Alternately, I could have titled this post, “How to Impress People by Sounding Like You Know What You’re Talking About,” and, for the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that you actually do know what you’re talking about. You’re an expert in your field and you want that expertise to be reflected in your content marketing.
This is not always the case. Some people attempt content marketing without the prerequisite expertise in their industries and, as a result, their content ends up either absurdly uninformed or bland, derivative, and useless. I find it telling that SEO guru Rand Fishkin, when asked about his pet peeves in a recent interview with HubSpot, said, “…many marketers are, tragically, making content because they think they're supposed to and not because they have something truly valuable to say/share.”
If you ask me, the whole industry made a mistake when we labelled what we do “content marketing.” (I’ve mentioned this before.) If you want to actually bring potential buyers to your business’s website—and keep them there—content, in and of itself, isn’t going to get the job done. It’s what the content says that matters, especially now that the search engines have wised up to the little SEO games online marketers used to play.
All this is to say, if you don’t have anything unique, insightful, or genuinely helpful to say about your industry—the kind of things an expert would say—this article isn’t for you. Your first step before launching a content marketing campaign should be to develop that expertise.
Everyone else, read on.
Real Experts Make the Best Experts
A recent article by Peyman Nilforoush for the Content Marketing Institute has been making the rounds recently at my agency. In his article, Nilforoush discusses the results of a Nielsen study commissioned by the Content Marketing Institute on the effectiveness of three different content types: expert content, user generated content, and branded content.
Expert content (defined as “credible, third-party articles and reviews from unbiased journalists”), says Nilforoush, is essential for establishing a “baseline of trust” with readers: “A baseline of trust is critical to your brand’s success with consumers, and the quickest route to building a solid foundation of trust is to lead with credible, expert content (what credible journalists say about you, instead of what you say about yourself or what you incentivize others to say about you.)”
Readers will always trust the opinions of (perceived) unbiased experts over biased businesspeople who are trying to create new customers, so as a content creator, you will always have one strike against you. Even your “informational” and “educational” content is “branded content” in the sense that its creator has a preference in how readers act after reading it. There is no way around this. But, I think you can soften the blow a bit, establishing yourself through your tone, writing style, and attitude as a trusted expert first and a salesperson second. Here are a few ways to do that:
This is what inauthentic content sounds like:
“Best practices in the healthcare industry call for multiple approaches to treating headaches. These approaches are…”
This is what more authentic content sounds like:
“I’ve been a family doctor for 15 years and in that time, I’ve treated patients with every kind of headache imaginable. I’ve learned from trial and error what works best. Let me share that with you…”
The difference is the first example sounds like it was written by a robot, or, if not a robot, a poorly-paid freelance writer who just wanted to get on to the next assignment. The second example sounds more like it was written by a real person with real experiences and real insights gained from those experiences.
When you write content, try to sound like a real person. This is harder when the person writing your content isn’t you, but it is still possible to pass on your authentic voice to an outsourced writer. One way to do it is to have the writer interview and record you. Another way is to make sure your writer is equipped with stories about your real experiences to draw upon when writing your articles.
Tell the Truth
Readers value the opinion of unbiased experts because readers assume that, without bias, experts will tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. As I said above, you can’t eliminate the bias in your content, but you can do your readers a favor by being as honest as possible. Remember, you’re trying to be a trusted expert, not a salesperson. Don’t make trumped up claims that aren’t true. Don’t exaggerate your success. If your competitors’ solutions aren’t entirely bad, don’t act as if they are. If you don’t know the answer to a problem, don’t act as if you do.
The Internet contains a lot of information and it’s easy to access. If you make false claims or share false information, it won’t be too hard for readers to find out the right information. Dishonesty will only hurt you in the long run.
Lose the Tunnel Vision
One very effective way to establish yourself as an expert in your industry is to expand your definition of your industry. People may never see you as an unbiased thinker about whatever it is your business, specifically, does, but there are all kinds of over things related to your business that you can weigh in on.
For example, take a look at the HubSpot blog. Its headlines today (June 20, 2014) include:
- “15 of Google’s Coolest Doodles”
- “Want to Motivate Your Sales Team? Try Something Other Than Money”
- “60 Marketing Acronyms Every Marketing Pro Should Know”
None of these is specifically about HubSpot’s core business—marketing automation—but by establishing itself as a voice in the ongoing online conversation about marketing and technology in general, HubSpot gains the trust of its readers for when they do become interested in talking about marketing automation.
This is what we marketers are talking about when we talk about “thought leadership.” As I’ve noted before, I don’t really like that term, but it does serve a purpose. Thought leaders are leaders because people trust them; they have demonstrated they know what they’re talking about and their ideas—their thoughts—should be taken seriously. If you start writing and acting like an expert, your readers might take your articles more seriously, too.