Monday, July 16, 2012

How Even 'Boring' Industries Can Create Interesting Content

boring marketing contentintermediate

According to a survey from Corporate Visions via MarketingProfs, 37% of B2B marketers cite content that's neither provocative nor engaging as a barrier to successful demand generation campaigns.

Uh oh.

Does that mean the interwebs are getting even more clogged up with the kind of mindless drivel that makes us want to donate our brains to the zombie apocalypse?

Not necessarily. The "mindless drivel" could actually be really amazing, information-rich content; it's just impossible for anyone to ever know that because, oh my gosh, it's so boring to read. But what are those of us in "boring" industries supposed to do ... not create content? Pshh, no way.

Well, we know a thing or two about boring industries (sorry boss, but software isn't the sexiest topic). Here are some of the tricks we've picked up along the way -- both from our own experimentation, and from reading the content others in our industry pump out -- that helps transform a snoozeworthy topic into an engaging read.

Be Genuinely Helpful

Be genuinely helpful. That's a tip, sure, but it should also convince you that your "boring" content isn't actually boring to the right audience. In other words, if you're writing educational content, it's still interesting to those whose question you're answering -- even without any extra bells and whistles.

If someone needs an answer to a mundane question like how often to change their oil, content that answers that question is incredibly interesting, because it addresses their problem. In fact, remember that Corporate Visions survey of B2B professionals we talked about earlier? The ones who were plagued by boring content? Turns out it was boring for a reason -- 60% of it was focused on their company, product, or services, and only 40% of it was focused on actually solving customer pain points. We don't have the numbers, but we bet ya the 40% of content that actually solved problems got leads and customers reading to the end.

Write With Specificity

Piggybacking off of the whole being helpful "thing" -- you can be more helpful and far more interesting if you avoid the generic, and write with specificity. You'll be able to do this more easily if you have defined personas, because you'll have identified some of their biggest pain points when creating those personas. If you haven't created buyer personas, reference this blog post to get started.

What's the difference between a generic piece of content and a specific, detailed piece of content? It all starts with the topic. Let's take this very blog post as an example. In retrospect, I could have written something like "Best Practices for Blog Copy," or "How to Write Good Blog Content" -- but that's so broad and generic that it applies to everyone, and yet nobody at all. Instead, I generated this topic after hearing time and again from leads and customers that their industry is way too boring to write content about, and nobody would read their blog if they wrote it. So instead of talking generically about what makes good blog content, this post addresses one facet of blogging that has presented itself as a recurring problem to our audience.

So yes, maybe this post excludes a segment of our audience who sells puppies or promotes supermodels -- they probably don't struggle with making their content interesting because it inherently is -- but by addressing a specific problem that hits close to home to our regular readers, this post is far less likely to get glossed over.

Write Like You Talk

You establish professionalism by providing solid advice, not sounding like you got hit in the face with a briefcase. Write naturally, not with business babble that makes it more difficult for readers to understand what you're saying. What do I mean? Let's do a little translation, shall we?

Look for a provider who delivers scalable marketing software solutions to adapt to the diverse and evolving needs of organizations from SMB to enterprise across all industry verticals.

Say what? How about ...

Look for a marketing software provider that addresses the needs of companies of all sizes, and that serves all industries.

Ultimately, those two statements both say the same thing; but isn't the second statement more straightforward and easier to read? Why make life harder on your readers?

Use Humor

Infusing a light, humorous tone throughout your content can help add some life to an otherwise snoozeworthy topic. And it can make it more fun for you to write, too. Don't be afraid to crack a joke, be a little colloquial, draw upon silly pop culture references, or even incorporate funny internet memes into your content. If it's natural and doesn't detract from your content's meaning, being lighthearted and silly can set you apart from your competitors and keep your audience's attention for much longer.

Find a Relatable Angle

Remember in elementary school when your teacher explained complex concepts in analogies? We do that here -- for example, we like to say that blogging is like jogging so that our customers understand they won't get results from their blog unless they publish consistently. Taking a similar angle in your content can help make a dull concept a little more interesting, too. For example, remember last year when everyone and their mother was baking cupcakes, there were 20 new reality shows about cupcakes and the people who bake them, and everyone left their jobs to pursue their lifelong dream of baking cupcakes? Yeah, we jumped right on that gravy train and wrote a blog post called "Marketing Lessons From the Cupcake." It did insanely well. I mean, who doesn't like cupcakes?

This is the concept behind newsjacking, and it's something any company can do. If something interesting is blowing up in the news, it's because almost everyone finds it fascinating. So look for a way to ride the popularity wave of that story by tying it in to your company or industry. For example, the London Fire Brigade was able to ride the coattails of Kate Winslet's heroic rescue of Sir Richard Branson's mother from a burning building by offering the actress fire safety lessons at their station after the story broke. Who knew the fire department would be hobnobbing with the rich and famous?

Make Written Content Visually Digestible

Part of not boring your audience is simply not overwhelming them. That means any written content -- no matter how interestingly you write it -- also has to look easy to read. Use the power of your WYSIWYG editor to break up your text into smaller, more easily digestible chunks. For example, I used big, bold headings in this post because it lets readers scan over each section and read just the content that interests them. You should also make use of bullets, numbered lists, and images to help already dense content (in subject matter, at least) look less overwhelming for readers.

Tell Your Story Visually

Instead of words, many content creators rely on visuals to tell a ho-hum story. For example, we've written entire blog posts and an ebook about closed-loop marketing. Riveting, I know. But sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words, which is why we developed this visual to help explain it.

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You can apply this concept to other types of visual content, too, like how-to videos and infographics that explain your point in a more succinct and entertaining manner than mere text.

Interview Interesting People

Who wants to hear a talking head spout facts? Not many, which is why broadcast news has used the interview for years to grab their audience's attention. Bring on an authority figure or celebrity who can speak to a particular subject matter, and you'll have more eyes and ears than if you tackled the subject matter yourself. We use this in our blog posts from time to time, too -- not just because we know our audience likes to hear from people other than us, but because other people know things that we don't. So, does your industry have a superstar that would strike your audience's fancy? Get them on the horn so their celebrity can help add some spice to your content.

Solicit Audience Opinion

Similarly, your audience likes to be referenced for their expertise. After all, if they're reading industry content like yours, they're probably pretty well versed in the subjects about which you're writing. As such, it's nice to solicit their opinion to help feed your content, show appreciation for their participation in your community, and because, hey, people love to see their name in lights. The easiest way to do this is to tap into your social networks to crowdsource answers to questions you'd like to feature in your marketing content -- just make sure to publicize the content once it's written, and let your contributors know when their answers will be featured!

Shock Them

You know what's only mildly interesting (unless you're a marketing geek, in which case it's awesome)? Lead generation via social media. You know what's way more interesting? Knowing that LinkedIn is 277% more effective at generating leads than any other social network. You guys, that is way more effective. If you can take a relatively "blah" topic but can find a surprising facet of it around which to center your content, your audience will be hooked.

You don't need to rely solely on data points to shock people, either. If you have the stomach for it, you could take on a bit of controversy, too. We do this every once in a while -- ever read our blog post telling the USPS to stop encouraging direct mail? Yeah, readers came down on all sides of that issue, and not all of them were HubSpot's side. That's alright! At least people were reading about and interested in inbound marketing issues, which is the whole point of creating all this marketing content, anyway.

Are you a marketer in a "boring" industry? How do you make your content interesting?

Image credit: TRF_Mr_Hyde




via HubSpot's Inbound Internet Marketing Blog