by Gilad de Vries

Lately, it’s impossible to open a newsletter, check Google alerts, or visit any news sites without reading something on the benefits of content marketing. It seems as though the entire marketing industry is out to convince the world that this is the wave of the future. While that may be true, there is a real shortage of practical, how-to advice for brands that want to dip their toes in the content marketing pool.

Yes, advances in technology and the rise of social media as a marketing channel have eliminated the need for traditional modes of distribution. But at the end of the day, creating great content and getting it in front of the right audience still demands creativity and skill.

Luckily, there are already a handful of companies who have really nailed down the art of content marketing, and their efforts serve as great examples. Here’s a closer look at some of the do’s and don’ts from content marketing’s greatest hits.

1. Don’t Skimp on Design

This may seem obvious, but if you want to be taken seriously by consumers, it’s important to make your content visually compelling. The folks at the General Electric Company have this down. There, issues of innovation and environment have been brought to life with the thoughtful design of their Ecomagination site. Sure, it’s the quality of the content that will keep your visitors coming back, but don’t underestimate the power of a slick, eye-catching site. Using a 16:9 ratio predispositions viewers to think of your site as premium, as does using high-quality images that take up the entire frame. In general the ratio of text to images has slowly been shifting in favor of the latter, with no more than five to six paragraphs of text per page. Magazine-quality content and photography from sale site, Mr. Porter, adheres to this rule nicely.

2. Do Make it Multimedia

This goes hand in hand with investing in design. Varying the type of content you use is essential to providing an engaging, well-rounded user experience that sucks people in and keeps them clicking for more. Fashion maven, Tory Burch, combines videos, slideshows, photos, and even playlists on her blog, which draws nearly 200,000 unique visitors per month.

3. Don’t Go for the Hard Sell

Although the ultimate purpose of all marketing is to drive sales, content marketing employs a more nuanced, indirect approach. The focus is on educating, entertaining, and delivering value to the consumer, rather than giving a hard pitch for your products or services. For a great example of this, look no further than Unilever’s The Adrenalist. The site’s content includes news and information on adventure, extreme sports, gear, and travel. It basically provides adrenaline junkies and adventurers with a place to convene online. Visitors will see plenty of Bear Grylls, former host of Man vs. Wild, but Degree for Men only makes a handful of appearances.

4. Do Strike a Balance

That balance should be between content that is professional and content that is generated by users. Now, there’s no doubt that enlisting professionals is key to any good content strategy, but incorporating the consumer voice is equally important. Both Kraft and General Mills have done a commendable job of getting readers involved by soliciting user recipes for their respective sites, and Productivity app maker, Evernote, also blends professional with community content through user-submitted tips and tricks on their blog.

5. Don’t Leave Any Dead Ends

When it comes to content marketing, the old adage about “leave ‘em wanting more” most definitely does not apply. The best time to engage your audience is when they’re already in content consumption mode, which is why every page on your site should offer plenty of links to further content. L’Oreal, which many folks don’t realize is behind beauty how-to site, is a master at this. A recent article on sunscreen featured links to videos, a “tip of the day” and trending stories along the left-hand navigation, as well as suggestions for further reading.

6. Do Make Sharing Easy

If you create great content, there’s a good chance that you’ll garner some fans along the way, which is why it’s so important to give them mechanisms to share that content with their friends. Check out a great example from the marketing automation experts at Marketo. Their blog puts Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google +1 buttons on posts to encourage sharing. Another “Like” button and a Disqus link at the bottom of the post further enable readers to spread content beyond the bounds of the site, creating a ripple effect of influence.

7. Don’t Forget About Offline

A solid offline strategy can be one of the keys to bringing your online content to life, engaging your audience, and attracting new eyeballs. Red Bull has become an inimitable force in the field of content marketing and has blended online and offline marketing to become synonymous with extreme sports. In addition to a hugely popular website and magazine, Red Bull organizes sporting events from freestyle motocross, to extreme downhill sledding, to chariot racing. These offline events allow it to own the agenda, while engaging with their community in a very natural way.



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