By Michele Linn published June 13, 2014

A Guide to Creating Content in the Formats Your Audience Loves

Cover image by Andrew Moir

Welcome to part three of our Back to Basics series on how to get better results from your content marketing. Hopefully, you’ve followed these discussions over the two weeks, tackled the essential elements of content marketing and started at least to build your content marketing strategy. With a strong foundation under your belt, you are finally ready to dive into the next step: actually creating content. (Note: We didn’t start talking about what kind of content until the third week, as you need a plan in place first.)

There are a lot of different types of content you can create, each with its own pros and cons. Should you start a blog? Maybe write a white paper? Oh, what about creating a video series? So how do you decide what will be the best fit for your business and the audience you want to engage?

Content marketing formats

Start by determining how much of a commitment you plan to make to content creation. Do you have the team resources to publish new content on a weekly or even daily basis? Or would you feel more comfortable on a monthly or quarterly timetable? While all content marketing programs need to be consistent, there are certain content tactics that work best if you can deliver new content frequently and on an expected schedule. So if you are unsure that you will be able to meet a predetermined schedule on an ongoing basis, it’s best to avoid those content formats (blog or news-focused email newsletter, for example).

Here is a quick look at how consistent you need to be with certain kinds of content. This list is not meant to dissuade you from trying new things; rather, it is meant to encourage you to commit to formats that require consistency — and experiment more with tactics that aren’t as tied to particular frequency expectations (although you will likely get better results.)

content-marketing-type-consistency

If you want to learn about the various types of content to consider, a great place to start is our Content Marketing Playbook: 24 Epic Ideas for Connecting with Your Customers. As the title indicates, it’s an overview of 24 content types, with tips and examples of each. You’ll also learn how often each type is typically used by content marketers, and what percentage of marketers think it is effective.

Content marketing topics

Not only do you need to figure out what formats work best, you also need to decide what topics to cover when creating content in those formats. The previous two posts in our series helped you discover what your audience cares about and what makes sense for your business. Remember this lens?

Does this support my mission and help me achieve my goals? 

While it’s wise to research your audience to figure out what kind of content (both formats and topics) they are most likely to respond well to, you’re not going to know what works for your particular case until you start trying.

While you always want to publish what we at CMI call epic content, don’t be so paralyzed by perfection that you don’t publish anything at all. Look for the middle ground: What can you do to make incremental improvements to your program?

Here are some posts to inspire you as you come up with topic ideas:

An example from CMI

We are constantly evaluating what type of content our audience wants — both by format and topic. For CMI, our blog is the backbone of what we do, but we have branched out to the point where we now produce and distribute many kinds of content — print, in-person events, eBooks, videos, Twitter chats, podcasts, webinars and more. We’re constantly evaluating the mix of formats we offer to make sure it’s the most useful to our audience.

As for topics, we have broken our content into key topic areas so we can keep an eye on which topics seem to be most popular with our audience. Our process is still evolving, but it’s getting us closer to our goal of delivering the content that our audience wants most and is eager to engage with.

Here are a few steps that have helped us get a better handle on creating content that meets our goal. You might find the exercises worth trying, too:

Profiling our database: We recently started profiling our customers via email to figure out what they want to receive from us. While the form we asked our readers to fill out had multiple questions, there were two that we specifically included to help us understand what type of content people want:

  • What content marketing topics are you interested in? (Response options listed about 15 topics.)
  • What types of content are you interested in? (Choices included things like blog posts, videos, podcasts, Twitter chats, etc.)

We also queried our readers about their company size and title — this helped us easily break down the data into relevant audience segments — i.e., to learn, for example, what senior-level marketers at large B2C companies are most interested in learning about.

(Incidentally, if you happen to be a CMI subscriber and have not completed your profile — or if you want to see the questions we asked — feel free to view/complete the form. We truly value the insights we are learning.)

Delving into Google Analytics: Like most organizations, we often mine Google Analytics to better understand which posts and pages are resonating most strongly with our audience. We look at the following kinds of information:

  • Which pages/posts are getting the most traffic? (Per month? Per quarter? Per year?)
  • Which topics are getting higher-than-average page views?
  • How much time are people spending on key pages?
  • Which pages/posts are converting people to email subscribers? (This is key for us.)

We also track social data for every post to see which topics are shared on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. However, it probably doesn’t surprise you to hear that social shares are not always a good indicator of what is converting readers to subscribers.

Looking beyond Google Analytics: While Google Analytics is a key source of insight, we review multiple data points across all of the channels where we distribute content, such as:

  • Number of webinar attendees (broken down by webinar topic)
  • Attendee numbers for every session at Content Marketing World
  • Attendance and reach for our weekly #CMWorld Twitter chats
  • Views and downloads of our presentations on SlideShare

Talking to people: Of course, if you want to know what people are thinking and what their preferences are, there is no substitute for actually talking with them. While we don’t typically make changes based on one person’s comments alone, it’s interesting to see what trends emerge as all the user comments get compiled.

Speaking of user comments, I’d love to hear from you: What kinds of things do you do to better understand what topics and formats your audience wants? Or, what do you want to see from CMI so we can best help you?

Want more instruction on how to manage the content marketing process from start to finish? Sign up for the Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. Access over 35 courses taught by experts from Google, Mashable, SAP and more.  

Author: Michele Linn

Michele is the Content Development Director of the Content Marketing Institute and a B2B content marketing consultant who has a passion for helping companies use content to connect with their ideal buyers. You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn or read more of her posts on Savvy B2B Marketing.

Other posts by Michele Linn

  • rogercparker

    Michele:
    I especially liked the “consistency” graphic which provides a perspective I haven’t seen before. Perhaps the interesting aspect of consistency is that helps create deadlines–(the ultimate incentive for creating content creation?)

    Roger

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

      Hi Roger,
      Thanks for that. I agree with you that having consistent deadlines can help, especially as you are getting started so you get into the routine. As I mention, I also think it’s wise to choose something that may not require so much consistency at first so you can “get your feet wet” and learn the basics of publishing before committing to something that needs to be continually updated. No one will notice if it’s been a bit since you published an eBook, but it’s tough to miss that your most recent blog post was three months ago!

  • Neal Taparia

    Hey Michele,

    Nice post! We often follow popular twitter hashtags to get content ideas and to understand what content is popular in our space. We also look at what’s working with competitors in our space for inspiration.

    Per our point about asking people what they want to learn about, on a lot of our content pieces, we ask just that. It not only gives us ideas, but it’s an opportunity to interact with readers to create engagement and relevance.

  • http://www.mynotetakingnerd.com/blog Lewis LaLanne – NoteTakingNerd

    I love how you advocate actually talking to your perfect prospects.

    One of the most important lessons I ever learned from a mentor of mine coaching me on how to build information products that sell like crazy was . . .

    Talk to people who are your target audience and ask them what their biggest fears, frustrations and desires are

    The longer you go between customer research and tests with real, live people… the easier it to catch I-know-this-is-going-to-work-itis.

    If you wait forever to talk to people, you end up rationalizing that this HAS to work because you have to explain & rationalize all the research you’ve been doing to yourself and to others.

    As soon as you’ve narrowed down your niche, start talking to people immediately.

    This is important because by talking to real people, back and forth, it allows
    you to drill deeply and ask for specificity that you can’t get when people just fill out a survey.

    Thank you Michelle for reminding of this lesson I can’t be reminded of too often. :)