Table of Contents
As a content marketer, you’re likely questioning your path forward.
We’re at an inflection point with AI.
Many marketers worry about job security. Yet, we face pressures to constantly churn out more and more content in an already far-too-cluttered space.
While the volume of content published rises sharply every day, we still only have 24 hours in a day.
We still need to eat, sleep, work, do chores. Where is there time to consume it all?
The reality is that most content simply fades unread into the ether. Creating content takes hard work, regardless of the outcome.
Isn’t it demoralizing to follow all the best practices yet not consistently see the results you were aiming for?
That’s why I wrote this book.
High-Impact Content Marketing shows you how to succeed by taking a simplified yet strategic approach to standing out and driving revenue impact.
It covers time-proven strategies to create content that audiences will actually want to consume. And shows you how to do so in a genuinely inclusive way.
It also covers how to master content distribution to maximize reach, engagement and impact.
What makes High-Impact Content Marketing unique is how it weaves in behavioral science and adult learning principles to maximize and measure impact.
It features easy-to-implement frameworks and actionable guides throughout as well as examples of best-in-class content to inspire you.
Below is an exclusive extract from the book.
This is Chapter 1, which talks about why it’s time to reinvent and future-proof your approach to content marketing. In it, I also share the five most common mistakes content marketers make today and how you can avoid them.
As a thank you, my publishers have shared a 20% off discount code exclusive to Search Engine Journal readers should you wish to purchase the book. Please use the promo code HICM on the Kogan Page website to redeem it.
It’s a tale older than time: the love story between humans and content.
Or at least older than the literary record, with fairy tales being traced back thousands of years.
From fairy tales and fiction to reality and non-fiction to mainstream media and social media, content has always captivated, charged, and connected us.
Across borders, languages, and cultures, content is what unites us in shared excitement and disappointments, laughter, and tears. It’s the thread weaving together the fabric of society and pop culture.
Content also builds brands and turns mortals into myths.
It’s no wonder content has always been the life force of marketing.
From the prestige associated with restaurants in the Michelin guide (Michelin Tires’ iconic content campaign) to cementing diamond rings as a symbol of eternal love (De Beers’ “A diamond is forever” campaign) to dumping buckets of icy water on ourselves (Ice Bucket Challenge to raise funds for ALS/MND research) to happily forking out money to watch multiple Lego movies, high-impact content marketing repeatedly proves its power to shape perceptions, behaviors and trends.
People can’t get enough of content; our attention has never been so fragmented.
Yet, rather than capping out, we continue consuming more content across more and more places on multiple screens simultaneously.
Regardless of platform, channel, or technology, content takes on new forms to connect brands and audiences.
There’s never been a more exciting time to be a content marketer.
There’s also never been a more overwhelming time to be a content marketer. Because even though marketers pour tremendous time and effort into content campaigns, they often end up underwhelmed by the results.
They’re left feeling that they’re contributing to the noise rather than the signal.
Content marketing has turned into a factory assembly line.
Create. Publish. Repeat. And hope.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
To succeed in the highly competitive creator economy of today and the future, content marketers need to rethink their approach or go the way of the dinosaurs (and not the multi-billion-dollar movie franchise kind).
Where Did Things Go Awry?
Content creation may look easy, but it is hard work. In trying to optimize our approach, do marketers focus on the wrong end of the stick? Do we make the wrong choices?
You could compare this to how a company chooses to approach customer service.
Brands may harp on about how much they value their customers, but if customers struggle with convoluted automated phone systems every time they contact the brand – doesn’t that seem contradictory?
As Digital Darwinism author Tom Goodwin shared in a 2022 LinkedIn post,
“I will never understand how we spend $500bn in Advertising hoping someone will notice us with advertising, and in the miraculous moment they do, and they care, we take their interest, and outsource it to a bot because no customer is worthy of their staff’s time.”
People tend to choose brands that choose them. Amazon is everyone’s favorite example of how not skimping on customer service pays off.
The company’s focus on customer service is a big reason people prefer to shop there – even if it doesn’t offer the best price. This commitment helped Amazon win market share away from competitors and earned it billions of dollars.
The right choices have a high impact. Which choices cause marketers to falter?
5 Choices Marketers Often Get Wrong
1. Focusing On Outputs Vs. Outcomes
The universal battle cry has long been “More content.”
Marketers face pressure to constantly be churning out content.
To be everywhere customers are. To be all things to all people.
