Updated May 25, 2021
In 1995, Robert Cringely interviewed Steve Jobs for the PBS documentary The Triumph of the Nerds. The future Apple CEO reflected on the difference between generating big ideas and bringing them to life in a valuable way.
“There’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product,” he said.
That distinction might resonate with you – especially if your job is to spin rough insights and ideas into high-performing content gold.
People who aren’t involved in content marketing often assume content creators simply think up imaginative ideas, write them down (or record them), and click a button to publish.
But a lot more has to happen behind the scenes to make sure those creative assets get found by the right audiences, start meaningful conversations with them, and move them to action.
Read on for a handy tutorial on content creation essentials, including resources you can use to take your content creation to greater levels of success.
Before you proceed: If you’re not confident you have the strategy and operations in place to support your creative efforts – or you just need a quick refresher on a topic – check out these resources:
Take a practical view of content creation
Answer these three questions to establish and activate your organization’s content creation capabilities:
- Who will create/contribute to the content?
- How will your creative efforts align with strategic business and marketing goals?
- How will we craft compelling stories that our audience will love?
1. Establish your content creation model
You can assemble a content creation force in a variety of ways. Each model offers a distinct complement of pros, cons, and practical considerations. Many organizations use a combination of the following models:
- Hire a dedicated writing staff: If you place a high priority on content creation, want to produce a high volume of content, or need content to fill multiple channels and platforms at once, it may be worth having full-time writing talent to maintain control of the process.
- Leverage internal subject matter experts: If your content requires a high level of technical know-how or other specialized expertise, incentivize your executive management, sales teams, or other fellow employees to contribute content.
- Outsource to freelancers or other specialists: Smaller businesses, startups, nonprofits, or other companies that aren’t ready to invest in full-scale editorial capabilities may prefer to work with freelance writers (including trained journalists) or to partner with a content agency or other creative services provider.
- Solicit external contributors: If you are a B2B business with a strong community of subscribers, industry thought leaders may be interested in guest blogging on your owned media platform in exchange for valuable backlinks to increase their reach and exposure. If your business has a B2C focus, look to enable your ardent fans and followers to create user-generated content on your brand’s behalf.
- Automate the process: While content creation via artificial intelligence is in its early stages, every indication signals that automation will play a significant role in content marketing in the not-too-distant future. Brands willing to invest in and experiment with the technology will be poised to make a big splash, leaving their competitors behind in the kiddie pool of AI-driven content innovation.
To determine which of these contributor models (or combination of models) is right for your needs, consider:
- The nature of your business. Will your content require specialized knowledge or subject matter expertise?
- Your content competition. How will you create content that’s different from what your competitors publish?
- Budget and team resources. Which model makes the most of the budget and team you have to work with.
Shape your content creator pool
Looking for more assistance with determining the right creation model and putting your contributors’ talents to work? Check out some of our top resources:
2. Align creativity with strategy
Sharing compelling, useful stories your audience will love is an admirable goal for any content brand. But that love fest must be tied to a marketing purpose.
In other words, if you aren’t working with content formats that draw the attention of your target audience or aren’t positioning your content in the right way to drive engagement and conversion, you’ll spin your content engine’s wheels with nothing tangible to show for your efforts.
Creative and strategic alignment is a top-down endeavor. Let’s start with the practical and tactical decisions that should happen before you write a single word.
Evaluate content format options
According to CMI’s latest B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends research, blog posts, email newsletters, case studies, and video reign supreme when it comes to the content types marketers use.
But just because these content options seem to have universal appeal doesn’t mean they are a good fit for every purpose. Consider the strengths and limitations of each option – and your audience’s preferences – before deciding which to pursue.
Here are some starting points:
Find your unique approach
Next, there’s the matter of how to differentiate the content you create. One way to approach this task is to find a content niche (aka a content tilt) you can cover better than anyone else in your industry – think of Moz with its Whiteboard Friday blog posts or Red Hat with its Command Line Heroes podcast.
