We should all be familiar with the value of high-quality content when it comes to digital marketing – from increased link magnetism and more social shares, to improved brand awareness and higher conversions (and much more). But for many online business owners, their industry often proves to be a major stumbling block when it comes to adopting content marketing. From so-called ‘boring’ industries such as accountancy and finance, to what link-builders may refer to as ‘difficult’ industries such as pharmaceuticals and gambling, content creation can be hard work if the subject matter is a perhaps dry, or difficult to produce without it seeming inherently spammy.
In my experience however, content is just as crucial in these industries (if not more so), and if you can find a way to do it well, it can be way more valuable than other forms of inbound marketing often used as alternatives for those working in these more difficult industries. In this post, we’ll take a look at how you can approach content development for industries such as software, finance, gambling and pharmaceuticals, and how you can use this content to build powerful links for your brand, as well as improving customer engagement, retention, awareness, perception and conversions.
Content development is hard work.
Chances are you’re already familiar of what we mean when we talk about ‘content marketing’, but on the off-chance you’re not, I would recommend Rand’s excellent MOZ Academy video on how content marketing can help your business. Feel free to take a few minutes to watch it if you need to – go ahead, I’ll wait…
All caught up? Excellent. So, we know that content marketing has the potential to offer a range of benefits to your business, but it’s not as easy as just deciding you’re going to ‘do’ content, and then effortlessly producing something everyone want to read. Fundamentally, content development ishard. Even if you work in a relatively entertaining industry full of potential ideas, you need to consider what’s already been produced, what your audience wants to see, where you can get reliable information from, how your audience will engage with the content – and that’s before you even begin looking into producing something that’s high quality in terms of design or experience (or what format you should use).
Now I’m not trying to make things worse, but evidence suggests that most readers will only read 60% of your posts (which is a mildly depressing statistic to include in an article I’m in the middle of writing). With so much content out there, you need to produce something truly exceptional to really get noticed, and even then most people may not bother reading the whole thing.
So it would seem the odds are somewhat stacked against you – there’s more content available than ever, people would appear to have shorter attention spans, there’s a variety of different channels your audience might use (making distribution harder), there’s a barrier to entry in terms of design (or development, video production, etc.) and you will likely need to commit at least a reasonable budget to a content marketing campaign to make it successful. Oh, and then there’s the potential difficulty in measuring whether or not a piece of content is ‘successful’, particularly if you have to communicate ROI to management, colleagues or stakeholders. Sure, you can measure the number of inbound links, or the number of social shares, or metrics like time on site, bounce rates, pages per view, conversions, etc. but what about the intangible benefits? How do you measure brand awareness? Thought leadership? Consumer perception? Trust? Yeah, try telling your manager you spent £3,000 on a piece of content and you may or may not have achieved a greater level of trust and awareness from your customers.
I think I’ve probably made my point there – it’s not an easy business. Which is why you see so much bad content out there, as brands are actively trying to gain the benefits of content marketing, without fully committing to what’s required to produce something exceptional. And this is in industries where there should be a wealth of relatively exciting content ideas, imagine going through all of these barriers whilst trying to produce something focussed on the intricacies of pension auto-enrolment. Even typing it is boring, let alone talking about it.
Ten tips for creating content in dry or difficult industries
So, creating content is tough. Creating content is dry or difficult industries is really tough. Luckily, through years of experience (and some quick research to make sure there’s nothing obvious I’ve forgotten about), I’ve picked up a few tips for making your life a little easier when it comes to content creation in ‘boring’ industries, as well as those that might be tougher to build links to:
1. Solve a problem, behelpful
Even if you are talking about something that might objectively be considering boring, such as the aforementioned auto-enrolment (it’s a UK pensions thing, it’s not in the least bit interesting for those of us who aren’t accountants), people will still be looking for the information when they need to. If you can solve a problem for your target audience then they will find it interesting, even if the rest of the world wonders what you’re talking about.
Let’s say you write a really useful article on how to reduce errors when doing manual data entry – to those looking in, that would seem incredibly dull. But if I’m regularly doing data entry and I’m concerned about accuracy and error rates then to me, your content would be pretty damn interesting.
