How to Create Successful Content: Go Bigger, Bolder, Braver

March 16, 2016 Ann Handley

create successful content with Ann Handley

A few months ago, Ann Handley, author, speaker, and chief content officer at MarketingProfs, joined us for a webinar on the future of marketing. Following is a transcript of some of the highlights from Ann's presentation about how to create successful content. Enjoy!

What is the biggest challenge for marketers?

Imagine you're standing in your office a year from now. What will you be thinking about the year you've just had? Ideally, you'll be thinking about what an amazing year you had from a content creation aspect. And why?

Because that year was the year that you really embraced the power of creating ridiculously good content.

Now back to the present. How will you get to that point a year from now? We need to take some risks this year because the biggest missed opportunity in content creation is going to be playing it too safe.

Download our free ebook, "Scaling Content Marketing," to learn how to create a winning strategy, how to set up an efficient process, how to know if your content marketing is working, and more.

There's a lot of content marketing that's being created on behalf of brands and individuals, and I believe that we don't need more content. We need better content. So why does this matter?

create successful content

Every year for the past six years, my company, MarketingProfs, has partnered with the Content Marketing Institute to look at trends and content marketing. We ask marketers about lots of things—tactics, trends—to give marketers some benchmarks for their programs going forward.

The most interesting stat came out of our last survey: only 30 percent of B2B organizations who are now using content in their marketing know if the content they're producing is effective.

Digging a little deeper, we asked, "Why is that? What are your biggest challenges as marketers?"

We found that creating engaging content is the biggest challenge that marketers face. Interestingly, this has been their top challenge for the past six years.

This notion of creating engaging content is more about brains than it is about budget.

If you think of all of the content that you create through the lens of "bigger, bolder, and braver"—if you can tell a bigger story, be a braver marketer, produce braver marketing, adopt a bolder tone of voice—you will have more success this year.

How do you tell a "bigger story?"

What do I mean by a "bigger story?" A bigger story puts your business in the context of what people care about; it puts it in the context of their lives. This is true whether you sell a router or a rutabaga. No matter what you sell, you are never selling a commodity.

You're putting your product in the context of the lives of your customers. And a bigger, braver story means that you are telling a different story, one that gives you the ability to align more people in your community.

From a content creation aspect, a key to aligning people in your community is to create deep value for them through your content. That may be through a training or an education program that offers people clear value. It may just mean adopting a different point of view that transcends what your competitors might be doing.

This idea emerged again and again in our research: content creators want to understand what's going to resonate with their audiences.

In my mind, that starts with empathy for the pain of your customers. One of my favorite examples was REI's recent "Opt Outside Program." REI closed their doors on Black Friday and instead encouraged people to just get outside—stay out of the malls and get outside.


It's a great example of a bigger story and of braver marketing.

It's a great example of what happens when a brand has a truly empathetic understanding of its customers and then uses that understanding to espouse a point of view the customers value. And that point of view is really about exploring what it means to put the outdoors at the center of a life.

I also think that this is emblematic of something else—the idea that smart companies don't just follow shifts in culture, they actually lead them.

What does it mean to use a "braver voice?"

Tone of voice is your gutsiest, bravest asset. It is vastly undervalued by most businesses, most companies out there. What do I mean by tone of voice? I think of it in terms of three things:

  1. Your tone of voice is who you are. It reflects who you are.
  2. It reflects why you do what you do.
  3. It reflects what you're like to deal with.

So what are you? How would you define your tone of voice? Start this year by thinking about the three things that you are.

What is the biggest missed opportunity in content?

The biggest missed opportunity in content is playing it too safe. This is one of my favorite quotes, by Presbyterian minister William Shed:

"A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for."

This is so true of content. There is such a vast opportunity for using content to push your business forward. But we can only do that if we push content itself forward. Let's make this the year that we tell bigger stories, that we become braver marketers, and that we adopt a bolder tone of voice.

To hear the rest of Ann's presentation, and those of Jay Baer, Mark Schaefer, and Joe Staples, check out the full webinar on demand.

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