How many times have you heard that as a business all you need to do is write ‘useful’ content for your customers?  Probably about as many times as you’ve heard that all you need to do is write ‘awesome’ posts.

The problem is that all the ‘experts’ tell you to write useful content, but don’t tell you what constitutes content that is ‘useful’.  Last year I addressed the issue of how to write an awesome blog post, now let’s talk about how to create ‘useful’ content on your business blog.

What Exactly Is ‘Useful’ Content?

First, we need to tighten our definition of ‘useful’ content.  For the purposes of this post, useful content on a business blog is any content that creates value for both the reader AND for the content creator.  Too often, blogging businesses focus on creating useful content for itself, or its customers, but rarely does a business create content that nails both.  In short, with each post you publish on your business blog, you should be able to point to the value being created for your reader, and for your business.

An easy way to do this is to ask and answer three simple questions before you write every post:

1 – Who am I writing this post for?

2 – Why will they care?

3 – What do I want to happen after they read the post?

Answering these three questions ensures that your content will be useful for your reader (#1 and #2) and useful for your business as well (#1 and #3).

Creating Customer-Centric Content

Now let’s talk about the content-creation process.  You want to create content that is focused on the needs of your customer, not your brand.  This is one of the most basic, and misunderstood, rules of online content creation.  Many businesses believe that their blog should effectively be a dynamic website, ergo another way to promote the business.  In other words, many businesses believe a blog should basically be brochureware.  Instead, customers are used to reading blogs in order to get valuable information, which is exactly what your business should be creating via its blog.

So how do you create useful content for your customers?  Start by writing content that teaches them a skill that’s associated with the products you sell.  Instead of writing content that focuses on the product, you want to write content that focuses on how (and why) your customers use your product!  If you sell lawncare products, don’t blog about your products, blog about maintaining a beautiful lawn.  If you sell high-end audio components, don’t blog about your tweeters or woofers, blog about how to properly position speakers in your living room to create perfect acoustics.  It’s not about your products, it’s about how your customers are using your products.

So what if you sell services instead of products?  Then you want to create content that teaches your customers how to do the same services you sell.  This sounds counter-intuitive at first (Why would I want to teach my customers how to do what I do?  I’ll just lose business!), but it works because you are creating content that establishes your expertise, and makes it easier for customers to trust you.

For example, here’s a recent blog post that appeared on Sucuri’s blog:

Sucuri Blog

This blog post is designed to teach me a skill.  It’s going to teach me how to read my blog’s code and recognize when hackers have inserted malicious code that’s added malware to my blog.  Instead, all this post is going to teach me is that I have no clue how to read my blog’s code, and I need to hire an expert like Sucuri to handle that for me.  And I did, Sucuri handles security for this blog, and they are fabulous.  As I wrote about last week, good content is the best commercial for your business.  Posts like this that ‘give away’ Sucuri’s secrets are actually leading to new customers for the company.  Why?  Because this content is helping to establish Sucuri’s expertise, and validate to people like me why I should hire them to handle stuff that  I can’t do, like protect my site against malware attacks.

But How Do I Make Content That’s Useful For My Customers As Well As My Business? 

The goal for your content should be that it is consistently creating value for both your customers, and your business.  That’s a win-win, and as long as that’s happening, your customers are motivated to keep reading your posts, and your business is motivated to keep writing them.

So how do you create useful content from a business perspective?  Scroll back up and long again at the three questions I said you should ask before writing every post.  The third question is important here: What do you want to happen after someone reads your post?  What action do you want them to take?

That action is how your customers create value for you, and your content is the channel to make this possible.  For example, going back of the previous example of the post from Sucuri’s blog.  Note the banner running alongside the post to the right:

Sucuri Blog2This banner is working along with the post to help drive leads.  You’re going to read the post on spotting malicious code, you’re going to realize that Sucuri knows its stuff when it comes to Malware detection, then you’re going to see the above banner giving you a chance to learn more about Sucuri’s Malware detection and removal services.  This works because as long as you have created valuable content for your readers you have earned the right to ask for the sale.  Too many businesses want to ask for the sale without having created any value for their customers.  That rarely works, but what does work is to first create value for your customers, then ask them for their attention in presenting a relevant sales pitch.  Relevant is the key, in the above example, Sucuri created content that was valuable to its readers, then married a relevant call to action to that content.  A banner about malware-removal services makes sense next to an informative post about spotting malicious code that’s been inserted into a blog’s code.  A banner ad for an automotive salvage yard, does not.

