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How to Stop Creating Content That Disappoints Your Audience

I felt cheated. Disappointed. Even a bit angry.

It had promised to be a good read. Everything from the email to the landing page and the title was consistent – it hinted at content full of valuable insights and data that would make me think.

I handed over my information to download the content with high expectations – expectations that their marketing had set – and I trusted the source, so I kept reading, waiting to get to an insight.

It never came.

Finally, I realized that the company never thought about me – its reader – when it crafted the content. Its only goal was to attract contact information for lead generation. Now, I don’t trust that brand or its content, and I may never trust them again.

Why are brands producing content that lets their readers down?

Why are brands producing #content that lets their readers down? @GBalarin #writingtips Click To Tweet

Don’t get me wrong, good, even great content exists. But so much of it is simply “meh.”

A few years ago, Doug Kessler published his now well-known perspective – crappy content is the single biggest threat to content marketing. And, he wrote, “It sucks because the people we’re marketing to will start to raise their barriers again.”

He was right. Thanks to this brand that overpromised and underdelivered on its content my barriers have been well and truly raised. And that’s not the only situation that makes a reader mentally defend themselves. As Doug shares, readers raise their barriers every time a brand inflates a three-sentence idea into a 36-page e-book, conducts video interviews that might as well be subtitled, “Yadda, yadda, yadda,” and publishes microsites full of the obvious disguised as the profound.

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Give readers what they need, not what they want

The only way to get over that raised barrier – and regain the trust of buyers and prospects – is to give our audiences what they need, not what they think they want.

Give your audience what they need, not what they think they want, says @GBalarin. #writingtips Click To Tweet

It’s not easy. It requires psychographic, well-researched, insightful personas created by the whole business, not just the marketing team – ones that aren’t just skin deep. It requires a cross-functional organizational focus on customers. And it demands the production of content that commands respect.

And you can make that happen by using a BRACES approach to hold up your content marketing strategy – brave, researched, astute, credible, educational (not just entertaining), and skimmable.

When it’s done right, it’s possible to create content that sometimes challenge assumptions (brave), but people believe because it’s based on real research (researched). It credibly assesses situations so readers can turn challenges into advantages (astute). It is believable (credible) for the same reasons. And it seeks to expand the reader’s knowledge (educational). And, ironically, it is easy to flip through – readers can dip in and out at will (skimmable).

B is for brave content

If you aren’t a bit afraid your content isn’t going to perform, you’re not being brave enough. Try something new or different. It doesn’t have to be a massive shift. Sure, new content forms and formats are fabulous, but sometimes brave content just means inserting a CTA in a different place or asking someone in your company who isn’t on the marketing team to write it. Or trying a new distribution tactic like printing one of your blog articles and sticking it on the back of the restroom stall door to raise awareness.

If you aren’t a bit afraid your #content isn’t going to perform, you’re not being brave enough. @GBalarin #writingtips Click To Tweet

R is for (well) researched content

Are content creators doing their homework before they submit a piece of content? Sadly, no. It’s not always possible. So if their content sounds similar to something else already out there (and I’m not talking about plagiarism), they probably haven’t done the research.

But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do some homework. It’s easy to do research. Gone are the days of having to drive to a library and figure out the Dewey Decimal System to find credible resources. You can use Google (smartly). You can do it without event typing in a word thanks to tools like Amazon Echo. Do your homework, folks.

A is for astute content

Being able to “accurately assess situations or people and turn this to one’s advantage” is the definition of astute.

Be honest. Is your content astute? Most marketers think if it generates leads, it is. But don’t underestimate the value of content for driving brand value, capturing that feel-good factor or just helping people.

Here’s the challenge to all marketers – accurately assess what information your audience needs in relation to your industry or your brand and create content that helps them help themselves.

TIP: Don’t guess what your audience needs. Ask your existing customers.

Don’t guess what your audience needs. Ask your existing customers, says @GBalarin. #writingtips Click To Tweet

C is for credible content

There’s a reason that fake news exists – it’s sensational. But it isn’t credible. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. I was once nearly convinced that Russian fighter jets were flying over the United Kingdom and the outbreak of World War III was imminent. (On investigation, this intriguing piece was designed to illustrate how easy it is to fake the news.)

Do your readers a favor: Make your content credible. Include links to relevant sources, conduct interviews with customers, ask your internal experts for their opinions. All of these steps contribute toward making content credible.

Do your readers a favor. Make your #content credible, says @GBalarin. #writingtips Click To Tweet

E is for educational content

When I consume content, I expect to learn something I didn’t know. It doesn’t have to be completely new information – sometimes the art of inspiring new thoughts lies in simply framing it in a new way. But the content should at least make me feel like it didn’t waste my time in consuming it.

Is your content educating your audience? If not, mix it up. Add facts and stats, tips and tricks, advice and guidance, insights and thoughts. Here’s a lesson from a gum wrapper. As a child I enjoyed Chappies bubblegum. Inside each wrapper was a series of factoids such as “Did you know? Astronauts become a little taller in space due to lack of gravity.” Create content that answers at least some “did-you-know” type questions for your prospects or target audience.

Image source

S is for skimmable content

Another lesson that gum wrappers can teach us is to make content skimmable. The Content Marketing Institute does an excellent job of this by breaking up content pieces with headings, images, click-to-tweet pullouts, and even CTAs.

Don’t forget that no matter how great you think your content is and no matter how much effort you put into creating it, time is short. Create content your audience can skim. It can still be compelling enough to bring people back or to entice them to read every word from the beginning, but if it isn’t skimmable in the first place, they’ll just ignore it.

One last tip to raise your content bar (or BRACES)

The power of stories should be treated with respect. Give them a story from beginning to end. Woo them, tantalize them, and make them fall in love with your brand. Include a narrative, a hero, a plot, a sense of achievement, and a sense of resolution – or, at the least – the desire for resolution (which, of course, leads directly to your CTA).

But most importantly, use stories to give your audience the inspiration they need to reach a future state (thanks to your brand’s content and/or products and services); educate them about the unanticipated consequences of not solving their problems (and show them how you can help them); and (obviously) create a sense of urgency or at least understanding.

And never forget, the stories should revolve around the target audience – your prospects and customers.

Go beyond the content bar set by your audience, so you don’t raise their barriers

To make sure you create content that doesn’t disappoint your audience and (re)gains their trust:

  • Deliver on your promises. Don’t give your audience a reason to raise their content barriers.
  • Use the BRACES approach to give your audience what they need, not what they want.
  • Make your audience the focus of your stories.

In so doing, we can all keep content standards so high that disappointing our audience simply becomes unthinkable.

CMI can help you get your BRACES in shape every weekday. Subscribe to the free newsletter with ideas, tips, inspiration, and more.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute