Adam Fisher
2nd November 2018 - 5 mins read
B

ut there are some themes which run through content that makes people stop scrolling, think differently and take action.

In fact, we believe there are seven critical factors that all written content should strive to include. A piece of writing doesn’t necessarily have to contain all of these elements but consideration to each should be given before you put pen to paper.

 

Emotional storytelling

Humans have been communicating through stories for more than 200,000 years. 

And today, while ‘storytelling’ has become something of a content marketing buzzword, good stories still stand the test of time.  

Compelling content features personal stories which readers can relate to, that stirs emotions and takes them on a journey.

People want to hear stories about other people – humans bring stories to life.

If you think about the stories we consume every day through newspapers and broadcast media, they are all about people. And the first question journalists ask themselves when working on a story is ‘so what does this mean to people?’.

Strong content harnesses this human interest in the same way.

At Thirty Seven, we use journalists to tell captivating stories in the digital world

The ‘so what’ factor

Strong content often excites, shocks and causes people to think differently.

Often, great content is original. Even the best writers will struggle to make the same tired arguments interesting for an audience that has heard it all before. 

It is the same principle that makes a story newsworthy. Journalists are always looking for something unusual or new to write about, whether it is an opinion, some original insight or a new product. Stories that include these factors will get more airtime and newspaper coverage.

To stick with that journalism theme, and to use an old adage, dog bites man is not a story, but man bites dog certainly ticks the unusual box.

Just ensure that any new, unusual or bold claims in your content can be backed up. Oh – and just because something is ‘new’ does not make it interesting. Consider this carefully - why should people care about your content?

 

Make it personal

Often the real strength of content lies in how much of themselves the author is prepared to share.

Personal anecdotes add real credibility to content and can bring the message you hope to get across to life.

Referencing problems, issues and frustrations that you have overcome, and how you solved them, shows that you are ideally placed to be producing this content.

In the blogs I have written for our sister company Media First, it is the ones where I have drawn on my experiences in journalism and communications which get the biggest response and the most interaction.  

You can also make content personal by writing the way you speak. I’m a great believer in trying to write the way I would tell the story if I was talking to friends in the pub – just without the bad language.

When producing quality content, draw in on your own experiences. People want to relate to what they're reading. - Via @37agency

 

Originality

Let’s face it, there is a lot of content out there, so to stand out and grab attention in a really crowded marketplace you need to offer something different.

Essentially, your content needs to add something new, whether it is a different perspective or opinion on a topic. This means you need to know your subject inside out, through extensive research and interviews and also know what other people have previously written about it.

Including personal experiences and examples can certainly help boost the feeling of originality and authenticity.  

 

Educational

Valuable content often provides answers to the questions your customers are asking.

This means that in order to produce meaningful content you need have a really good grasp of who your audience is and what the issues are that matter to them.

For some brands, the concern with this approach is that they are giving away their knowledge and expertise with no guarantee of a return.

But those who can see past this and can help customers address their challenges become trusted, are viewed as being credible and tend to build long lasting business relationships.

 

Strong headlines

A strong, interest-sparking headline, can be the difference between someone reading your carefully prepared work or it heading into the content abyss.

But what makes a compelling headline?

Numbers are an important tool – take another look at the headline of this blog. But, we are far from being alone in our use of numbers. If you look around on the internet you will find lots of content headlined ’9 reasons why…’ or ‘7 steps you must take…’.

Relatively low numbers can suggest your content is succinct and incisive, while it is widely considered that odd numbers work better in headlines. They also suggest authenticity because, rather than rounding up advice into a neat ten, for example, you are just giving them the information they need to know.

And as much as it pains me, as a former journalist who was taught to always spell out the numbers one to nine, using the actual digits appears to be more powerful in web content headlines.

 

Bold statements are another good way of ensuring headlines stand out and can add intrigue while asking questions in the title can leave readers wanting more. If you look at the Daily Mail website – the most popular English-language site in the world – you’ll notice it regularly uses questions in headlines to draw readers in.

