(The following post is part 2 of the previous post, Does Snackable Content Engage Your Prospects?)

Now that we’ve laid this groundwork… maybe NOW you’re ready…maybe NOW we can bring in those watermelons and I can share the secret of holding your audience’s attention.

One more thing, though.

How does this information apply to agency new business content and communications?

Ah, yes. That.  This is where I’ve landed on this question.

We all know prospecting emails and B2B content tend to lean towards the utilitarian.  The marketers we’re trying to reach are not your average consumer and we’re not Netflix or YouTube.  Our audiences aren’t expecting compelling stories or content worth tweeting about.  However, whether they know it or not, they are susceptible to tension building tactics and relish a good story as much as anyone else.

When it comes to outreach emails, your primary goal should still be to communicate clearly and directly, but that’s not to say you can’t build elements of tension into these touchpoints.  In your new business outreach quiver, you should possess different types of prospecting emails, each with its own specialized purpose. You should occasionally dust off that intro/case study/webinar/blog post email you’ve been using for months and give it a polish.

Are you cutting the tension of your email off at the knees by leading with the payoff?  Are you laying it on too thick and overhyping a weak blog post?  Do your case study email subject lines whimper into the inbox when they could be roaring?

Look out across the entire spectrum of your outreach emails and ask yourself:  Where are the opportunities to build suspense and curiosity?

Be the Reality TV Editor Your Audience Deserves

Recently over a beer, a colleague confessed to bingeing on Bachelor in Paradise for an entire weekend.  I won’t judge the man for what he does in the privacy of his own home and I would hate to reveal his identity because he’s a respected colleague and upstanding member of society…but his name is Lee McKnight Jr., VP Sales at RSW/US. (Note from Lee: I regret nothing, but I am dumber for it.)

If you want to ask Lee about his Bachelor in Paradise Fan Club find him on Twitter or Linkedin or email him.

I’ve outed Lee to illustrate something Andrew Davis pointed out about creating a curiosity gap.  The Reality TV Editor is the undisputed champ of using curiosity gaps to create tension.  How else can we explain the fascination with such banal, trivial subject matter as Bachelors, Kardashians, Dancing Celebrities, and Projects Runway?  Reality TV Editors are master manipulators of their audience’s need to know more.

I’m going to focus on case studies at the moment because that’s a content type that most agencies are likely to create.  Also, while any outreach email can do with some punching up, it’s case studies and blog posts that can benefit the most from some showmanship and sparkle.

Many agencies excel at crafting a compelling narrative with their case studies but just as many see their case studies as little more than a vehicle to boast of client results.  I won’t dispute that ROI is important.  Showing a significant increase in ROI can, on its own, be a powerful motivator for a prospect to take notice.  However, ROI stats alone don’t provide context or show prospects why a result was so significant and why the agency’s unique approach matters so much.

These types of case studies will usually try to get away with doing the bare minimum, which is stating the scope of the client’s project, describing the components of the solution, and rattling off the results.  This gets the point across, but doesn’t this approach make the relationship between the agency and its client seem too, I don’t know, transactional?  Not that “transactional” is a four-letter word, but blech.  What this does is paint the agency as little more than a merchant or worse yet a vendor.

Don’t commoditize yourselves agencies! 

If you can help prospects see your clients as innocent villagers that had a dragon problem, guess who gets to be the knight that slew the dragon.

How do you take a bare-bones case study to the next level?  Try thinking a little more like a Reality TV Editor.  Let’s briefly touch on the first component of the standard 3-part case study structure, The Challenge, to give you a few things to consider. (And we also plan on expanding more on case study writing in future posts.)

The Challenge or Act I: Woe to the Innocent Villagers

Knowing your audience helps.  A lot!

It’s asking a lot of one case study to showcase the entirety of your capabilities, culture, and unique approach.  Don’t try to make a case study be all things to all prospects.  It can be done but the case study is almost always weaker for trying.

