How my GF's blog taught me the art of content marketing

Every six months, my company does a thorough content review. We go over topics we covered and big subjects we missed. We look into which content assets drove traffic and which ones fell short. We ask ourselves, what “clicked” and what missed?

During our most recent review, we stared blankly at our analytics dashboard. It was difficult to draw correlations or discover any trends. Frustrated, we took a quick break to eat the cinnamon roll chocolate chip cookies my girlfriend baked the night before. My coworkers mentioned how much they loved the recipe, which they’d read about on my girlfriend’s food blog.

Wait, what?

“You guys read my girlfriend’s food blog?” I asked, puzzled. They told me they loved reading her recipes because each one included a quirky story. My coworkers were drawn to the narrative surrounding each recipe, and, oddly, they remembered specific details with impressive accuracy.

That’s when it hit me.

The best recipe in the world looks a lot like the worst. At the end of the day, both are just lists of instructions. But it’s great stories that resonate with people and make content stand out. 

With this in mind, I went back to our analytics dashboard. Indeed, you could divide our content from the past six months into two categories: content that was written in the form of a story and content that wasn’t.

As you may have guessed, content with a story out-performed the rest in terms of engagement.

We now make it a habit to introduce every insight, every graph, and every finding with a story. How did we get to this point? Why do we care enough to write about or do a webinar on this topic?

Your content should be a narrative, not a recipe…even if it actually is a recipe. Thanks for the lesson, Hannah.

Here are the three pillars of our re-imagined content production process than ensures every content asset tells a compelling story.

1. Flexible Editorial Calendars

We’re not fans of strict editorial calendars. Why? Because we’re not fortune tellers. I can’t plan to tell a story that hasn’t happened yet.

Now, I’m not saying we don’t have a scheduled content plan. Of course we know ahead of time that we’ll do an analysis of scheduled Content Marketing Institute reports. We also know, for example, that we want to aim to do a webinar once per month. Content plans are critical. But for the most part, we don’t strictly plan out months of content.

We don’t write for robots. We write for humans. And people engage with real-time stories and not formulaic content.

So what is our content plan?

2. Insight for Creating Content

We use insight quotas. That means that everyone at our organization is tasked with continuously making notes of insights they come across every day. Our content plan is to convert these insights into content on a tentative schedule.

Check out Stan Smith’s article on Why It Might Be Time to Dump Your Editorial Calendar. Instead of an editorial calendar, he uses what he calls an “Editorial Campaign,” which is essentially the same concept as what we call “The Content Cascade” or what Kapost calls the “content pillar.” This means that we identify our most powerful insights and convert them into high-impact content in the form of a 30-minute webinar. We then create a schedule for converting that webinar into an eBook and infographic, and eventually into multiple blog posts.

This accomplishes a few goals. First, it is consistent with our goal of creating a narrative. We use insight quotas to plan one piece of high-impact content per month that incorporates our story. Only then do we plan out a scheduled cascade of content that reaches a larger, more diverse audience.

3. Takeaways and How We Apply Them

We always begin any piece of content with the insight for creating that content in the first place. For example, I start every webinar by telling the story of how I became passionate about the topic of the webinar. As you’ve hopefully noticed, this blog post follows the same outline (because we love dog food when it’s our own).

Using the initial insight for content as the hook provides context. Generally, if the reader has made it past the hook, she has experienced a similar challenge and is looking for a way to overcome it. That means we’re on the same page and our narrative has helped form an emotional connection to some degree. That’s when we reel them in with a list of takeaways.