Put Information at the Heart of Content

Make sure your marketing content is informative

I love the classic Simpsons episode in which Springfield is suddenly overrun with advertisements for something called Gabbo. Newspaper ads ask “Who is Gabbo?” while billboards scream “Gabbo is coming”. It’s a perfect send-up of a viral marketing campaign, beguiling and yet frustrating at the same time. The ads offer exactly zero information about who or what Gabbo is (a ventriloquist’s dummy, as it turns out).

This TV send-up offers a cautionary lesson for the real world. Viral marketing can build excitement, particularly for a consumer product. A tease can be effective for drawing potential customers to your website. But it is not the same as content marketing.

Eventually, you need to provide the information your prospects need. If you wait too long (maybe just a few seconds nowadays), your hard-earned eyeballs will go somewhere else. You must immediately begin to offer the information your prospects need. For better or worse, your customer is not Homer Simpson, endlessly staring at a newspaper trying to figure out what your attention grab is about.

Good content must be focused on enabling your customers to make a purchase decision, or take whatever other action you want your customers to take. You can introduce information with a viral pull – but don’t confuse “Gabbo is coming” with an effective pitch.

Data, Data, Data

The central purpose of great messaging is to provide the information your customers need to know about your product. After all, the “I” for “informative” is at the center of MEDICAL.

Providing useful facts is the best way to inform your customers: There is no substitute for hard data to prove your point. If data is not available, anecdotes and customer testimonials are better than nothing. Your customers need to know something important about you, and ideally something that is different from your competitors.

You want to be more informative than the fictional studio executives behind Gabbo. But you also don’t want to whack your customers over the head with details they don’t need and can’t prove.

So what’s a good balance for an informative message?

3-2-1 Contract

I think about a 3-2-1 guideline for the elements of information that should be in a brief piece, such as a two-page sell sheet.

  • Your reader won’t remember every detail you provide. While it may be important for you to list many points (such as specifications of your product), make sure you have no more than three facts you want your customer to remember about your product. These facts should focus on the value you are providing, a value superior to the competition or the status quo. Use data wherever possible and use whatever metrics are standard in your industry. (E.g., “according to Gartner, our product provides an ROI 70% faster than the industry average.”)
  • Whatever these facts are, drive them home by repeating them – if it’s important, say it two times. A summary or a call-to-action is a great place to provide your repetition. (E.g., “Contact us to find out more about the product with 70% faster ROI.”) Do not repeat yourself too often or without context. It’s been done and isn’t fun for anybody.
  • To get your customer to take action, your message must provide the one measure you want your customer to evaluate you on – the one most critical way in which you are better than the rest. You could win on price, performance, quality, reputation, or any other dimension. Without focusing on how you win, your message will fail to resonate. Your reader needs to know the one reason they are using your information in the first place. (E.g., “business executives seeking a faster ROI use our product.”)

The 3-2-1 approach makes it easier to remember the elements of an informative message. Adjust it as fits your specific needs, your medium, and the space you have to work with.

Be Informed

Your message is informative if prospects and customers are asking you the questions you want them to ask you. In the example above, the value proposition is a faster ROI. If your materials using this message are properly informative, you can expect prospective customers to ask how they will achieve this quick return.

Or suppose your message is about the superior quality of your product. Informative marketing materials will prompt your customers to ask you about quality – even better, to believe your product has higher quality without further proof! Market research can confirm if such impressions are catching on.

It may seem like only a dummy would neglect information – so don’t forget this critical part of your content.

Have you ever seen a business pitch that left you wondering what the product was, and why anyone would buy it? Tell us about your favorite head scratchers in the comments.


Dare to Be Differentiated

Content marketing means you must be different from everyone else

Recently, I was preparing for an interview when I noticed something strange. I had lined up the websites of the company I would be visiting and its chief competitor. Looking at the two together, I could see that the competitor was using almost exactly the same language to describe its services and their value.

When I met the CMO, I asked her about this. Why was her hottest competitor using the same voice, same explanations, even the same pitch with just a few words changed? (To protect the innocent, no names are being used in this story.)

“Well, every time we come out with something, these other guys immediately copy it,” the CMO told me. “It’s frustrating but kind of flattering, actually. And, I should add, we’ve never lost a head-to-head bid with them.”

After our meeting, I crossed the competitor off my list of companies to speak to.

Dare to be yourself

This episode reminded me of the importance of setting yourself apart from your competitors in tone, in language, in value proposition – really in every way that you can. Trying to sound like anyone or everyone else is a sure path to mediocrity.

The unnamed competitor in this story was probably trying to piggyback on the first company’s success, and perhaps it can for a time. But the competitor’s inability to define its unique reason for existing ultimately sets that company up for failure. How will they convince their customers to buy if they didn’t originate the reasons for buying in the first place? Judging by the head-to-head results, they can’t.

You can write in a way that differentiates yourself while complying with any particular phrases or expectations that are special to your industry. Use the available white space to be creative.

Learning to fly

  • Create differentiated taglines, phrases, and spots. What you do in 60 characters should be completely unique.
  • Have a voice, style, or tone that sets you apart. Lyft is facing one of the most aggressive competitors since the Roman Empire conquered the known world (I exaggerate! Just slightly.) To set itself apart, Lyft cars are equipped with a pink mustache, a message that says the service is friendly and lighthearted. The company wants your experience to be “welcoming, affordable, and memorable”. However you feel about Lyft’s giant opponent, Lyft has used its differentiation to create a positive vibe about the alternative it offers.
  • Acknowledge and separate from the pack. Suppose you provide a hosted service in an industry where a four-9s uptime guarantee is standard. Simply stating “4-9s uptime guaranteed” is not going to attract notice. But you can’t fail to mention it either, so instead write something more interesting. “We take pride in offering the best uptime guarantee possible” is better. “Our uptime is crazy!” might get even more attention. If you have to say the same thing as someone else, at least be more exciting.
  • Do something unexpected with formatting or presentation. If your competition does Q&A videos, do your video as a quiz show featuring happy customers. If they have static white papers online, make yours interactive. Everyone else uses a stock photo of a woman to represent its live chat operator, and nobody really thinks that’s the person typing on the other end of the Internet. So how about representing your agent with a more creative image – a boy wizard, say, or a hobbit? Pop open a bottle and brainstorm. Even if you have a buttoned-down corporate image, you can still use technology and your imagination to go a step beyond the competition.

Vive la differénce

Often times, we think of being different as taking a risk. It’s easier to stick with the pack, to follow the crowd. Fight this temptation!

There is no simple way to measure how unique your messaging is – it is a subjective matter. If your customers can recognize your company from the particular features of your messaging, then you are being unique (unless your competitors slavishly copy you).

If you are winning awards for innovation in advertising or marketing, you are certainly being unique. But most companies don’t aim for this, and you can’t count on it even if you are.

What I do is to set down any presentation I’ve produced for 24 hours, then pick it up again and gut check myself: Do I think this is different enough to stand out? If I’ve convinced myself, I’ll ask a knowledgeable colleague to judge my work on the same standard.

Dare to be different – and you are sure to get ahead no matter how crowded the field (link: Bay to Breakers winning centipede team).

What was the most outstanding differentiated marketing you’ve encountered? Tell us about it in the comments.


Lights! Camera! Excitement! Adding Spice to Your Content

excitement is important in product marketing

Do you recall the scene in Mission: Impossible when Tom Cruise is dangling from a line to infiltrate the CIA? Picture it in your head. Try to recall the context of the scene, the motivation of the characters. Recall (or imagine) some tense music playing.

Now think about when you first saw this great movie. Is this the scene you thought about when you told your friends to go see it too? And after they did, is this the scene you talked about?

Assuming you’ve seen Mission: Impossible, you probably did – because the excitement of this iconic moment imprinted on your consciousness, and you couldn’t help but share your experience.

Get worked up

Chances are, you’re not going to be scripting a Hollywood blockbuster. You probably also don’t have a blockbuster budget to work with (if you do – call me!). Yet the lesson of palm-tingling movie moments is still instructive.

Excitement is important because it keeps you engaged, and helps you retain what you’ve experienced. That much is probably obvious. If you’re a studio executive at Paramount, you know that the exciting moments in Mission: Impossible were what your audience would remember when they came back for the sequel.

But excitement is more than an outgrowth of being memorable. Experiences that are simply memorable stay with you, but you won’t feel compelled to share them with others. Excitement is the quality that makes you pick up the phone, open up Facebook, or walk over to the water cooler. When you’ve had an exciting experience, you want to share it.

So even though we’re not making a Hollywood movie, we can still try to make our content so inspiring that our customers just have to share it.

Something to share

Many marketing materials lack excitement. They are designed to relay information and to persuade, but they don’t tug at the emotions. Yet it’s possible to produce content that has the pull of a great popcorn flick. Here are a few ways to do it.

  • A summer movie audience wants action, so filmmakers give it to them in the biggest, most frequent, and most creative doses they can. In the same way, you need to decide what factors are most attention-grabbing to your customers. Is it fast response time? Great customer service? Ease of use? Whatever it is, give it to them big, fast, and frequently in your materials. Make sure that this message comes across in the first few seconds, so your reader will continue to pay attention.
  • Plumb the limits of what your product means for your customers. Just as filmmakers push the boundaries in action scenes, you should drive your text as far as possible in your white paper, email copy, website, etc. Of course you need to stay professional and accurate – your limits are not the same as Tom Cruise’s.
  • As appropriate, use superlatives, exclamation points, dramatic rhetorical questions, and aspirational phrases to build up the excitement. Just be sure not to overuse them, or you’ll sound cheesy. An example I like is the Twitter account of General Electric, which uses motivational language (“Build. Power. Move. Cure.”) and just the right amount of exclamation points to keep its feed exciting. The liberal use of fascinating Vines and video elevates the effect.
  • Give your prospects and customers an implicit reason to share. While it’s possible to bribe your prospects into retweeting, liking, and pinning your content, it’s far better to make them want to. Have you written something that will make your readers look great to their friends if they share it? Will your readers who share seem smart, fashionable, ahead of the curve?

Tallying the results

How can you tell if your content is exciting?

We naturally want to tell others about the exciting experiences we’ve had, whether great movies, roller coaster rides, or interesting reads. The best way to measure the impact of this excitement is through sharing.

Is your content being shared on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest? Are people blogging about it and linking to it? Are they talking about it at trade shows? Are they mentioning what you wrote to your competitors? Success in any of these areas is good evidence of excitement.

Of course, you want the right kind of attention. You don’t want your business to be known for the wrong reasons.

Once you add a dash of excitement to your content, your prospective customers will start talking about it – and the results you want are sure to follow.

Have you ever read a piece of really exciting content? Tell us how it affected you in the comments below.