Shakespeare was a content marketer: 3 pieces of evidence

At this time of year, we know we aren’t the only ones bending the bard to our own devices— especially as this year marks the 400th anniversary of the great playwright’s death. But bear with us, because we genuinely believe that Shakespeare was… a content marketer. Content marketing may not have been ‘a thing’ back in the 1600s, but Shakespeare employed techniques that wouldn’t be out of place in today’s B2B marketing world. For your consideration, here are three pieces of evidence:

1: He made the complex comprehensible

There’s no disputing that Shakespeare was a master of illuminating the depths of human emotion and interpreting complex social situations for the audience. While B2B marketers rarely have to include cross-dressing princesses or matters of kinghood in their content, the heart of our work is no less about taking complex propositions and rendering them intelligible for our audience.

2: He was an entertainer

He may be a literary figure today, but Shakespeare wrote primarily to make money through entertainment. His prolific creativity was driven by a need to keep a steady income — so he was after the summer blockbuster, not the arthouse film. Our business audience might be more niche than mass-market, but the challenge of attracting and holding their attention is as pressing for us today as it was for Shakespeare back in the day. Nobody wants to plough through content that “will last out a night in Russia, when nights are longest there” (Measure for Measure, Act II scene i).

3: He spoke to multiple stakeholders

Shakespeare’s audience comprised newcomers and loyal followers, just as we have prospects and customers. And just as we have multiple targets with different needs (in tech marketing, for example, the CIO, the IT manager, and the end user), so Shakespeare wrote for both the general public and the nobility (even the royal family). He succeeded brilliantly in catering to their differing tastes – and also in flattering the rich so that they’d continue to patronise him (which was a good thing back in those days). Learning how to please multiple audiences is surely a task worthy of William himself.

Shakespeare for marketers

We’re continuing the fun with Shakespeare on our Twitter feed, where we’re asking you to identify the play that we’ve taken a popular quote from – with the quote altered to reflect the world of B2B content. So if you’ve got some time on your hands, why not head over to @hnmarketing and take a look?

Why is B2B content failing to engage customers?

Are you struggling to create B2B content that provides business value? If so, then you’re not alone — it’s been said that as many as 83% of B2B marketing leaders are failing to produce content that engages their customers. Here are four top reasons content fails to engage and some practical advice to put it right.


Nuturing_contentProblem #1: content focuses on early stages of the buyer’s journey
Picking up customers might not be a problem, but keeping them engaged through their decision-making journey is more challenging.

Solution #1: create nurturing content
Map your content creation to different stages of the journey, and focus on moving the customer from one stage to the next. Then you won’t only be creating content – you’ll be creating a relationship with your customers.


Document_strategyProblem #2: no documented strategy
You might have a strategy, but it’s different depending on whom you ask – and that means not everyone is pulling in the right direction.

Solution #2: document your strategy
It’s not rocket science. Get that strategy written down, get everyone on the same page and join up your approach to content marketing.



Problem #3: stuffy content
“We’re a business and our content needs to reflect that. It’s what our customers will expect. But they just aren’t interested in our content.”

Solution #3: get human
Take the suit and tie off your content and turn it into something they’d want to read in the evening, not just at their desk. That’s partially about making it relevant to them, both professionally and personally, but also about the tone and style you adopt.


Say_something_newProblem #4: your customer already knows what you’re saying
Your customer does nearly 60% of their decision-making without talking to you. They’re smart and they’ve heard it all before.

Solution #4: say something new
Don’t settle for ‘interesting’ or ‘accessible’ content. Do your research and tell the customer something they didn’t know, which forces them to question their buying criteria. Perhaps they always assumed they couldn’t reduce their energy consumption, for example, when in fact you can help them with that?


You can download the full infographic here.

What are your secrets for creating engaging content?

Share your tips for creating content that grabs your audience and doesn’t let go on Twitter, LinkedIn, or in the comments section on our blog.

Listicle or Missticle? How to write engaging listicles

Listicles — bulleted lists of information presented as an article — are a great way to engage today’s time-poor readers. But have you ever stumbled on one that feels like it’s missed the point?

You know the kind: “Top 250 PR stunts” or “61 social media tips you don’t know about”. Listicles are designed to make the information they contain accessible, but there’s a fine line between achieving that and turning your readers off – sometimes before they’ve even clicked the link.

So how can you keep your listicle on the straight and narrow? We’ve come up with a few ideas to help your listicle avoid being a “missticle” (pardon the pun). To help, we’ve even arranged them in a list…

1: Get the numbers right
The best listicles keep to low numbers. Ten would be an absolute maximum, but five or three would be better. Though numbers like 13 or 9 stand out, they do risk giving people the impression you couldn’t decide which ideas to use so just chucked them all in. Even numbers are fine – as this listicle from hubspot shows.

