Is Your Content Boring? 6 Steps To Great Content

Michael Brenner on Mar 8, 2012 in Content Marketing

Bored baby representing bad content marketingDoes your content bore your audience to death? You may be surprised  if you asked them, or tracked the amount of engagement your content receives or looked at how often your audience shares your content with their friends and followers.

Common mistakes include talking too much about your products, promoting your company before you’ve allowed them to get to know you at all, or even “creative storytelling” that is an obvious or insidious attempt at getting the reader to enter into a sales conversation before they are ready.

Good content educates, entertains or even amazes your audience because it starts with a focus on them, not you. And while Content Marketing may be the latest buzzword in marketing, it has been around “since cave paintings.” This is according to Content Marketing Institute founder and author Joe Pulizzi (@juntajoe).

In Joe’s presentation “Good To Great Content Marketing” delivered at the Online Marketing Summit earlier this year, he presented 6 ideas to help you deliver content that educates, entertains or even amazes your target audience.

Although I was unable to attend OMS, I will provide an overview of the presentation so that we can all benefit from the wisdom and advice…

Marketers as Publishers – The Case for Content Marketing

You’ve heard this argument before: marketers are flooding the airwaves with more promotional messages than buyers can consume. As they increasingly tune out, outbound marketing is becoming increasingly ineffective.

In order to get new customers, marketers need to deliver relevant and valuable content to our audiences. We need a content strategy to understand what content our audiences want, at each stage of the buying cycle, and in all the places where they look for it.

Or to put it more simply, marketers need to become like publishers.

In his book Get Content, Get Customers, Joe talks about how effective content marketing can help you turn prospects into buyers. He points out that the barriers to entry are low and so the smallest companies (or individual “employee-brands”) can deliver valuable content to buyers on an almost level playing field with big brands or traditional media.

Some of the trends supporting this movement include the democratization of information as we now use social media and our connections to filter our news. This along with the journalistic talent now available as traditional media sees ad revenues decline and the low cost of setting up a website, adding an RSS feed and delivering valuable content – all make it easy for any one person or any business to deliver news.

The Content Marketing Challenge

According to research from CMI and @MarketingProfs, 90% of companies use content marketing. Or as I said in this recent article on the CMI website, B2B Marketers “have always done content marketing.” The problem is that most of it ranges from not very good to downright awful, for the following key reasons:

  • The biggest mistake in content marketing is that we create content that is all about us and is not focused on the audience
  • A focus on completion of the activity (such as “get a whitepaper”) instead of content that produces results (in the form of views, shares, comments, conversions)
  • We distribute content only where we think customers go searching instead of using research to tell us where they go
  • We label our audience incorrectly using old notions of “targets” that look like an email list purchase filter instead of using research to identify new buyer personas

Focus on Dynamic Content

According to the research, Joe identified the top content marketing types (in order) as:

  • Articles
  • Social media (other than blogs)
  • Blogs
  • Newsletters
  • Case Studies
  • Events
  • Videos
  • Whitepapers
  • Webinars

And yet, if you look at the budget spent on the activities above, most of your marketing spend is likely on the least popular types of content. How many businesses have a news room? Or have hired editors, journalists or a “chief-blogger”? For the majority of us, our spend is upside-down. We focus the majority of our budget on those activities that educate, entertain or amaze the fewest number of our potential customers. (Yes maybe they convert at higher rates, but you can quickly hit the point of diminishing return.) There simply aren’t enough prospects ready to buy right now to support our growing businesses.

The trend in effective content marketing is towards smaller, more dynamic, more mobile-friendly content that focuses on the audience. And according to Joe, we simply don’t have enough of the right kind of content. And we haven’t allocated enough budget to producing it.

6 Steps to Effective Content Marketing

Joe outlined 6 things that differentiate the good from the truly great content:

  1. Having a focused content mission and platform or destination
  2. Opening up new content and media channels
  3. Having a chief: chief storyteller, chief blogger, editor-in-chief or chief content officer
  4. Leveraging employees
  5. Removing the Brand from the story
  6. Focuses on building a community

The presentation is available below including lots of great examples of the 6 steps above…

Good to Great Content Marketing – 6 Differences


Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.
Showing 19 comments
  • Michelle Hill

    Absolutely love the photo Michael!

  • Kathi Kruse

    Awesome post, Michael! Every point you make is crucial to success. I’m a huge advocate of having a “chief” and leveraging employees. There seems to be a disconnect with management when it comes to these 2 points. In my niche (automotive) it has a lot to do with “What? You want my staff to speak for the company?”. It’s kinda cool because it’s shining a bright light on all the less-than-stellar behavior of management towards staff and we all now when you know better, you can do better. Employees have influence!