The good news is that if you’re building your prospect lists according to your expertise and client experience, you’re already starting off on the right foot.  You’ll have a better idea of who you are and how you’re selling yourself and this will inform your messaging.  Your experience, and thus your case studies, will naturally align with your target prospects and speaking to your prospects’ pain points becomes as easy as dramatizing your former/current clients’ challenges.

What were your clients’ anxieties before you came on the scene?  What were they in danger of losing?  What was their vision of who they wanted to be?

Clearly laying out the answers to these questions in the opening of a case study will either get your prospect nodding in agreement or mulling over something they’ve had trouble articulating.  By setting the scene, you’ve more effectively cast yourself as the hero who will swoop in during Act II of the case study.

The Payoff

Maybe this whole post is a waste of time.  Maybe trying to inject a few elements of storytelling into your outreach emails or case studies is too lofty or high-falutin’.  Sales should be practical.  Prospects only want to know if you can give them good ROI, right?

Here’s what I’ll say about that.  In agency new business, methods will change. Channels will change.  Your prospect targets will change.  This will happen in what seems like the blink of an eye.

What changes much more slowly are people.  That’s people with a capital P.  Humans have been about the same type of creature for the past 200,000 years.  We’ve been weaving stories and trying to place our daily trials and tribulations into a grander context since day one.  Do you really think the artists creating early cave paintings didn’t make a buffalo’s horns a little sharper or a herd more numerous to raise the stakes?

With that, I think it’s finally time to get to those watermelons.  You’ve earned it.

In his talk at CMWorld, Andrew Davis offered examples of two very similar pieces of content that took entirely different approaches to entertaining their audiences.  In both, the content providers mutilate melons for our enjoyment.

One is from the Slow Mo Guys, a very popular channel on Youtube.  The Slow Mo guys create videos for their over 11 million strong subscribers following a tried-and-true formula, show a cool thing and then show that cool thing in slow motion.

Its videos are the very definition of snackable, few are much longer than 5-7 minutes, titles tell you exactly what to expect, and they’re all payoff!  They linger on the payoff, they luxuriate in the payoff, they wallow in the payoff.  They take what is, in essence, a few seconds of actual footage and stretch it out for minutes.

Compare and contrast this to what Buzzfeed did in a FB live stream with their Rubber Band Watermelon event.  Over the course of the 45-minute live FB event, two Buzzfeed “scientists” added rubber bands around a watermelon, one at a time.  The goal was to determine how many rubber bands it takes to implode a watermelon.  Stupid, right?  Yes, but also a masterclass in creating tension and holding an audience’s attention.  At its peak, 807,000 viewers tuned in and many watched for the whole 45-minute live stream.

In those 45 minutes, viewers despaired at their life choices.

Others forsook their familial obligations…

Then when the glorious moment finally arrived, the internet rejoiced.

The takeaway is this: People Aren’t Goldfish.

Social media and snackable content haven’t melted our brains…yet.  Our problem – as content-makers, marketers, salespeople – is that at some point we began to feel that we’re entitled to our audience’s time.

To grab, and more importantly hold, our prospects’ attention we have to earn it, continuously and continually.

The secret of holding your audience’s attention lies in the noblest of gourds, the watermelon.  More specifically, what you do to that watermelon and more precisely how you do it.

But more on that…later.

This year our marketing communications team once again attended the Content Marketing World Conference & Expo in sunny Cleveland.  As usual, we were flooded with a deluge of information.

After a marketing conference, there’s always a period of time when I have to wrestle between two opposing impulses.  There’s the push from the fire in my belly to evangelize the loftier and aspirational tidbits of wisdom I’ve absorbed to my co-workers.  And then there’s the pull from the voice in my head telling me to cut the crap and juice the experience for all the best practices that I can.

I usually end up somewhere in the middle.

Case in point, Andrew Davis’s keynote on the Curiosity Factor, which smacked me over the head with the most powerful, “Duh! Of Course!” moment of the conference.  He talked about creating content that grabs and holds an audience’s attention.  It was an excellent topic and he’s a superb speaker to boot.  Check him out when you have a spare minute.

I can’t do his keynote justice in this post but I’ll try to summarize his main points.  And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the watermelons.

Snackable Content Detox

We’ve all heard the term “snackable content,” haven’t we?  That’s media that audiences can quickly and easily digest and the conventional wisdom these days is that content needs to be shorter.  It needs to be snackable.  Yum, yum, yum.

But why do we think our content needs to be snackable?

Because audiences have the attention span of goldfish!  Or, so the argument goes.  Social media has ravaged the tender part of our brains that allows us to focus on anything for more than a few seconds.  Studies have shown it, so it must be true.

And, and, and…no one has time!  We’re movers and shakers.  We’ve got things to do and people to see.  Everyone wants 5 minutes of our time, but we can only spare 3 minutes, and we started the clock 2 minutes ago.

So, short content has quickly become the standard.  The snackier the better.

But doesn’t this conclusion seem simplistic?  Especially considering how long we spend on Facebook, YouTube and Netflix?

It’s Andrew Davis’s conclusion that the progressive shortening of our content leads to one thing: the removal of everything that makes it interesting.  We underestimate our audience’s capability and willingness to stick with us, and we undervalue the message or story we’re trying to communicate.  It’s a feedback loop that leads to increasingly less compelling content and evermore disinterested audiences.

Many marketers and content producers today are chasing engagement, which in the current climate means grabbing someone’s attention.  But they forget that “attention” is an active noun.  It happens over time.  You can’t grab it, stuff it in your pocket and run.  You have to hold someone’s attention.

A Curiosity Gap is Nothing to Be Afraid Of

The missing element in snackable content and why it can’t hold our attention is its lack of a curiosity gap, the gulf between what your audience knows and what they want to know.

The thinking behind shorter, snackable content is that audiences want us to prune our content until the only thing left is the payoff – the funny, scary, exciting, sad, happy thing.  But is payoff what audiences really want?

Let’s try an experiment.

**SPOILER ALERT!**

Aha!  Your heart clenched for a second there, didn’t it?  For a moment, you might have even closed your eyes for fear of spoilage.  For some of you, just seeing those words, even without knowing the context will make you cringe. But why?

Because payoffs aren’t the prize!  Audiences think they want to know “The Thing,” the answer to the question, the payoff, but what they really want is tension.  They crave it.  They just don’t know that they crave it.

But they do understand the concept of tension subconsciously.  That’s why they shy away from spoilers.  Spoilers don’t spoil the payoff; that remains the same.  Spoilers spoil the tension.

If you accept this and decide you want to add tension to your content, building a curiosity gap is the way to do it.  Teasing your audience with a promise of a payoff, withholding that payoff, giving them just enough information to keep them on the hook.  The longer you do these things the more your audience will desire the eventual payoff.  Tension begs for release and the higher the tension the greater the need for release.

The caveat is that the payoff and the tension need to be proportionally about the same in scope.  In other words, if your payoff is worthwhile, feel free to ratchet the tension up and make the audience work for it.  If your payoff is weak, don’t venture into clickbait territory, lest you betray your audience’s trust.

Andrew Davis provides this formula: Attention = (Tension/Time) x Payoff.  Seems scientific enough to me.

In Part 2 of this post, we’ll get to the watermelons, and how it applies directly to your agency new business content and communications.

This final post on my three-part series, Release Your Inner Curator, provides the fifth and final step in the content curation process.

In addition, I’ve provided some thoughts on worthwhile curation apps available to simplify the process.

content curation

Step Five: Share your curated content

Sharing your findings can be as simple sending them in an email to your prospects.  However, the more thought you put into this part of your program, the more sustainable it’ll be over the long term.

Let’s go through some of your options for publishing your curated content.

  1. A weekly digest sent in newsletter format to your prospect list.
  2. Posted on your agency website, either as part of your blog or on its own.
  3. Shared via social media channels.

My suggestion is to do all of these, but you should also keep the original scope of your program in mind.

If your original goal was to replace your maybe-not-so-good blogging with a more consistent and time effective alternative, you may want to post the content to your site.  If you’re looking for an extra touchpoint or a follow up to your agency’s already strong blogging effort, it may be that you’ll only want to share your curated content a couple of times a month in a newsletter format or even spaced throughout the week on social media channels.

Let your goals dictate your deployment.

 

**For all you Moneybag$ out there**

So far, time has been the only limiting resource I’ve considered.  Anyone with a computer and an internet connection could conceivably follow these steps to get started on the road to content curation bliss.

But what if thy pockets are of a deep and spendy nature?  Well, then you can really make some big things happen.

There are dozens and dozens of content curation apps out there, and while many of them have free entry level versions, for the really powerful features, you’ll have to unleash the credit card.  Let’s talk about just a couple of these tools.

Basic free Feedly is great, but the Pro and Team versions make it possible for you to crowdsource your curation efforts quite a bit with team knowledge boards, group article annotation, and the ability to create a URL linking to your collections of feeds.

On top of that, the possibility of app integration can really increase your productivity.  Using something like Zapier or IFTTT, you can create recipes (automation workflows) that connect various apps together to save you time.  Want to create an RSS feed of all of your Feedly saved articles, which you can then email? Or maybe you want your saved articles to be sent to your Buffer queue, which would then disseminate them to all your social media channels?

Is it nerdy to think that automation’s really cool?

But, let’s suppose you want to go even deeper and forget all of this app integration nonsense.  Maybe you want one content curation tool to be your everything.  You’re in luck you lovable, lazy, and apparently budget-rich marketer.  There are software platforms out there that can be your go-to content curation tool, the apple of your content curation eye.

Curata, PublishThis, and Trapit are a few platforms that offer all-in-one content curation services.  Curata, for example, utilizes artificial intelligence to allow users to fine-tune its search engine, which will increase the relevancy of the content it finds over time.  In addition, publishing is enabled from within the software, so you can easily share content to your blog, social media, and marketing automation platform.

Convenience like this doesn’t come cheap, of course, but you’ll may find that as your hunger for curated content grows, paying for premium curation software starts to make a lot more sense.

In conclusion…because the word count of this series of posts* is embarrassingly high

Prospects want the Content.

Find the Content.

Curate the Content.

Give prospects the Content.

The Content will make you both strong.

(Please, give them the Content. If you don’t feed your prospects, who will?)


*This three part-series, Release Your Inner Curator, includes the following previous posts:

— Part 1:  Set your curation strategy.  Choose a topic

Part 2:  Gather sources.   Provide your own insight.

 

Content creation is like panning for gold

Release Your Inner Curator

 

If you read our recent post, “Is your blogging bad? Maybe you should try content curation…,” you may be starting to feel your inner curator stirring.  The post introduced the idea of content curation for new business development.

Over the next three weeks, we’ll show the steps you can take to gear up a content curation program of your own.  The first two steps follow here.

Step One: Set Your Curation Strategy.

The first decision you’ll have to make is how big you want to go.  This will determine the scope of your efforts and will guide you towards the tools you’ll need to accomplish your goals.

For some businesses, content curation is the core of their inbound marketing effort.  An entire site or microsite may be devoted to sharing their curated content, and the company’s lead generation may live and die by the strength of this website alone.

But for discussion sake in this series, let’s say you want to start small, especially since many of the concepts we present over the next three weeks will upscale nicely.

Maybe sharing a monthly digest of curated posts and articles with your prospects will suffice; or maybe sourcing content to bolster your agency’s presence on various social media outlets is what you’re looking for.

Begin with the end in mind.  Specify the results you want your curation strategy to deliver, and build your strategy to deliver them.

Step Two: Choose a topic.

Some agencies may struggle with this aspect of the process, if only because it requires that they take a conceptual leap in how they approach new business.

As an organizing principle, you’re going to want to choose a topic that will guide your search for content sources.  It has to be specific enough to appeal to your audience and set you apart from competition, but general enough that you can find content reliably.

