Getting your central message right
So you have a blog, a Twitter feed, a YouTube channel; your e-newsletter is ready to go. But what are you going to say?
Creating content without having a really secure understanding of what you want to be known for will never really bring you the business results you crave. A solid foundation of ‘who you are and what you stand for’ is vital if you’re not going to find yourself floundering for the right words a few weeks down the line, so let’s give this some thought.
“Writing is a lot easier if you have something to say.” Sholem Asch.
Whether you’re new to this content marketing thing, or a seasoned professional looking to up the value of your content, I urge you to spend time getting your central message right. This is the super fuel that’ll power up your content efforts, and there’s every chance it can transform your business too.
Here are some idea starters to help you to discover your sweet spot, but first let’s look at a few companies getting it just right.
Learn from the best
When researching for candidates for our Valuable Content Awards we’re looking for the best content from around the world, to highlight what’s possible. Time and time again we notice that the businesses that consistently put out irresistible content are the ones who nail their content to a bigger business purpose.
- Finisterre – with their commitment to the new category they’ve created – ‘coldwater surfing’
- IBM – with their ‘smarter planet’ concept
- Hiut Denim – with ‘do one thing well’
- Andrea Howe – with her ‘get real’ project and manifesto
- Systems development firm Desynit – with ‘good systems change your life’
- And one of our newest clients Freedman International – with ‘a better way to make global marketing work’
All these valuable content heroes have something important to say – an overarching vision, a big idea, a framework, an approach – a unique, defining, inspiring message that underpins all they do. Once they’ve found this then they’ve nailed their content sweet spot and their content really flows.
Where content strategy meets brand
Sharon and I are lucky enough to have the last three companies mentioned in the list above as clients. Getting really clear on the main company message is where we advise people to start their content marketing programmes. Pinpoint this and it becomes very easy to work out what content to create.
“You cannot create an effective content strategy without clarity on the wider business message.”
This is where content strategy meets brand, and I think it’s virtually impossible, indeed unhelpful to separate the two. You simply cannot create an effective content strategy without clarity on the wider business message.
If content strategy and brand are handled by different people in your company then get them together to work on this challenge.
How to pinpoint your content sweet spot
Prepare yourself for some soul searching, real research and creative thinking. This is not something you can conjure up in a flash – give yourself the minimum of a couple of months to get this right. The investment will be worth it, I promise.
It’s at the intersection of your ideas and your customers’ needs that you’ll find that elusive sweet spot, and it’s through storytelling and content that you’ll get that message across.
Here are the steps we go through at Valuable Content to help people find that elusive sweet spot. We hope it helps you too.
1. Who are you talking to and what do they value?
You’ll know stuff about your customers, obviously, but I urge you to look deeper.
Who do you really want to do business with? Pinpoint your ideal customers and get to know them better. Do some indepth research to uncover their opinion of the value you deliver, their challenges, needs and desires.
Don’t base your thinking on assumptions – ask them; call them up; spend some time interviewing them to uncover their real needs. Work out what they love about the service or product you offer.
The richer the picture you can build of your audience the easier it will be to create a message they’ll sit up and take notice of.
2. What do you want to be famous for?
Customer research alone won’t get you to that sweet spot. I’d advise you to do some soul searching and look inside your company too.
What do you want to be famous for as a business? What is it that you know that customers truly value? Where does your passion as a business really lie? What’s the approach you take that defines the way you do what you do? What do your leaders and your own team think?
3. Focus not on what, but on why
All the messages communicated by our content heroes are customer-focused, not company focused. They concentrate first and foremost not on what or how but why these companies are in business. From the customer perspective, they answer the question ‘why should we care?’
“Answer the question – ‘why should we care?'”
You can do this too. Remember to speak to your customers directly when crafting your core message. The question you are answering is bigger than ‘why should I do business with you?’. It’s more like ‘why do you matter to the world at large?’
If you want more on this approach watch this fantastic TED talk from Simon Sinek: Start with the Why. It’s just the kind of inspiring outside-in thinking you’ll need.
4. Write the story
Your core message is tied to an authentic story that engages your customers on an emotional level. This is the magic – the gold dust that lifts your message from ‘blah blah’ to ‘oh yes!’
If you’re a writer, we give you free rein to think creatively when you do this. You’re looking for the grit that makes the pearl, and you won’t find it in the usual business lexicon. Think metaphors, analogies – even poetry. Have fun with it, let sparks fly and see what settles.
“You’re looking for the grit that makes the pearl, and you won’t find it in the usual business lexicon.”
If the thought of this is making you panic, rather than making you excited, then hire a good writer. You’ll find more to help you here – Once Upon a Time. Why your business needs a story.
5. Think manifesto
Communicating your values in a manifesto (like Desynit does – as recognised in this Guardian article this week) will help you nail the message in words that unite your people, and resonate with your customers.
We’re huge fans of manifestos, and the way they raise the profile of belief in business. Articulating why you do what you do in simple words is a powerful exercise. The fact that pouring some design love into those words turns them into something beautiful that makes your people feel proud is a brilliant bonus.
For more on manifesto thinking read Sharon’s post: Stand Up and Be Counted. The Return of the Manifesto.
6. Write your content plan
Now you can get down to your content planning, and you’ll find it so much easier once you’ve got the big idea clear – you’ll be confident you have something to say.
Shout this message loud and proud on your website. Aim for a good balance of stock and flow pieces – the big hitter content as well as the continual stream of blogs.
Start with a clean sheet of paper. Think: ‘what are the ten most useful things we can create that will really help our ideal customers?’ This is a good starting point to fill your content pipeline but more on the content planning process here soon. (In the meantime you can download this content calendar to help get the ideas flowing).
Have you found your content sweet spot? Without doubt, getting the big idea clear will make the biggest difference to the success you get from content marketing.
You won’t regret it.