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Kathi, we need more chiefs and better stories. I am a big fan of the power of the employee-brand for so many reasons. Thanks for your support of these ideas!

  • #5 is very interesting…and a good point! TY, Michael!

  • Ari Herzog

    In his third bullet at Olivier Blanchard writes that folks such as Joe who focus on creating content are neglecting the more important element of being human. You can have the most shared content out there — but if it’s authored by a brand without a person at the helm, the social aspect is thrown away. Something to think about.

    And, your title, Michael, needs to be fixed. If you’re referring to multiple steps, don’t write, “Here is,” but “Here are.” The grammar nazi in me notices such errors.

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Ari,

      Thanks for sharing the article from Oivier.

      Although I’m not sure I would agree that effective content marketing is mutually exclusive from being human. In fact, I would argue it is a key element. I would also say that Joe is one of the more “human” marketers you will ever see. I think we both talked about great content marketing starts with a deep understanding of the customer – a very human trait, no?

      Now, on the grammar fix…thanks! Corrected.

  • AJ Perisho

    Great post Michael!
    I think people mistake quantity of content and quality of content.
    There is plenty of content, but the quality is sometimes very weak.
    Thanks for sharing some great insight 🙂

  • Pranav

    One reason for the poor quality and large quantity of content could be search engine optimization. If I have a blog, then the more I post the better my search engine ranking is. Yes, I realise that search engine optimization is more nuanced than this but it is probably the thinking of many marketers; not to mention the approval process. At my previous employer, all content had to be routed through the head of the given verticle. This person was not a marketer and in one case was from the military. His thinking was key word based so the brand had to be included.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Pranav,

      I think quantity is one element but quality matters too. SEO is really all about creating content people want, engage with and share. I also understand long approval processes but I think customers are driving a change in this area and we are starting to see much more dynamic content creation, even in large brands.

  • Ken

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for the great post! I think the real challenge is keeping focus on all six on a consistent basis, especially for those of us ‘too familiar with the old ways’. I do like the list though – definitely going on my road map!

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Ken, consistency and persistence are definitely the keys!

  • Joe Pulizzi (@juntajoe)

    Thanks Michael…great stuff as always and thanks for the shout out.

    To Ari’s point, I agree with Michael on this one. I think a lot of people have the misunderstanding that social content from a brand needs to be impersonal and inauthentic. Just the opposite actually…I think online content coming from a brand needs to focus on this even more than an individual. People want to connect with people…it just happens that in content marketing for corporations there a LOT more people.

    It’s also important to realize that there are many different kinds of content marketing with different goals during the buying cycle. Content created for social channels needs to be authentic and real. Content for a corporate report needs to be authoritative. Content for a corporate magazine carries a different voice entirely and often has many different authors. When we use the term content marketing, it covers all channels of social, online, print, in-person, mobile, etc., and the style guide for each should have different components. That’s why content marketing in big brands is so darn hard.

    I’ll check out Olivier’s post.


  • Helen

    Thank you Michael,

    I find your blogs/ posts/ voice very educational and easy to take in. I’m just one person (freelancing) trying to influence my clients to embrace social media and trust me to set them on the right path. I still find resistance. I’m putting together a presentation and your information is very helpful. I have so much more to learn myself and it all gets a bit over-whelming. Sometimes there is too much information out there!

    Cheers, Helen Nolan (Sydney, Australia)

    • Michael Brenner

      Thank you Helen, I really appreciate it. All I am hoping to do is help at least one person each day by sharing what I’m learning. We’re all just trying to figure this world out and I am happy to have given you a helping hand.

      Cheers from the other side of the world.

  • Tom Borgman

    Just came across this and couldn’t agree more…and will continue to follow your posts. In my own arguments with clients and internal staff, I often use the term Boring 2 Bored for describing the typical B2B dialogue that goes on. Hard to argue with all the proof that great stories/content is crucial. But I think that Tim Washer has it right about throwing in dashes of truly unexpected humor into the mix which cuts to the chase so universally. In the end everyone who’s selling something is human and everyone buying is human right?? Have a Sappy Day!

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Tom, I agree. I am Tim Washer’s biggest fan!

  • Tim Washer

    Thanks Michael. It’s an honor to mentioned in a post that begins “Does your content bore your audience to death?”
    : )

    Another great post from you — thank you sir.

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