So, as an agency, have you even defined an audience yet?  Have you differentiated your agency positioning?

(Differentiation! We write enough posts about you.  Get out of here,  you little rascal.)

If you have carved out a unique agency positioning, then you’ll know who your audience is and your content curation has a much better chance of being successful.

Search for blogs, articles and other content that will appeal to your prospects – on the topic of “small business social media marketing” for example – and see if you can find enough sources with quality posts updated on a regular basis.  It may take some fine tuning, but eventually you should be able to dial in on the level of specificity that suits your needs.

…Coming Next

Next week, we’ll present the next two steps to bring out the inner curator in you:

  • Gather Sources
  • Provide Your Own Insight

In the meantime, give thought to your strategy and topic. These two steps set a solid foundation for content curation, and will facilitate the new business results you seek for your firm.

found-gold

 

Your blog, no matter how good it is, will never beat the internet.  It just can’t.

For an agency, seeking to engage with an audience by adding value to their lives with meaningful content, here’s one stat to consider.  According to WordPress, their users produce 64.3 million new posts a month!

64.3M with a capital M.  That single kind-of-weekly post you’ve coaxed your intern into writing during their lunch breaks amounts to less than a drop in the bucket.  Heck, it’s not landing anywhere near the bucket.

panning-for-content-curation

Don’t take this to mean that we think blogging and creating other content is futile.  We blog, we video, we webinar.  It’s a lot of work, but we love it.  And the bottom line is that it helps our business.

Creating content is important because your agency has insight to share about its industry.  (That’s not a question, it’s a statement.  Trust us – your agency has insight to share about its industry.)  If you have the time and resources to create good content then do it – write blog posts, film videos, host webinars.  Wade into the internet and make your mark.

But, what if you don’t have the time and resources to sustain a consistent and high quality content creation effort?  That shouldn’t stop you from providing your audience something of value that can help deepen your relationship with them. Consider content curation.

Content Creation

 

What is content curation?

In much the same way a museum curates a collection, a content curator aims to sort through the massive amounts of content available on the web in order to present an audience with the most relevant and meaningful information possible.

At its most basic level, content curation involves selecting a topic, gathering content from around the web about that topic, evaluating the material you’ve found based on relevance, providing your own insight to give the piece some context, and then publishing your findings.  There are various free tools online that can help with each step of the process, or you can get out the credit card and pay for a platform that automates many of these processes.

This curated content can live on your site and drive inbound traffic.  Or, it could be formatted into a weekly newsletter digest to send to your prospects.  Or both.

What’s in it for me?

Some of you may be asking, “Aren’t people already finding their own content? Haven’t they ever heard of a Google search? Why would they want us to curate content for them? What does my agency get out of it? I’m hungry…what’s for lunch? Has the intern finished my post yet?”

The answer to all, or most, of these questions is, “Time.”

Your prospects have limited time.  You have limited time.  Remember the 64.3 million posts a month on WordPress?  Not all of that information is going to be content gold and much of it won’t address the needs of your prospects.

By finding the best content on topics your audience cares about, evaluating it, and contextualizing it you’re providing a service that will help your readers cut through the noise.  If your agency has staked out a differentiated position and you’ve selected a topic that is focused on their needs, your content curation will eventually begin to lend you authority as a thought leader in your sector, even though the content you’re curating isn’t your own.

How do you curate content?

Well…come back next week for more on that.  We’ll talk about the entry level version – how to get started if you all you can do is read, write, and access the internet – and the deluxe version – forking over some cash to access the power of automation and artificial intelligence.

Yeah…that’s right. A.I. like the hit 2001 movie starring Haley Joel Osment, but way better.

I just spent the last few days at the Content Marketing World 2016 Conference in Cleveland, and this is the first post in a series that will cover what I suspect are the most significant trends that are already shifting the way the marketing industry works.

content-marketing-world

One key message that underscored a great many keynotes and presentations was this:

Every brand – whether it be small and personal or massive and corporate –now has the opportunity (or even mandate) to be their own media channel or studio.