2: Watch your language
If you have 30 points, are they all “top”, “significant” or “best”? It’s important not to over-hype your article. Your readers will see it a mile off and likely vote with their feet. Take this CMI article , for example – no hype; just a promise to list some useful tools that’s then delivered on.

3: Find the thread
This is the one that can make the difference between a good and a great listicle. Even though you’re writing a list, it’s still important to find an arc that draws your reader in and gives them a reason to read the whole thing. In a list of top social media tools, for example, you might start with tools that focus on curation and finding content and move through to those that are more geared towards analytics and review. Or, as we did in this listicle on barriers to social in business, start with a surface issue and then dig deeper with each successive point.

It does take a careful bit of planning to write engaging listicles – short and accessible as they are, they aren’t necessarily quick things to write. But once you’ve got the format working for you, your content will shine.

You’ve probably come across a variety of listicles. Why not share the best – and the worst – in the comments below, LinkedIn or Twitter?

Camels, horses and the secrets of creating impactful content

This cartoon raised a chuckle when it did the rounds of HN HQ recently, and it reminded us of the old joke about a camel being a horse designed by committee. But beneath those two jokes lies an important point about creating impactful content. We understand the need to get the most out of your content, and often advocate doing just that, but what happens when you try to pack too much in? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, if you do that, then your content becomes a camel.


We’ve all seen a project that ends up losing its way because six different parties want it to do six different things, and often the problem lies with not having a clear brief. A good brief is like a trip itinerary – not only does it tell you where you’re going (and why) but, crucially, how you’re going to get there.

So we’ve come up with some tips to keep your writers on track and your content looking more like a champion thoroughbred.

1.       Put your brief down on paper

Sounds simple, but you’d be amazed how many people don’t do it. If the brief is on paper, you can use it to get buy-in from all your stakeholders and refer back to it regularly to ensure you stay on course. Don’t be afraid to reject suggestions or changes that move away from the brief – no matter how tempting they are. Those ideas can always be used to inspire a new piece instead.

2.       Get your audience and message straight

Aim for one primary audience and takeaway message for your content. Remember: every secondary audience dilutes the impact of your original message.

3.       Don’t be afraid to create more than one asset

If multiple parties are all trying to use one asset to achieve different objectives, then consider creating dedicated variants tailored to each of their needs. It may cost you a little more (though it’s often not as expensive to create variants of a piece of content as it is to create new content from scratch), but it will ensure that your messages aren’t diluted.

What are your winning ways to keep your content from becoming a camel? Do share your stories — the good, the bad and the downright hilarious — through the comments box below, LinkedIn or Twitter.

The ARC of customer engagement

“81% of marketers say customer engagement is a top priority.”

This was one of the headlines from B2B’s new report on the ‘age of engagement’, so it’s a fair bet that some of you out there are on a mission to increase your customers’ engagement with your brand. At HN, we’re firm believers that engaging content = engaged customers. So, to help you in your quest, we’ve created a three-step checklist, and a handy mnemonic – the ARC of customer engagement.


Make sure your content is easily found and in a format that’s easy to digest. Optimise your content for search; embed social sharing buttons in your content, and optimise your content for viewing on mobile. And don’t hit your audience with a hefty white paper straight away – use a more digestible format, such as a video or an ebook, to coax them in and get the conversation started.


Connect your message to situations your customers are facing today. Don’t be afraid to newsjack if the right story comes up. And bear in mind your audience’s place in the decision-making journey: if they’re at the consideration stage, provide evidence that the challenge you solve is important and worthy of attention. At the decision stage, prove the benefits of your solution in the real world.


Nobody waits to be worn down by dull content. They just click and move on. Avoid that scenario by injecting some entertainment into your content, using persuasive and well-crafted storytelling to keep their attention – and keep them clicking.

What do you think?

Is customer engagement a key issue for your business? How do you go about keeping your customers engaged? Let us know in the comments, or get in touch on Twitter and LinkedIn.

You can download the full infographic here

Five ways to make your presentation go further

Here’s two quick questions:

1: How long does it take you to create a presentation from scratch?
2: How many times does that presentation get used?

In my experience it can take a good few hours — if not days — to get the message right for a new presentation (and that’s before I’ve started fussing with the slideware). However, that presentation may only get one outing. Even if that outing is in front of a large group of people, it doesn’t feel like quite enough return on the time and effort I’ve invested to make the presentation in the first place.

