By Roger C. Parker published March 13, 2013

Content Creation: 3 Steps to Great Marketing Writing

Here’s a simple 3-step writing formula to help you turn my recent Year’s Worth of Content Marketing Ideas for SlideShare into finished content as quickly as possible. It’s a formula my clients and I have used for years, for all types of content creation, including:

  • Short projects, like articles and blog posts
  • Longer projects, like books and eBooks, reports, white papers, and YouTube videos.

The formula provides a framework for events like podcasts and speeches. It can also save you time and frustration when you’re facing an unexpected deadline, like a last-minute speech or presentation.

Step 1: Pick a number

Start by picking a number! The number will provide you with a structure for picking a title, choosing and organizing your ideas, and finishing your project as efficiently as possible.

How big a number should you choose?

Here are some tips for choosing numbers:

  • Small numbers promise easy, simple steps to success. Often, the best content marketing projects are based on relatively small numbers like 3, 7, or 10. Small numbers succeed because they promise to simplify complex tasks by breaking them into simple steps, i.e., 4 Steps to Skydiving Success.
  • Large numbers promise selection and value. Large numbers, i.e., 99 or 101, appear to offer more value. Out of 100 ideas, for example, there’s a good chance that, at least, one or two of the ideas will make a difference in solving a problem or achieving a goal. (In addition, when you’re writing about 99 or 101 ideas, you don’t have to write as much about each topic!)

The number you choose doesn’t have anything to do with the length of your project. There are hundreds of 3-step books, and there are hundreds of 99-tip blog posts.

In addition to helping you focus your content creation ideas and write your project, numbers also help your readers. Each number provides a “landmark” that helps readers track their progress through your content and get a feeling of progress.

Step 2: Select a topic

Next, select a central theme, or topic, for your content marketing project.

Topics are containers. They’re categories of facts, ideas, or suggestions you can use to identify, organize, and package your message.

Topics are powerful because they encourage you to focus on specifics, rather than abstractions or generalities. This helps you get ready to start writing.

When you start to write a blog post about “The 6 Keys to Content Marketing Success,” for example, the number and the topic immediately focus your attention on the next step—i.e., identifying the 6 keys needed for success.

As a result, you know what you have to do (i.e., simply make a list of the 6 keys so you can define them and describe their relevance). This is much easier to do than staring at a cursor blinking in an empty screen.

What type of topics work best?

In general, topics for content marketing fall into a few basic categories. These include positives, negatives, and trends.

Positives describe topics that help your market solve problems or succeed, including:

  • Habits
  • Resources
  • Shortcuts
  • Tips

Negatives describe topics your market should avoid or watch out for, including:

  • Challenges
  • Mistakes
  • Obstacles
  • Symptoms

Topics can also include descriptions, like:

  • Attributes
  • Characteristics
  • Traits
  • Trends

Step 3: Add a modifier

Finally, add a modifier to add specificity and emotion to the number and the category.

There are several ways modifiers can add impact to your content marketing project. Modifiers help you:

  • Target a specific market segment. Simply list the primary characteristic in your marketing persona, i.e., 7 Investment Opportunities for Self-Employed Professionals.
  • Address a specific challenge or goal. 10-Step Makeover Program for Underperforming Landing Pages.

Modifiers can also add urgency, causing your clients and prospects to resonate in anticipation of your content ideas. Watch how a simple modifier can build a bridge between an abstract topic and your reader’s specific situation:

  • Before. 10 Questions to Ask Before Writing a Speech
  • After. 10 Questions to Ask Before Writing Your Next Speech

There’s no urgency to “writing a speech.” But, adding “your next” reminds everyone that it’s best to be prepared in case they’re asked to deliver a speech.

Learning from best-selling books

Learning from Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People offers an excellent example of the power of modifiers to take a good title and make it a best-selling great title:

  • Remove the number and the topic. As a title, Highly Effective People may accurately describe what the book is about, but it doesn’t describe the author’s perspective or what readers will learn.
  • Take away just the number and The Habits of Highly Effective People is significantly weakened. This is because there’s no context or frame of reference. The lack of specificity doesn’t communicate the fact that the author has selected the best habits. You also don’t know how much you’re going to have to read.
  • Delete the modifier and see what happens. The 7 Habits of People is unlikely to have sold millions of copies….even if the contents were exactly the same as in the best-selling version.
  • Shorten the modifier and you also significantly weaken the title. The 7 Habits of Effective People describes without inspiring. It fails to engage, or resonate. But, adding just one word, Highly, transforms Effective People into a goal all readers can identify with and aspire to.

Tips for completing your project

Once you’ve picked a number, selected a topic, and added a modifier, you’ve chosen a title for your content marketing project. You’re ready to open a new file and get down to the actual content creation.

Start by assembling a list of the topics — the challenges, essentials, keys, mistakes, requirements, shortcuts, or trends — that you’re going to include.

  • Start on paper. Consider stepping away from your computer and working by hand. I enjoy creating my initial lists on yellow lined pads, using a felt tip marker. This can be done in a “fresh” location. Later, when I enter my handwritten list on my computer, new ideas will occur to me.
  • Put your software to work. Use your software’s automatic numbering feature to track the number of ideas. This is especially important when you’re reorganizing your list. With auto-numbering, there’s less chance you’ll skip, or duplicate, a number. Plus, you can sort your list to make sure you haven’t duplicated a topic.
  • Unusual numbers. Brands can be established on unusual numbers, like the popular 42 Rules book series. An unusual number can also indicate selectivity, i.e., 58 Social Media Tips for Content Marketing. The “58” implies credibility — there’s no “fluff” added to reach a specific number.  101 can be more popular than 100, and so can 99 (which promises less reading!) Another popular choice is 140, i.e., #Book_Title_Tweet: 140 Bite-Sized Ideas for Compelling Article, Book, and Event Titles.
  • Create a mini-template for each topic. Identify the key ideas you want to discuss for each topic. For example, you might begin by briefly describing each idea, tip, or best practice, followed by its relevance. Provide an example or two, then conclude with a suggestion on where to learn more. Knowing how you’re going to treat each topic speeds your writing and helps readers recognize and remember more of your ideas.
  • Write out of order. Once you identify the different topics you’re going to write about, start by writing the easiest topic first — regardless of where it will appear in the final article or blog post. Use the easily-written topics to help you build momentum, always important when writing.
  • Leave time for editing. After you’ve finished the first draft, put it aside temporarily — ideally overnight. Always edit from a fresh perspective. Avoid proofing your project on the screen of your computer. Instead, edit from a printed page. Share your project with coworkers who will be more likely to identify the types of errors, like missing words, you may overlook.

Indeed, one of the biggest benefits of a writing formula is that, by saving time at the beginning of a project, you can invest the saved time in additional editing plus spending more time promoting your content using more social media resources.

Expanding what you’ve written

Always “slice and dice” your content. After running a successful article or blog post that summarizes the 10 Best Practices for Increasing Landing Page Conversions, for example, consider writing a separate article or blog posts offering detailed ideas, examples, and tips for implementing each best practice.

Later, after you’ve finished the 10 in-depth blog posts, you can compile them into an eBook, auto-responder series, SlideShare presentation, report, or white paper.

What’s your favorite way to turn ideas into content? Do you use a similar 3-step process to convert ideas into content? Share your comments and suggestions below!

Author: Roger C. Parker

Roger C. Parker brings a lifetime of practical content marketing experience based on core principles of market education, targeting, and consistent visibility. His passions include writing to simplify, photography, and coaching new authors. Get a fresh perspective on your content marketing, and follow him on Twitter @RogerCParker or on his blog.

Other posts by Roger C. Parker

  • http://thepeakathlete.com Todd Herman

    As always Roger you provide excellent advice. This is a great template for not just a written article, but video, as well.

    Note to others: My company purchased Roger’s Content Catalyst program a few years ago and it’s been invaluable. It makes writing articles, videos or courses extremely easy. He’s a great teacher/advisor.

    Thanks again Roger.

  • http://www.aparcher.com Apryl Parcher

    Great post, Roger. I like the fact that it’s a step-by-step piece and I’m printing it to share and use in my library. So many people get blankpageitis and just can’t put topics together in a logical fashion, even though they have TONS of experience to share.

    • Roger C. Parker

      Dear Apryl:
      Thank you for commenting, and for the specificity of your comment.

      And, thanks for sharing the word, “blankpageitis” which is great!
      Best wishes, Roger

  • Roger C. Parker

    Dear Todd. Wow! Thank you for your kind comment. Needless to say, it made my day!