So before you write a blog post, ask and answer these three questions:

1 – Who am I writing this post for?  Current customers?  Potential customers?  New donors?  New partners?  Current partners?  Each audience is different and has different needs.  Tailor your content for the audience you are writing for.

2 – Why will they care?  This is where you really address whether or not your post will be useful to your readers.  Think about what value this post will create for your readers.  Will it teach them a new skill?  Will it solve a problem for them?  By putting yourself in your reader’s shoes, you are creating content that creates value for them.  Which leads to…

3 – What do you want to happen after they read the post?  This is where you really address whether or not your post will be useful to your business.  What action do you want your readers to take after reading your post?  Do you want them to contact you?  Do you want them to sign up for an email newsletter?  Do you want them to request a custom services quote?  Remember if you have created valuable content for your customers, then you have earned the right to ask for the sale.

 

The quick n dirty version is this: How do we create content that’s valuable to our readers and at the same time valuable to our business?  In a perfect world, those goals will play off each other, as they did in the above Sucuri blog post with the post and the relevant banner alongside.  Always be able to explain how the content will benefit the reader, and how it will benefit your business.  Both need to be present.

 

5878418781_51d6e175db_oYou’re at a conference with a friend at one of those ‘mixer’ networking events the night before the event starts.  Your friend spots someone she knows, and calls him over.  They quickly say their hellos, then she turns to you and says ‘Pete, I want you to meet my friend Kate.  Kate is…..’  And at that point one of two things happens:

1 – Your friend tries to explain who you are and what you do based on her perceptions of who you are and what you do

2 – Your friend knows who you are and what you do, and explains that to her friend

Whenever I work with companies on their content strategies, one of the most important questions I ask them is ‘How do you want to be known?’  If someone was going to introduce you at a networking event, how would they explain what your company does and what it stands for?

In other words, you need to decide what you want to be known for, and plant your flag there.  You need to own the topics that you want to be associated with, and create content that focuses on these areas.  The more useful and relevant your content is to others, the stronger the association you’ll create between yourself and your expertise in these areas.

This works for a company or an individual:

Jay Baer – “Oh he’s that YouTility guy, he writes about marketing that’s so useful that people would pay for it”

Red Bull – “Oh they are that company that sells energy drinks and is active in all those extreme sports”

Jeremiah Owyang – “Oh he’s that analyst that’s always writing about The Collaborative Economy”

Patagonia – “Oh they are that clothing company that sells active wear and supports the environment”

Jay and Jeremiah focus on the topics of YouTility and the Collaborative Economy because they want to be associated with those ideas and terms.  Your company needs to have the same focus, think about what you want to be known for, and write content around those topics or areas.

But I Know Zip About SEO and Hate the Idea of ‘Writing For Search Engines’

This is why this approach works so well, because if you focus on creating content that relates to the topics that you want to be known for, the SEO stuff largely takes care of itself.

The cold, hard reality is that if you don’t define yourself, someone else will, and you might not like the definition they give you.  For years I was known as ‘The #Blogchat guy’.  I love and am very proud of #Blogchat, but from a business perspective, being known as ‘The #Blogchat guy’ really doesn’t help me.  So a couple of years ago as I was writing Think Like a Rock Star I really buckled down on my content and started focusing on the topics I wanted to be known for.  Such as brand advocacy, customer-centric content, brand ambassador programs, and customer engagement.  By focusing on creating content around these topics, I’ve changed the conversation about who I am and how others view me.  Plus writing a book that covers these same topics didn’t hurt!

So as you are getting ready to focus on your planning for 2015, apply this method to your content strategy.  Ask and answer this question:

“What are the 2-3 things that we want to be known for?”

If you need help thinking this through, you can apply the Topic Buckets approach to this.  Once you have determined what those 2-3 things are, relentlessly create content around each topic area.  Over time, it will become easier for search engines and people that read your blog and interact with your content to identify you and your business with those topics.

Plant your flag, and win!

Pic via Flickr user  marsmettnn tallahaassee

5836007929_2b20e323e2_oRecently I was talking to a friend about a situation that plays itself out in so many companies every single day.  A ‘social media guy/girl’ pushes for their company to start using social media, in this case we’ll say it’s a blog.  The company finally agrees, but never pays attention to the blog until one day the company realizes that the blog is driving traffic to the website and generating leads for the business.

Then suddenly The Monetization Police step in and start looking for ways to leverage the blog as a promotional channel for the company.  The irony here is that good content is just about the best commercial possible for your business.  When you take good content and try to change it to sell more stuff, it usually becomes bad content.

