The 3 ‘E’s of Creating Valuable Content

When you begin your content marketing journey, one phrase comes up again and again – “bring value.”

The gurus make it sound easy. “Just bring value to your audience!” they chirp.

OK. Sounds good. Just one question.

What the heck does that mean??

One way to create valuable content is by building pieces that accomplish The 3 “E”s.

The 3 ‘E’s of Valuable Content

The 3 “E”s are three ways you can package your content so your audience takes something away from it. This isn’t about choosing a topic your audience cares about (also important) or a channel they consume (also also important).

It’s about delivering content in a way they’ll remember and think about later.

A piece of content can focus on one “E” or can combine them. It all depends on your personal style and on what you want the audience to take away.

Educate – Teach your audience something they didn’t know before

Expand – Make your audience think about things from a different angle or a new perspective

Entertain – Tickle the funny bone or tug at the heartstrings

As long as your content does one of these things, it will be memorable. These are the key elements that make content stick in the reader’s or viewer’s mind.

Educate

When you have a question or want to learn about something, where do you turn? I bet you said, “the Internet.” At least 89% of people turn to search engines to find information.

Educational content might include explanations (e.g., “what is content marketing”), how-to content (e.g., recipes and tutorials), or applications (e.g., “what parents need to know about TikTok”).

It’s especially popular in B2B content marketing. Educational content gives businesses a way to explain their industry, processes, or products, getting consumers ready for a sales pitch further down the line.

Valuable educational content tends to have a long shelf life. It’s bookmarked, printed, or pinned so it can be referenced later when the problem or pain comes up.

The key to pulling off this “E” is teaching something your audience wants to know – not just what you want to tell them. Take some time before creating anything to dig into the questions your audience is asking.

Examples of Educational Content:

  • Explaining vocabulary or jargon (e.g., “what’s the difference between a real estate agent and a Realtor”)
  • Explaining complex systems (e.g., “how cryptocurrency works”)
  • How-to articles or videos
  • Infographics
  • Courses

Expand

When I say “expand,” I mean expand your audience’s minds. You could also make this “E” “enlighten.” This is content that tells “the other side” of a story. It gives context to information people already have, letting them see it from another point of view.

Let’s say you’re creating content for an ethical fashion brand. It’s one thing to tell people fast fashion comes from Third-World sweatshops. That’s common knowledge. Instead of going for educational, ethical clothing brand Eileen Fisher has articles and videos on its site that dive deep into its manufacturing process. Once you see the people making the clothes and hear their stories, you become proud to support them.

A lot of content considered thought leadership is focused on enlightening an audience. It’s not intended to teach so much as it’s intended to make you think.

Valuable mind-expanding content can be a great way of establishing your unique position in the market. It communicates to the audience not only what you do differently from your competitors, but why. For cause-driven organizations, content that enlightens people to your point of view creates a strong brand.

Examples of Mind-Expanding Content:

  • Articles and videos that take a small-scale look inside a large-scale topic (e.g., telling the stories of individual workers)
  • Op-ed articles
  • Documentary videos
  • Panel discussions

Entertain

Entertaining content is the stuff that goes viral. (And no, there’s not a formula for that.) Content that entertains is most likely to be consumed all the way to the end and to be shared with others.

This might be the most valuable “E” to master, simply because your educational or enlightening content will get better traction if it’s also entertaining. Take the brilliant ads created by The Harmon Brothers, for example. They educate viewers about a product, but they’re heavy on humor and share the information in a very entertaining way.

Comedy isn’t the only road to entertainment. Anything that elicits a pleasant emotional reaction is entertaining. Southern New Hampshire University, which promotes its online programs nationwide, had a tearjerker of an ad campaign that showed university staff delivering diplomas to online learners around the country.

And how many times have you clicked “like” or “share” on a video of soldiers being greeted by their dogs when they return from deployment? Tying your brand in with those emotional reactions can be content marketing gold.

Examples of Entertaining Content

  • Funny videos or images
  • Heartwarming videos or images
  • Stories of customers changed by your product or service
  • User-generated content of people using your product in unique ways
  • Emotional storytelling

Wrap It Up

Sitting down and throwing words on the screen is the wrong way to create content. Ask yourself who you are talking to and what they want. Then choose the “E” that will make your message stick in the audience’s minds like cat hair on black pants.

Simple? Totally. Easy? Heck no. Need help coming up with ideas? Drop me a line.

Make Content Great by Adding a Splash of Personality

Imagine you’re at a party.

There’s a mix of old chums and people you haven’t met. Your buddy introduces you to the coolest woman. You like her immediately. She’s friendly, well-read, and well-traveled. She shares several of your interests.

“You two,” your buddy says, “should have a lot to talk about.”

Your new acquaintance smiles and shakes your hand. Your buddy drifts off. From everything he told you, you know this might just be your new BFF.

So you tell her about yourself in the most factual, detailed way you can. You keep your voice low-key, monotone, and without dialect. You don’t want to come on too strong. You skip the anecdotes and carefully remove all traces of personality from your words. You are sharing pure information.

Her smile fades. First her eyes slide away from you. Then she turns away her face, and eventually her entire body as she scans the crowd for someone else to talk to.