    Roger

    • http://thepeakathlete.com Todd Herman

      You always over-deliver Roger…so no problem. :)

  • carol

    Very useful info. Many thanks.

    • Roger C. Parker

      Dear Carol:
      Thank you, Carol!

  • karen kouf

    What a fabulous, fabulous post. Nothing like concrete takeaways to add value to content. I’ve bookmarked it and saved to Evernote. That’s a win! Thank you.

    • Roger C. Parker

      Dear Karen:
      Thank you for commenting and for the term “concrete takeaways.” best wishes on your writing and marketing success.
      Roger

  • Karen Andrus

    Great useful information. Thanks for sharing your expertise and insight. I love tips that I can put to work right away! I’m bookmarking this for future reference.

    • Roger C. Parker

      Dear Karen:
      Thank you for your enthusiastic words…and the bookmark!

      Best wishes on your intent marketing success.
      Roger

  • KristenMatthews

    Awesome article, Roger! I have bookmarked this one so that I can use your formula next time I have a spell of “bloggers block.”

    Other than having organized formulas such as the one you provided, my favorite way to turn an idea in to content is to refer to my running list of blog topics on my white board, give the post a title and subheadings before I start filling in the good stuff. I guess it is just how I stay focused!

    • Roger C. Parker

      Dear Kristen:
      Thank you for commenting and–especially–for sharing your “secret sauce” for developing ideas into content…I’m off to Staples for a white board! Best wishes.
      Roger

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kristin-Austin/100000876150595 Kristin Austin

    Love, love, LOVE it! Working through the 7 habits example is priceless. Thank you.

  • Mike

    Because god knows if there’s on thing the Internet needs, it’s more bloody top lists.

    I hate to break this to you, but the rest of the creative world views this sort of content with utter disdain. Will it get you customers? Sure. Will it ever set the world on fire? Nope. Congratulations. This is a fine post on how to be aggressively mediocre.

    Here is an idea. If you don’t have anything new to contribute, don’t speak. Go. Learn. Find something to say. Conduct some research. Rip apart your customer database. What cool insights are there? Talk about them. Grab every tweet you can find. What are people talking about. Talk to someone you agree with. Call out someone you disagree with. Pick a fight. Get out the house. Or the office. Travel. Discover something worth talking about. Grow, and share how you’ve grown. Good writing, as with every creative endeavour, inevitably means sharing something of yourself. Don’t have anything you worth sharing? Fix that first!

    Don’t just blindly paraphrase 7 other people’s ideas for the sake of filling a blog. That’s disrespectful to both the original authors and your readers. You might read the article, you might learn from it, but a reader will never actively look for any of your other work afterwards, because you haven’t demonstrated any personal value, beyond an ability to paraphrase. Just because its handwritten spam, doesn’t make it any more valid than the average SENuke blast.

    Here is how you create good content. Have something worth goddamn talking about. The form, structure, tone and everything else will follow on naturally from there.

    • http://twitter.com/CMIContent Content Marketing

      Mark,
      Sorry to hear you did not like the post. While I can appreciate your perspective, a lot of folks are getting value from this. You have a lot of ideas on how to find content in your comment as well – thanks. We all get ideas in different ways!
      Michele

  • Aleks Drogobetski

    What a great formula. I’ve written on topics of interest to me; however, I always wondered how people come up with the topics that have lists! Especially enjoyed the way you have used Steven Covey’s title and broke it down.

  • http://www.incion.com/ web design price list

    Marketing writing is quite possibly one of the most profitable types of
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    email will bring in prospects, customers, and sales, it it’s done
    correctly.

  • Luke Hancock

    Great stuff here Roger. I’ll implement this process next time I’m struggling to write. Thanks for providing this simple and concise template.

  • http://twitter.com/shothari Shaman Kothari

    I recently started blogging about content marketing on BosContent.com, and I’ll definitely be referring back to this for my next post. Thanks a bunch Roger!

  • Chuck Frey

    The Content Catalyst IS an excellent tool. I’ve used it and reviewed it and highly recommend it!

  • ahaval

    Great piece. Very formulaic (in an excellent way)and sparks a lot of great ideas. Love it!

  • August

    Oh, so that is how it is done. Hmm, thanks.

  • http://www.online-phd-uk.co.uk/ OnlinePhDUK

    wow…so many good tips….