In the beginning, online marketing was about quantity. Your website ranking was determined by how much (haphazard) content you could churn out. No longer — today, getting found online requires creating quality content readers want to read, engage with and share.

Sounds great; but what does it mean? The problem with telling people to create quality content is it doesn’t tell you much of anything. It’s a broad statement with little tangible application. Plus, quality is subjective; I really like red, so making a sweater red totally makes it better in my eyes. You, on the other hand, might find red tacky. Without additional information on how to make your content better, telling a brand owner or marketer to create quality content wastes everyone’s time.

Let’s first look at what quality content is, and then I’ll focus on an often overlooked secret weapon: finding and using an authentic voice. Then I’ll give you a few questions to answer before creating your next piece of content.

Quality content defined

Plain and simple, quality content is content your readers find valuable. This means quality will mean different things to different audiences. Before you start trying to develop an authentic voice, you need to consider what quality content looks like for your brand. Features of quality content include:

  • Easy-to-understand language appropriate for your target audience
  • Applicable steps your readers can implement in real life
  • An authentic voice designed to engage, inform or entertain

A major focus should be on that last point, the authentic voice.

Why an authentic voice matters

Authenticity gives people a reason to hand over their hard-earned money. People don’t trust brands, and they don’t want to buy from anonymous companies. Consumers want to spend their money with brands who care and use an authentic, human voice they can relate to.

Take, for example, McDonald’s more recent “Your Questions. Our Food.” video series. When you think of authentic brands, McDonalds’ is probably not the brand that comes to mind. But with falling sales, they decided to take a stab at building authenticity.

Instead of hiding from the questions being raised about their food, they faced them head-on by using a figure people trust — Grant Imahara, a former host of the popular TV show “Myth Busters.” By connecting their brand with a trusted figure, some of that trust was transferred to their brand.

An authentic voice means when your brand talks, consumers listen. Not just to ads, but to Facebook posts and Tweets and blog posts. They care about what you have to say, which enables you to build a long-term conversation. You are talking with your audience, not at your audience.

How to use authenticity in your content marketing

Finding your brand’s authentic voice forces you to determine not just who your audience is, but also what they want and whom they trust. So, how do you do it? Start by asking yourself these questions:

Who is our audience?

What an authentic voice looks like for your brand will depend upon your target audience. McDonald’s target audience for their “Your Questions. Our Food.” videos were younger, more skeptical consumers who do their research. Knowing their target audience helped them develop an effective piece of content the audience related to.

Consider your audience’s:

  • Age
  • Favorite shows/movies/books
  • Views on social and political topics
  • Education

If this looks a lot like developing a persona, that’s because it is. Before you can figure out how to talk to your audience, you need to figure out who your audience is.

What does authenticity look like for our brand?

Once you have considered who you are talking to, you need to figure out more about what they want. Brands like Zappos and Old Spice rely on humor, but that might not work for you. Remember, authenticity is about building trust, so consider what will help your audience build that trust.

Follow your consumer through each step of the decision-making process. Let’s say you sell camera straps. Your goal is to sell your durable straps online to professional photographers who are just getting started. What do they care about? Quality, price, brand recognition, material sources? By answering those questions up front, you can define the appropriate voice from the get-go.

Consider these aspects of your brand when determining what your authentic voice will sound like:

  • What personality do we want to project?
  • What does our audience care about?
  • What are their doubts?
  • How can we reassure those doubts?

What is missing in our industry?

Since most consumers don’t trust brands, you need to find a way to stand apart in order to be trusted. As a blogger, that might mean offering more in-depth information; as a software company, that might mean being more interesting; and as an e-commerce company, it might mean offering better customer service. If you want to be trusted when others aren’t, you need to be different.

A great example of this is Amy’s Kitchen, a frozen vegetarian food company. They saw a gap in the fast food industry, and so they created a drive-thru restaurant that offers organic, non-GMO food for people on the go.

Authenticity convinces consumers

When you ask someone to spend money on your product or service, you are essentially asking them to trade the hours it took to earn that money for what you are selling. Today, consumers are less and less willing to give their money to brands they know little about. Using an authentic, human voice builds trust and helps convince consumers you are worth their time and money.

Adding an authentic voice to your content marketing arsenal is one more tool in the quest to create high-quality content people want to read.