She turns back to you with a smile that’s a little too bright. She cuts you off mid-sentence.

“So nice to meet you,” she says. Then she walks away.

Content is conversation at scale

When you want to make friends with someone, you don’t drone on about yourself in a monotone hum. You make conversation. You ask them about themselves. You talk about shared interests. You let your dialect, your experiences, your personality shine through.

Good content is like good conversation. It’s engaging. It focuses more on the consumer than on the creator.

Good content has a voice and a personality all its own. The significant difference is that instead of speaking to one person, you’re speaking to many. Content is conversation at scale.

Content is conversation at scale.

You are your own secret sauce

The world doesn’t need more content. We’re drowning in it, thank you very much. The problem is that the vast majority of it is mediocre.

It’s not bad, per se. It’s just forgettable.

Like a boring conversation.

What the world needs is good content. Content that resonates, that plants a flag in your psyche so you find yourself thinking about it again a few days later.

Like an engaging conversation.

You are probably not the only business in your niche. There are other people who do what you do. There are other people who know what you know. And they’re creating content about it.

So how do you get your content to stand out from what they’re doing? You use the one thing you have that they don’t.

You.

Your personality. Your experiences. Your values. Your voice.

This applies to companies as well as it does to solopreneurs. Your company needs to have its own personality, its own brand voice. The company’s personality may not sound exactly like yours. That’s why you need a brand guide that documents what the brand voice sounds like, so no matter who is creating content, it sounds authentic and reflects the same personality.

But isn’t that unprofessional?

I hear so many people say they’re afraid to create content that shows their personality because they don’t want to come off as unprofessional.

Bull dukey. You can be professional and still have personality.

Content that focuses on being completely neutral and inoffensive to everyone is like that monologue I described from the party. It’s not interesting to anyone.

It’s helpful to get a clear picture of your target audience. Who do you truly want to do business with? What is important to them? What do they value? That is the only group you should worry about offending.

If someone who does not fall into the description of your ideal customer is offended by your content, good. Because they were never going to be a great customer for you anyway. Trying to sell to them would have been a waste of time.

If someone is turned off by your brand’s personality, they’re not a good fit for you anyway. Your target market is the only group you need to worry about offending.

Showing personality in conversation is how you find friends. Showing personality in content is how you find community. When your community connects with you on a human level, they will be better customers. They may even become evangelists, going out and telling their community all about you.

Before you create one more piece of content, do two things.

  1. Think about your brand voice. Here’s a list of questions to help you crystallize this in your mind.
  2. Think about your ideal customers. What interests them? What’s important to them? What do they value? And how can you help them?

Now create your content as though you’re having a conversation with your ideal customer. Make it the kind of conversation they’ll remember later.

Need help figuring out your brand voice or working it into your content? Give me a shout for a one-on-one consultation.

10 Marketing Tweets That Hit Home

I have a love/hate relationship with Twitter. It’s not my favorite social platform, but there are some smart marketing minds there who manage to share super insights and tips in just 280 characters.

1. On marketing messages

marketing tweet by Terry Schilling: Where is the best place to start when writing copy for your website? In your ideal customer's head. Looking at reviews from real customers or surveying customers about your brand does 2 things: 1. excellent insight into problems customers want solved 2. great ideas for copy

Terry Schilling explains why the research phase of marketing is so vital. It’s tempting to skip straight to messaging because hey, you know what you want to say. But what you want to say is not always the thing people need to hear before they trust you and buy from you.

It’s not enough to imagine the problem people want you to solve. You have to go out and ask them. Take surveys. Conduct interviews. Comb through online reviews – not just of your company but of your competitors, too. Find out what’s really on customers’ minds. Bonus: Some of the best marketing copy comes straight from customers’ mouths. Let them do the creative heavy lifting.

2. On writing for the customer

marketing tweet by brooklin nash: empathy is greater than passion, clear is greater than clever, how is greater than what

In just three short lines, Brooklin Nash deflates the cocky wordplay that plagues so much marketing writing.

Empathy > Passion: If you thought having passion for your topic was a good thing, you’re not wrong. But customers have a problem to solve. They don’t care how excited you are about what you do; they want to know you understand their pain and want to help them.

Clear > Clever: Unless your brand has the global recognition of an Apple or an Amazon, you cannot afford to be vague and cutesy with your messages. Yes, clever wordplay is fun and memorable. But it’s like an unfunny joke – if you have to explain what your message means then it didn’t work.

How > What: This is the old features vs. benefits argument. What you have or do is never as important as how it helps the user.

3. On getting mileage from your content

marketing tweet by ross simmonds: content shouldn't live and die on the platform where its originally published. one blog post should become a linkedin update, youtube video, podcast episode, visual graphic, instagram post, and so much more. embrace repurposing. embrace remixing. embrace distribution.

“Create once, distribute forever” is Ross Simmonds‘ credo, and here he shares exactly what that means. Making dynamite content takes time. It’s a shame to put all that work into one piece and stick it on a shelf when you could remix and repurpose it for cross-channel use. Editing and formatting for different channels takes time, but not nearly as much as starting from scratch.

