take their ideas and share them which each other. Working together, they build improved ideas off of each other’s thoughts, often morphing two or more key ideas into one creative content campaign. Next, they develop thumbnails, headlines, taglines, etc. as a sample of how each idea could be fluently represented throughout various times and delivery mediums — emails, blog posts, coupons, direct mailers, etc.
Once the completed content has been approved by the necessary higher powers, it is released to target consumers using desired delivery methods. Afterward, its effectiveness is tested using methods such as test markets, focus groups, etc. It’s very interesting that three of them took different angles to answer the same question – “What are some steps or processes that you can take to create compelling content?” Alyssa’s response focuses on her personal process, Ashley’s on working with others in a company, and Libby focuses on the creative part of the content creation process. They are all correct in their own ways. There are a lot of articles and blogs out there on the same topic. It can be overwhelming.
Furthermore, you need to sit back and understand what you want to accomplish in the context of your roles. Ultimately, you need to define the processes and steps that will work for you.
A note: Thank Alyssa, Ashley, and Libby for letting me share your posts. You rock, girls!
References: Konnikova, M. (2014, December 7). How headlines change the way we think. The New Yorker. Retrieved here. Griffin, G. & Morrison, D. (2010). The creative process illustrated: how advertising’s big ideas are born [Google E-book version]. Retrieved here.