Last week, I had the opportunity to attend Content Marketing World, a weeklong conference hosted by the Content Marketing Institute in Cleveland, Ohio. The first session I attended, “Journalism, Content Marketing and the Shared Worlds Between,” set the perfect tone for the rest of my sessions. Guest speaker Cameron Conaway, journalist and content marketing manager at Flow, has experience in both worlds. In terms of content marketing, he says the key is to use the best of both—to blend the heart with the mind.
Nearly all of the speakers in my sessions emphasized that these two ideas should drive content marketing, and they’re what I think of as the two “Is” of marketing: insight and intuition. Insight represents the mind and the analytical aspect of marketing, while intuition represents the heart and the authentic connections created through marketing. But they weren’t saying to use your intuition to guess what people want, or ignore data and use abstract insights to make assumptions. There is a unique science, as well as a human element, to leveraging both to create the best content for your business and your audience.
It’s more than data.
While data and research are useful in understanding your audience, they are simply starting points to generating great insight for your content. It’s taking what is true and making it interesting. Doug Kessler, creative director and co-founder of Velocity Partners, used Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches as an example. Using the statistic that “only 2 percent of women consider themselves beautiful,” Dove used insight to create this video and deliver the message, “You’re more beautiful than you think.”
John von Brachel, senior vice president and content marketing executive at Bank of America, reinforced in his presentation that data leads to decision, but it’s not the decision itself. It’s not about what the data says, but how you use it. Consider opportunities where you can to look for gaps and anomalies in data and turn them into deeper insights.
It’s not always the popular opinion.
Speaking of gaps, fill the untouched and unpopular ones. Andy Crestodina, co-founder and strategic director at Orbit Media, encourages two questions: “What is often requested but never supported?” and “What does everyone believe in that you disagree with?” These two questions allow you to identify the needs of your audience and give them the answers they’re looking for. Or, even if it’s an unpopular opinion, you can offer a new point of view and attract the audience that is right for your brand and what you believe in. After all, you shouldn’t try to appeal to everyone.
It’s more than best practices.
Best practices are generic because they’re meant for everyone. Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz, asked the session audience if anyone had heard the best time to post a tweet. Many raised their hands, and he responded by asking that if, for example, 2 p.m. was the best time to tweet, and everyone is tweeting at 2 p.m., is it really the best time to tweet anymore? Visibility and impact could decrease due to the saturation of tweets at just one time during the day. Therefore, he suggests that you should treat correlation as paths for inquiry and experimentation—not hard rules to follow.
It’s your purpose.
Intuition is why you do what you do. Before creating any kind of content, it’s important to consider why you’re creating it. In another session, VP of Platform at NextView Ventures and founder of Unthinkable Media Jay Acunzo asked, “Are you marketing what you believe in, or simply reacting to a trend?” Establish the goals and values of your business, as well as the needs of your audience. If you communicate a consistent marketing message in your content that is aligned to both of those things, you not only will establish a strong brand identity and trust from your audience, you will naturally attract more of the right prospects and create more authentic connections.
It’s all about connections.
Step away from your desk to meet your clients. Don’t forget they’re real people with real needs and interests, so take the time to set assumptions and data aside for a moment to find out what really matters. Ann Handley, chief content officer at MarketingProfs and author of “Everybody Writes,” emphasizes the importance of asking, “So what?” when creating your content. Considering why people should care about your content is what she calls an “empathy hack” that encourages you to put yourself in their shoes and deliver more value.
It gives context to best practice.
Similar to how you use best practice to find better insight, you can use natural intuition and knowledge of your customers to determine which best practices will work for you, which won’t, and which you can build on. Instead of striving to reach the end result through a best practice “shortcut,” stop and think if the content you create will truly fit the best interests of your business and your audience. Acunzo said it best: “Good marketers follow best practices. Great marketers craft their own.” The human element is essential.
You won’t ever find all of the right answers in data or instinct alone, and that’s why insight and intuition are a powerful combination to creating great content. Best practices are generalized, and each person and business is unique in how they think and feel. Leveraging the right statistics and discovering deeper meaning will lead you to what works best for your business and your audience.