4. On branding

marketing tweet from jason vana: a designer can give you a great looking brand. a strategist can give you a great brand. there is a huge difference between the two.

Jason Vana‘s tweets regularly tackle the misconception that your “brand” is limited to visual components like your logo. Your brand is your business’s identity and personality. That needs to come first and influence the visuals, not the other way around.

Start with brand strategy. Then develop brand voice based on that strategy. Then develop brand visuals that support that voice.

5. On establishing your reputation

marketing tweet from kaleigh moore: positioning your company blog as an authority within your niche by writing about trends, use cases, shifts in behavior, etc. can be expensive but is one of the smartest ways to become a go-to source for information. the medium is the message.

If your company blog is all internal news like awards and promotions mixed with promotional pieces about your products and services, you’re doing it wrong. Follow Kaleigh Moore‘s advice instead.

Rather than writing your blog for people interested in your company – of which there are probably few and they probably all work there – write it for people interested in your niche. Demonstrate that you have a finger on the pulse of your industry and establish yourself as the respected expert in your field.

6. On marketing yourself as the bargain option

marketing tweet from aleksandr volodarsky: competing on price is a horrible strategy. there is zero brand loyalty. clients that switch for cheaper will switch for even cheaper. you can't build a better product by making less money.

Aleksandr Volodarsky describes the reasons positioning yourself as the bargain option is competing in a race to the bottom.

You can only position yourself as the cheapest for so long – eventually, somebody will come along willing to do it for less. And the customers who only buy from you for your bargain price will drop you like a paper cup as soon as a cheaper option comes along or as soon as they make enough money to upgrade.

7. On helping people

marketing tweet from jay baer: the difference between helping and selling is just two letters. but those two letters are critically important to the success of business today.

Nobody wants to be sold to. That’s why we avoid eye contact when we arrive on the used car lot and why we tell the store associate, “No thanks, just looking.” When we smell a sales pitch coming we put our heads down and walk fast.

On the flip side, almost everybody wants to be helped. We want to solve our problems, dull our pain, and become the best versions of ourselves. People who help us do that are our favorite people.

To Jay Baer‘s point, if your content feels like it’s trying to sell me something, I back away. If your content feels like it’s trying to help me out, I reach for my wallet.

8. On changing the words, not the message

marketing tweet from jeeves williams: saying the same thing a hundred thousand different ways? you must be a social media marketer

Nobody wants to sound like a broken record. If you say the same thing over and over it becomes easy to tune you out. But marketers are always saying to keep your messaging consistent. So what are you supposed to do?

As Jeeves Williams aptly explains, you have to share your core message a lot of different ways – especially if you’re using a content-heavy medium like social media. Tweak it for each stage of the customer journey – people who have never heard of you need a different version than people who have bought from you before. Tweak it for distribution channels – what you can say verbally on Twitter you have to say visually on Instagram.

Start watching brands you admire. See how the words and visuals may change from piece to piece, but the core idea – the unique selling proposition – comes through each time.

9. On standing out

marketing tweet from daniel murray: marketing is a battle of attention. that's why being creative and different is so important

Daniel Murray is preaching from my favorite pulpit. Your audience is bombarded with messages all day every day. They don’t even notice most of them anymore. To arrest their attention and get into their head, you have to stand out from the pack.

10. On short attention spans

marketing tweet from jordan scheltgen: random marketer: people don't have big attention spans. everyone else: watches nine hours of a netflix show in another language with subtitles. people don't have attention spans for bad content without a story arc. tell a good story, keep attention. that's the key.

You’ve probably heard that statistic that claims modern Americans have shorter attention spans than goldfish. Most marketers – especially long-form content writers – recognize the look of horror on a client’s face when we hand over a long piece.

“Nobody will read it! People have short attention spans!”

Bull dukey. As Jordan Scheltgen observes, people are riveted by good content, no matter how long it is. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” had over 600 pages and people read it in the span of a weekend. The theatrical release of The Return of the King was almost three and a half hours and it still made more than $1 billion.

So don’t worry about short attention spans. Worry about making quality content that is exactly as long as it needs to be.

With a clear strategy and a practical plan, you can point your company’s marketing machine in the right direction. If you’re not sure how to apply this advice to your specific situation, reach out for a consultation. For fresh-squeezed tidbits of advice and inspiration delivered right to your inbox, sign up for my twice-monthly emails.

Cool Features? Customers Don’t Care

Your customers don’t care how cool you are. They don’t care about your years of experience or about how many amazing features are packed into your product.

Harsh, I know.

You may already be thinking about companies whose marketing lists tons of features. Apple, for example.

I’ll get back to them in a minute.

Many companies make the mistake of focusing their marketing message on their own amazing attributes. You’ve seen the claims:

“Packed with 23 essential vitamins and nutrients”

“Made with our mom’s secret recipe”

“A combined 80 years experience”

As a company, those features sound great. You’re proud of them. They are, after all, the things that make you different. You might even think they make you better than the rest.

But the way you phrase them might leave your customers saying, So what?

Why should I care how many vitamins are in there?

How do I know your mom was even a good cook?

OK, you’ve been around awhile – so?

Your customers are not buying a product or a service. They’re buying a result.

Benefits > Features

At the end of the day, your customers want to feel good about themselves. That is the basic driver behind nearly all our daily actions.

Your customers are not buying a product or a service. They’re buying a result.

Back to Apple. Who remembers the debut of the iPod?

Apple didn’t say, “5GB hard drive that can store up to 1,000 songs.” (So what?)

They said, “1,000 songs in your pocket.” (Clear benefit.)

Next time you’re tempted to list a shiny feature, step into your customer’s shoes and ask, So what? Then write that instead.

“Better sleep, more energy, and fewer sick days in one daily pill.”

“We’ve been sworn to secrecy about what makes our mom’s rich, tangy sauce so irresistible.”

“In our 80 years of combined experience, we’ve seen – and fixed – everything that can go wrong with a furnace.”

Will it be longer? Maybe. It’s better to use more words and show a distinct benefit than make a short, vague statement that doesn’t explain why customers should buy.

That would be a real waste of space.

Follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter for a daily dose of easy-to-apply marketing insights. Subscribe to my newsletter to get these tidbits delivered twice a month hot, fresh, and right to your inbox.

Your Content Marketing Needs These 5 Essentials

content marketing needs a 5-part foundation for success
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

Content marketing is hard.

It involves research. There is a certain degree of getting into people’s heads. It challenges how you think and what you think you know. Successful content demands a degree of technical and creative craftsmanship.

Perhaps the hardest thing about content marketing is that it’s never finished. It requires you to keep showing up, day after day. So you can keep making new content and refreshing the old.

No one ever said content marketing was easy.

It is, however, simple.

It’s deceptively simple, really. At its core, content marketing is just five steps.

1. Get crystal clear on your content audience.

There’s an old rule for comedians: read the room.

You don’t tell the same jokes to a room full of middle-aged football dads and to a room of teenage VSCO girls. A set at a bar on a Friday night doesn’t sound like a set warming up for the keynote at a bankers’ convention.

There are 7 billion people on the planet. Your audience is not everybody.

You need to get crystal clear on who this content is for. Who needs the product or service you are marketing? What do they care about? What frustrates them? How much do they already know?

And of those people, what characteristics make them a good fit for the unique angle you provide?

There are 7 billion people on the planet. Your audience is not “everybody.”

narrow your focus

Here’s an example: I consulted a dog trainer on content strategy. When I asked about his audience, he said, “Anybody with a dog.”

But some people who have dogs aren’t interested in training them. Some are interested in training to enrich their dog’s life or teach it to perform. Others just want their dog to stop peeing on the couch.

Different needs, levels of knowledge, levels of interest, and levels of frustration.

We dug deeper. The service he really wanted to market was socialization and obedience training for rescue dogs. Rescued dogs have different needs than breeder puppies, so their trainers need different information. Getting better.

Then there’s his unique angle. This trainer has a hip-hop, urban style. That aesthetic may put off some audiences – which is awesome.

That’s right. Putting off some people is awesome.

It allows him to focus his energy and attention on the people who will be attracted to his aesthetic. His authenticity will resonate with people who relate to the urban hip-hop culture, helping him to build not just customers, but true fans.

And making him stand out in his niche like an orange in an apple cart.

After our exercise, his audience went from “anybody with a dog” to urban dog owners interested in hip-hop culture who recently adopted a rescued dog.

2. Identify what your audience wants to know.

Once you know who you are talking to, it’s time to figure out what to say to them.

This is where a lot of businesses fall down in their content creation. They make content about what they want to say, not what their audience wants to hear.

A lot of businesses fall down in their content creation when they make content about what they want to say, not what their audience wants to hear.

Colgate comes to mind as a company whose content marketing game is strong.

At the top of Colgate’s website is a link to research on whether toothpaste and mouthwash kill COVID-19.

That is something its audience wants to know.

Other topics on the homepage – the homepage, not tucked away in some obscure blog – include gum disease, dry mouth, and nutrition for healthy teeth. All topics likely pulled by scouring search engines, social media, message boards, and forum sites like Quora and Reddit.

They’re not guessing at what their audience wants to know. They know, because they are going out and asking or listening in on conversations that are already happening.

3. Create content that answers the question.

Now you know who you are talking to and what they want you to talk about. Now you are ready to create something.

Answer the questions people are asking. Be thorough. You can actually damage your reputation by being too shallow. If I click your content believing it’s going to give me answers and I haven’t learned anything by the end, how likely do you think I am to look to you for answers again?

Search the question yourself and look at the first page of search engine results. If you want one of those top results to be yours, you have to create content that is better than what is already out there. Be more clear. More thorough. More helpful. Look for gaps you can fill.

Clarity trumps cleverness. Don’t even think about getting cute until you can be clear.

Use a voice your audience can trust. You don’t have to sound just like them, but you should sound relatable and human.

4. Choose a forum to promote your marketing content.

You’ve created your content. Great! Now, time to sit back and wait for the traffic to roll in.

Yeah, no. Sorry. It doesn’t work like that.

You still have to promote your content. That is, you have to let the people you identified in Step One know that it exists and it has the information they’re looking for.

To do that, you need to go back to that audience and figure out where they hang out.

Are they the type that uses social media? Which platforms?

