By Jodi Harris published September 10, 2019

Discover the Secrets to Successful Content Creation

Editor’s note: Content creation isn’t simple. That’s why we brought back this guide with new resources and helpful reminders for inspiration and implementation.

In 1995, Steve Jobs was interviewed by Robert Cringely for the PBS documentary The Triumph of the Nerds. The future Apple CEO reflected on the notion that generating big ideas isn’t the same as bringing them to life in a valuable way. As he said, “There’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product.”

It’s a distinction most content marketers are familiar with – especially if your job is to spin rough, disorganized insights and ideas into high-performing content gold.

From an outsider’s view, it can be easy to assume content creators simply generate imaginative ideas, write (or record) them, and then publish them as a blog post, email message, or other content piece.

While those tasks are certainly key parts of the creative equation, a lot more has to happen behind the scenes for those creative assets to perform successfully as a marketing vehicle – i.e., get found by the right audiences, drive meaningful conversations with them, and compel them to take action.

Ready to discover the secrets of producing well-conceived, well-written stories? Read on for a handy tutorial on the essentials, along with resources that can help take your content creation to greater levels of success.

Before you proceed: If you aren’t confident you have the right foundation to support your creative efforts – or you just need a quick refresher on a topic – check out these guides:

Practical view of content creation

Consider the three main areas to help establish and activate your organization’s content creation capabilities:

  1. Who will create/contribute to the content?
  2. How will our creative efforts align with our strategic goals?
  3. How do we craft compelling stories that our audience will love?

1. Establishing your content creation model

You can assemble your brand’s content creation force in multiple ways. Each offers a distinct complement of pros, cons, and practical considerations. To determine the best contributor model – and decide whether to use it in combination with other approaches – weigh factors like the nature of your business, your content competition, expertise your content requires, and team and budget resources. Here are some models:

  • Hiring a dedicated writing staff: If you place a higher priority on content creation, want to produce a high volume of content, or need content to fill multiple channels and platforms at once, it may be worth having full-time writing talent to maintain control of the process.
  • Leveraging internal subject matter experts: If your content requires a high level of technical know-how or other specialized expertise, incentivize your executive management, sales teams, or other fellow employees to contribute content.
  • Outsourcing to freelancers or other specialists: Smaller businesses, startups, nonprofits, or other companies that aren’t ready to invest in full-scale editorial capabilities may prefer to work with freelance writers (including trained journalists) or to partner with a content agency or other creative services provider.
  • Soliciting external contributors: If you are a B2B business with a strong community of subscribers, industry thought leaders may be interested in guest blogging on your owned media platform in exchange for valuable backlinks to increase their reach and exposure. If your business has a B2C focus, look to enable your ardent fans and followers to create user-generated content on your brand’s behalf.
  • Automating the process: While content creation via artificial intelligence is in its early stages, every indication signals that automation will play a significant role in content marketing in the near future. Brands willing to invest in and experiment with the technology will be poised to make a big splash, leaving their competitors behind in the kiddie pool of AI-driven content innovation.

Shape your content creator pool

Looking for more assistance with determining the right creation model and putting your contributors’ talents to work? Check out some of our top resources:

2. Aligning creativity and strategy

Sharing compelling, useful stories your audience will love is an admirable goal for any content brand. But, of course, an effective marketing purpose must support that love fest. In other words, if you aren’t working with the right content formats and types to draw the attention of your target audience or aren’t positioning your content in the right way to drive engagement and conversion, you’ll needlessly spin the wheels of your content engine with nothing tangible to show for your efforts.

An effective marketing purpose must accompany your #content love fest with the audience. @joderama #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Achieving creative and strategic alignment is a top-down endeavor. Let’s start with the practical and tactical decision-making that should come before you write a single word.

Evaluate your format and content type options

According to CMI’s 2018 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends research, social media posts, blog posts, emails, e-books, and video reign supreme when it comes to the content formats and types.

But just because these content options seem to have universal appeal doesn’t mean they are a good fit for every purpose or that compelling reasons don’t exist to work with more specialized tactics. It’s important to become familiar with the strengths and limitations of each option to make informed decisions on which to pursue.

Here are some starting points for your research efforts:

Find your unique approach

Next, there’s the matter of how to distinguish the content you create under your chosen tactical umbrellas – an essential consideration to rise above the noise, attract and engage the right consumers, and compel them to take action on behalf of your brand.

One way to approach this task is to find a content niche (aka a content tilt) that you can cover better than anyone else in your industry – think of Moz with its Whiteboard Friday blog posts or Hop Grenade Taproom and Bottle Shop using podcasting to become a media powerhouse in the craft brewery industry.

By focusing your creative resources around one specialty, you eliminate the paralysis that can come from trying to fill too many content buckets at once and ensure that everything created under that theme ties to your strategic purpose in an organic way.

Eliminate #content paralysis that comes from trying to fill many buckets. Pick one niche, advises @joderama. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

To zero in on a viable content niche, ask yourself these three questions:

  • Can we own the conversation in this area for our industry?
  • Does our audience have a pressing – and unmet – need for this kind of content?
  • Do we have the right know-how and production capabilities to consistently create valuable content of this type?

Nail down your plan for strategic-creative alignment

Need more help determining the right content types or the ideal niche to set your content apart from your competition and drive you closer to your business goals? Continue your journey of discovery with these key resources:

3. Crafting your stories

Your content should serve as a platform for communicating your brand’s unique perspectives, capabilities, and value proposition. It also needs to tell a story that resonates strongly enough to convince readers to act. In addition to the usual creative considerations – like determining topics, generating story ideas, and maintaining a consistently high level of creativity and writing quality – content marketers need to be comfortable working within a storytelling framework that leverages the power of persuasion.

Your #content needs to tell a story that resonates strongly enough to convince readers to act. @joderama #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Identify worthwhile content topics

Kick off your creative ideation process by determining which subjects you should write about and eliminate the ones you don’t feel reflect your brand’s identity in the most meaningful and targeted way.

One way to approach this task is to identify some primary subject areas your target audience actively searches for information on. Conducting keyword research or using more sophisticated techniques like topic modeling at the start of your ideation process (if you don’t have this data on hand) can help you get a deeper understanding of the challenges your content should help readers solve. It also can help confirm you’ve found a niche where your initiatives can gain a competitive advantage. If your search uncovers relevant questions for which useful answers aren’t forthcoming, it’s probably a topic worth addressing for your audience.

Generate creative article ideas

It takes many creative ideas to fuel a content engine and keep it running smoothly on a long-term basis. Team brainstorming sessions are one great way to help your writers get their creative juices flowing and come up with a high volume of ideas. Another approach is to incorporate word games and creative improvisation techniques – like the ones Cisco Systems’ Tim Washer describes – into your creative ideation process.

Prioritize your ideas

Not every idea your team generates is a good fit for your business: Some may be fantastic on paper but require more time and attention to produce than your team can spare; others may be creatively brilliant but not useful for your target audience. Make sure you have a prioritization process – like the core content strategy matrix Meghan Casey uses – to gauge the comparative value and urgency of your content ideas and help you decide which ones to move forward with.

Transform your ideas into resonant stories

Regardless of the creative process, content creation boils down to one essential step: the physical act of writing your stories. And when it comes to successful content creation, Steve Jobs’ thought on product development certainly applies: Turning a great idea into a great content piece requires considerable craftsmanship.

#Content creation boils down to one essential step: the physical act of writing the story, says @joderama. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

But that doesn’t mean the writing process has to cause a tremendous amount of anxiety and frustration. Ann Handley points out that learning to become a better writer simply requires showing up every day and practicing your craft. Thankfully, she also provides some valuable tips to help make writing sessions more organized, eliminate unnecessary distractions, and stifle the inner critic that can derail your creative confidence and keep you from meeting your deadlines.

Learning to become a better writer simply requires showing up every day & practicing your craft. @AnnHandley Click To Tweet

Strengthen your creative muscles

Over time, the rigors of the writing process can wear on even the most talented and prolific content creators. Look to aids like headline generators, productivity tools/guides, killer examples from inspiring content brands, or a little sage advice from a creative master for an extra spark of creative energy or a little help beating the occasional writer’s block.

Try these exercises to strengthen or maintain your writing fitness:

Enhance your writing quality

Content riddled with typos, grammatical errors, tech issues, or factual inaccuracies can cost you the trust and respect of your audience and, possibly, their patronage. To avoid being mocked for producing lazy, low-quality assets or labeled as a purveyor of fake news, carefully proof, test, and fact-check every content effort to ensure that it is as clear, functional, error-free, and above reproach as possible.

Master your full creative process

Want to learn more about any of the key components of content creation? Use the following resources to guide your explorations:

Go forth and create

By following this guide, you should find yourself on the path toward more well-managed creative teams, greater strategic and creative alignment, and better brand storytelling overall. But if you find yourself getting stuck anywhere along the way – or have a content creation tip you’d like to share – let us know in the comments.

Next up in our essentials guide series are distribution and measurement. Don’t miss them. Plus, get daily tips, trends, and thoughts to bring you bigger content marketing success. Subscribe to the weekday e-newsletter. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Jodi Harris

Jodi Harris is the director of editorial content and curation at Content Marketing Institute. As a content strategy consultant, Jodi helps businesses evaluate their content needs and resources; build infrastructure and operations; and create compelling stories to be delivered across multiple media channels and platforms. Follow Jodi on Twitter at @Joderama.

Other posts by Jodi Harris

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