Instead of looking for ways to change good content into crappy content by adding a sales pitch, look for ways to leverage good content to extend interactions with your customers.  Here’s some ideas:

1 – Ask for email newsletter signups.  When you create valuable content, your customers will appreciate you letting them know that they can get MORE valuable content by signing up for your newsletter.

2 – Ask for the share.  We all love to share great content, so ask your readers to tell their friends about your great content, to tweet it, post a review, whatever is applicable.

3 – Ask for the sale.  Instead of changing your content into a commercial, try simple adding a relevant call-to-action at the end. For example, write an article telling customers how to build their own birdhouse, then add a code for 10% off the supplies when they place their next order.

 

The common thread here is that if you create valuable content for your readers, you have done them a favor.  As such, you have earned the right to ask for something in return.  Now the key is to make sure you never ask for more than you give, but understand that your customers appreciate good content, so they will be willing to help you in return.

Social media never has and never will work well as a direct-selling channel.  It works far better as a channel to build relationships with customers.  Once that relationship is built, then an environment exists where sales are possible.  Create the valuable content first, then ask for the sale.

2330620934_92bb93fcc4_zI am currently in the middle of business planning for 2015.  I have three main revenue streams: Speaking, consulting/advisement, and writing.  In 2013 my first business book, Think Like a Rock Star was published.  One of the reasons why I was excited about writing a book was the assumption that it would lead to more speaking opportunities.  And it did, I have spoken more in the 20 months since Think Like a Rock Star was published than I did in the previous 5 years.  I went from speaking a few times a year to a few times a month.  I was even able to speak a couple of times in 2 different states in the same day (which sounded much cooler when I planned it).

But over the last few months I’ve realized that the actual speaking just wasn’t as interesting to me as it once was, and I have been struggling to figure out why.  So I backed up and asked myself ‘When did you enjoy speaking the most?’  I realized it was in 2011.  That year, I only spoke about 4 or 5 times during the year.  But by speaking less, it allowed me to do two very important things:

1 – Spend more time customizing and improving my talk.  I was able to spend up to 2 months working on one talk for one event.

2 – Spend more time actually connecting with the audience at the event BEFORE I got to the event!

Those two points also worked off each other.  By having 2 months to work on each talk, I was able to devote more time to the talk itself, but also more time getting to know the audience I would be giving the talk to.  I was able to customize the talk based on interactions and feedback with the attendees up to 2 months before they got to the event.  This feedback and these interactions also helped the attendees become invested in my talk.  They knew what the talk was about, and they helped promote it (and the event) to others.  So by the time I got to the event, it was literally standing room only, as everyone was looking forward to my talk, and knew all about it from reading my blog and interacting with me on Twitter and Facebook.

I loved it, the audience loved it, and the event organizers definitely loved it.  But over the last year and a half, the simple volume of talks I gave made it impossible to devote the time I wanted to promoting each event, interacting with attendees and on my talk.

So I decided to change that for 2015.  In 2015 I am going to cap the number of paid speaking engagements I will take to 8 for the year.  This way, I can spend much more time on each talk, on getting to know the audience, and on promoting the event.  It also means I can be much more selective on which events I speak at.  And when I agree to speak at an event, I can be an invested promotional partner for that event.

And yes, that’s going to obviously cap the potential revenue I can make from speaking in 2015.  But you know what?  There’s more to speaking than just arriving at an event 30 mins before you speak and leaving 30 mins after your talk ends.  I’ve had to do that a few times in the past 20 months and I hate it.  It’s not fair to the audience, it’s not fair to the event organizers, and it’s not fair to me.  In 2015 I am going to work harder and take the time to be more invested in each event I speak at, to be more invested in connecting with the audience 2 months in advance, not 2 days in advance.

So here’s to speaking less, and making a bigger impact when I do.  If you’d like to get more information on securing one of my 8 speaking slots in 2015 and my rates, then click here.  And thanks!

Here’s the transcript from tonight’s #Blogchat with Kerry!

Tonight at #Blogchat (Nov 9th, 2014) we’ll be discussing the legal issues associated with blogging with my good friend Kerry Gorgone!  Kerry is an amazing woman with an incredibly diverse skillset.  She’s a lawyer, a former college instructor, she’s a speaker, and she’s also one of the best podcasters in the world. Currently, she develops marketing training courses for MarketingProfs. It’s her talents as a lawyer that we’ll be calling upon tonight as she helps us understand the legal issues associated with blogging.

Here’s a VERY detailed look at what we’ll be discussing tonight (thank you Kerry!)

8:00-8:20PM Central – What are the legal issues bloggers need to know if they want to run a contest on their blog?

