The perfect pick

A  guide to the different elements of content strategy and how to pick the perfect content to maximise impact

Let’s face it, there’s a lot of content out there. Wherever you’re reading this, the chances are you aren’t far from a stack of books, a bunch of free newspapers and magazines and a click away from an apparently infinite universe of content. I wonder if the chaps at Google talk ever think twice about setting out to “organise all the world’s content” (I may have paraphrased that)? If anyone can do it, it’s Google, but the task is getting harder by the second.

As a marketer, you’ll have been told recently that the key to success lies in adding to this existing content universe. If you’re sure you have something worth saying, that will engage and excite customers or potential customers, then you face the next choice. What form should that content take? Is it a pithy, 500-word op-ed piece, a series of short animations, or a 10,000-word research report?

The bad (and good) news here is that there are few hard and fast rules. But form does tend to follow function. If you’re sure what you want to achieve, then the how is easier to define. With the caveat that all the following only makes sense when you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, here’s my guide to content types…

  1. Video

The chance to put together a sexy, high-impact and well-produced film is always appealing. It is also an excellent way to waste an inordinate amount of cash. Take a moment before breaking out the director’s chair and shouting “action”. Films work well to liven up boring subject matter or to simplify the complex. Plenty of people find it easier to watch people telling them something than to read about it. And while it can still be cripplingly expensive (especially if you insist on stunts and special effects) production costs have tumbled in recent years. But be aware that while it is possible to produce short, cheap films, it takes more creative thinking to make cheap look good. If you don’t have big budgets, think twice before blowing it on video. Also, think about who will be watching, and where. If your target audience will all be in the office, does a film with a loud soundtrack make sense? If after all this thinking you decide you want a film (and they can have great impact), keep it short. Viewer attention is surprisingly hard to maintain for more than a couple of minutes. Click here, for more on effective videos.

Good for: High impact
Avoid if: You don’t have much money

  1. Animation

Another great way to make complex messages easier to digest, animation is also a potentially powerful way to blow a budget. To avoid that, the message again is keep it short and simple. Avoid overlaying too many styles and ideas in one animation. Pick a style that’s appropriate for the audience, and work out your key messages. A good animator will be able to turn that into a simple storyboard for you. They’ll also help decide whether to have a voiceover or soundtrack and pull it together for you. Invest as much as you can here. Plenty of good animations turn bad when people decide to save money by doing a voiceover in-house.

Good for: Explaining complex ideas
Avoid if: Your message is too simple

  1. Short-form article

There is an on-going debate about the “natural” reader attention span for online content. While some feel there’s a place for longer content, others maintain the internet is about keeping things short. While the vast majority of online content is “short-form” (defined here as under 1,000 words), this covers a wide variety of writing, from most news stories to short Q&A pieces (“5 mins with…”) to comment and opinion pieces, to mini-features or news analysis pieces. Using a series of related articles can be a good way to keep readers engaged (assuming your site is set-up to make links obvious) and it can help spread a budget over longer. Writers also like commissions involving a high degree of regular work.

Good for: News content and keeping readers engaged
Avoid if: You want to make a single big impact

  1. Feature article

This is a content category that’s as long as it is wide. With a word count broadly between 1,000 and 3,000 (at which point you get into special report territory) and as many styles and approaches as you can think of (lists, interviews, investigative features, essays, technical updates) it’s tricky to determine when this is the best approach. In summary, if you want to cover any subject in detail (whether that’s a top 50 list or an in-depth profile interview) you will probably struggle to do a good job in fewer than 1,000 words. If so, commission long.

Good for: Classic feature content
Avoid if: You want lots of related content or news stories

  1. Infographic

The current hot-button, go-to content category, this is also one of the most widely abused terms in content marketing. Let’s be clear, an infographic is not just a bunch of graphs. Nor is it lots of words with a few icons dotted here and there. A good infographic is a graphical representation of some data that adds reader insight, creating something new and boosting how your audience perceives and understands the data. Read this for an insight into the creative process behind a good infographic.

Good for: Giving audiences a visual surprise
Avoid if: You just want to show lots of graphs

  1. Special report

Currently more popularly known in marketing circles as a “white paper” or (more annoyingly) as “thought leadership”. The extended report is an essential asset for positioning your company as being at the front of some new trend. It is a great way of really packing in lots of content. Make sure you have something worth saying or worth researching, put the budget behind it and do it properly. Needless to say, take the time to invest in design time at the end of the process. If you expect and want readers to take the time to read through the report, then show them the respect of taking the time to make it easy to read. And at all costs avoid use of “quick and dirty” PR-driven research, especially where it is hooked too obviously to a sales angle for your company.

Good for: Research content
Avoid if: You’re only doing it to sell stuff

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