So how can you get more value from a presentation? At HN we’ve got a few ideas to help you make your presentation go further.

1: Video it

If you can get the audio quality right and the environment is suitable, a sharp video can capture the emotion and punch of a live presentation for posterity. You can make the full version available or take the option a lot of our clients choose and edit the presentation down to hone in on the pithy messages you want to get across. The final video could go on to YouTube or reside on your website as a helpful resource for visitors.

See some examples of presentation videos we’ve created here.

2: Add a voice over

If you want more control over the audio, or to focus on the screen rather than the presenter, then recording a voice over is the perfect solution. You can also choose to break your presentation into bite-size segments, or prune the number of slides you show, to keep things brief. As with a video, the final article could end up on YouTube or on your website.


3: Create an infographic

If you’ve got awesome illustrations in your presentation, don’t relegate them to the sidelines — turn them into an infographic and let them shine. Not only are infographics a great way to communicate your key points succinctly, you can use components of them in social media to entice viewers to click through to the bigger picture. Here’s one we made earlier.


4: Craft an ebook

By combining elements from your slides, speaker notes and the transcript of your presentation, you can create a succinct ebook to get your message across. A thoughtful layout will pull in graphics from your presentation to create a real page-turner like this one.


5: Write some blogs and an opinion pieces

Use the thinking that went into your presentation as the grist for your blogging mill. It’s likely that more than one opinion is expressed in your presentation; pull each one out and write it up as a short piece. If you feel more comfortable, get a colleague to interview you to create a mini Q&A session. Who knows – you might find you’ve got a whole paper’s worth of content!


What do you think? Do you have any other ways of making your presentation go further? Let us know in the comments, on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

You can download the full infographic here

Selling through storytelling: a parable by HN Marketing

At HN, we’re passionate about telling stories when we write. We know from experience that stories resonate with an audience, and using them wisely can greatly boost the success of your marketing campaign or sales pitch. What better way to illustrate that than to tell you a story? So – are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin…

Geoff sat down in the conference hall, still hungry after the pitiful sandwiches that were a staple at these sorts of events. Prospects for the afternoon weren’t good; two hours on some new software that the CEO thought would really help him improve the running of the IT department. Between that and the sandwiches with their unidentifiable filling, he was certain he would be asleep in ten minutes.

The lights dimmed, a projector whirred to life, but instead of the usual presentation, with lists of USPs and dreary bar charts, Geoff found himself watching a short film about one of the company’s customers. They’d faced problems similar to the ones he faced back in the office, from connectivity issues right down to always having to stay late to run maintenance on the company’s machines. He found that he related to the customer in the story, and when the company’s software was brought in to solve the problems, Geoff saw exactly how it could help him out too.

After the video, there was a Q-and-A session, during which the presenter continued referencing the story; and even got a laugh or two for his joke about the tie and the staple gun. Geoff found himself thinking of how much easier the software would make his job – he might leave the office on time some evenings! – and he resolved to call the company the next morning to discuss his situation.

On his way out of the conference, Geoff was given a leaflet which continued to talk about the software through the characters from the film, and though Geoff was privately dubious that anybody smiled that much, or with teeth that white, he found on the drive back to the office that he was already thinking about what he’d have to do to get the software installed on his company’s network. He was, he had to admit, totally sold on the product.

Of course, case studies are not the only form of storytelling with value in marketing. Keep your eyes peeled for more blogs on storytelling in the coming weeks, as we explore how you can use this technique to boost the effectiveness of your marketing materials.

Additionally, we are re-telling this story as an cartoon, to see the difference between a story told in words and one told in pictures.

All content is content marketing: why you should take care with all your content

Quick – what’s the first thing that springs to mind when you read the phrase ‘content marketing’? Perhaps it’s a case study, or a white paper, or one of the many pieces of content that you work on every day.

Things like ‘technical manual’ or ‘internal training materials’ may not have sprung to mind as readily, but they’re still important pieces of content. They all communicate your company’s personality and brand, and they all consequentially have an impact on how your customers view you. A difficult technical manual may give them the impression that you are a difficult company to deal with, and even internal documents are important; if they don’t inspire your staff to represent your company, then your staff won’t inspire your customers to buy from you.

Of course, you don’t have time to go and inspect every piece of content that is produced by your company; there’s just too much there. What are needed are some comprehensive brand guidelines, which everyone in the company can follow, to do the job of keeping your content on-message for you. You might already have brand guidelines, but try reading them from a non-marketing perspective. Would they make sense to you? If not, then they might need some reworking to apply to a wider audience. Perhaps you could even make dedicated guidelines for specific types on non-marketing content, if you produce enough of them.

It might also be a good idea to hold a training day, or a workshop, so that everyone in the business understands the impact their content can have on your brand reputation and perception. Combined with easy-to-follow, well-defined brand guidelines, you can ensure that the content you produce sends a consistently positive message to your customers.

Blogging for business part 6: Guest bloggers

This is the last in our blogging for business series. In our last post we were talking about your blog as a platform for conversations; catch up here. Alternatively, head right back to the beginning of our series here.

In this post, in our blogging for business series, we’ll be talking about guest blogging: asking a guest to write a post that’s published on your blog.

There are two advantages of guest blogging. Firstly, it can offer a fresh and impartial perspective on issues you’ve been discussing on your blog. Secondly, if the guest blogger maintains their own blog, they’ll be likely to promote their guest post to their own audience and network, increasing your reach.

Who should I ask – and how?

There are plenty of places to look for guest bloggers:

• Partner organisations
• Satisfied customers
• Subject matter experts

Asking a customer for a guest blog post is a little like asking for a case study; both are based on mutual goodwill, and can benefit both parties, but have to be done carefully, since you’re asking the guest blogger to give up their time to write your content. That said, a guest post is a great chance for them to showcase their company (and themselves), so if you know that your customer is a keen blogger in their own right, the opportunity to gain exposure through your blog could be a powerful draw for them – especially if your blog has a strong readership.

The same is true for industry experts. When you’re asking someone to write a guest blog for you, mentioning your blog’s readership stats when approaching them could help persuade them of the benefits to them of writing for your blog. It’s also a good idea to offer to link back to their own blog, increasing their blog’s reach.

To ensure that guest blogs are in keeping with your blog’s subject matter, it can be a good idea to give your guest bloggers a high-level summary of the scope of topics that your readers expect from your blog, or even your style and tone guidelines if you deem it appropriate. After that, it’s a simple case of letting them know when you’re going to publish the post.

Any questions?
This is the end of our series about blogging for business. We hope you’ve found it useful, and we’d love to know if you’ve got any questions or comments on what we’ve discussed. If you’re thinking of getting your own blog off the ground but aren’t sure where to start, then we’re just a tweet, comment or phone call away – our details are at the bottom of the page.

Blogging for business part 5: starting conversations

In our last post in our blogging for business series, we looked at the elements of content creation that will elevate your blog above the rest. To catch up, click here – or, to go back to the very first post in the series, click here.

Unlike a white paper or an EDM, blogging is a content format that gives you the opportunity to have a conversation with your audience – in that sense, it’s the original social media platform. In this blog, we’ll be answering the question of how you can foster these conversations.

Why should readers comment?
Since your blog is going to be talking about issues that your audience cares about, it’s only natural that they may have questions or a differing opinion, which they will voice in the comments section. When you respond to them it’s a win-win scenario: they get answers and interaction; you increase interest in your brand and potentially move prospects a step or two further along their buying journey. It might take some time before your commenters turn into prospects, but a comment on your blog is a good sign that someone is interested in what you’re saying.

How can you encourage commenters?
Besides preparing the ground well by covering the topics that your audience is interested in, you can encourage engagement by:

1. Taking a side. There’s nothing wrong with a fully balanced argument, but a strong opinion that provokes a reaction is more likely to get a conversation started. We’re not advocating writing scandalous, hyperbolic clickbait that makes your legal team’s hair fall out, but have an opinion that people can either agree or disagree with. Some will comment to side with you, others may argue against your point – both are welcome, as long as you take care not to treat dissenting opinions disrespectfully.

2. Asking a question. Invite your audience to share their own experiences, to add points to a list, to answer a question or complete a poll.

3. Responding promptly. If a visitor to your blog sees that three others commented last month, and you haven’t replied to them, why would they bother leaving a comment? If someone asks a question, answer it; if they’re agreeing with you, you’ve got mutual ground to start a conversation. Commenters who are disagreeing with you can be trickier to manage, but as long as you keep the debate professional and reasoned, you’ll be ok.

Get social
Blogs may be the original social media platform but they’re not the only one, and you’ll want to use platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn to help spread the word. Provide regular updates about your latest posts, and consider paid promotion; we’ve seen clients succeed in massively increasing engagement with their posts for a relatively small investment in this way. Of course, your social media channels may well foster the same conversations that your comments section will – so keep an eye on them and be sure to respond.

Any questions?
In our next and final post in our blogging for business series, we’ll be looking at using guest bloggers. In the meantime, if anything we’ve talked about here (or in any of our other blogs) has raised a question for you, why not leave a comment of your own? You can also tweet us or get in touch via LinkedIn, using the links below.