The defence of long content

These days, content seems to be getting shorter and shorter; we see more and more customers interested in Twitter (140 characters per post), LinkedIn (700 characters per status update), and ebooks typified by low word counts and lots of visuals. It’s easy to believe that with all these shorter content forms around, there’s no place in the world for longer content such as white papers or lengthy blog posts. This, however, would be a mistake.

For one thing, Google likes longer content. At one level, the reason for this is obvious: the more words you have, the more there is for Google to pick up and rank. But it goes deeper than that. We’ve written in a previous post about how search engine algorithms such as Hummingbird are ranking results based on an understanding of the information the searcher wants; additionally, a number of studies have shown both that people like and share longer content, and that search results are favouring well researched over keyword-optimised content, and directly giving preference to longer content. Therefore, if you had to choose between writing a 200 or 1,000 word article on the same subject, your best bet could be the longer article.

Google rankings aside, longer content can give your audience a fuller understanding of a subject than shorter content. Instead of leaving out some points of the argument or nice bits of detail for the sake of brevity, in a longer piece you have the time to make your point fully, illustrate it with examples, and dig deeper into issues that matter to your audience. You’ll give your audience a better understanding of both your message and your expertise in the subject, and the better they understand this, the more likely they are to pick up the phone and give you a call.

It’s important to remember that whatever the length of your content, quality and relevance must come first. Bad or repetitive long copy will be penalised, both in the search rankings and by readers, so padding your content to bump up the word count is definitely not recommended. But the good news for detail-lovers is that where you have enough to say on a subject to write a good piece of long content, there’s no need to be discouraged or feel pressure to cut or summarise – it may well perform better than a shorter equivalent would.

Using customers’ language to grow your brand

Should organisations use their customers’ language? Get it right and you will reap the rewards — increased coverage, followers and retweets — get it wrong though, and your legal team could be calling.

One of the UK’s largest retailers, Argos, is a company that understands the importance of solidifying customer relationships through online engagements. Recently, its customer service team replied to a tweet from a potential customer who was complaining about the availability of the PS4 in his local store:


To which @ArgosHelpers replied (presumably after consulting their teenage children):


The result? issue dealt with, an extra 1,500 followers (in one day) and a happy customer:


Apart from the baffling language that sent even us running for the Urban Dictionary, Argos showed how the combination of humour, content and medium can be combined to solve customers’ problems, communicate clearly and promote their business to new audiences. By matching the tone of the original tweet, the company generated a positive response from a complaint, without being offensive — a perfect example of peer language adoption.

Even if Argos’s use of slang is too ‘left field’ for your organisation right now, there are still lessons to be learnt here. The importance of knowing and applying your customers’ preferred language, whether they spend their day thinking about cloud architecture or PS4 availability, is something every organisation needs to acknowledge — y’get me?

Social media in real time:Oreo leads by example

In my recent post about how to create an effective social media content strategy, I touched on how to determine posting frequency. What I didn’t talk about was what you can do once you’ve hit a good rhythm.

Real-time posting

Don’t miss chances to post in the moment to really grab your readers’ attention.

The social media team at Oreo did this oh so well during the power cut that halted the Super Bowl XLVII. By the time the lights came back on in New Orleans, Oreo had racked up over 10,000 RTs, thousands of Favourites and overwhelmingly positive replies — all with a single tweeted image.

The fact that the cost of an ad during Super Bowl XLVII is around $3.7 million makes this social media win all the sweeter.


The four-step social media content strategy

It’s often said that ‘content is the currency of social’ and I don’t think a truer word has been spoken. Successful social media marketing involves creating content that engages customers, stimulates dialogue and evokes a response.

Here are my four simple steps to create an effective social media content marketing strategy:

1. Determine content themes

Your content needs to have a focus in terms of the topics you plan to cover and the tone it will take. Here are some pointers for determining that focus:

    • Know your audience. Who do you anticipate will be reading your content? What challenges do they face, which you could address?
    • Stimulate engagement. It could be educational, entertaining, inspirational or promotional. Ideally, it should contain elements of all four.
    • Demonstrate knowledge. One way to gain trust is by establishing yourself or your company as an expert. Try imparting advice that’s practical and based on your real-life experiences.
    • Be consistent with your business’s proposition. You don’t want content that is out of step with your company’s messaging or personality — it wouldn’t seem authentic.

2. Determine content type

Depending on the channel, social media content can take many forms: blog posts, tweets, status updates, contests, quizzes, poll questions, infographics, videos and photos. So decide which tools are going to make up your kit bag and test each one to see which works best.

