Get to the (pain) point: ensuring your content fulfils a purpose

/ October 26, 2018 / In Content & SEO / By

Your audience is saturated. They’re bombarded with the content you and your competitors publish.

Every. Single. Day.

Endless notifications, applications, videos, and emails fill their days.

And beyond those screens, they have a life. Their families, jobs, health, and hobbies are in constant competition with each other and with you for their precious time and attention.

As a marketer, what can you do to compete and hopefully gain a front seat in their time-scarce lives?

In such a competitive world, content marketers need to go the extra mile to understand the best possible way to grasp their audience’s attention and add value to their lives with the content they produce.

It’s not going to be a walk in the park.

Some may wonder why their blog is getting no traffic. They may even have resigned to thinking that content marketing is nothing more than just a commodity.

Others see it as a challenge and want to go one step further to understand how they can connect with the audience on a more personal level and how to better understand and help them.

The latter is the more difficult path. But whoever said content marketing was easy?

In a competitive world, content marketers need to go the extra mile to understand the best possible way to grasp their audience’s attention and add value. Click To Tweet

In this post, we will address the importance of publishing audience-centric content that fulfils its goals. More specifically, we will touch on:

  • Why it’s important for each content you produce to have and fulfil a mission
  • How to balance your content marketing goals with your audience’s needs
  • How you can better define the purpose of each piece of content and how to stay focused on it throughout the entire content creation process

Publishing content that connects with your audience is more important now than ever

And more difficult as well.

One of the most basic principles of content marketing is that to obtain results—be it for traffic, leads, or sales—you need to first establish trust and provide value to your audience.

To achieve your goals, you need to focus on theirs. You help them achieve theirs, and very naturally, they’ll return the favour. A simple quid pro quo.

The only problem is… boy is it hard to do.

In recent years, content marketing has gone from being competitive to plain merciless.

Case in point: the number of articles published on blogs hosted by WordPress increased seven-fold in the seven-year period spanning from May 2011 to May 2018.wordpress posting activityJust in the past 24 hours alone, four million new blog posts were published.

That’s 166,667 posts per hour or 2,778 per minute.

This really gives a new perspective, doesn’t it?

So if statistically, the stories you want to tell have already probably been told, what more can you do?

While some companies continue to churn out content like there’s no tomorrow, your audience is demanding for more and for better. Paradoxically, their attention spans are also plummeting.

consumer attention span
Image credit:

In a world where content is increasingly being taken for granted, companies that produce content that does not address the real needs of their audience and fulfil a clear purpose will be left behind.

The main keywords here are audience and clear purpose.

To produce valuable content that stands out, you need to raise the level of two of the most fundamental aspects of content marketing:

  • Knowledge of the audience you’re writing for
  • The value add of each piece of content or i.e., its objective
In a world where content is increasingly being taken for granted, companies that produce content that does not address the real needs of their audience and fulfil a clear purpose will be left behind.Click To Tweet

Get (re)familiarised with your audience

The audience is probably the most basic and at the same time important drive of any content marketing strategy.

We have to identify the topics they care about and write about them. That’s why we understand our audience and what they want.

Or so we believe.

Many companies produce content without having put enough effort into one of the most crucial parts of marketing: user research.

To understand the role content has in the lives of your potential clients, you need to understand their interests, fears, and motivations. This means knowing what they read, what they listen to, and what they talk about over coffee with their colleagues.

But besides simply getting the answers to these questions, it’s important to realise that understanding your audience is a never-ending process.

constancy of purpose gaping void
Image credit: Gapingvoid

Your audience and everything that surrounds them are constantly evolving, and so are their needs and interests. This makes it really challenging to fully understand them.

But it’s necessary.

If you’ve failed at that all-important first step of properly defining and understanding your audience, all your other content marketing efforts will likely fail.

If you’ve failed at that all-important first step of properly defining and understanding your audience, all your other content marketing efforts will likely fail.Click To Tweet

In the words of Rand Fishkin:

“Marketing requests and “strategy” often looks like this:

“Optimize our Facebook and Google ads”

“Get us more traffic”

“Improve our SEO”

“Make our blog work”

“Get us more sales qualified leads”

“Increase our conversion rate”

“Get us more email signups”

“Set up our marketing channels”

None of these are terrible goals… Unless the core targeting sucks.”

Here, Rand is talking about finding your marketing/market fit and just like product/market fit, it’s important to treat it as something that’s constantly evolving.

More specifically, it refers to that sweet moment when you know your audience so well that you know exactly how your content helps them.

And in exchange, your readers are willing to return the favour.

“If the marketing flywheel you’re building is finding friction, slowing down, or scaling more slowly than your competition despite a great product, consider investing in marketing/market fit. Just like P/M fit, it’s never done; it’s a cyclical process with constant opportunity for refinement and improvement.”

— Rand Fishkin

Business priorities vs audience priorities

After you’ve refamiliarised yourself with your audience and their needs, the brainstorming process for content ideas should be much easier.

With your list of possible content topics in hand, identify those with the best practical solution to your audience’s problems and those that have the potential to form an emotional bond with them.

Of these, the topics that both address your audience’s needs and fulfil your content marketing goals should be the ones to focus your efforts on.

A good content strategy unifies your audience’s and business needs like two lock and key enzymes.

It may be tempting to focus solely on keywords with the highest volume, or on the type of content that targets the bottom of the funnel and converts.

But by doing that, we restrict the editorial calendar to only ‘safe’ content.

And that means neglecting the wider needs of our audience and losing real opportunities we have to create content that’s of value to them and can connect with them.

A good content strategy unifies your audience’s and business needs like two lock and key enzymes.Click To Tweet

How one of the most successful digital startups prioritise its content

Companies that understand the value of content marketing for their brand are constantly reviewing their priorities and editorial calendars and tweaking their content creation process.

Typeform, a startup with an awesome editorial strategy, is one company that does this well.

We asked its Marketing VP, Sançar Sahin, how his team stays aligned with their content marketing goals while delivering value to their audience at the same time.

Here are his wise words:

“Content marketing is all about understanding how to engage—through entertainment, education and thought leadership—your key audiences.

To do this, you must first understand your audience: not only do they want to buy your product, but what do they enjoy doing? Where do they hang out? What inspires them? What demotivates them? Etc. If you understand this, you will create amazing and timely content for them.”

Their audience comes first. Which is why Sançar’s team focuses on producing content that’s simple, practical, attractive, and easy to read.

And they even have a cool name for this. They call their audience-centred strategy the SURF check.

            S = Simple
            U = Useful
            R = Remarkable
            F = Friendly

“If the content meets this criteria, hit “publish”. So, the key is to 1) understand your audience and 2) understand where you are trying to go as a business. Your content can then bridge that gap.”

— Sançar Sahin, Marketing VP, Typeform

Additional comment: If you have never heard of Typeform, check them out. The forms they create are great for conducting client and user research!

Define the purpose of each piece and maintain it

In a previous article, we talked about why was important to define a clear objective for each piece of content you produce. This referred to the internal objectives of a content strategy such as more leads, increased traffic, etc.

But your content should also serve a wider purpose—a clearly defined external objective that answers questions like:

  • What do we expect our audience to achieve after reading our content?
  • How do we want them to read our content?
  • Does the content have value? Will our audience learn anything new?
  • How can this content connect with them emotionally?

However, it’s one thing to answer these questions and another to remember them throughout the content creation process.

Here’s an example.

Mario heads a company that manufactures coffee capsules for gourmet coffee.

His target audience is non-coffee professionals who enjoy sipping quality coffee in the comfort of their own homes. He wants to publish an article on how to prepare foam so that his audience can learn how to prepare lattes at home.

As he works on his post, the barista in him gets carried away and he begins to describe each step with technical details and jargon that only coffee-industry professionals understand.

Plus, the tools needed to carry out each step are specialised tools that none of his readers has at home.

He includes tips and tricks he’s learned over the years and his post turns out to be a resounding success — but for professionals like himself.

It offers no practical value for his clients.

As made up as this story may have been, it happens more than you think.

It’s not uncommon for writers to deviate from the purpose of the content they’re working on. That happens even to good content writers. From being overly passionate or inexperienced to miscommunication within the team, there are many contributing factors.

If you know your audience well but your content is still somehow failing to solve their needs, you may want to consider the possibility that your content’s purpose isn’t well defined or is somehow getting lost along the way.

The techniques we’re going into now can help you better define the purpose of your content and maintain your focus on your audience.

User stories

We addressed the role of user stories previously when we talked about the importance of defining the objective of each piece of content in your editorial calendar.

But user stories are also great for defining the results we want our readers to achieve after reading our content.

Let’s go back to Mario. Here’s how he should have defined the user story for his article:

“I, as a passionate coffee consumer, want to read an article on how to prepare milk foam at home so that I can prepare a kickass cup of latte in my own kitchen.”

If Mario had done this exercise and kept post-its of this user story on his computer, desk, and perhaps coffee machine while he wrote his article, he would’ve been able to stay focused on his audience’s needs.

User stories are great for defining the results we want our readers to achieve after reading our content.Click To Tweet

One sentence, one paragraph

One sentence, one paragraph is adapted from Ryan Holiday’s “One sentence, one paragraph, one page” technique from his book Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts.

It tackles the ultimate purpose of your content and how to develop baby steps needed to get there.

The first step is to condense the crux of the content into one sentence. This is then developed into one paragraph and ultimately one page. This last step, however, is better suited for long formats such as an ebook or a study.

“Put the website or the beta version of your app or your manuscript aside and grab a piece of paper or open a blank Word document. Then, with fresh eyes, attempt to write out exactly what your project is supposed to be and to do in… One sentence. One paragraph. One page.”

Ryan Holiday

one sentence one paragraph one page

Note that the structure is very similar to a user story. But Ryan recommends writing this in the third person to distance yourself to get a clearer perspective of the end goal and focus better.

This process can be time-consuming. But practice makes perfect.

We highly recommend dedicating some time to it to refine your communication skills or those of your team. The more you do this, the faster and easier you’ll find it is to define the end purpose of your content.

If you want to simply give this a test, try it as a first step for content that’s more complex as it can serve as a guide to make sure you stay focused every step of the way.

Edit with the end in mind

Content marketers, just like writers, need editors. Or someone who’s objective and has enough writing or editing experience to give you feedback on whether your piece is easy to read, if your arguments are relevant and well-balanced, and if an idea can be presented in a more impactful way.

(Remember that our readers’ attention span is thinning. Spending time on superfluous writing will get you nowhere with them.)

Above all, what makes a good editor is the ability to make sure that a content fulfils its purpose.

Having an editor on the team may be somewhat of a luxury to some companies. But that doesn’t mean you can’t establish an editorial review process.

Depending on the makeup of your team, there are certain ways to go about doing this.

  • If there’s more than one writer, one can assume the role of an editor.
  • If there’s only one writer, another member of the marketing team with more writing experience and a keen eye for detail can help review the content.
  • In a one-member marketing team, reach out to someone in sales who’s in constant contact with clients and understand their pain points. This person will be able to help you out with the basics and give you feedback on whether it can be of value to your audience.
Self-edit: If none of the above is an option, be your own editor. When editing your content, the key is to first distance yourself from it. After finishing the piece, distract yourself from the piece and try to disconnect completely from it. Once you’ve cleared your mind, go back to edit it. But before doing so, visualise your audience and the problem they’re facing that your content is trying to solve.

When does the editing process end?

If you or your team are perfectionists like us, weigh your ‘need’ to publish the perfect content—news flash, it doesn’t exist—against your content strategy priorities, available resources, and deadlines.

At the end of the day, what’s important is to adopt a work cycle and process that allows you to continue advancing in the right direction.

Write, edit, publish, analyse, learn, improve, and repeat.

All this, with the purpose clearly in mind.

“Confident content marketers have overcome the false security of perfectionism and publish their best efforts. They simply stay vigilant about possible ways to improve in the future.”

— Stefanie Flaxman, Editor in Chief, Copyblogger

There are plenty more content marketing resources over on our blog. Be sure to check it out!