 

Simplicity

An often overlooked factor in strong content is simplicity.

Readers want content which is easy to understand and consume. They will quickly lose interest and switch-off if they can’t understand what you are trying to say.

This means it is crucial that your content uses the same language your readers would use in everyday conversation.

Short paragraphs and sentences are important factors here, while jargon and unnecessarily complex or decorative words should be avoided – remember, you are not producing content to impress colleagues with your vocabulary.

You can read more about the importance of simplicity in content marketing in this recent blog.  

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper. 

Marketing

Content should be more than just marketing

Tom Idle 29th March 2018 — 8 mins read

I couldn’t bear to sit around on the sidelines any longer while some agencies just messed things up,” is how James puts it when I ask why he’s decided to venture into the world of content marketing.

In his six years as MD of Media First, James and his team have been asked more and more to help with different communications challenges – to present better, to deliver more impactful messages, to shoot and edit film, to hone communications. “We’ve been naturally moving towards helping with content marketing over the years. Now, with Thirty Seven we will get to help our amazing clients in a much more involved way.”

James is joined by Mark, an ex-Microsoft application development consultant, who has been running his own content and design agency for the last five years. Having worked together enhancing Media First’s own content marketing and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) performance, the pair decided to team up.

“We’ve built a loyal following and I enjoy knowing that what we are producing is worthwhile and entertaining,” adds James. “I knew that, so long as we kept enjoying the creative process and stayed true to our journalist-led concepts of always putting the audience first, then there was a good chance that people would continue to enjoy reading, watching and listening to the content we were making.”

Enjoying the frisson of their new business launch, the pair were keen to tell me how and why they plan to do content marketing better.

 

It seems that your decision to establish Thirty Seven was based on a belief that most content marketing is poor. What’s wrong with it? 

Mark Mars (MM): So much content is produced without any strategy behind it and the quality just isn’t there.

When it comes to SEO, there has been such a focus on creating pages that rank for certain keywords. What you often end up with is lots and lots of content which might create a decent search ranking, but the quality is so poor that visitors don’t stick around for long. Google has caught up with that and now has more quality measures in place.

James White (JW): SEO and content are still considered by some agencies to be separate pieces of work. But they need to be considered together. You don’t produce good SEO with poorly developed content; it just doesn’t work.

Also, the content marketing industry seems to be in a race to produce the most amount of stuff. Quality is coming second to quantity.

 

But clearly your customers are increasingly aware of the need to improve content quality. How have you evolved to cope with changing client needs?

MM: A hell of a lot has changed in the last five years. Back in 2014, spend in content marketing was about £125 million a year. By 2020, it is set to jump to around £350 million, so brands really understand that this is the best way to reach their audiences.

There is also more appetite from consumers to digest content in many different forms, which opens up plenty of opportunity for publishers and content creators.

But that is not to say that it is being done particularly well. About 80% of B2B marketers claim to use content marketing. But 70% of them lack a consistent or integrated content strategy—and that’s a big problem. There has been too much focus on quantity over quality.

JW: ‘Quality’ is such a generic term because it’s all subjective. You need to develop the right content, for the right audience, in the right format, at the right time and in the right place.

Brands need to think more like publishers to really get the value out of content.

 

You use journalists to deliver content for your customers. The benefits of doing that might be obvious, but what is it you’re getting from journalists that you might not get from other content creators?

JW: Well, content should be more than just marketing. It’s not just good enough these days to tell good stories. You have to educate, entertain and excite audiences. You have to give people a reason to care.

Journalists inherently get this. They know how to sniff out unique stories that make people stop, sit up and listen. My wife is a journalist and she has a great ability to be brutally honest. I could spend all day coming up with, what I think is, a great idea. I’ll go home and tell her about it and she’ll challenge me by saying something like, “Who cares? Why will your audience give a damn?”

And that’s what’s great about journalists. They can easily put themselves in somebody else’s shoes and work out how people tick. That’s why I’ve loved working with our team of journalists at Media First these past six years.

 

Back in 2014, spend in content marketing was about £125 million a year. By 2020, it is set to jump to around £350 million...

