Content Marketing: Substance vs. Entertainment

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Understanding what makes for a compelling headline also makes for effective content marketing. A compelling headline (a) takes a subject that directly impacts the reader’s professional aspirations, desires, and fears, and (b) combines it with something that’s a known psychological trigger for interest and fascination, such as sex, or taboos, or fame.

The basic idea is that the title has to promise substance and entertainment. You have to have both because a headline like “How to Be More Productive” simply isn’t as compelling as “7 Bad Habits of Insanely Productive People,” which is what Copyblogger, the content marketing site, wrote.

It’s the combination of the taboo-like “bad habits” and “insanely” added to “productive people” that turns what could be dry information into something approaching gossip. Readers may wonder, “Just who are these ‘insanely productive’ people, and what kind of bad habits are we talking about?”

What’s the content marketing connection? The promise of a headline has to be delivered on by the content. And that combination of entertainment and highly relevant substance also goes for your content marketing efforts.

Cornerstone Content vs. Everything Else

What you’ll notice about, one of the premier practitioners of content marketing, is that much of its true cornerstone content — i.e., lengthy, how-to content on core topics like copywriting, and search engine optimization — isn’t as trendy or entertainment-focused as the average or typical blog post.

It’s certainly well-written and easy to read. But it’s not necessarily designed to entice the distracted reader through the use of immediate interest or fascination triggers. This cornerstone content is aimed at people who are already motivated to learn, say, the fine art of copywriting, or keyword research.

That means Copyblogger can go into longer, in-depth and serialized articles on the topics, with meaty how-to information and tutorials because of an assumption of a motivated reader.

And that type of content also accomplishes the following goals.

  • Building out your advocated position. See “Content Marketing Requires a Point of View,” my previous article on that topic.
  • Grabbing keyword traffic related to your niche.
  • Convincing prospects doing serious research prior to purchasing whatever it is you sell.

In other words, cornerstone content is evergreen content. It’s content you’ll frequently link back to, and direct prospects to.

Reader-Friendly Content

The thing about meaty content is that no one wants just a steak. You go out to a restaurant for a nice steak dinner, and you’ll normally get the appetizer, a salad, some side dishes, and maybe even a desert.

And so it is with content marketing. People also want the USA Today-like infographics and the quick tips and tricks, and information that’s a bit more timely by being tied to the upcoming holiday, event, or breaking news story.

And this is the content that really needs to focus on those psychological triggers for interest and fascination. This is the content that has to promise some desert along with the meat.

It’s the same content mix advocated by usability guru Jacob Neilsen. Here’s an excerpt from “Long vs. Short Articles as Content Strategy,” his article on that topic.

“…the very best content strategy is one that mirrors the users’ mixed diet. There’s no reason to limit yourself to only one content type. It’s possible to have short overviews for the majority of users and to supplement them with in-depth coverage and white papers for those few users who need to know more.

Of course, the two user types are often the same person — the one who’s usually in a hurry, but is sometimes in thorough-research mode…

…On the Web, you can offer both short and long treatments within a single hyperspace. Start with overviews and short, simplified pages. Then link to long, in-depth coverage on other pages.

With this approach, you can serve both types of users (or the same user in different stages of the buying process).”

So plan out your cornerstone content, then supplement that with lots of timely and interesting short-form content that not only links back to that cornerstone content, but that offers an ease of entry for early stage and less serious prospects.

A Hypothetical Example

Here’s a hypothetical example. Let’s say Cabela’s, the retailer of outdoor gear, has a cornerstone article called, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Getting Into Deer Hunting.” This is for the adult who has already made up his or her mind to start hunting and wants a rundown on what she needs to know, buy, and do before next hunting season.

That would be some helpful, evergreen content that could easily be linked to by shorter, more timely pieces, such as those related to the recently spiked interest in archery, and how archery and bow hunting really can be a great sport for girls. Those articles could easily generate lots of entertainment value, and would be an effective way to link back to your cornerstone content on deer hunting, how to buy tour first bow, and so on.

That same plan could work for your business.


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