By Michele Linn published October 5, 2010

10 Ways to Make Content More Engaging

With the help of our CMI contributors, we’re tackling how to make content more engaging, which was the biggest challenge identified in the new research about B2B Content Marketing. Last week, our contributors answered the question, First things first – what does engaging mean to you?

This week, our contributors answer the question, “How can marketers make content more engaging?”


Toss the ideas that come to mind first. Get inspired for fresh content by listening in to your audience’s conversations — in forums, on Facebook, in your call center, on Twitter — and help them solve their problems, or make life easier or more enjoyable. Also consider delivery. Some audiences want to read, some to scan, some glance while on the go. Some would rather watch or listen.

Shelly Bowen (@shelbow)


To make your content more engaging, tell a story that reaches out and grabs readers. Even better, they want to make it their own and share it. Here are four places to look for stories:

  1. Brand exploits. Show another side of your personality that connects with readers.
  2. Company history. Look for quirky tales and make them relevant now.
  3. Current trends. Can you create a unique brand and/or company angle?
  4. Customers. Think in terms of how your customers use your product or how it touches their lives at important life moments.

Heidi Cohen (@heidicohen)


Making content more engaging takes time and a relentless interest in knowing what makes your prospects and customers tick. It’s about truly understanding them and truly caring about what they need. Engaging content will happen naturally if you spend the time to really get to know the people you are trying to connect with. Your goal (especially in B2B) should be to engage over time, not to just drive numbers up with campaigns here and there. It’s about consistency, patience (listening), and understanding.

Barbra Gago (@barbragago)


Two keys to making a piece of content engaging: make it from the prospect’s perspective (the better you know them, the closer you can get to this); and make it timely by offering insight on an issue that’s pressing right NOW. Okay, a  bonus tip: a great title and subtitle. Without that, people may never engage long enough to discover the first two.

We talk a lot about this in The B2B Content Marketing Workbook.

Doug Kessler (@dougkessler)


Use emotions to engage the brain. It doesn’t matter how well written your content is if readers aren’t emotionally involved in what you have to say.

You need to engage their brains by appealing to their emotions. Here’s an emotional pathway of content written for results, from start to finish.

Patsi Krakoff (@Patsiblogsquad)


The best way to engage your reader is by asking questions. I often start a blog post or a document with a simple question. The reader considers how they would answer the question and are immediately engaged. They continue reading because they don’t have an answer and want to find out. If they have an answer, they continue reading to see if their opinion is shared by the author. Additionally, ending a blog post with a question is an effective way to get people to leave a comment and become engaged in your post.

Sarah Mitchell (@globalcopywrite)


When working to boost engagement, it’s vital to focus on serving your customers. Remember that at the end of the day they are humans too. I find it helpful to think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:  self-actualization, esteem, love and belonging, safety and physiological needs. Think about their questions and concerns and find a way to help them.  Simply put, be a resource.

Elise Redlin-Cook (@redlincook)


The only way to successfully make content engaging for your audience (customers, clients, partners, etc.) is to know them inside and out – to genuinely understand what they’re thirsting for, what they enjoy, what elevates them socially and what enlightens them and then to purposefully and creatively provide this for them in a way that will set you apart in your industry.

Lisa Petrilli (@LisaPetrilli)


I think the deepest engagement comes from showing the human side of your business.  Organizations shouldn’t be afraid to let leaders at all levels of the company share personal stories or develop personally branded content.  Successful companies like Zappos, Thomas Nelson Publishers and even Hubspot encourage their employees to have blogs and participate on Twitter.

Organizations should also pay attention to video in that it is a medium that combines the power of traditional branding methods, but also works towards humanizing the business and creating connectedness between all levels of employees and their customers.

Nate Riggs (@nateriggs)


To provide engaging content, marketers need to follow in the footsteps of successful authors and theater producers and conduct extensive research to develop a compelling story. It starts by getting off the stage and sitting in the seats to gain a true feel for the audience’s perspective. Marketers do this by identifying their ideal buyers and developing buyer personas that capture prospective buyers’ pressing concerns, questions and content preferences. With this insight, marketers can pinpoint the intersection between buyers’ interests and the company’s expertise, and develop or locate content that engages their audience in an immersive experience.

