By Ann Gynn published July 9, 2019

What Content Really Engages? The Inside Scoop From 30 Marketers

Don’t worry, this isn’t yet another post attempting to define content engagement from a qualitative or a quantitative perspective.

This article captures what engagement looks like from the audience’s perspective. We asked the experts speaking at Content Marketing World to share what content prompts them to engage with or trust a brand.

What #content prompts you to engage w/ or trust a brand, asks @cmicontent. Read answers from #CMWorld speakers Click To Tweet

Read on for a deep look inside the minds of CMWorld speakers to learn what content prompts them to engage. And in some cases, learn which brands they think are doing it well.

Connects emotionally

“Content that triggers an emotional bond” gets noticed by Jacquie Chakirelis, director of marketing, Great Lakes Science Center.

Emotion also is the connector for Jeff Leo Herrmann, president of Madison, Michigan & Market. As Kiley Peters, owner and CEO, Brainchild Studios, explains succinctly, “It’s funny. It’s different. It’s relevant. It evokes emotion.”

Engaging #content is funny, different, relevant. It evokes emotion, says @kileypeters. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

For some of the experts, which emotion the content prompts depends on its relevance to them or their need at the time. For others, it’s not about emotion, it’s about how helpful or entertaining the content is. Or it’s about how committed the brand is to deliver on its commitment.

Sparks delight

“It brings me joy. Seriously, it’s joy. My inbox fills up with emails I know will have great information and advice, but they often languish there unopened. Why? Usually because the content is dry.

“The ones I always open are the ones that bring me joy. Maybe they’re always funny. Maybe they always tell a story in a really engaging way. Maybe they always have stunning images or quirky videos. Maybe I just really love the tone of voice the company or individual uses. But the common thread is these emails make me feel happy when I open them. I look forward to opening them.” – Dan Hatchfounder, Typeset 

Respects me

“The best content brands respect my time, earn my attention, and reward that attention with smart, entertaining, well-crafted content that they clearly enjoyed creating.

“Their content comes straight from things they really believe and value. I believe and value those things too, so their content resonates with me.” – Doug Kessler, co-founder, Velocity Partners

Speaks to me

“The content I love most does two things: 1) It speaks to a specific problem/challenge I’m facing or an idea I’m inspired by and 2) it uses the same language that I do in a conversational, engaging style. The content I am moved to act on is inspiring, clear, and actionable. It connects the dots from where I am to where I want to be.” – Sydni Craig-Hart, CEO, Smart Simple Marketing

The content I am moved to act on is inspiring, clear, and actionable, says @SydniCraigHart. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Is real

“The content I engage with feels like it has a real person behind it, not just a nebulous brand voice. And not just any person, a person who gets my problem, has struggled through it, and has emerged victorious with a feasible solution. Whether it’s an email, written content, a video, or a podcast, I need to know right up front that there’s something awesome that’s perfect for me coming, which my favorite brands do with enviable consistency.” – Andrea Fryrear, Agile marketing coach and trainer, co-founder, AgileSherpas

Provides information

“I interact with brand content when I need information about the brand, including how to use it better.” – Buddy Scalera, content strategist; associate director, social media solutions, Novartis

Thinks like British public media

“Brands are becoming like the BBC: to inform, educate and entertain. The best content marketing makes you laugh, cry, say ‘wow,’ or do something. It triggers human emotion. Part of that is making someone say, ‘How true is this?’ and want to share it with others who feel their pain and appreciate its truth.” – Adam Ritchie, principal, Adam Ritchie Brand Direction 

Can be found easily

“A lot of the time I am searching for the content because I have a thirst for certain knowledge. For example, having a good search strategy so that your content is showing up for specific keywords that people are searching for is a key way to get the right people engaging in your content.” John Hall, co-founder, Calendar.com

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Avoids mechanization

“Fun and personalized content, especially in a lead nurture stage, tends to be the type of content I will engage with. Anything that seems robotic or even spammy, I never engage with it.” – Arnie Kuenn, senior advisor, Vertical Measures

Any #content that seems robotic or even spammy, I never engage with it, says @ArnieK. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Lets me get involved

“The best brand content understands how I feel about the brand, and shares something that it knows I’ll love and want to weigh in on. This level of getting your audience is not something you can extrapolate from third-party data or emails from your sales team about their conversations.” – Erika Heald, marketing consultant, Erika Heald Consulting

Comes from a relationship

“Brands and companies get me to purchase and remain loyal to them despite near substitutes and price competition because of the people behind them! The employees work to really help me and make sure that I am happy with my purchases. As a result, I develop a relationship and trust with them over time.” – Heidi Cohen, chief content officer, Actionable Marketing Guide

Knows I am their audience

“Brands that I’m in the exact right target audience for and they know it. Whether that’s because they’re creating content for writers that care about content marketing and SEO, freelancers, young female professionals, or dog owners (to name a few examples). They know what that means and how to appeal to me because of it. By contrast, the companies I get the least relevant content from are those that automatically sign me up to their list or start sending sales emails after I download a report or case study, without bothering to check if I’m their target audience.” Kristen Hicks, freelance content writer 

Engages back

“It appears to be genuine. It serves my need/solves my problem at that time. The content is entertaining, thought-provoking, or educational. They take time to respond back. Brands or organizations that don’t respond back (even after several attempts) lose my loyalty or interest in becoming involved.” – Melissa Harrison, CEO, Allee Creative, LLC

Brands that don’t respond back lose my loyalty, says @MHBossLady. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Provides at least one E

“I describe engaging content through my 4Es of engagement: Content must educate (provide skills), explain (provide context), entertain (provide joy), or empower (provide confidence). Content that does (at least) one of these things, in addition to being relevant and contextual to the brand and industry, will make me want to engage.” – Zontee Hou, co-lead of consulting, Convince & Convert

Follows the best policy

“The content is honest. It doesn’t say, “we’re great at everything,” it says, let’s ask you questions about who you are and let us guide you to the right answers.” – Wil Reynolds, founder, Seer Interactive

Doesn’t trigger an allergic reaction

“The quality and the depth of the content needs to be much, much bigger than a few years ago. I’m increasingly allergic to fluff and annoyed by companies that succeed in “winning” on Google just to drive me to content without real value.

“And, on a positive note, I’m increasingly fond of brands where I can feel their personality. To give an example every reader knows, I’ll point out Velocity Partners. You can feel them in every word – like their cookie notice that goes: ‘We just cookied your ass. And you know what? It felt good. Read our cookies policy to see why.’ I have a huge crush on things like that and of course their posts, e-books, etc., are the same.” – Jesper Laursen, CEO, Native Advertising Institute

I’m increasingly fond of brands where I can feel their personality, says @jesperlaursen. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Fills craving for connection

“In a world where consumers are overwhelmed by content and are switching off, I believe that entertainment – or even utility – is not enough. Brands that will succeed will tap into a need for human stories, for human connection, in a way that is seen as a force for good. And by that I don’t mean heavy-handed tear jerkers. I mean content about real people that makes us feel more connected as a community. Two brands that do an exceptional job of creating purposeful, human content are Patagonia and Airbnb.” – Lauren Quaintance , co-founder and head of content, Storyation 

Remains committed

“The brands that prompt me to engage the most often do three things: The content is created by a person I’m building trust with; they’ve made an appointment with me and deliver on their commitment; and finally, they consistently deliver content that makes me smarter.” – Andrew Davis, author of The Loyalty Loop, Brandscaping, and Town Inc.

Doesn’t focus on the brand

“The brands that are most successful don’t make it all about themselves. They find ways to connect their products to my life in authentic and unexpected ways or they keep their content fresh by showing how they provide fresh/new thinking or benefits.” – Kathy Button Bell, senior vice president, chief marketing officer, Emerson

11 brands creating engaging content

Now, let’s dive into some brands cited by CMWorld speakers that are creating engaging content.