Do they read magazines or blogs?

Are they established customers on your email list?

For example, if you’re trying to reach Gen Z boys who play video games, don’t bother with Facebook. They’re not there. They are, however, spending crazy time on YouTube and TikTok.

Promote your content in a way that piques interest and makes people want to see it. Going back to the Colgate example, which do you think is a better hook: “Check out our new blog post on COVID-19” or “Does mouthwash kill COVID-19?”

5. Have the next steps ready.

Let’s say everything is working and people are finding and enjoying your content. Then what happens?

Do they come to your website, read your blog post, and leave? Maybe. If your goal is to build brand awareness that may be all you need.

Seems like an awful waste of a warm lead, though.

Wherever your content is leading them – to your website, your YouTube channel, your social media profile, whatever – make sure there is a call to action that leads them farther down the path if they choose.

Present a form to sign up for a newsletter or webinar.

Suggest a related piece of content.

Capture information for retargeting ads or nurture campaigns.

Your content marketing goals should fit in with your overall goals for the business. Content for content’s sake is a waste of time. Use it to educate your audience and give them a way to continue the conversation.

See? Just five things. Five challenging, difficult things, for sure – but not complicated. And once your processes are in place, the machine keeps working to build your business as long as you can create good content.

Want some ideas of how content marketing can fit into your business? I’m your huckleberry. Get in touch and we’ll schedule a time to talk it out.

How to Never Run Out of Content Marketing Ideas

The most intimidating thing about starting content marketing is coming up with content ideas.

You sit down at the time you’ve set aside to write your blog or social media post. You take a sip of your beverage, square your shoulders, and put your fingers on the keyboard.

Consistency, you tell yourself, is key.

The cursor blinks, mocking you. Your mind is suddenly as blank as the page.

In journalism, they call it feeding the beast – coming up with fresh, interesting ideas on a regular basis.

In my 10 years in journalism, I learned how to keep the ideas flowing and the beast fed. Bonus: it’s not that hard.

Make a content calendar

The first step in making your content life easier is to make an editorial calendar. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy – mine’s a Google Sheet. You could even write in a physical calendar or planner if that works for you.

What we’re trying to avoid is that dreaded blinking cursor. Plan at least a month’s worth of content at a time. When you sit down, you have a topic, if nothing else.

When you come across a piece of information related to a topic on your calendar, make a note of it. Then when you sit down you’ll have not only your topic, but also some research or inspiration to help you flesh it out.

how to always find inspiration for engaging blog topics and social media posts

Build content around relevant holidays

Consistency is a key to content marketing, but it is not really the key. Consistently posting inane platitudes will get you nowhere.

When putting together your calendar, don’t plan posts like “Happy Mother’s Day!”

Bleh. What value do your followers get from that?

You have to stop the scroll. Think of what Mother’s Day means to your audience. Is it a chance to talk about a product? Share a recipe, joke, or sweet story? Connect the dots between the day on the calendar, your audience’s interests, and your brand.

When you’re stuck for ideas, visit a site like checkiday.com and see what weird observances are taking place – from National Cookie Day to Walk Barefoot Day to the Festival of Sleep (all real holidays). Connect those back to your brand and your audience interests. I wrote an article about this for Medium that gave examples for every month of 2021.

Listen to your audience

Eavesdrop in the places your audience hangs out. (Identifying these places, real or digital, was a key part of creating your content marketing strategy, remember?)

Notice what people are talking about. What posts get a lot of engagement? Those topics are resonating. Skim through the comments looking for themes or trends.

Never assume you know what your audience wants to hear from you. The best way to know what’s on their mind is to ask them – or listen as they talk to one another.

Build content that shares what you know

People have a real fear of giving away their knowledge for free. They figure if they post about their area of expertise on their blog or social sites, people won’t need to hire them.

That fear is understandable but unfounded. If people are determined to bootstrap it, they’re going to do that anyway. There are already enough free resources on the Internet to teach you how to DIY just about anything.

The problem is a lot of those resources are crap.

When you create valuable content sharing your knowledge, you establish yourself as an authority in your niche. It actually leads to more business. People looking for someone to solve their problem start seeing you as an expert they can trust.

Even those bootstrappers, once they’ve been burned by a failed DIY, will look for an expert. And frankly, they’re probably not your ideal customers anyway. The best customers are interested in a quality solution. Those looking for a cheap shortcut will just haggle you to death.

The idea of posting good, valuable content on a consistent basis is daunting. Keep track of good ideas when you have them. Look for inspiration in the calendar and customer conversations. Plan ahead to foil the blinking cursor. You will be rewarded when the leads start coming to you.

Need a little help? Never fear. I’m here to be the Mr. Miyagi to your Daniel-san. Get in touch to start building your content strategy. Or hire me to write your content, so you can get back to running your business.

Brand Voice Matters. Here’s How to Make Yours Great

A lot of small businesses are running around out there with multiple personalities – or no personality at all.

In marketing, a business’s personality is known as its brand voice. Done right, brand voice tells audiences everything they need to know. It establishes the company in customers’ minds as a friend they want to engage with.

A business that ignores its brand voice flings unintentional messages into the wind like confetti. Audiences have no idea what the business is all about – or worse, they have the wrong idea.