3. Determine posting frequency

How often you can post updates? Here are a couple of tips:

    • Post at the optimal time. By this I mean post on the days and times when you are most likely to receive responses in the form of Likes, comments and shares. Google Analytics can help to determine optimum posting times.
    • Be consistent. Whether you post daily, weekly or monthly, if you’re not consistent, your customers will lose interest. Let’s be realistic, if your favourite TV series was shown randomly each week, would you really keep watching?

4. Create a content calendar

The next step is to develop a calendar to schedule your posts. Calendars can be created on a weekly or monthly basis.

Content calendars can be developed using a spreadsheet; or if you prefer, there are many social media management applications out there like HootSuite, Sprout Social and Buffer to name a few.

To plan even more effectively you might like to try tools like TweetDeck, which allow you to schedule your tweets and keep an eye on your Twitter stream, making it a lot easier to retweet and share.

So let’s get started!

INFOGRAPHIC: If IKEA did content strategy…

Last year, IKEA celebrated its 25 years in the UK. It’s changed the face of furniture buying on a global scale and we think its phenomenal success is down to its customer-centric approach. It even opened in-store restaurants because its shoppers were hungry! While we pondered some awesome IKEA stats we also wondered what it’d be like if IKEA did content strategy…

And so to celebrate this great iconic brand here’s our take on content strategy IKEA-style in that familiar infographic format.

INFOGRAPHIC: If IKEA did content strategy...

Here’s the code if you want to put this infographic on your website:

Take aim, fire!

Perhaps another way of expressing this would be, “Who are you targeting?” Are you going after the department head, division head or the C-suite? Are they a business—or technology—focused audience? What do these individuals care about? What are their motivations? What are their pain points, and how can you elevate these?

You can’t please all the people, all the time

Chances are, you’re not going to hit every nail on the head, and that’s perfectly OK, provided that you hit the right nails. If you’re diluting your content down to try to encompass the widest possible audience, ultimately, you’ll end up dumbing it down to such an extent that it will no longer be interesting or valuable to the intended target audience—the decision makers.

Getting your content strategy right

On the other hand, if you’re worried that your content is too targeted, the answer is simple: you’re not producing enough content. Again, you can’t be all things to all people, but you can be different things to different people through different content approaches.

Content marketing: the Jedi Master approach

It’s time you told a Star Wars story. And by that, I mean you need to take your prospects along a content marketing version of the mythic hero’s journey:

  • The prospect starts off in the ordinary world
  • The call to adventure is an unsolved problem or unfulfilled desire
  • There’s resistance to solving that problem, until…
  • A mentor (your content) appears to help them proceed with the journey

Your prospect is Luke. You are Obi Wan

When you put your prospect in the position of the main hero (Luke Skywalker), and your content as the mentor who guides or assists the hero on their journey of transformation (Obi Wan), it’s extremely powerful. You allow people to identify themselves within the context of an enduring mythical structure that also makes a hero out of your brand.

Some of the most effective advertising campaigns have tapped into the power of the monomyth that Star Wars adopted, thanks to Joseph Campbell.

While content marketing doesn’t require multi-millions in production costs, it’s helpful to see examples of how the hero’s journey has been used in the past to grow revenue. My favourite is….

Apple’s “Here’s to the Crazy Ones”

Apple has done a phenomenal job of storytelling throughout the years. Their Think Different television ad (the “Crazy Ones” commercial) is one of their best. It says nothing about selling computers, or even computers themselves. But what is does do is connect with a potential Apple user, by comparing them to the great geniuses of modern history.

The call to adventure to change the world is front and center, amplified by a powerful sense of identification with cultural icons such as Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr., plus business leaders like Richard Branson and Ted Turner. It highlights the feelings that many people feel; the same feelings that these widely successful figures felt.

It leaves you feeling inspired, understood, and more connected to Apple computers.

Content marketing storytelling: the hero’s journey

Everybody loves a hero! Think of any of your favourite stories and you’ll realise that there’s a hero in it that you identify with. Or, look at Britain’s love affair with football: the strong association with a team of ‘heroes’ and the chance to be part of their journey to victory creates an emotional connection and loyalty that can last a lifetime.

This is the connection that we, as marketers, actively pursue by creating a brand story based on ‘the hero’s journey’.

The hero’s journey story structure has been around for a long as stories have been told.

The basic formula is:

  • the hero embarks on a journey
  • the hero encounters and deals with obstacles
  • the hero is changed

We all hope that the hero wins at the end, and in brand stories, we want our product or service to be part of a positive change as the hero wins the day.

Who should be the hero of the story?

In a hero brand story, our hero can either be the customer or the brand. If the customer is positioned as the hero, the product or service is the helper—the sidekick or the mentor (the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the story)—that makes victory possible. If the brand is the hero, the product or service arrives and saves the day for the customer—who, at the end, identifies with, is inspired by or is influenced by the hero.

Who’s the hero in your stories? Let us know with a comment…

Make your content better by following the hero’s journey

Whether you decide to have the customer win by choosing your brand and becoming the hero, or you ride in and save the day, to take advantage of this connection with your customers, all you have to do is identify the number one obstacle your product or service helps your customer overcome.

Take that information and plug it into the simple formula of journey, obstacle, change, victory. Your brand story will position you in the customer’s hero journey, resulting in an emotional connection, potential conversion, and loyalty.

What are the most common copywriting sins?

Well, five pop into my mind instantly. All of which can be easily avoided:

Don’t be selfish:

Your audience have a choice. And if they sense that your content is all about you (‘me-oriented’ copy), not them, their choice will be to go somewhere else.

So don’t focus on the ‘I’, ‘we’, or ‘us’. Instead, construct sentences using ‘you’ and ‘your’. You-oriented copy attracts readers, keeps them interested, and cues them for action. It’s not about you, it’s about them, so focus on what your readers want, rather than simply what services you offer.

Don’t be self-absorbed:

You don’t buy from you, others buy from you. Your customers don’t really care about your business and your troubles nearly as much as you do— so keep you content focused on their business challenges. Keep it customer-centric.

Don’t be deceitful:

See selfish, above. If you don’t tell customers the truth, it’s probably because you’re selfish. How urgent can your needs be that you would sacrifice your future to get something now? Developing long-lasting and profitable relationships with customers is all about building trust.

Don’t be inconsistent:

Your customers are bombarded by information, daily; so they’re not paying that much attention. But when they do, it helps if you’re communicating in a similar way to what they have heard from you before—in terms of facts, messaging, tone of voice, language etc.

Don’t be lazy:

You should make your copy easy to read, and sometimes that means using the proper mechanics of English, such as when to end a sentence, when to use commas, dashes, colons and other punctuation. You should understand sentence structure, such as the need for a subject and a verb, how to use prepositions and conjunctions and phrases. Given that, don’t feel compelled to follow every rule of English composition. While you should not try to impress readers with your brilliance, you don’t want them to think you are illiterate.

Building personas and understanding your audience

Good content means you have to anticipate what your audience wants. But how do you do that? Ginny Redish, in her book “Letting go of words”, suggests seven tips for getting and using information about your web users. We think it can be as simple as three:

  • Collect: Who are your major audiences? And what are their main characteristics? What else do you know about them? Gather your audience’s questions, tasks and stories.
  • Create: Use this information and customer insight to create personas. After all, it’s far easier to communicate with your audience once they stop being strangers—and start being someone whose interests and motivations are more familiar to you.
  • Conceive: Use your information to write scenarios for your website; journeys and stories that would capture the persona’s interest, using language and analogies that would be meaningful to them.


So what information goes into a persona?

You need to go beyond the crude segmentation that’s often all that’s available in the B2B space: company size, vertical, geography, demographic, job title and weave in more personal elements so the character takes shape. These 1-2-page descriptions cover aspirations and goals, patterns of behaviour, values, skills, attitude and the constraints and opportunities of their environment.

For example:


  • 55 years old
  • Finance Director
  • Lives in London
  • Married

Richard and his wife work full-time. They make six-figure incomes, and they put in the hours that requires.

Richard uses email but doesn’t get on the web much at work. His web use is mostly personal, at home. That doesn’t mean he has time to waste. He’s impatient at home, too. Time is very precious for Richard and his wife.

He wears contacts; his eyes aren’t what they were when he was younger. He hates websites with tiny print; they make him feel old.

When it’s time to renew his phone contract, he’ll try online this year and save himself some paperwork—if it’s easy to do.

“The web is a tool to get things done. Fast”
“If it doesn’t work right, I move on. I don’t have time to figure it out.”

Typical web tasks

  • Reads news
  • Checks sports sites
  • Buys things for their weekend house


Now, instead of talking generally, you can talk specifically about whether Jane can find the information about Big Data (for example); will this help Bob fix his problem? When Jamie knows the fee what will he do next?

And, you’ll also know how best to address their questions—a quick read, an audio description, an explanatory video.