2. Know your audience
The more familiar you are with your target audience, the easier you’ll find it to create targeted content that is specific; helping them solve a problem or removing a pain point. The best way to do this is with buyer personas, which will help in more ways than just content creation (particularly in relation to other forms of marketing). If you need help creating buyer personas, I would recommend this post from Hubspot.
3. Cut back on the terminology and marketing speak
I have to remind myself to do this one, particularly in industries where I have a lot of experience. When you’re creating content that utilises your own expertise (or that of your team), it can be tempting to write in a way that might sound very impressive to investors, but isn’t all that helpful when you’re trying to inform, educate or entertain. Instead, write in the way you speak normally, and make it as easy as possible for your readers to utilise or understand the quality content you’re giving them.
4. Try and make complicated subject accessible
This follows on naturally from tip number 3, and can result in really popular content when it’s done well. Just writing in a normal speaking voice can make content accessible, but also using simple to understand analogies or metaphors can work wonders in helping explain complex information.
An excellent example is Stephen Hawking’s A Briefer History of Time, which explains phenomenally complicated theories and models from the world of physics using humour, uncomplicated English and a series of clever and easy-to-understand analogies. Just because something is technical or complicated doesn’t mean it can’t be made more accessible.
5. Use humour
This is applicable both to industries that are a little dry and those that may be tougher to link to. Whether you’re creating serious content or not, there’s nothing wrong with taking a light-hearted approach – I’m not suggesting you try and be funny throughout, but using a lighter tone can help lift certain kinds of content and can help with engaging your readers.
Many gambling firms utilise this approach extremely well, particularly in relation to newsjacking and current events. Brands that do it well often find their content is shared heavily via social media, which can often lead to natural links. Considering how hard it can be convincing sites to like to sites related to gambling, this is a serious result – all achieved by utilising a humorous tone successfully.
6. Go the extra mile with your content
When you’re creating content in a difficult industry, you need to work that little bit harder to encourage people to link to you. If your business is in one of those industries that people just aren’t all that confident about linking to, then you need to overcome that by really pushing to make your content exceptional.
If you’ve got some research, opt for an infographic over a blog post, or better yet make it interactive. A great approach can be to take your main piece of content and utilise individual stats to create new assets, each aimed at a different platform or group of sites. This is something referred to as divisible content, and can be an excellent way to get the most out of what you’ve got.
Of course this is easier said than done, and it may be that you need to commit additional resources or budget to get something that really stands out, but it can be well worth it in the long run.
7. Keep things concise and easy to read
This is a long post, because there’s a lot to cover, but where possible I’m trying to be concise (which isn’t easy, as I can be pretty verbose at times), but at least this is a fairly interesting topic. If you’re writing on something that’s dry or technical, then spend some time trying to edit your copy for brevity, or consider turning statistics or similar data into visuals.
Similarly, you should think about breaking up your copy into easy to manage sections, that are both easier to read and easier on the eye. Imagine this article was one long chunk of text with no paragraphing or section headers – you’d be far less likely to read it all. This is particularly true in the modern age, where a lot of people will access content via a mobile device. Those reading on a phone or laptop will be even less likely to read huge chunks of text.
8. Mix up your mediums
I talk to a lot of people about content marketing, and I’m regularly surprised that people struggle to think of mediums other than articles and infographics when it comes to producing their own content. There are numerous different formats you could utilise, and it can be effective to mix-up your mediums, rather than always producing the same thing. It can really help with dry content too – that long and slightly stale blog post might come to life as a video, or reformatted as an interview.
So you could opt for a blog post, an infographic, an infographic with GIF animations, an interactive infographic or useful tool, a video, an animation, a whitepaper, an ebook, a podcast, an interview (filmed or typed), a slideshow, a Q&A or webinar – there really are a plethora of options open to you.
Rather than simply changing format for the sake of it however, I would recommend putting some real thought into which format best suits the content you’re producing, and how your audience typically interacts with content, or the platforms they regularly engage with. This kind of analysis can lead you to the most effective format, which in turn improves your content.