Brand voice is not optional. It exists with or without your input. Your business is sending messages by its very existence, and audiences are interpreting those messages as they will.

And if your solution to that is to clamp down and make sure all your messaging is as neutral and vanilla as possible, you’ll be about as memorable as a water cracker in a five-star buffet.

Brand voice is not optional. It exists with or without your input. Your business is sending messages by its very existence, and audiences are interpreting those messages as they will.

KNOW YOURSELF, KNOW YOUR BRAND

To start, it helps to think of your business like a person. Not just an extension of yourself, but its own person separate from you.

Some companies personify their brand as a character or spokesperson – like Flo from Progressive Insurance, the Trix Rabbit, or Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World. You can create a character if it helps you, even if you never make it public.

With your person in mind, ask yourself these questions. Write down your answers.

  • How old are they?
  • How do they dress?
  • What kind of music do they like? Favorite song?
  • What kind of movies and TV shows do they watch?
  • Do they read? What?
  • How do they spend their free time? Hobbies?
  • How educated are they?
  • What is important to them?
  • What feeling or idea do they love?
  • What feeling or idea do they hate?
  • How do their friends describe them?
  • What are five words they use all the time?
  • What are five words they would never use?
  • What is the best gift they could ever receive?
  • What celebrity or historical person do they admire?

Give your character goals and values that mirror the goals and values of your business. For example, Flo is obsessed with being helpful and with saving money. These reflect Progressive’s positioning as a high-value, low-cost insurance provider.

Ask yourself why your business exists. (It’s not just to make money.) What is its purpose in the world? And what drives it to pursue that goal?

brand voice template

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

To create a brand voice your customers relate to, sound like someone they trust. Think about your customer personas. How do they talk? What do they talk about? What is important to them?

Use words your customers use in their everyday speech. If they say, “grab a bite” and you say “dine,” you create a disconnect. Colloquialisms, slang, even profanity can fit the way some brands talk to their customers. It’s about matching the voice you created in step one with the way your audience is comfortable being addressed.

Don’t try too hard to sound just like your customer, though. They have to see enough value in your expertise to buy what you are selling. Speak to them in a way that makes them feel comfortable and understood, but instead of sounding like their buddy, try to sound like someone they respect and listen to.

Ask yourself why your business exists. (It’s not just to make money.) What is its purpose in the world? And what drives it to pursue that goal?

DON’T BE A ROBOT 🤖

Just because you have a brand voice does not mean your messages all sound exactly the same.

Think of your own voice. You have the same voice all the time, but your tone changes. You use a different tone when you’re excited than when you’re sad. Your tone when you’re making your friends laugh is different from your tone when you’re giving them advice.

Your brand voice has a variety of tones as well. Tone can change based on the situation, the subject, and the goal of the communication. But it still rings true to the way your personified business would speak.

Having a well-developed brand voice makes creating content infinitely easier. From blogs to ads to social media, you have a clear sense of the topics to address and the language to use.

Carefully document all of your insights and guidelines for how your brand communicates so everyone who creates content for your company can speak in a consistent voice.

Need help figuring all this out? Never fear. I’m here to be Obi-Wan to your Luke. Reach out to start building a content strategy or finding your voice.

Marvel Makes Better Movies Than DC. Here’s What Marketers Can Learn From That

As superhero film geeks (myself included) psych up for the Christmas Day release of “Wonder Woman: 1984,” I had to ponder once again why the comic empire that owns my favorite superhero characters – Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman – does not make my favorite superhero movies.

The last decade has been something of a golden age for superhero movies. Just as Westerns define 1950s cinema and mob movies define the 1980s, the 2010s were the superhero era. But that’s not due to DC – it’s largely due to DC rival Marvel.

When Marvel launched its Avengers franchise with “Iron Man” in 2008, arguably its most popular characters were Spider-Man and The X-Men. Unfortunately for Marvel Studios, Sony owned the rights to Spider-Man and Fox owned X-Men.

So Marvel hung its hopes on Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, SHIELD, and The Incredible Hulk. By and large, non-comic fans had little more than a passing familiarity with this group.

Today, even people who don’t watch superhero movies can recognize these characters. As of April 2020, there were 23 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has grossed a mind-boggling $22.55 billion.

DC tried to follow The Avengers’ success with a similar formula based around its iconic Justice League. Though “Wonder Woman” generated some great buzz, by and large the eight films in the DC film universe have enjoyed neither the financial nor the critical success achieved by the MCU.

There are many reasons Marvel has soared where DC has stumbled. But what lessons can we as marketers learn and apply to our content efforts?

Have a strategy.

One of the most remarkable things about the MCU is its web of connections. Each film stands on its own, but also contains references and ties to other movies in the universe.

Tony Stark’s father worked with Captain America and with Hank Pym. Bruce Banner was trying to duplicate Captain America’s super serum when he turned himself into The Hulk. The Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr. Strange, and Vision all had Infinity Stones in different films.

Watching the MCU is like playing Six Degrees of Separation.

The marketing lesson? Don’t throw out a series of one-off pieces. Have a strategy that ties everything together, with each piece building to your own endgame. Echo themes in different pieces so they all connect back to one another.