That’s hardly possible, let alone sustainable. Nor is more content the solution.
Imagine if you ran a restaurant. Would heaping more mediocre food onto plates – beyond what anyone wanted – be your ticket to success? Unlikely.
More mediocre food isn’t as satisfying as a right-sized portion of good food.
Compare it to strawberries. The smallest, most misshapen home-grown strawberry picked at the right time is often far tastier than the largest, reddest, most perfect-looking shop-bought strawberry.
In the same way, more content isn’t better content.
The answer is to do less, better – not more.
A few pieces of well-researched, well-planned content that address your audiences’ needs can be all you need for long-lasting success. Especially if you promote it well.
Spend less time churning out content and more time understanding those you’re creating content for.
2. Chasing Trends Vs. Being Grounded In Strategy
Trends and hype cycles come and go.
Without roots, it’s easy to get blown one way and the next chasing silver bullets. Or get starry-eyed about endless possibilities and dive headfirst into creation without adequate consideration.
As my mum often repeated during my rebellious teenage phase: just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
High impact comes from aligning content efforts with business priorities.
It comes from grounding our efforts in a strategic foundation outlining what we’re doing, who we’re doing it for, why we need to do it, and what outcomes we expect.
As the saying goes, spending more time sharpening the axe versus cutting down the tree.
The truth is, the right strategy is usually far less work for far more impact.
With the right strategy, you focus on a small handful of platforms and channels – and on a small handful of content pieces you can do more with.
These will be easier to create because you’ll know just what to say and how to say it to appeal to the right audiences. And that’s how your content—even brand or upper funnel content – can significantly boost your conversions.
3. Prioritizing Short-Term Vs. Longer-Term
Free access to reams of data from analytics platforms has an often-harmful side effect: it conditions marketers to overly focus on short-term measures to show short-term impact and quick fixes.
Anything with longer timeframes, or which may be harder to measure, tends to get deprioritized in favor of the quick wins in the here and now.
But you never know when people are going to buy. Or what stage of awareness and interest they may be in.
That means you need to communicate with them regularly and relevantly, with a diverse mix of messages to address different stages of awareness.
But if your content strategy is all about gated content or hit-them-over-the-head sales-y messaging, it will feel one-note and off-putting.
Malcolm Auld, Managing Director of M@D and one of Australia’s leading marketing practitioners and educators, has a good analogy for that:
“Let’s say I walk into a supermarket and go up to the bananas. I pick them up and think, ‘Oh we’ve got bananas at home, I’ll put them back down.’
Then the shopkeeper chases me around the store with bananas. He chases me out the store; he’s throwing them in the window of my car. He’s inside my garage when I arrive home. He’s throwing leaflets at me down the street. And all I did was try to remember, did I need bananas or not?”
Every piece of content you put out – regardless of the stage of awareness – creates and influences brand perception.
Think about longer-term approaches and content strategies to grow, nurture, convert, and retain your audiences for the long term.
4. Creating For Machines Vs. Humans
Things go awry when content is built and optimized for algorithms instead of people.
Rather than “What do our audiences want?” or “What interests our audiences?” it’s all about “What will the algorithms reward?”
Seeking to game the algorithms for better rankings or more visibility can be a futile game of cat and mouse. The algorithm strikes back. Guidelines get stricter, and systems smarter.
Why lavish resources on outsmarting machines? They’re not the ones buying from you. Focus on people.
People relate to people, listen to people, pay attention to people, and buy from people. High-impact content is that which resonates with your people, i.e., your audiences.
And often people’s engagement sparks algorithms to reward content with visibility and reach.
5. Not Balancing Creation Vs. Distribution
If content drops and no one is around to consume it, does it make a sound? Even the best content can vanish unread into the ether without adequate distribution.
A common trap is focusing the bulk of time, energy, and resources on content creation, leaving little for distribution and promotion – which is what gets it in front of your audiences.
Imbalanced creation and distribution leas to wasted content. It creates more “carcasses of content,” as Mary Albright, Head of SEO at GOAT, called it in a conversation with me.
Being a serial waster keeps marketers stuck on the content creation treadmill.
Perhaps there’s pressure to release new content. But the reality is your audience may not even notice or be in the right frame of mind to consume your content.
It can still seem new to them weeks (or years!) after you release the content – long after it became yesterday’s news for you.
