Ask a group of online marketers what engaging content means, and you will get a lot of different answers.
The answers are almost as varied as the 31 flavors of ice cream available at a Baskin-Robbins. Each definition expresses different tastes and temperaments.
Like the basic ingredients that make up different ice cream flavors, certain qualities emerge from the varying definitions that provide insight into the meaning of the word “engaging.” Such qualities include relevant, unique, entertaining, educational, and narrative.
These qualities, while basic and indispensable, do not get to the heart of the matter.
The problem can be stated this way: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In other words, we cannot grasp the true nature of engaging content by simply enumerating its various qualities.
A working definition of engaging web content
Rather than trying to define engaging content as an abstract concept, I prefer to think in more concrete terms. Let’s think about engaging content from the perspective of what it is supposed to achieve.
Simply stated, engaging content is conversation for the purpose of getting people to know, like, and trust you so they will buy your products or services.
Keep that working definition in mind as you progress through the subsequent lessons in this series.
Before you get down to the task of actually creating engaging web content, you need to understand how the Internet has changed the way we do business.
The Internet has changed everything (well, almost everything)
The Internet has changed how we communicate with each other. This change has had a profound effect on how we conduct business.
As David Meerman Scott says in his book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR, the rules have changed.
The old rules of traditional media (radio, television, newspapers, magazines, direct mail) are based on an outdated concept that sees marketing as merely advertising.
Messages are aimed at a mass market that interrupt people for the sole purpose of selling. There is no dialogue; communication is one-way.
With digital media, however, smart marketers have gone beyond the advertising model and taken on a publishing model. In this new approach, marketers communicate with buyers directly based on permission.
Not only have the rules changed, but also the nature of conversations on the web are different in important ways from face-to-face interactions.
How conversations on the web are different
Two things distinguish conversations on the Web from their offline counterparts: (1) the medium through which they take place and (2) the form of the message in which they are presented.
The medium is the message
The Internet as a medium influences how your marketing messages are perceived by your readers.
Doing business online has become an accepted practice. But it pays to understand that the Internet originated as a medium of communication, not commerce.
People’s expectations in the digital world are different than in the bricks-and-mortar world. They see the Web as a place to connect and share information. They respond better to conversation rather than blatant sales pitches.
Your marketing messages should focus on your audience first as a way to satisfy their need for connection and information. That is the heart of content marketing in a nutshell.
It’s not (just) what you say, but how you say it
In the digital world as in the analog world, how you say something is just as important as what you say.
The standard advice for writing on the web is to write like you talk. What this means in practice is to write conversationally as if you were talking to a friend.
As in any conversation, you want to use the language that your readers understand.
If you are to succeed as a digital marketer, your web content must include keywords that your visitors use when searching online to find products or services like yours. At the same time, you must avoid gobbledygook or jargon that your readers can’t relate to.
While word choice is important, voice and tone also play a big part in communicating a message. The challenge you face as a writer and marketer is conveying these qualities through written, rather than spoken, words.
Voice is an expression of your unique personality. Rather than being stiff and formal, aim for a voice that is informal while being informative and authoritative.
You want to speak with one voice to reinforce your branding, but your tone will vary depending on circumstances.
Sometimes your tone may be serious when conveying information about legal matters or policy. Other times you may be casual or funny depending on the type of message and the audience. For most situations, however, being friendly and approachable is appropriate.
The different kinds of conversations (and why they matter)
As a digital marketer, you will have different kinds of conversations with your online audience. These differences are based on your buyer personas and what stage they are at in the buying process.
When developing content for your website, you can create different scenarios to address your audience’s concerns as they move from one stage of the buying cycle to the next.
For example, if you are writing to first-time visitors who are in the early stages, they may be conducting research to help them make an informed decision.
Or if you are writing for returning visitors who already know you and are ready to buy, you will need a different approach. At this stage, you would want to promote the benefits of your offer and overcome any objections they may have.
If you don’t properly match your web content to your personas and the type of conversation that they need or expect, you will fail to engage your readers and lose your chance to convert them into buyers.
How do you learn about your buyers and what they need? That is the subject of the next lesson. Stay tuned.