The long-form content trend continues. Over the past five years, content marketing teams across an extensive range of industries have been steadily decreasing the production of short articles (300-600 words) and increasing the production of long-form articles (1,500+ words). We live in a world now where 3,000+ words are becoming commonplace.
Just because content is getting longer doesn’t mean it’s getting better. And, that’s potentially a huge problem for your content marketing team and your audience. Your budget has been spent… your team’s time and energy have been spent as well. Then, you’re asking your audience to make a bigger time investment to consume long-form content.
If you expect prospects and customers to give you even more of their attention, you need to make it worth their investment. Which means your content marketing team needs to give more as well.
What’s missing from all of that seemingly amazing long-form content you’re producing? More voices. Thinking of a consistent brand voice isn’t enough anymore. Your content should bring a sense of fulfillment, and in some way, enrich people’s lives. To do that, you need to capture all aspects of your brand voice to make your content richer.
From brand guidelines to impactful content
Brand consistency is delivered to your audience through messaging, which is why we have key assets like brand guidelines that cover important details like tone and personality. Equally important are the voices of the people who create that content, those unbeatable emotions and insights that can only come from the human experience.
Brand guidelines are all about uniform fonts and grammar styles, and examples of “say it this way, but not this way.” What about unifying the brand voice as part of your brand consistency efforts? Being that the ultimate goal of brand consistency is increasing brand recognition, your content needs to have a strong voice… and that voice should be recognizable.
When the brand voice is first defined, a lot of great messaging work happens here. The discovery process is in-depth, involving interviews with customers and team members outside the marketing inner circle. Because the brand voice is so critically foundational, multiple sources come together to infuse their voices into the messaging framework.
Content tends to lose its impact over time as the team moves further and further away from this collaborative exercise. The content marketing team is cranking out content, so they retreat to their inner circle (aka silo) to create content based upon their interpretation of the brand guidelines — and their interpretation of the product or service. When your team is busy producing content at an expected clip, the brand voice gets lost in hurried translation.
Now is as good a time as any to:
- Pause and analyze your content production process to understand whether or not you are truly encompassing the brand voice.
- And ask: Is content creation happening collaboratively? Or, is it happening in silos?
Siloed content vs. collaborative content creation
Let’s take another moment to reflect on the massive uptick in producing long-form content over the past five years. More time is being spent by your content marketing team to create it and more time is being spent by your audience to consume it.
Creating a 3,000+ word piece of content in a silo is not only inefficient for your team, it’s also not going to yield the best content. And, that content needs to be damn good if you’re creating that much of it. Remember, you want to engage your audience — not lose their interest a quarter of the way through.
The best content includes an all-star cast that encompasses the brand voice to tell an impactful story. Films are a relatable example of long-form content. You agree to spend 90 minutes to two hours of your time in exchange for inspiration or entertainment.
Maybe you pick a film because your favorite actor is in it. But the film falls short because that one actor, though incredible, just couldn’t carry the story on their own. Then you watch a different film where the ensemble carries the story together beautifully. You don’t feel like “you’ll never get that two hours of your life back again.” Instead, you remember that film fondly and maybe you watch it again and again.
As you are analyzing your content production process, here are some questions to ask about your content marketing team. Are they:
- Being dismissive when other non-marketing team members share content ideas?
- Afraid to ask for support with scaling content production (i.e. hiring teamlancers)?
- Automatically assuming the content they create is relevant to your customers?
- Only working with customers on case study and testimonial content?
- Not inviting subject matter experts or thought leaders to collaborate on content?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then it sounds like your content marketing team is producing siloed content instead of working together as an ensemble.
Having a unified brand voice is becoming even more important for brands this year. Customers are navigating a topsy-turvy world and your brand needs to be an anchor for them. This unified brand voice is also very important for your content marketing team, who is operating in a state of continual chaos.
In Bynder’s State of Branding Report – COVID-19 Edition: “The lack of knowledge sharing and content collaboration was rated as the biggest challenge for teams working remotely.” Your team can overcome this challenge by being better about helping each other achieve positive results, by creating collaborative content together.
Encompass your brand voice with collaborative content
What are some ways to bring in more voices to enrich your content? You’re actually surrounded by experts who align with your brand voice. So look no further than your customers, subject matter experts (SMEs), teamlancers, and industry thought leaders.
Content marketers have a strange habit of pigeonholing their customers as case study and testimonial content providers. Customers are good for so much more. They are experts in their role and they are experts who are using your product or service to succeed in their role.
Some of your customers are already thought leaders, or they are aspiring thought leaders. When you collaborate with your customers on content, you bring in one of the most relevant voices but you also strengthen your customer relationship through this collaboration.
One of the best examples I’ve seen of customer voices being leveraged fully in content comes from Buzzsprout, a podcast hosting platform I started using this year for my podcast, Love Your Enthusiasm.
Buzzsprout has an awesome Q&A series where customers submit a question and their team answers that question in a short video. So simple, but highly effective. Buzzsprout makes this Q&A series distinctly on-brand by having customers submit their question in an audio format, since their customers are all podcasters.
Subject matter experts
Your content marketing team knows content. But, there are a lot of other voices outside of marketing who know other facets of the business. These subject matter experts are ideal people to collaborate with, as long as you make the process easy on them and as long as they are enthusiastic about contributing content.
One-on-one interviews work well for efficiently capturing the expertise of busy SMEs. Even if you have subject matter experts in your midst who can write, they very likely do not have time to write. Your content marketing team should ghostwrite for SMEs and loop them into the content review cycle.
Also, don’t force subject matter experts into content projects. You’ll probably know who the interested contributors are because they regularly share content topic ideas by email or they say they wish they had this or that content to share with prospects or customers. And, if you’re unsure who wants to get involved? Try polls or surveys… or just ask nicely. Most SMEs will be happy to know that you want their voices to be heard more.
An external team is another reliable source for infusing your content with different perspectives that still align with your brand values and vision. Teamlancing is becoming more popular as a way for brands to create an extension of their internal team by hiring a team of experts in various fields to support their marketing efforts — everything from content to visual design, from strategy to execution.
Teamlancers can help you with the two points we just covered, collaborative content with your customers and subject matter experts. As an example, you might work with teamlancers who handle all blog content creation. Teamlancers can ghostwrite by interviewing your customers and SMEs, then transforming those interviews into thought leadership content.
Industry thought leaders
The great thing about so many people considering themselves industry thought leaders is that you have the pick of the litter when it comes to content collaboration. You might be worried about maintaining your brand voice when working with people who represent other brands. This is why you look for like-minded individuals who align with your brand values and vision while helping you diversify messaging with their unique perspectives.
Recently I wrote this gargantuan 3,000+ word piece on ClearVoice… What is Content Marketing? Even though I felt like I had enough experience to define content marketing, I also didn’t think I had the definitive answer. I called in industry thought leaders to help me define content marketing — what it is and what it isn’t. Because I opened the floor to like-minded people who knew their stuff, the piece is stronger for it.
If we all create content in silos, the brand voice will diminish along the way. There are so many opportunities to infuse brand voices in our content. Content collaboration isn’t about the product, it’s about the people who see the process through. When your content marketing team is open to change, the people always come first, all aspects of the brand voice are heard, and richer content is made.