Stephanie Tilton (@stephanietilton)


Ask questions. Ask for agreement. Ask for an opposing point of view. The point is to prompt the reader into action. Get them thinking, get them to form an opinion, and then ask them to share it. I’d also add that it needs to be done in an inviting, non-threatening way. There are many people who fear hitting the “submit” button on a comment, tweet, or facebook post. They hold back because they struggle with being seen as “wrong.” Keep that in mind and strive to create a community where the dialog IS the content.

Jeremy Victor (@jeremyvictor)


For engaging content, start with the basics of style.  Put at least half of your writing effort into coming up with a great headline and a powerful lead.  Cut through cliché and hack away at hackneyed or formulaic introductions. Slash stilted language, junk the jargon-filled corporate-speak and marketing platitudes.  Pull out a good style guide, and read — again — the chapter on overblown language.  Simple words, punchy sentences, short paragraphs are key. So much can be accomplished simply by cleaning up the style, before you even start to wrack your brain for novel, interesting and engaging content.

Oh, but about that content:  nothing beats finding the human angle and sprinkling your copy with detail that speaks to (engages, one could say) human senses.  Also, insert a little humor here and there. It doesn’t have to be laugh-out-loud funny; but it needs to be warm and real.  Loosen up and let people see the human behind the pen.

Jennifer Watson (@ContextComm)


Making content more engaging requires truly understanding your audience and the world they live in.

Can you “walk in your readers’ shoes” to better understand them? Can you identify individual reader and buyer personas so you can customize the recommendations and wisdom you offer in your content? Do you know what terms they use to refer to your product or service? How is your product or service relevant to them given where they are in the buying cycle?

Making content more engaging requires careful, thoughtful and active listening so you can anticipate needs and questions and uncover patterns. The more you do so, the better you can craft uniquely engaging perspectives.

Don’t forget to check your ego and company- or product-centric notions at the door so you remain open to engaging with your readers.

CB Whittemore (@cbwhittemore)

Summary

Just as there is no single definition of engagement, there is no single way to engage with your audience.:

  • Focus on what is important to your ideal reader, which is often different than what is important to your business.
    • Actively listen to your audience and respond to their needs.
    • Create buyer personas to capture key information about your readers.
    • Try to connect with your readers emotionally.
  • Deliver your content in different media as people like to receive information in different ways.
  • Make sure your style is straightforward – avoid jargon and empty or overblown language.
  • Show the human side of your business.
  • Tell a story.
  • Ask questions.
  • Don’t think about engagement as a one-time exercise. Provide useful content consistently.

I’d love to get your thoughts. What else can content marketers do to make content more engaging?

If you want to get more tips on how to make your content engaging, stay tuned to our posts on Tuesdays. Even better, sign up so to get all of our content marketing how-to articles.

Other posts in this series:


Author: Michele Linn

Michele is the Vice President of Content at the Content Marketing Institute. She is one of those people who truly loves what she does and who she works with. You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

Other posts by Michele Linn

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  • Anonymous

    While all of these tips are superb, I’d like to add my 2 cents. Go back to human nature. What do people enjoy? Three things:
    1) To laugh or cry
    2) To hear or watch a great story
    3) To learn something unexpected

    Ask yourself which of those three your content delivers and you’ll be in good shape.

    Jeff Ogden, the Fearless Competitor
    Find New Customers “Lead Generation Made Simple”
    http://www.findnewcustomers.com

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      Jeff – Thanks for the additions. Creating content for people, not businesses, is really important (and oftentimes a struggle in B2B).

  • Doug Kessler – B2B Velocity

    Some great insights here. I particularly like Nate’s point about showing the human side of your business. Rarely practiced, so it really leaps out when done right.

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      Doug – Absolutely agree. That can be easy to say but tough to do!

  • http://twitter.com/KatieMcCaskey Katie McCaskey

    “Empathy” is another aspect of genuine engagement, too. Fostering an environment where your audience says, “wow, they *get* me” is rooted in listening and responding with empathy.