If you understand your audience, you will choose the right voice. Use that voice consistently, and your audience will trust you.

Know your voice.

When I go see a Marvel movie, I have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to get. Every movie in the franchise includes characters developing through inner conflict; fast-paced action; a blend of serious and lighthearted moments; and a focus on relationships.

When I go see a DC movie, I’m going in blind. Will it be bright and funny like Aquaman? Dark and gritty like The Dark Knight? Will it have a well-developed character like Wonder Woman or thinly plotted caricatures like Suicide Squad?

Your voice is more than the words you use. It’s your style, your tone, and the way your audience feels after they consume your content. Dove has a very different voice from Nike. But both have a style their fans will recognize.

If you understand your audience, you will choose the right voice. If you use it consistently, your audience will trust you. DC’s haphazard style hasn’t earned that trust.

Have a clear story arc.

Remember what I said about every movie in the MCU tying in to the next? There’s a clear story arc, from “Iron Man” in 2008 all the way up to “Endgame” in 2019.

Your customers are also on a story arc. They don’t just pop into being ready to buy from you.

Their journey begins when they discover you – or maybe even earlier, when they first become aware of the problem they need you to solve. They move through several stages before they are ready to buy. The purchase is just the midpoint of the arc; the journey continues through how they use the product and if they are satisfied by it.

Don’t leave customers at a loss for what to do next. Create content for each stage of their journey. Give each piece a clear call to action that leads them to their next phase.

Include character development.

Customers want to see your story arc, too. Now more than ever, people are hungry for a relationship with brands. They want to know who they are giving their money to and how you are using it.

DC’s characters may be iconic, but onscreen they tend to fall flat. My sons realized it was no fun to play Superman games because Superman always wins. It’s boring. Batman is flawed, but he’s generally content to remain that way. He makes no effort to grow through his experiences.

Marvel’s characters, on the other hand, are three-dimensional. They grow and change through their struggles. The Tony Stark who lay gasping in Pepper’s arms at the end of “Endgame” is not the same as the one who announced, “I am Iron Man.” And because audiences had spent a decade watching him develop, his loss was felt all the deeper.

Let down your professional façade, just a little. Show customers the people behind your brand. Tell them your origin story. Give them a glimpse into your vision for the future. Humanize your brand.

The Marvel vs. DC film rivalry is proof it’s not enough to have an iconic property like Batman or Superman. Your customers want good stories delivered in a consistent style. That’s what will elevate them from passive consumers to loyal fans.

Need help figuring this out? Never fear. I’m here to be the Professor X to your X-Men. Get in touch to start building a content strategy or developing a brand voice.

5 Free Digital Marketing Tools I Use All the Time

Marketing strategy is only half the game. Once you know what you should do, there is still the little matter of execution.

There are literally millions of digital marketing tools out there. Some are free, some are paid. Some are good, some not so great. Some cater to big enterprises with an on-staff marketing team; others are more for small businesses where the resident marketer might also be the owner.

I find long lists overwhelming, so I broke it down to just five online tools I use regularly to develop my clients’ projects. They are all free and easy for non-marketers to use.

Hemingway Editor

I recommend the Hemingway Editor to everybody who creates written content. Use it to quality check your ads, blog posts, even social media posts. I use it myself on an almost daily basis (I even ran this blog post through it before posting).

Copy and paste your text and Hemingway analyzes your word choice and sentence structure. It tells you if you’ve used more adverbs or passive language than best practices recommend and warns you if your sentences are hard to read.

Make your words easy to read, understand, and carry around. Unless you are writing for academics, write for a reading level of seventh grade or lower.

Perhaps most importantly, Hemingway estimates the reading level of your writing. Americans typically find text easiest to read and digest when it is at a sixth-grade level. Depending on your audience, you might be able to push that as high as eighth grade. But any higher and reading your text starts to feel like work.

That is not what you want – especially if you are trying to engage top-of-the-funnel prospects. You want your words to be easy to read, understand, and carry around with them. Unless you are writing for academics, write for a reading level of seventh grade or lower.

Hemingway is free and does not require a login.

Canva

Canva is a super-easy digital design platform. If the thought of designing graphics makes you break out in hives – or if you’ve ever designed an ad in PowerPoint – you should give Canva a try.

The simple drag-and-drop editor includes hundreds of templates you can customize. Canva has a selection of free fonts, photos, and clipart graphics to use. You can also upload your own photo and graphic files.

Basic access is free, but premium users have access to thousands more fonts and images. Premium members can also create a brand kit, which saves logos, colors, and other branding elements so keeping graphics consistent is a breeze.

Canva is available for free with a login. Access to premium features costs $12.95 per month.

The Coschedule Headline Analyzer

Coschedule is work management software for marketers. It has a variety of nifty features, like blog calendars and social media organizers.

It also has one of my favorite free tools, the Headline Analyzer (now available as a browser extension). On average, 80 percent of people read headlines, but only 20 percent go on to read the rest of your post. So if your headline isn’t engaging, you’re dead in the water.

Your first headline idea is rarely your best one. Think up at least 25 different headlines for every post or ad you write. If you really want to stretch your creative muscles, aim for 50.