Fender – I’m a musician and they know that. Their content makes me click almost 90% of the time. I see myself in their imagery and their stories. Sure sometimes it is aspirational and even borders on fantasy, but it is compelling” – Michael Weiss, vice president, Creative Circle

.@Fender content makes me click almost 90% of the time. I see myself in their imagery & stories. @mikepweiss #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Precision Nutrition has some of the best content I’ve ever seen. I regularly use them as examples of what to do for those who need some concrete ideas for inspiration. They have both B2B and B2C clients, and they create incredible content for both.” – Anna Hrach, strategist, Convince & Convert

“I like Moz – their content is both authoritative and easy to understand. They give examples to make their points clear. I like their style.” – Leslie Carruthers, CEO, The Search Guru

Netflix and Amazon. Not because of their media content, but because they use my past viewing habits to recommend things that are personal and unique to me.” – Michael Brenner, CEO, Marketing Insider Group

.@Netflix & @Amazon use my past viewing habits to recommend things that are unique to me. @MichaelBrenner Click To Tweet

“I engage online the most with brands that share my values and aren’t afraid to be authentic. Wildfang comes to mind. They’re a retailer and e-commerce company out of Portland that sells menswear for women (usually queer women). They don’t just make feminist, pro-queer statements, they participate in real activism, raising money and hosting events. And they aren’t shy about that. Pair that with the excellent quality of their clothes, and they’ve got my loyalty for life.” – Courtney Cox Wakefield, group manager, digital marketing, Children’s Health

LEGO – because they are very up front about their goals, what they’re about. And then they are transparent about the why, which gets you right alongside them for the ride.” – Ben H. Rome, manager, marketing and communications, AIHA

19 Crimes’ website, customer communication, and AR product experience make it one of my favorite brands. They show up delightfully different. They understand what adds value to me and are patient about building the relationship before asking something from me (i.e., giving up my information). They’re personal without being creepy and they are excellent at integrating the online and offline experience.” – Carla Johnson, speaker, author, storyteller

The @19Crimes brand is patient about building the relationship before asking me to give up my info. @CarlaJohnson Click To Tweet

Apple News: A news feed curated by humans, not robots

Stark Bro’s: A nursery with good how-to and when-to gardening content

Sweetwater: A music store with good how-to content, product comparisons, events for musicians, and a personal guide to help you get what you need.” – George Stenitzer, founder and chief content officer, Crystal Clear Communications

Go forth and foster engagement

And sometimes that goal of engagement requires stepping out of your brand’s status quo and giving it a voice. As Katie Martell, communications consultant, Boston Content, says, “(Engaging content) comes from a place of honesty. It speaks to me as a human being and isn’t afraid to be provocative or bold where necessary.”

These explanations of what kind of content engages the CMWorld speakers vary, but they all circle a theme – engaging content addresses a need or a want (sometimes still unknown to the audience) of the individual reader, viewer, or listener. Whether it answers a question, entertains someone, or does everything to spark joy, content that draws in the audience requires brands to know their audiences. Put simply, brands that get their audiences get engaged audiences.

Brands that get their audiences get engaged audiences, says @anngynn. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Engage with all these speakers and dozens more in person at Content Marketing World Sept. 3-6. Register today using code CMIBLOG100 to save $100. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Ann Gynn

Ann Gynn edits the CMI blog. She also serves as the Tech Tools editor for Chief Content Officer magazine. Ann regularly combines words and strategy for B2B, B2C, and nonprofits, continuing to live up to her high school nickname, Editor Ann. Former college adjunct faculty, Ann also helps train professionals in content so they can do it themselves. Follow Ann on Twitter @anngynn or connect on LinkedIn.

Other posts by Ann Gynn

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