Your content should sell three things.

By Emily Wisely. Find her on Twitter! I’m back to talk about the delicate art of content marketing because I believe in its effectiveness when it’s done well. Something that’s kind of annoyed me lately is the abundance of posts about content creation, especially articles geared toward industries that are lackluster. No one really has any unique examples to share. There’s dollar-shave-club-this and red-bull-that. But what about everybody else? How can a boring brand produce something that will actually help customers? I want marketing companies to stop describing good content and start showing me. Unless we can see how quality content is actually working for brands, how are we supposed to sell the idea to potential clients? Frustrated by repetitive, thin articles, I decided to crank the tunes and curate some examples myself. I learn best by doing, anyway. After a little research, I realized companies’ content (not just B2B) can sell three things: products, creativity, and information. The content that really impresses me is able to sell all three. Most brands’ content sells at least two. Let’s dig in to what these mean. Three things content can sell

Product-oriented and informative:

content that sells products and infoThis is where most companies should start when generating ideas for content because it is easy to find an audience that’s seeking answers specific to a business. I think educating an audience is a fantastic start; don’t be afraid to give away secrets or explain a process. When someone grows to trust a brand, he or she will be more apt to invest in the products or services. Unfortunately, this kind of content can be a little boring to people who aren’t searching for specific answers. Of course, if the whitepaper, article, video, or infographic you’ve produced is yielding qualified traffic, who cares if it’s a little bland as long as it’s serving a purpose? Bank of America has videos and articles that offer tips for repairing credit history, budgeting, and credit counseling.

Bank of American content

Example from Evolve: Last year we documented our success in saving a client six figures in paid search. It isn’t a document that will appeal to a mass audience; in fact, I’m pretty sure the only people interested in it will be brands that a) spend a lot of money in SEM and b) are competing with affiliates. The document gives clear direction for controlling the situation and it also showcases Evolve’s ability to take charge of paid search accounts.

Product-oriented and creative:

product-creativity contentI’m impressed with brands that find new or unusual ways to promote a product or service. Sharpie comes to mind here; this brand has dedicated a space on its website to showcasing submitted Sharpie artwork. It engages visitors while staying completely focused on the product. Not only can you see your own work, but it’s also a pretty cool source of inspiration for DIY decorating projects. And we all know how trendy crafting is these days.

Sharpie creative product content

The downside to creating content that only emphasizes creativity and products is that it doesn’t necessarily answer a general question that visitors commonly search. That said, there is still an opportunity to spin service-related keywords into something that draws an audience. Example from Evolve: When leafing through the St. Louis Business Journal’s list of the top 150 largest privately held companies, we wondered how successful the websites of these brands were performing online. So we decided to find out. Our report presents several metrics of the top 100 companies’ sites, and throughout the document we link to the SEO Audit. Are customers searching “how do st louis’s top companies’ sites compare to each other?” No. Of course not. But because we decided to use our talents in a creative new way, we’ve been able to share this document with a pretty big audience.

Informative and creative:

When companies are able to validate the need to create this kind of content, they really understand what content marketing is all about. The brand is ultimately saying: Look, we know you’re searching for an answer. We’re here to educate you in a memorable way. For American Express, that meant creating an infographic about international trade. They’re not selling credit cards here; they’re presenting information in an aesthetically pleasing, easy-to-digest way. And you know what? I’m sure they got a bunch of links from the ordeal, not to mention an increased respect from the audience that has searched for this information.

American Express infographic

Brands are often hesitant to invest in the time and talent required to create a piece like this, and it’s easy to see why. With no mention of services or products, it seems unlikely to make a sale. But converting a consumer isn’t necessarily the point of an informative/creative piece; rather, it’s to instill a sense of trust, appreciation, and at the very least, awareness. Example from Evolve: One of my first major projects was to create an SEO Guide for Beginners. As someone new to the industry, it was both challenging and rewarding to research the ins and outs and then present them in a format that would resonate with other beginners. It was not easy. It took a long time. The audience was not expected to pick up the phone and buy an SEO Audit from us. But having the guide on our Resources page certainly earns us trust, appreciation, and awareness from an audience that is eager to learn about SEO. Mission accomplished.

Selling all three at once:

Finally there are the brands that are able to sell all three in one. This isn’t an easy task. It’s not cheap. It probably takes a lot of hours to plan, let alone implement. These content pieces are brilliant works that people can’t help but share. Warby Parker is a great example of a brand that has created content encompassing products, creativity, and information. I’ve been a fan of this opticals company for some time now. Its 2012 annual report blew my mind (though I should have expected it from such a ballina company) and even the business model is unique and often enough to pique the interest of the visually impaired (looks around, raises hand).

Warby Parker Class Trip

I was really intrigued when I discovered the brand’s latest marketing strategy, Warby Parker’s Class Trip, during which the brand is live documenting a cross-country venture to spread brand awareness and show off products to the people they encounter. It’s so perfect that a brand named for characters from Jack Kerouac’s infamous On the Road would embark on a journey that spans the coasts and cultures of the United States of America. If I weren’t a fan of Warby Parker yet, I would certainly be by now. There is a separate domain dedicated to the project that presents the overall purpose, destinations, and contests, making sure to document the colorful experiences and stories along the way. Very Jack Kerouac. Bravo, Warby Parker. And interestingly enough, the whole ordeal is sponsored by American Express, proving once again that the brand sees value in content marketing. Example from Evolve: While we don’t have as wide an audience or the resources that Warby Parker has, we’ve managed to generate content that dipped into each of the three circles. Our SEO Audit checklist shows exactly what we check off when performing an audit for a client. And here we are, tossing it out for anyone to snatch up and use. We’re not afraid to expose the details because we’re a transparent-kind of brand. If brands want an audit, they’re going to call us, especially once they see what these bad boys entail. The PDF is designed well enough to encourage sharing, so we’ve also been able to earn some links in the process.

In Conclusion!

SEO is still very much about fixing technical issues on a website, performing keyword research, and earning links. However, with so many brands shifting their focus to the idea of CONTENT CREATION, it’s challenging to find new ways to showcase familiar information. Researching this post alerted me of many brands that are choosing to NOT be boring, despite their industry’s dull reputation. Coyote, for example, is an awesome logistics company that somehow manages to make logistics seem… cool. Similarly to my post about the purposes of content, this post will hopefully help you look at your own brand’s efforts in a new light.