Or perhaps your content didn’t get much response upon initial release, so you scrapped it. But don’t give up so soon on content. Sometimes it simply may not be in the right format, on the right channel, or published at the right time.
Strike the right balance and spend a proportionate amount of time on distribution.
As media becomes more saturated, prices and competition shoot up. The wrong choices are mistakes that are getting increasingly costlier to make.
And more difficult to recover from.
Evolve Or Perish With The Status Quo
“We’re in perhaps the greatest era of change in technology in my lifetime,” Brett Tabke shared with me in a recent email.
As CEO and founder of Pubcon (the longest-running educational conference series in digital marketing) and owner of the online forum Webmaster World, Tabke doesn’t just have his finger on the pulse of the industry; he’s helped shape it.
“The single biggest change coming to content marketers is the advent of artificial intelligence and chatbot services to create machine-generated content.
The ability of the AI writing assistants to help generate more rounded articles, with fewer mistakes, fewer omissions, in mass quantities is a transformative event for the web.
It should help sites that struggle with quality content to elevate their game. It also can help those that cannot produce enough content.”
It’s no secret that we’re facing epoch-changing digital shifts.
As marketers, we have the power to translate these changes into action. Advances in technology mean fewer barriers to entry for creating and distributing content.
Anyone can create content – and practically everyone is, in more places than ever before.
The sharp rise in creators comes from all over the world, from people of all backgrounds and ages, covering all types of topics.
With all the hubbub, people’s tolerance for mediocrity is at an all-time low. Ignoring content takes no effort – better options are just a swipe away.
“There are still only 24 hours in a day. We still sleep. We still go to work. We still socialize. We still eat dinner.
Yet we’ve had exponential growth in content being published, so what have we had to give up to consume it? When have we had time to even look at it? Most content is never seen or consumed,” said Auld during a recent chat.
Content marketing is operating under new rules in a creator economy, where those who create content get supported directly by the audiences they build.
In the attention economy of the past, search, social, and media monoliths dominated. Creators turned to them to find a following. In the creator economy, content consumption is scattered; creators draw their audiences to platforms.
And whereas, before, the focus was on paying to disrupt attention, longevity lies in investing resources to become what our audiences are interested in.
For example, who’d have ever thought that product demonstrations of a blender could go viral? But Blendtec’s “Will it blend?” campaign proved how making product demos interesting can captivate audiences.
Their videos showing whether items such as golf balls, iPhones, and glow sticks could be blended have hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube.
But creativity is a fickle beast. Creating content takes time and effort. We battle writer’s block, self-doubt, and our inner critic, often under time and performance pressures.
It can be hard, even for those of us who genuinely love content and love what we do. It’s natural to want to ease the burden or offload the hard stuff.
I mean, if you could get an AI bot to work out for you or go to the dentist for you and still enjoy the benefits yourself, wouldn’t you use it? I would, in a heartbeat!
All shortcuts aren’t bad. Rather, success lies in knowing what to offload and what to own.
The Wrong Shortcuts Can Lead To Even More Wrong Choices
If you offload all content creation to bots, how are you different from the companies spending big bucks on advertising but then handing off customer service to bots?
How would you differentiate your content from others using the same tools based on the same data to target the same audiences? And, most importantly, how could you be sure you’d meet your audiences’ needs?
We can’t afford to prioritize artificial intelligence (AI) over emotional intelligence (EI). Or prioritize technical skills over creative skills. Or trade empathy for efficacy.
Marketers who use AI only to pump out mediocre content to game algorithms are unlikely to go very far.
Rather, the creators and marketers who’ll thrive are the ones who’ll use AI’s powers to build better, more creative, higher-impact content that meets people’s evolving wants and expectations.
AI can amplify our humanity, giving each of us “superpowers” to meet challenges of all kinds – including some of our biggest ones as marketers, from brainstorming tools that better extract human ideas, to research tools that better understand behavior and habits.
But prepare for things to get worse before they get better.
The same power can be wielded for good and bad. In many cases, we’ll be amazed by creativity the likes of which the world has never before seen.
In many other cases, we’ll see reams and reams of low-quality, AI-generated content clutter up every platform and channel – making it even harder to stand out.
Until algorithms update to catch and block them. Which they inevitably will.
For example, consider how many hundreds of thousands of sites have been wiped out over the years due to an algorithm update from Google.
Even the internet had to go through the dot-com bubble bursting before it became what it is today.
