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Write Better Content. Talk to People.

On May 8, 2019 3:44:44 PM
Ryan Bromsgrove

Ryan Bromsgrove

Senior Content Writer

 

The dirty little secret of a lot of the content writing out there? It's researched, written, and published by writers with no particular expertise searching for and ripping information from existing pieces of content all written for exactly the same purpose.

I should know: I've done it too.

Three items from "7 Mistakes Concrete Sales Reps Make" combine with five items from "The Top 11 Tips for Selling Concrete" to birth "8 Things Every Concrete Sales Rep Needs To Know".

Horse congratulating bad content marketing

We're all proud of you.

The words are rearranged. You haven't technically plagiarized. You're fulfilling SEO obligations. Task is complete, and you're free to move onto the next one. But the content itself?

It's thin.

Content that sounds attractive, enticing, like it's got all the answers — it can get the reader on the page. But it's still got a job to do. It should inform, educate, offer something new, set itself apart from everything else in the search results or news feed.

Lazy Content Fails

I know. You're busy. You've got deadlines. Someone's expecting a certain quantity of content by a certain date. You know paraphrasing three other articles isn't the best way to produce content, but it does fulfill the immediate expectations others have of you. That's what I felt, too.

But readers aren't stupid. They can tell when something's been phoned in — when it's an unoriginal keyword lasagne with shallow tips they already read in the last article phrased in similar ways.

If you're offering the same tired information as everyone else, you might get someone on the page, but they won't be impressed enough to see what else you've got because if the last three articles didn't solve their problem, neither did yours.

Bad content marketing doesn't work

These people fell asleep reading your boring content marketing

They know that they need to back up their data — are you gonna tell them how?

If not, they'll skim through and move onto the next tab. Nice job. And at the end of the day, any company paying you to write for them might think they care about having X number of articles by Y date, but I guarantee you that when your lead generation sucks, X number of articles by Y date will no longer be the conversation.

It's not enough to be serviceably written, and it's not enough to trick a search engine into ranking it highly.

It. Has. To. Be. Good.

How To Do Content Marketing Good

So first off, there's nothing wrong with a writer having no particular expertise.

Over time, yes, you should be gaining a working knowledge of whatever you're writing about. You may even grow to become a bit of an expert in some niches. 

That's valuable, because the thing about readers is they're coming to you for expertise. You need to take what you know and show them the way.

dog

And there is always a way...

The problem is even if you do become well-versed in some areas, there's going to be an expertise ceiling. Because unless you've actually spent time doing IT consulting, you're intrinsically removed from the activity and you can only speak authoritatively on it to some extent based on your online research.

After all, if you were actually doing IT consulting, you wouldn't be a writer — you'd be an IT consultant. It's gonna pay more.

The job of a content writer isn't to be an expert necessarily, but to synthesize information from multiple sources — books, blogs, news articles, academic journals, just plain "stuff you know" — and package it in a way that helps others understand and learn.

Sometimes, that IT consultant genuinely does turn out to be a pretty good writer at the same time — and it's amazing when that happens. That person should absolutely find some time to share their expertise online if your company takes content marketing seriously.

But otherwise, it's the job of the writer to be the expert's voice and make consumption of the expertise as easy as possible.

You don't get that by simply remixing information from the first five blogs you found on a topic — that for all you know, sucked up their own information from predecessor articles and on and on and —

Content marketing that stands out

Your client's only in the market for one

Don't Dilute Originality — Create or Find It

If you're not moving anything forward, if you're not distinguishing yourself, if you're not offering anything new and valuable, it doesn't matter how highly you rank on Google: you're not going to see conversion. Because it's like seeing a big neon sign promising fantastic art only for you to pay admission and walk into a room with photos of photos of paintings.

That's basically what's happening when content writers slap information together without having anything new to offer. Maybe you can still make out the original paintings, but you can't see the detail. You're several layers removed from the original expression of the artist's expertise. It's a diluted version with nothing but an echo of what you actually wanted.

When you recycle and remix articles articles you're doing the same thing. You can't keep the really good stuff like illustrative anecdotes born of individual experience because it's too identifiable, right? It's one thing to swipe an article's structure, or rewrite and combine a point or two from multiple articles, but you can't appropriate something you haven't actually done.

As a non-expert, here's what else is a challenge:

  • You often don't have the ability to easily evaluate the relative value of these points you're taking
  • You don't know what might be outdated
  • You can't always know that a point will be relevant to your audience
  • You don't understand the interconnectedness of concepts and products
  • You don't know if these other articles are targeting different audiences with different needs

All of these factors means your content often ends up lacking a certain confidence. You'll be hesitant to say things an expert would say with authority. The expertise has been diluted, and what could have been a rich, flavourful, comprehensive resource becomes a milquetoast watery disappointment.

Bad content is watered down

No thanks.

People pick up on this.

It's not your fault. School teaches you to write this way. You write book reports based on books you read. You engage with and respond to historical texts. You get reference materials from a library or simply Google to check your facts. You build a mock-campaign based on what you've found online or otherwise taken from existing examples.