The media mainstays of the last century (TV, film, radio and print) are not going away – but they are aggressively being challenged and circumvented. One reason is that viewers are abandoning or reducing their engagement with these at a rapid rate in favor of digital and social.

Also, now that digital has become the default for most communications, viewers can easily hack around the standard methods used for delivering marketing-based messaging (DVR and pop-up blockers, to name a few).

As pre-digital media continues to become less effective – new technologies and platforms are allowing everyone to craft their own content and distribute it. And a growing number of brands are beginning to embrace this model – and these are the ones that are going to win.

Some of the featured consultants at CMW 2016 went so far as to say that we are quickly moving to a point where brands should now be media first, and producers of products and services second.

For those who respond to these statements with a ‘wait and see’ attitude, or think that they can get along just fine without an ambitious content strategy, I’d like to offer Margaret Magnarelli, Senior Director, Marketing at Monster.com as evidence.

Ms. Magnarelli has developed a content marketing team that develops and delivers material divided into the three distinct categories, which she has termed: How (educational), Now (news/trends) and Wow (entertaining and engagement-driven).

Her 12-person content strategy team also has a full-time videographer, which recently helped to produce this parody recipe video for cooking up the perfect resume. The relative cost for her team to put it together: about $1,200 – including the $500 camera stand needed to get the vertical shot. She estimated that an agency would have billed her about $10-25K for a similar piece. Most of the items featured in the video came from a dollar store.

As for results, her content strategy approach for targeting the job hunters of the world has elevated their page views from 27.5 million page views in 2015 to 45.3 million this year.


If agencies view this shift as being simply the relocation of work in-house, they would be missing the larger point.

Because brands that are working this way are not simply co-opting the agency side of the equation – they are taking over as much of the process as the internet and their own imagination will allow.

For agencies – the lesson here is twofold:

  • First, campaigns and projects may now be intended for distribution from within the brand’s own media network, rather than purchasing placement in standard and exterior outlets (TV, print, etc.).
  • Second, in order to serve in this new model, agencies will also have to embrace it as well. Case studies and client work are all well and good, but as more brands begin to leverage themselves as media studios in their own right, and produce content designed to instruct and delight their audiences, agencies will have to show that they are playing the same game. And at an admirably high level to be invited to the table.

They used to say that content was king. Now, it’s the entire kingdom – and everyone is getting a chance to rule.

splashkingdompharaohpic

ANA recently posted this brief video featuring Robert Rose, chief strategist at the Content Marketing Institute, suggesting that organizations can drive more value out of content marketing by looking at it as a business strategy instead rather than a tactic.

In this brief video, Rose stresses that content marketing should not be viewed as a “supercharged” marketing campaign.

Rather, as a business strategy – an activity performed by marketers. Content marketing has real power to add value for a company’s customers, current and prospective.

This proposition seems to echo and expand upon ideas expressed by our Thought Leader panelist, Tim Williams, in our video interview, “Four Foundational Questions” for Agency Positioning.

Tim expresses that much of the agency content he sees when he first begins working with agencies is highly self-promotional – a lot of “brag and boast”.  Instead, a content strategy that provides utility and usefulness, that offers true value to clients and potential clients, is necessary to effectively set an agency apart.

water drop lenscape

As a business strategy, this is the ideal objective of content marketing.

And, as you develop content strategy, as well as the content itself for your clients, surely you are looking at it this way.

Can you say the same about your own content strategy?  Do prospective clients LEARN from it?  Will it prompt them to buy from you?

Tim Williams is one of several Thought Leader panelists who stressed the importance of distinctive agency positioning, and quality content to support it.

If it’s been a while since you’ve read the 2016 RSW/US Thought Leader Report, or if you haven’t had a chance to do so yet, do give it a read as you look to new business development planning for the upcoming year.

Consider giving your own content marketing a promotion.  What would it look like if it were a business strategy of your firm?