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Content marketing: where design stops and content takes over

July 6, 2010

Back in the day, when I worked solely in magazines, I would often trouble-shoot ailing publications. The brief I would receive from a publisher, who generally had an advertising sales background, would go something like this:

Magazine publisher: Nick, we have a big design problem here. We have redesigned several times the past few years, hired a new Art Director and design team, but the circulation is still falling. Clearly, our redesigns haven’t been good enough, so we need to restructure the magazine and create a new design template.

To get to the true cause of the plunge in circulation, I would speak to the editorial and design staff and ask their opinion as to what was going wrong. After a little investigative work, it often became apparent that the magazine’s problems had nothing to do with design, but instead a deterioration in the quality of content.

More often than not, the problems were one or more of the following:

1. Authority: Remember, readers/customers are looking for guidance and expertise from somebody who knows a subject better than they do. The moment you lose authority, you lose respect…and a current or potential customer.

2. Audience Insight: The better you know your customer or audience, the better you will be able to serve their needs with targeted, relevant content. For exceptional content marketing, where possible, survey or research your audience, and build your content strategy around that feedback.

3. Lack of collaboration: Creating great content is not often a solitary pursuit. Solicit opinions from other contributors to help brainstorm around your ideas (and theirs) so that they can be brought to life.

4. Briefing: Whenever you write or create content, always write or create it to a brief so that your thoughts stay focused and your stories have structure and direction.

5. Self-indulgence: Always write or create content with your audience’s needs in mind. Your media platform exists to serve their interests, not to boost your profile, your career or to show off your depth of knowledge.

6. Variety and options: Nothing is worse from a content perspective than seeing the same stories and ideas repeated time and time again. Similarly, not all of your readers/viewers/customers will digest content the same way. Some will prefer long features, others will prefer “top-10” lists and “how to” stories. Mix it up so that you cover all bases.

7. Personality: There is plenty of bland, uninspiring writing on the web. Make sure your content stands out by developing a unique style of writing/production, attitude or personality.

Content rules: Always remember that readers will overlook mediocre design if the content is first class – but NOT vice versa.

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