A great headline is equal parts art and science. The Headline Analyzer won’t be a cure-all, but it can tell the difference between a grabby headline and a weak one. And both the tool and the browser extension are free.

HubSpot

HubSpot’s best tools are reserved for paid users, but a small business can get plenty of functionality out of it for free.

The Make My Persona tool is a fun exercise to help you get a crystal-clear idea of who your target customer is. Then when you create content, you will have that person in mind (Would he say that? Would she like this?). And when you distribute your content, you can focus on the channels where that person hangs out.

Get a crystal-clear idea of who your target customer is. Create content thinking of how that person talks and what they like. Distribute it in the places that person hangs out.

Other free tools include a CRM database that is surprisingly robust, email tools, sales funnels, chatbots, customer service systems and more. When you outgrow HubSpot’s free plan, it’s easy to upgrade without the headache of migrating all your data to a new provider.

Bonus: In my experience, HubSpot’s customer success team is just as courteous and helpful when onboarding a free user as a paid one.

HubSpot is available for free. Paid plans start at an affordable $45 a month.

SpyFu

SpyFu is a comprehensive tool for search engine optimization. Enter a URL and SpyFu will break down the keywords that site ranks for and opportunities it might be missing. You can also conduct research on pay-per-click keywords, backlinks, and top pages.

The ability to look at this data for any site helps you to analyze what your competitors are doing. You can reverse engineer the process and boost your own search engine rankings.

Like HubSpot, the free tool is surprisingly robust. But if you are looking for even more insight, paid plans start at $33 a month.

Who Are You? Why Your Business Needs a Brand Voice

red umbrella surrounded by gray umbrellas
Photo by Noah Näf on Unsplash

Who are you?

That sounds like an existential, New Age-type question, but for businesses, it’s firmly rooted in good marketing.

A strong marketing plan is planted in a brand story. It’s who your company is, deep down. It’s your brand’s personality – what it sounds like, what it looks like, what it stands for, and how it makes people feel.

Having a clear, consistent brand voice:

  • Helps create consistency in your messaging. When you start thinking of your brand like a person, you discover the way it should talk – things it would say, things it would never say; the kind of stories it would tell; the topics it would find important. A consistent message over time and across media helps your audience to recognize your brand when they see it.
  • Speaking of media, having a brand personality helps you to decide what media make the most sense for you. It helps you tailor your message to the medium while staying recognizable.
  • Ideally, your brand’s personality is something your Dream Customers can relate to. It echoes elements of their own personality – who they are or, better yet, who they aspire to be – drawing them in to form a true relationship with you. Remember, people buy with their hearts, not their heads. To market effectively, you need to make your audience feel something.

Let’s take a look at a few brands that have done a good job establishing a simple, distinct brand voice.

NIKE

I love talking about Nike because its brand personality is just so recognizable. Who is Nike? It’s simple. Straightforward. From the clean lines of its font to its direct tagline to its iconic logo, Nike is a no-frills, get-it-done brand. Its slogans are short and its ads are almost always a single, strong image, usually in black-and-white.

If Nike was a person, based on its marketing, I would describe it as determined, hard-working, serious, and disciplined.

BURGER KING

Burger King is that one really weird friend the rest of the group likes but doesn’t quite get. Its advertising is quirky, irreverent, and frankly a little bizarre. From that creepy guy in the King mask to the infamous moldy Whopper ad, Burger King is establishing itself as an expect-the-unexpected brand. This carries through offbeat ideas for product offerings (chicken in the shape of a French fry, anyone?) and location design (I love the exit door that says, “No, don’t leave!”)

If Burger King was a person, I’d say it was interesting, off-the-wall, and kind of weird, but always honest and true to itself.

PATAGONIA

Patagonia is a brand that really prides itself on walking the talk. It has firmly established itself as outdoorsy, rugged, and a defender of the environment. Patagonia is a really interesting branding study because those attributes are not just part of a campaign or brand voice developed by the marketing team – they pervade the company culture, influencing its charitable work and how it treats its employees.

If Patagonia was a person, I’d describe it as healthy, nature-loving, outdoorsy, and grassroots liberal.

AMAZON

Amazon is kind of the elephant in every room where conversations about business and branding are taking place. The behemoth can barely remember its early days as an online bookstore (can you?). Today, Amazon has fingers in so many pies it could count to a thousand with its shoes on.

But what links all those ventures together? Who is Amazon, from a brand perspective? If Amazon was a person, I would describe it as ambitious, tech-savvy, visionary, and driven.

So going back to your brand – who are you? Not you, personally, but your company (unless, of course, you are your brand, which, if you are a solopreneur, is entirely possible).

But why does your brand need a voice? Isn’t it enough to just tell people what you do?

Well, honestly, you could do that. Some companies do OK without a unique voice. But most don’t. And even those that do could probably do better if they spent some time developing their brand.

A voice allows you to be creative in your messaging without worrying about turning off your Dream Customers. As long as you remain true to yourself and what you stand for as a company, your messages will resonate.

Need help figuring this out? Never fear. I’m here to be the Gandalf to your Frodo. Get in touch to start planning your content strategy or building your brand voice.