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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!