Points to consider:
–> (Giveaways or Games of Chance/Lotteries vs. Contests of Skill)
–> IRS / Tax reporting
–> Stating contest eligibility rules clearly
–> Special considerations for Canadians

8:20-8:40PM – If a blogger receives a product from a company, do they have to disclose that?

Points to consider:
–> When to call content “sponsored” or “paid”
–> Do you have to repeat disclosures every time you post sponsored content, even if the content is old?
–> What’s the best way to disclose in a tweet or other short social post? Do you have to use a hashtag?
–> Disclosure’s a pain: why bother?

8:40 to 9:00PM Breaking copyright rules can cause expensive problems. What do bloggers need to know?

Points to consider:
–> Is it okay to use other people’s content? How much of it can I take? What are the rules?
–> What do I do if someone else is using MY content?
–> Where can I find images that are safe to use?
–> How can I protect my copyright in pictures I take and images I create?

 

Also check out this post that Kerry was kind enough to write here on protecting your creative works online.  I could not be happier to have Kerry joining us tonight, please make sure you are following her on Twitter!  See y’all at 8pm Central tonight!

2245563352_292011c519_z

Earlier this decade, Patagonia made a rather bizarre plea to its customers: Stop buying our stuff.  The outdoor apparel brand launched a marketing campaign designed to ask customers to reconsider their shopping habits.  To stop buying new coats when their current one was just fine, to stop indulging in spending sprees on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  To spend less on what you want and more on just what you need.

So did Patagonia’s customers heed the brand’s advice?  They did not, as Patagonia’s sales increased by more than $150 Million over the next year.

Obviously, this approach won’t work for every brand.  And that’s the point.  It works for Patagonia because the brand has established the trust of its customers.  Its customers believe that Patagonia’s motivations behind asking customers to avoid extravagant purchases are truly to create a better world.  Many of Patagonia’s customers share these beliefs and wants.  Which means Patagonia’s marketing message to ‘buy less’ actually validates to its customers that Patagonia is a brand that they should believe in, and support.

This story also goes to the heart of truly successful marketing.  Too many brands market their products, when they should be marketing how those products fit into the lives of their customers.  Patagonia does this amazingly well.  The brand focuses on its customers and their likes and beliefs.  The company shares many of those same beliefs, such as protecting the environment, enjoying the outdoors, and sustainability.

We all have certain things we are passionate about.  Maybe it’s something specific like US military history, horseback riding or automotive repair.  Or it could be more general like design, simplicity, minimalism.  But we all have things that we are passionate about and that we love.  Things that motivate and excite us.  We can relate some of those things with some brands.

But we love the brands that we identify as being related to the things we love.  In the Patagonia example, its customers love the brand because its customers love protecting the planet and believe that the Patagonia brand has this same desire.  Patagonia is helping to facilitate the ideas and beliefs that are important to its customers: Protecting the environment, being active in the outdoors and sustainability.  Patagonia’s customers feel better about themselves for supporting the brand.

So if you truly want to make a connection with your customers, don’t promote your brand so much as you promote the things that your customers love that they associate with your brand.  For Patagonia, that’s protecting the environment, being active outdoors, and sustainability.  For Fiskars it’s scrapbooking.  For Harley-Davidson it’s the freedom of the open road.  It’s not about a parka, a pair of scissors or a motorcycle.

It’s about us.  It’s about the things we are passionate about, that we love.  How well you relate to the things we love determines how well we will relate to your brand.  When you can show us that your brand is just as passionate about these same things and can help us realize our passions, we might just love your brand as well.

Pic via Flickr user David Robert Bllwas

Gini Pro Photo

Here’s the transcript from tonight’s #Blogchat with Gini!

I’m thrilled to welcome Gini Dietrich as #Blogchat co-host tonight for the first time!  I’ve been wanting to have Gini co-host #Blogchat for a couple of years now so I’m happy it is finally happening.

Gini will be talking to us about How to Use Your Blog As a Communiction Tool During a Crisis.  If you are a frequent reader of her Spin Sucks blog (and excellent book of the same name) you know that Gini is an expert at social media crisis management.

Here’s what we’ll be discussing:

From 8:00-8:20 Central – “What information should a company have on its blog to prep for a social media crisis?”

8:20-8:40 Central – “If there’s a situation that customers are concerned about, what’s the correct way for the company to address it on its blog?”

8:40-9:00 Central – “Should a company use other social media sites during a crisis to communicate with customers, or just their blog?”

 

So make sure you are following Gini on Twitter, and follow the #Blogchat hashtag at 8pm Central (remember to turn your clocks back an hour for Daylight Savings Time!).

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