Guest Opinion June: 3 Truths — and 1 Big Lie — About Effective Content Marketing

Guest Opinion
Jonathan Metrick

It wasn’t long ago that the notion of setting up a corporate blog or Twitter account to share brand-positive messaging seemed innovative. Today, the notion of creating your own custom, creative, and editorial content is more the norm than an exception for marketers. 

According to an April 2018 survey by The ­Manifest, 53 percent of businesses are investing time and resources into content creation to reach and engage target customers and other stakeholders. To help anyone getting started with this aspect of their business, following are three truths — and the biggest lie — I’ve learned about content marketing.

TRUTH: The less you talk about your company, the more effective your content will be. 

The best content marketing offers an illuminating or entertaining insight about some aspect of how the world works. After all, people are curious and will be interested in your insights, but they aren’t interested in you promoting your company. The more overtly you try to push a product or sales pitch in your content, the more likely it will be ignored.

For example, many of the articles published in an online magazine my company operates are not related directly to our core offering — insurance. Insurance is part of the world of financial protection, so those who write for the publication are looking at the big picture and covering all aspects of personal finance. For example, recently published stories include a state-by-state guide to voter IDs (your elected officials make decisions that affect your finances, after all) and a guide to getting your budget ready for summer.

TRUTH: Data isn’t boring — if it’s curated. 

Data doesn’t have to be boring — it all comes down to how you present it. 

Take a look at the real estate site Zillow. It offers a lot of data about its industry and has found ways to make it insightful and useful. For example, Zillow recently released insights from research the company did about how the homeownership gap between white and black Americans has widened since 1990. 

Similarly, our publication has found ways to make insurance data relatable and interesting, giving us some great content. Earlier this year, we mined some of our internal data to create a list of the healthiest and unhealthiest states in the U.S. We analyzed anonymized internal life insurance applications from November 2015 to November 2017, factoring in reported health conditions such as high cholesterol, tobacco use, high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, asthma, and depression — and highlighted the results in a report pushed out to media. This reported ended up getting covered by some major outlets, including The Daily Mail, Digg, and NJ Biz

TRUTH: Helping others helps your content. 

Are you sitting on some information other people could use to do their jobs more effectively or make a better purchase? Could you help them, for instance, figure out what kind of car will cost the least in repairs over time, or what time of day they should send their company newsletter? The more actionable and helpful you can make your content, the more trustworthy it will make your company. 

For example, analytics company Parse.ly showed that Google, after losing ground to Facebook for years, sent more traffic to publishers than Facebook in 2017. This kind of insight, explained further in this post, is invaluable to publishers and underscores Parse.ly’s value, all without overtly pushing its product. 

LIE: Content is expensive. 

Sure, it can be, but you don’t have to turn to expensive content agencies to create effective and interesting content. A deep look into your own in-house data, or perhaps an inexpensive Google survey, should be all you need to tell an interesting story about how your company fits into the broader world. Creativity is your best currency for effective content marketing, and that doesn’t need to cost you anything.

Creating truly informative, practical, and often entertaining content must be an overarching goal. For instance, some of our recent articles range from the more direct budgeting and life-mapping stories, like “5 Ways to Save More for Retirement in 5 Minutes or Less,” to a second-day news take that breaks down what a major story means for people’s wallets: “What Is a Tariff & Will Trump’s Proposed Tariffs Affect My Money?” These were all written by in-house writers and the ideas for each story came from creative internal brainstorms — so the cost was low, but the effects were high.