 

All of your customers will have very different needs. How do you approach each piece of work to deliver the best results?

MM: Well, you need to get into the mind of the client to find out what they want to achieve, rather than just blindly creating content. You need to help build a cohesive and coherent plan that includes not just what content you will create, but also how you are going to publish it and promote it.

JW: It’s all about meeting objectives. Is this content to raise awareness? Or is it to convert lurkers on a website into buyers?

It’s also about looking at data to find out what types of content a client’s audience wants and how it wants that delivered.

When we get into content creation mode, we work like an editorial newsroom to script, write, edit and sub-edit. That then goes through a cycle of refinements until we are happy for it to leave our office and reach the client for sign-off.

 

There’s a continuous debate about the virtues of long- versus short-form content. Which do you think is best?

MM: It’s not really about what’s better. It’s about what’s most appropriate.

We do live in a fast-paced world, but to say that nobody wants to read more than 500 words just isn’t true. Long-form content has always received more shares and links than shorter pieces. People do appreciate the time that goes in to creating quality long-form content. And Google does too, with their algorithm generally favouring longer content.

 

So, are there rules for creating great content that you stick to?

JW: We like to use the simple TRUTH test – that the content is Topical, Relevant, Unusual, Trouble (solves, raises awareness of or discusses) and importantly, contains Human interest.

But it has to be delivered in the right format as well. Many people were surprised to hear that Media First and Thirty Seven have joined forces to create this magazine. Yes, it might seem a bit retro but not all audiences are the same; not everyone wants to read a blog or get their information from social media. I have a Kindle and iPad at home but still buy books, newspapers and magazines.

 

The General Data Protection Regulation is coming, giving individuals more control over how their personal data is collected and used online. What will it mean for the content marketing industry?

JW: It’s certainly something our clients need to be aware of, not least because the new regulation is so far-reaching. It will affect not just marketing but internal comms and even supplier contracts.

You can either hide under your desk and pretend it’s not happening. Or you can see it as an opportunity to be proactive.

I personally think it’s a great thing. I will have more control over my data and who markets to me. And as a content producer, I will know that we are providing our audiences with information they want.

 

So, what does the future look like for content marketing?

MM: We are drowning in content and it is getting harder to get results. The average number of shares of any content has been steadily falling over the last few years. So the whole practice does need to evolve.

That means content marketers need to be a lot more strategic about the type of content they create, backed by better research. And instead of asking inexperienced or new writers to churn out low-quality pages of blogs for long-tail keyword targeting, content teams will be comprised of creative designers, developers, AI experts, videographers, as well as plenty of experienced writers and journalists too.

JW: We also know that it’s going to be important to work closely with our customers’ teams. I hate the concept of a full-service marketing agency, where everything is outsourced. I hate to see comms teams dwindling in size. We want to support our customers to retain in-house teams because we’ve seen just how important they are during the last 35 years working with Media First.

 

What’s with the name, Thirty Seven? How did you come up with that?

MM: Well, if you ask somebody to pick a random number between zero and 100, a disproportionate number of people will choose the number 37. The more you delve into the number – the fact that it appears more regularly than any other number in films, for example – you realise just how special it is. It’s attractive and we’re in the attraction game, so it made sense.

 

What’s it like working with each other? Do you always get on or are there things you disagree on?

MM: We’re very similar. We’re both ambitious and want to succeed.

But our work lives have been very different so we have different ideas about how things should be achieved.

JW: Sure, sometimes Mark and I approach things from a different angle. Occasionally this leads to disagreements. But we complement each other. If we were both the same, we wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as a team.

Ultimately, we both want to deliver projects that excite and motivate us. That’s the reason we get out of bed in the morning; not to just earn money to pay the mortgage. It’s about more than that.

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper. 

Mark Mars
3rd October 2017 - 2 mins read

Every company wants to be an authority in their sector - those that engage the media usually are

Media First designs and delivers bespoke media and communications courses that use current working journalists, along with PR and communications professionals, to help you get the most from your communications plan.