Working on a proposal for a client the other day, I was looking at a previous project that they had done and noticed two words in small, sans serif type in the top right corner: "white paper." It might as well have read, "let your eyes glaze over now."
What if, at the very early stages of development, you approached your next content marketing project with the thought that, in the top right corner, it would be labeled, "Not another boring … whatever"? What would it look like compared to what you do now? What would the actual content be compared to what you've done in the past? Or what you have planned?
I'm not talking about going crazy and creating something all neon green, reversed out type on black with pop-ups--unless your audience is into that--which could turn off potential customers. The essential educational elements would still be there. And it would be as entertaining as it could be and still be appropriate for your audience. But what could you do differently to make something really bold that would knock people's socks off (in a good way)?
The challenge I'm making here is to envision what people in your target market would find extraordinarily engaging. Of course, different markets can have vastly different style standards and formality expectations. But the essential attributes of compelling content are fairly common. How would your next white paper be different if it was more authentic? More original? More honest? More enlightening? More visually striking? Hence, more useful and valuable.
Or think about your next case study. In addition to the challenge and solution could you include some missteps and lessons learned? How about some detailed financial data? Or an on-site video? Such elements are difficult to get clients to develop or share. But because they're rare, they're more valuable.
Only you can figure out the content elements that will make your next project extraordinary. By all means ask your current customers and audience what they would really like to know or see. Who knows? You might get a useful idea or two. But in my experience with focus groups and the like, people often don't know what they want or what information they could really use until they get it.
In the end creating great content always comes down to execution. But you can't do it if you haven't first envisioned what something extraordinary might look like.
What content have you seen or created that really stood out? What made it not boring? What could you do?
There’s a lot of conversation in the publishing industry today about the fate of books, magazines and newspapers in the age of the iPad and other tablet computers. Two notable interactive books that have been released in the past two months demonstrate the eye-catching potential that digital publications offer for presenting engaging content that appeals to both consumer and business readers.
Our Choice by Al Gore
The sequel to former U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, Our Choice is “Produced by Melcher Media, published by Rodale, powered by Push Pop Press.” It’s available as a “content app” on Apple’s iTunes ($4.99).
In the book Al Gore reviews the causes of global warming. The book presents a variety of technology and system-based climate solutions that are already available or in development. It includes audio narrative, photography, interactive graphics, and documentary footage. Some of the interactive elements and super cool navigation are demonstrated on the Melcher Media website and in a brief TED presentation by Mike Matas of Push Pop Press.
Melcher Media is both a publisher of consumer-oriented books as well as striking, “market-savvy” books for corporate clients. Still, the fact that it required three companies to publish this one title seems to put it out of reach financially for most marketers except for those with the deepest pockets. But it’s not the only example of interactive book possibilities.
The Final Hours of Portal 2 by Geoff Keighley
Reported and written by Geoff Keighley, and designed by Joe Zeff Design, The Final Hours of Portal 2 chronicles the making of the Portal 2 video game at Valve Corp. It’s available as an app on iTunes ($1.99), and as a digital book for Mac and PC on Steam.
The Final Hours of Portal 2 is long-form, behind-the-scenes journalism that appeals to a highly engaged consumer fanbase. It delivers the slick graphics and interactivity that gamers expect. The 15,000-word story element isn’t quite book-length by traditional publishing standards but it includes many exclusive extras including interactive graphics, games, panorama photos, and song tracks.
One of the game-changing aspects of Keighly’s publication is that it’s essentially self-published, bypassing all of the traditional production, promotion and distribution channels that Gore’s book maintains. But it doesn’t look or feel any less professional and polished, or have the lower quality connotations that self-published books often have.
In part this is because both the medium and app distribution channel for such content are relatively new. It’s also because Valve gave Keighly carte blanche to its offices and people, yet he maintained complete editorial control. Few companies are willing to grant such access. But such calculated risks can result, as The Final Hours of Portal 2 demonstrates, in the type of product promotion and publicity that can’t be bought.
Will digital-only books like these elevate readers’ expectations for interactivity the same way that Amazon’s Kindle and other e-readers have created market expectations for electronic versions of traditional books? That will depend on how common such books become, which depends on the tools, skills and people required to develop them. It will be exciting to see how the spirit of oneupmanship among writers and designers and publishers will push interactive publications forward over the next several years.
*Thanks to Michelle Linn (@michelelinn) from the Content Marketing Institute for making me aware of Our Choice.
Here's an image to keep in your mind when you are writing. This print (available online via 20x200) by San Francisco-area artist Lauren DiCioccio is a sparkling illustration of the ideas, memes, and bits of insight and inspiration that could populate your prose. It has a wonderful effervescent quality that is a great metaphor for writing that lights up the hearts and minds of your readers.
At business conferences motivational speakers offer a welcome break from the more technical and industry-specific presentations on the agenda. When they are good the passion and performance of these speakers can sweep everyone up and leave behind a fuzzy afterglow of lingering smiles and good cheer.
Why isn't more content marketing like that?
Later, when you reflect on what these motivational speakers actually said--I know, I've taken notes--you realize that it wasn't anything very earth-shattering. Mostly they tell good stories about how we can all be successful on our own terms. Anything is possible if we are willing to step away from our comfort zone and take a few risks.
I don't know about you, but I've been hearing that since grade school. This is America after all. So if it's not the underlying message, the power is in the delivery.
A little passion goes a long way
While it requires some measure of innate talent, what it takes to be a consistently good motivational speaker and performer can be learned. The non-entertainers on the conference speaker circuit, those who've experienced some tragedy or overcome adversity, are the best example, like the guy who went hiking alone, got his arm stuck under a rock, and had to cut it off. A large part of what they bring to their audiences is the authenticity of their experience and passion about what they accomplished and learned. (These speakers also bring a well-honed storytelling ability, but that's a topic for another day.)
Online and everywhere in life, authenticity and passion build friendships and grow business networks, audiences, followers, customers and businesses. Why then does so much content marketing and marketing in general lack these magical attributes?
Motivational speakers can't be boring. It's part of the job description. They share the same business audience as B2B content creators and marketers. You can't afford to be boring either.
The Fun Theory competition and series of videos created by Volkswagen offers some interesting lessons on developing an engaging video content marketing campaign. Some of these are over a year old now, but if you haven't seen them, the most popular video by far, with almost 15 million views, features the transformation of a subway staircase into a large keyboard.
The underlying premise or "theory" being demonstrated in the video is that if you make something fun it can change people's behavior for the better. Volkswagen's related marketing premise is that more people will purchase smaller, gas-sipping, environmentally friendly cars if it's fun to drive them.
Fun is inherently engaging
One of the things that's interesting about these content marketing videos is that they engage the viewer just as they engage the participants in the experiment. Watching their delight makes you smile, and you have to share it with your friends on Facebook with the wish that someone would make the stairs you climb every day musical and more fun.
But in addition to being entertaining like thousands of YouTube clips, the experiments themselves are all about turning the everyday and mundane into something that's, well, fun. However fleeting it might be, in this case that heightened engagement can be quantified:
Granted, Volkswagen's Fun Theory video campaign is consumer-oriented. But if you can make climbing a set of stairs, throwing away trash, recycling, and driving the speed limit fun, and change people's behavior, then business-to-business marketers can make the everday interactions and communication that you have with your customers more fun and engaging.
I know I always appreciate it when someone does anything to take the dullness out of an otherwise lackluster workday. By expending a little creativity and effort there are ways to be both professional and fun, and more deeply engage current and potential customers alike. Stay tuned for more examples.
From press releases to case studies and research reports, I'm always on the lookout for examples of B2B content marketing that breaks the mold and isn't boring and formulaic. Send me your examples and I may feature them here. Thanks.