9. Make your content as easy to share as possible
I’ve already touched on the importance of knowing your audience and how you can go about understanding what drives them, but it’s worth repeating that getting an idea of how your audience engages with content – and in particular which platforms they tend to utilise – can make a huge difference to its success.
Making your content easy to share is good advice for anyone producing content in any industry, but understanding the platforms most popular among your audience will allow you to pick formats that are easy to engage with via these platforms. So for example, if you know your target market regularly engages with content on YouTube, then you’d be best served producing your content as a video, making it as easy as possible for your visitors to find your content, engage with it, and share it. Similarly, if you know your audience is far more likely to share via LinkedIn, you can ensure your content is suitable for that platform, and make sure it’s easy and intuitive to share via this platform on your landing page.
10. Utilise interviews and external expertise or research
Interviewing an external expert can be a fantastic way of creating content, as it not only makes the subject matter more compelling, but it’s an extremely useful marketing exercise. You can almost guarantee whoever you interviewed will share the content (as well as potentially linking to it), opening your site up to a new potential audience. Not only this, but it’s likely that whoever you interview will bring new information or opinion to your piece, making it far more engaging.
Bonus tip: Leverage popular culture and entertainment
Regardless of your industry, you can almost always find a way to leverage popular culture and entertainment to create something that people will want to link to. It won’t necessarily be useful to your audience, help you build trust or aid you in positioning yourself as a thought leader, but it can be hugely useful for link-building and improve overall brand awareness.
Let’s say you work in an area of finance, but you want to leverage popular culture to create a piece of viral content. It’s possible to create something that remains relevant to your industry while still incorporating entertainment, you just need to find a way to put a financial spin on something popular. Take a brand such a Star Wars, Game of Thrones or something similar, and figure out how much it would cost to build the Death Star (an idea we actually ran with for a client last year), or the economics of Westeros. With a little bit of thought about how elements from your industry may apply to a fictional universe or equivalent, you can come up with a range of ideas that will be entertaining and interesting enough to build links with, while still remaining relevant to your own business.
Who’s already doing this well?
So we’ve covered a ton of stuff already, but I always think it’s useful to see some real-life examples of the concepts we’ve been talking about. It’s far easier to understand some of this advice if we can see it in practice, and as we’ve already discussed, doing content development well in certain industries is no easy task, so these examples deserve to be shared.
1. Will It Blend?
Okay, you’ve almost certainly seen this example already – but then again that’s kind of the point. Blenders aren’t exactly the most interesting area to create content in, but Blendtec have managed to create an ongoing content series that receives a phenomenal amount of links and social shares, with each video receiving millions of views.
In this content series, they use their blenders to blend everything from Apple Watches to skeletons, each video attempting to answer the question ‘will it blend’. It not only does a great job of showcasing their products, but it appeals to their target audience and a wider audience (including press, bloggers and others), creating an enviable level of brand awareness.
2. Olympic Sport or Not?
The Olympics has a rich and varied history, and previous iterations have seen some really random inclusions (tug of war anyone?). Taking advantage of their own sporting heritage and the huge interest in the 2016 Olympics worldwide, Ladbrokes produced the Olympic Sport or Not interactive quiz.
It’s engaging, hugely shareable and relevant to the brand niche – it’s also extremely well produced, making it very likely to be linked to despite the industry the brand operates in. They could have produced a fairly standard blog post, but instead Ladbrokes went the extra mile and produced something truly exceptional, not to mention timely.
3. The Story of a Support Ticket
Zendesk is cloud-based customer support and engagement software, which is incredibly useful to those who use it, but perhaps isn’t all that exciting when it comes to content marketing. With their Journey of a Support Ticket video however, they have created a truly engaging and brilliantly produced piece of content, that allows them to showcase the benefits and features of their software without being in the least bit dull.
Not only does this video do a great job of telling the story of their software (and likely increasing conversions and brand awareness), but it gives the brand a unique and highly shareable piece of content they can use to engage with potential customers through different platforms, as well as attracting high quality links.
4. Sit or Squat
Toilet paper isn’t exactly the most exciting of products, and you might imagine it’s a very difficult industry to create really engaging content in. Charmin have managed to create something truly unique however with Sit or Squat; a tool that allows users to find clean public restrooms online.
It’s unique, highly shareable, encourages interaction and engagement and is relevant to both the brand’s niche and their target audience – everything a strong piece of content should be.
5. Understanding APR
Finance is one of those industries that can be difficult to build links to, particularly if the brand is in the consumer lending niche. As a result, high-quality and useful content becomes even more important, as companies in this area try to position themselves as responsible, credible and experts in their field. Vivus does a great job of doing this with their What is APR series, where they go out onto the streets of the UK and talk to real people about their level of understanding around financial terms often used to bamboozle the public into paying higher levels of interest.
Their content is not only hugely useful, but it’s a real eye-opener, and the research gathered by the brand has been utilised to create a range of content formats, from well-produced videos to detailed blog posts.
E-commerce can be a tough industry to create really high quality content, as it often comes across as too promotional to be truly engaging, making sharing and link-building tougher. To overcome this, John Lewis began creating exceptional television advertisements each Christmas, also making them available on their website and via video-sharing platforms such as YouTube.
Fast forward to 2015/16, and the John Lewis Christmas ads are the subject of a huge amount of anticipation and press coverage, as people have come to genuinely love and look forward to a new iteration of their brilliant adverts each year. Yes it requires a large time and budget commitment, but it shows how truly exceptional content can bring with it unparalleled marketing benefits, both offline and online.
7. Did You Get Married?
Tax software definitely isn’t what we’d call an exciting product, and connecting with a wider audience must be a tough job when you’re talking about tax deductable expenses and the like. Turbo Tax’s Did You Get Married video manages to appeal to a much wider demographic however, receiving a huge amount of shares and links, as well as ensuring a much higher level of brand awareness.
Intuit (who make the software) have a strong track record of creating great content around their products, steering away from highly techincal information – although of course this is available to those who want it – and instead focusing on the wider interests and issues of their target audience.
8. The Future of Language
Running a translation company doesn’t make it too easy to come up with original ideas – of course there’s always the classic travel content, but the industry is overstocked with this kind of content in any format you can imagine. To overcome this, Translate By Humans produced the brilliant The Future of Language infographic, which pulls in (and visualises) existing research and provides a unique analysis of the data to produce an answer to a very difficult question – what language will we be speaking in 100 years time?
I love content that tries to answer a difficult or controversial question, particularly if that answer draws upon varied and reliable data that already exists. By doing this, Translate By Humans produced something completely unique, that goes in a different direction than all of the other brands in their industry. Not only is the content engaging and interesting, but it’s unpredictable, helping to set them apart from the competition.
We’ve already discussed the difficulty of creating content for an e-commerce site, and this issue is magnified in certain niches, particularly if it’s overstocked with content of a certain type.
UK retail brand Jacamo specialises in men’s clothes for big or tall individuals, and rather than opt for the classic ‘clothing to fit your body type’ content, they made the effort to understand their target audience, and produced a piece of content aimed specifically at their own interests and motivations. Tying the concept in with an annual event (in this case ‘relaxation day’), they produced the wonderfully illustrated 9 ways your other half can relax while you watch the football, demonstrating how audience analysis and a bit of lateral thinking can produce popular and unique content.
Content marketing is hugely important when it comes to connecting with your audience, engaging them, building brand awareness and trust, improving conversions, encouraging social shares and building links. But it’s hard – in fact it can be really hard, particularly if you’re in a dry or difficult niche.
But with a bit of commitment and a reasonable budget, it really is possible to create truly unique content regardless of industry, and take advantage of the one of the most useful and beneficial forms of digital marketing available to you. Don’t be put off by your limitations – whether you’re a small business with a tiny marketing budget or a large, multinational corporation, you can create something useful to your audience if you’re willing to put in the effort to create something exceptional.