By focusing your creative resources around one specialty, you eliminate the paralysis that comes from trying to fill too many content buckets at once. You can also ensure that everything created under that theme ties to your strategic purpose in an organic way.
To zero in on a viable content niche, ask yourself these three questions:
- Can we own the conversation in this area for our industry?
- Does our audience have a pressing – and unmet – need for this kind of content?
- Do we have the right know-how and production capabilities to consistently create valuable content of this type?
3. Craft your stories
Your content should serve as a platform for your brand’s unique perspectives, capabilities, and value proposition. It also needs to tell a story that convinces readers to act.
In addition to the usual creative considerations – like determining topics, generating story ideas, and maintaining a consistently high level of creativity and writing quality – content marketers need to be comfortable working within a storytelling framework that leverages the power of persuasion.
Identify worthwhile content topics
Kickoff your creative ideation process by determining which subjects you should write about and eliminate the ones you don’t feel reflect your brand’s identity in the most meaningful and targeted way.
One way to approach this task is to identify some primary subject areas your target audience actively searches for information on. Conducting keyword research or using more sophisticated techniques like topic modeling at the start of your ideation process (if you don’t have this data on hand) can help you get a deeper understanding of the challenges your content should help readers solve. It also can help confirm you’ve found a niche where your initiatives can gain a competitive advantage. If your search uncovers relevant questions for which useful answers aren’t forthcoming, it’s probably a topic worth addressing for your audience.
Generate creative article ideas
It takes many creative ideas to fuel a content engine and keep it running smoothly on a long-term basis. Team brainstorming sessions are one great way to help your writers get their creative juices flowing and come up with a high volume of ideas. Another approach is to incorporate word games and creative improvisation techniques – like the ones Cisco Systems’ Tim Washer describes – into your creative ideation process.
Prioritize the ideas
Not every idea your team generates is a good fit for your business: Some may be fantastic on paper but require more time and attention to produce than your team can spare; others may be creatively brilliant but not useful for your target audience. Make sure you have a prioritization process to gauge the comparative value and urgency of your content ideas and help you decide which ones to move forward with.
Transform your ideas into resonant stories
Regardless of the creative process, content creation boils down to one essential step: the physical act of writing your stories. And when it comes to successful content creation, Steve Jobs’ thought on product development certainly applies: Turning a great idea into a great content piece requires considerable craftsmanship.
Look to these resources for ideas and inspiration:
Strengthen your creative muscles
But that doesn’t mean the writing process has to cause anxiety and frustration. Ann Handley has said that learning to become a better writer simply requires showing up every day and practicing your craft.
Over time, the rigors of the writing process can wear on even the most talented and prolific content creators. Look to aids like headline generators, productivity tools/guides, killer examples from inspiring content brands, or a little sage advice from a creative master for an extra spark of creative energy or a little help beating the occasional writer’s block.
Try these exercises to strengthen or maintain your writing fitness with the exercises in the Content Marketing Writing Secrets e-book (registration required).
Enhance your writing quality
Content riddled with typos, grammatical errors, tech issues, or factual inaccuracies can cost you the trust and respect of your audience and, possibly, their patronage. To avoid being mocked for producing lazy, low-quality assets or labeled as a purveyor of fake news, carefully proof, test, and fact-check every piece of content.
Use your powers of persuasion
Even the best quality content won’t help you to meet your goals if you don’t use it to move your audience to take some action. Decide what you’d like them to do, and then use your content powers to ask them to do it. (Just remember to use those powers responsibly.)
Try the ideas in these articles to encourage engagement, conversions, and other actions:
Master your full creative process
Want to learn more about any of the key components of content creation? Use the following resources to guide your explorations:
Go forth and create
By following this guide, you should find yourself on the path toward better managed creative teams, greater strategic and creative alignment, and improved brand storytelling. If you get stuck along the way – or have a content creation tip you’d like to share – let us know in the comments.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute