Whether it’s video, blogging, podcasting or publishing books, for the last few years content marketing has been all the rage. Make a one-time investment of your time to develop a piece of content that can build a relationship with your audience and convert them into paying clients for years to come – what’s not to love?
However, not all content will effectively build your business, and many entrepreneurs spend hour after hour, month after month, developing and marketing content that delivers very little return on their investment.
So how do you know whether your content will have the return you want?
Having helped over 100 entrepreneurs write books to grow their businesses, I’ve found there is only one question you need to ask to determine if you’re creating the right content:
Does this give my audience what they want?
Your audience is everything
Your audience is everything. Yes, sponsors can bring in extra cash and partners can help with distribution, but the ultimate goal of most marketing is to bring in more paying clients, and those paying clients will typically come from your audience.
As a result, whether you’re writing a blog post, recording a podcast, filming a video or publishing a book, your content will only be effective if people want to read it, listen to it, watch it and share it.
Making people want to engage with your content comes down to one thing – giving them what they want.
So what does your audience want?
In most cases, they will either want to solve a thorny problem or meet a burning desire.
To address this, you need to know who your audience is, and their greatest problems and desires.
First, let’s look at who your audience is. Who are you talking to? Stay-at-home mums who want to give their kids the best start to life? Start-ups looking for their big break? Millenials looking to break out of casual work into a real career?
You need to know who you’re writing for to make your content relevant to them. The way you write to a grandmother would be different to the way you write to a uni student, both when it comes to the language you choose and the topics you write about. This will also inform the products and services you sell to them down the track.
So, if you haven’t already, take a moment to get clear on your audience:
- What is their age and gender?
- What is their marital status and do they have children?
- Where they live?
- What is their occupation/business and their income?
- What do they do in their free time?
- What do they value/believe?
- What do they read, watch and listen to (books, magazines, online, TV, radio)?
Once you know your target audience, the next step is to figure out their thorniest problems and most burning desires. These problems and desires should be the foundation of your content and, if you use these well, you’ll create content they’ll be dying to engage with and share with others.
As an entrepreneur, you know that the purpose of your business is to solve people’s problems. As an entrepreneur creating content, that content has the same purpose.
So what is your audience’s biggest problems? What would they pay anything to solve?
- What do they fear?
- What frustrates them?
- What causes them the most stress?
Then, think about their greatest desires:
- What do they want?
- What are they really trying to get done?
These problems and desires will become the lens through which you judge all of your content. If your content doesn’t directly address (and help them solve) a problem, or help them achieve a desire, it’s time to ask whether you should really be creating and publishing that content.
2 more reasons to create content
(and 2 reasons you shouldn’t)
In a perfect world, everything you create will be designed to make your audience happy. However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and often I see content that misses the mark.
So why else might you be writing, and are these other reasons valid?
To demonstrate your credibility
Sometimes, your content might not be about your audience at all – it might be about you. Often this is necessary – on a sales page, people want to know who you are so they can make a decision about whether or not to buy from you. In a book, demonstrating your credibility adds to the credibility of the advice you give. On your website’s ‘about’ page, it literally is all about you!
In this case, the question becomes ‘how much do you need?’ rather than ‘should you include it at all?’
Yes, you do need to demonstrate your credibility to give your content more weight. However, the more time you spend talking about yourself rather than your audience, the more likely they are to close the tab, delete your email or put down your book. Because of this, any credibility content should focus on a few credibility markers, before coming back to what your audience wants.
What do I mean by ‘credibility markers’? These are the key facts and figures that quickly demonstrate why you are the best person to be discussing a topic. This may include:
- Your qualifications
- How long you’ve been working in your field/business
- The number of clients you’ve worked with
- Some of the results you’ve helped your clients achieve
Notice that the first three points are simply a list of figures that can be covered in a sentence or two. Sharing some of your clients’ results then allows you to return to the topic of your audience’s problems or desires. If we assume that your audience includes similar people to your clients, this means they probably are looking for similar results to those of your clients. By sharing your clients’ results, you not only demonstrate that any advice you’re giving works, you also give your audience a hint of the results they might get.
The key is making a quick reference to the fact that you know what you’re talking about before shifting the focus back to your audience. We don’t want your resume – we just want a little reassurance.
To share your personality
The next reason why you might create content is to share your personality.
Most of us want to feel a rapport with the people we engage in our professional and personal lives, particularly when it comes to ongoing services. Developing content is a key way to develop that rapport, but to do so your personality needs to shine through.
The mistake a lot of entrepreneurs make is thinking that they need to share their life story so their audience can get to know them. However, just as you don’t need to give your full resume to demonstrate your credibility, you don’t need to write a memoir to show you have a likeable/quirky/fun/reflective/spiritual/(insert adjective here) personality.
The fact is that, unless you’ve already achieved the fame and success of Richard Branson or Oprah Winfrey, your audience probably isn’t that interested in your life story. And, once again, the more time you spend talking about yourself, the more likely you are to lose them altogether.
Instead, you can incorporate your personality through short stories and engaging language.
The short story approach means peppering little stories and reflections throughout your content. In a book, this might be a short story or reflection every few chapters, whereas in a blog, podcast or video series you might share a personal anecdote every few episodes. While these pieces might not directly help your audience solve their problems or achieve their desires, most of us can appreciate a little light entertainment before getting back to business, especially if we’ve gotten value from your content in the past.
The language approach means your content should sound like you. If you love adjectives and adverbs, use them. If you are all about cutting to the chase, get straight to the point, then explain how any other references contribute to that point. If you have a wry sense of humour, make little asides to your audience (this could be in brackets in writing, or leaning in to whisper to the camera in video). If you’re not sure, think of the people you love to read, listen to and watch and observe how they make their personality come through for inspiration.
Once again, the key is incorporating this around your reader-focused content, rather than getting lost in your awesomeness.
Because you think it’s a good story
Sometimes what you’re writing has nothing to do with your audience. It might not even demonstrate your credibility or share your personality. You just think it’s a good story.
My advice? Test the story before you publish it. Try it out at networking events and social gatherings and see what sort of response you get. If it’s not a great one, then the story might not translate as well as you think.
If the story does go down well, see whether you can link it back to a lesson that will help your audience achieve their goal. Is the story about someone making a common mistake your audience should avoid? Is it about someone your audience should emulate? If so, then you have a clear link.
If not, save it as an in-person ice-breaker.
To take up space
Taking up space means different things for different content. In a book, it’s about hitting a certain word count. When creating episodic content like blog posts, vlogs and podcasts, it’s about hitting a target frequency (say, one blog post a week or a fortnight). In any case, the reason you’re creating content is to fill space rather than to provide value.
If you find yourself in this trap, stop!
It’s far better to have 25,000 great words that leave your audience wanting more than to have 40,000 repetitive, fluffy words that make your audience want to skip to the good stuff, or give up entirely. It’s far better to have a monthly epic podcast or video that provides plenty of actionable advice for your audience to implement over the coming month than a weekly reflection about nothing in particular that only encourages your audience to unsubscribe.
The goal of any content you create for your business should be to build your business. To do that, you need to give your audience value. Over time, and with the right offer, happy audience who have already seen a return on your free content will turn into paying customers and regular referrers. On the other hand, your word count or episode frequency is just a number, and rarely has a strong correlation to business growth.