Additionally, ethics in how companies handle data and privacy and ethical AI design will increasingly be a hot topic both for consumers and legislators worldwide.
“I think another place we’ll see a revolution is the ethics with data and privacy and how that’s utilized. There are a lot of amazing good things that can come from [advances in technology], but there’s also, as we saw, election fraud, et cetera, that could come from it too,” said Letitia Boardman, Director, Strategic Account Specialist at Microsoft, during a recent chat, adding,
“The companies that are going to thrive are the ones that are going to be able to ethically manage all of those things.”
In all the noise and clutter, creativity, trust, and empathy will only be valued more. Great content will always be in demand, no matter the era.
Change Is Inevitable, Progress Takes Work
Creators are empowered in ways we couldn’t have fathomed five years ago. What will things look like five years from now? We’d hardly have answered that correctly five years ago, let alone now, with today’s rapidly increasing rate of change.
To future-proof your efforts, bet on what won’t change. The key to success is a solid strategy rooted in the most timeless element of marketing: human behavior.
“The media changes, but people don’t,” says Gerald Woodgate, Partner at Drayton Bird Associates, adding,
“We’ve probably changed a little bit but we still think the same as we did 100 years ago. How we communicate is what’s changed.”
AI is all about making us more effective. Yet, what makes us human will always be in demand. Shortcuts are easily caught.
When the barriers to entry are lowered, and everyone uses the same tools in similar ways, it takes being human to stand out. The future is far more human than we realize.
“Humans use creativity so much that we miss what a miracle it is to be creative in our digital age. But creativity didn’t begin because of technology.
Human creativity helped bring about the digital age. How? Through the art of remixing. In fact, everything is a remix,” wrote Geoffrey Colon, Senior Director of Content Design at Dell Technologies, in a 2021 article.
That’s sometimes easy to forget, especially as shiny new platforms come and go.
To understand the future, study the past. Marketers have always faced similar challenges. They’ve found ways to overcome them.
Why not learn from them instead of relearning things all over again? It’ll also help you better see through hype cycles and stay focused on the right things.
As Auld says,
“Channels haven’t changed anything in terms of buying except for the order form. We’ve been buying remotely since the 1800s. People could buy houses through mail order catalogues in the 1800s. Nothing’s new but the order form.
But the problem is, most people jumped into digital marketing and thought, ‘Oh we’ve got something new here’ because it was new to them. Buying remotely is not new.”
Marketing isn’t new, either. Everything we have now is simply a remix of what has existed before.
As Colon shared with me in a recent chat, “It requires looking at things over a 100-year period to see the incremental evolutions and innovations.
People watch TikTok because they get entertainment from it. It’s very similar to how we used to waste time in front of a TV. And before TV, it was, ‘Hey I’m going to turn the radio on.’”
People want to be entertained, educated, encouraged, and empowered. We want authentic empathy and connection. That’s stayed the same since the dawn of time.
And regardless of channel, format, or century, persuasive copywriting always wins – we haven’t yet been able to bore people into buying.
It’s people’s expectations and tolerance levels that change.
In an era of deep fakes and fake news, doublespeak, and hyperbole, people are increasingly checking under the hood to investigate what’s beneath claims.
“What it means to be human is the most stable aspect. What I think is unstable at the moment is trust,” shares Lexi Mills, CEO of Shift6 Global, adding,
“People interrogate information more. They don’t trust it as much, no matter where it’s coming from.
What’s happening is I’m seeing a lot of apathy in how people respond. When it comes to trust, I think we really have to be aware that it takes a while. And so our digital reputations matter more.”
Trust is harder to come by but more powerful when earned.
This is where content shines. Persuasive copywriting and high-impact content campaigns have built trust, reputation, connections, and brands for centuries.
It’s time for us to hone our craft. Time to put the emphasis on understanding our audiences and where and how to influence them.
Focus on all the steps that need to happen before you start creating content. That’s where success lies. Get it wrong, and the best execution isn’t enough to save you.
Get these steps right, and your creation and distribution will be poised for high impact.
It’s time to stop the endless grind and remind ourselves of the true powers of content marketing to connect with, empower, inspire, and add value to the world around us.
It’s time to stop relying on diminishing returns and enable content marketing to be a participant in the new world rather than a chaser of it.
That’s high-impact content marketing.
This extract from “High-Impact Content Marketing” by Purna Virji is ©2023 and reproduced with permission from Kogan Page Ltd. All rights reserved.
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