But ask yourself this: did anyone but your teacher actually care about the content of what you wrote?

Did your teacher even care, really?

People Care About The Expertise

I did a stint in journalism — and it was the first time people actually read what I wrote. People read media content for a number of reasons:

  • They're interested in the facts of what's going on, and they trust that the media has verified its information
  • They're interested in perspectives about what's going on, and they trust the media to have vetted these voices
  • They're interested in the stories of people involved with events, and trust the media to have responsibly curated and disseminated this information

What ties these things together is trust. Trust that you're a responsible writer, and trust that you've spoken to the right people — that you're bringing something more than just yourself to the table. You've engaged, you've verified, you've done the work to seek answers out.

Or you've at least tried...

Every step you take away from an original news report takes you further from the original product. Every secondary response or summary of an article leaves out information and loses intangible aspects of the expertise that put it together because while a responding writer has access to the words on the screen, they don't have access to the full extent of what produced those words. 

The secret to good B2B marketing writing? It's the same thing.

What's interesting in a company's content, as a reader, is the idea that you're getting some special expertise. You're sampling what the company can do for you via reliable, insightful, free advice. For the company, it's an opportunity to start building trust with a potential customer through something original that showcases their value.

I've strung you along enough. Writing compelling content that people actually want to read involves one simple secret: talk to people.

Why Talking to People is The Best Way To Write More Effective Content

Whether you're working for a content-producing agency or for a dedicated marketing department, you may not be the expert whose thoughts the readers are actually interested in — but you do have access to these experts.

And here's what happens when you leverage that access:

  • You get direct insight into the solutions your company offers and how they apply to specific customer pains
  • You have a reliable source of topic ideas and background knowledge you know is relevant
  • You get assurance that the technical details in your writing are accurate, and can make better decisions over which to emphasize over others when writing
  • You can mine interesting stories and anecdotes from the expert's experience you know have never been told elsewhere

Now, that's a sweet deal.

Successful content marketing

This guy thinks so!

If you're trying to help out concrete sales reps because you're working for a company that sells a product that makes things easier for them, do your online research, but also consider reaching out to one of your own sales reps to get a fuller idea of the points that tend to win people over. You can even ask to speak to a rep from one of your clients to get a more personal idea of who you're actually writing for.

Or if you're working for a company trying to sell cybersecurity services, ask to get in touch with one of their experts. Talking to them directly is a way better method of finding out what's actually trending in that industry, and what business should be worried about right now, than trying to parse the news yourself.

Instead of you, a non-expert, trying to break down how people should back up their data, this actual expert can tell you. Then you can take the technical details and build your article around them.

You Don't Even Have to be So Formal

You don't necessarily have to sit down for a scheduled 15-minute interview every time you have something to write. You could, but it can be just as fruitful to bring things up more casually in chit-chat.

If a technician makes an interesting comment in the lunchroom about how they just nailed a support call, maybe ask a few questions and see if there's a content opportunity there.

If a couple of sales reps are talking about a lead they're pursuing, don't be afraid to ask if there's something you could draw up to help — and learn more about how this sales process is going.

Listen for content marketing opportunitiesAlways be listening!

You can also benefit from expertise at other stages in the process. Have someone look over your content calendar to confirm that your topics are relevant and timely. Send article outlines and have people read over drafts to confirm technical details.

Absorb information from the people around you. Let it come to you, and directly pursue it. We call this kind of thing an example of sales, marketing, and service alignment — from a marketing perspective. You're rocketing your marketing efforts forward by drawing upon the power of the full company rather than working in a silo.

Of course, sometimes this kind of thing requires a little work to earn the buy-in.

How to Overcome Objection and Insist on Good Content Writing

All this is easier said than done. Busy schedules can easily distract from what's often considered lower-value work, but keep at it, continue to check in if a response is delayed, and try different tactics.

  • Appeal to ego — drop names into articles, offer to ghostwrite
  • Make the content visible — share it on LinkedIn, tag those involved
  • Vary the ask — involve people in blogs, in eBooks, in videos, etc.
  • Demonstrate your importancewith a good CRM, you're able to show that better content will convert more leads

Don't be afraid to ask for a lot in a first request. It might feel like there's no way you can get 15 minutes with a stressed-out executive, but if you request what you really want and get denied, you've got somewhere to go. You can let them know there are many other ways you'd like their help that they can handle on their own time — or at least ask to be referred to someone else.

giphy-4

Never give up!

And if you do get a 15-minute meeting with that busy expert, you've got not only your content, but the chance to earn their trust for future content.

Not to mention that once people get going, they absolutely love to talk about what they do — because chances are, no one else is asking them.

That's the point, isn't it? You're getting something unique, reliable, and original that nobody else has ever put together. It's fresh by virtue of that fact alone and helpful because you found the right person.

Now, that's a lot better than mining Google. It takes longer, but it's a vastly more robust source of base information to build your content empire.

When I realized the choice was often between quick, lazy content that doesn't work and hard, involved content that does — I decided there are far more satisfying numbers to watch rise than the total count of blog posts.

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