5 Critical Elements for Great Marketing Content

Content Marketing

As a 20-year marketer, I’ve created, read and edited a lot of content. Most of what I read today is, frankly, mediocre, if not straight out bad. I admit I’m a harsh judge. And I had the incredible advantage of writing for Business Week magazine with editors who held strong principles about both journalism and quality.

Recently, my colleague and I were chatting about writing fundamentals. We came up with five elements we believe are needed for great marketing content. While these are particularly applicable to marketing, I think you could apply them to really any written communication.

Element #1: Timeliness

Perhaps this is the journalist talking, but marketers must also provide content that is timely. What is your audience thinking about right now? Is there something happening in your market or your world that you should jump on with content, such as social media posts or a blog post?

Think of your business and your marketing content as a news source. If there was an event, like an acquisition or a CEO departure or a new product, a journalist would want to be the first to write about it. If there is something happening, then how can you as a marketer capitalize on it?

For example, if you sell sporting goods, and you want to do a promotion for your wonderful selection of baseball gloves, then you’d probably want to tie that promotion and related marketing content to baseball season, when your audience is thinking all about baseball.

One of our most engaging blog posts last year was an article about Florida’s Fangate scandal. One of the reasons it achieved such strong engagement was because we published it in the heat of the Fangate news cycle. Timing was everything.

Timeliness is harder when it comes to email marketing. If only we KNEW the exact moment one of our prospects was thinking about a solution like yours or wondering how to solve a problem we solve. So in this case, you can think in terms of other timely aspects: time of day or day of the week when most people might see or read your email, time of month or quarter when your message is sent (is there a natural sales cycle to your business), or how much time you give a reader to register or respond before an event.

Timely marketing content

While this real-time marketing provides timeliness, you need to ask whether your customers CARE about it.

Element #2: Relevance

This goes hand-in-hand with #1, because there is nothing worse than a marketer jumping on the bandwagon of a hot social story that does NOT have relevant to his or her community.  The most recent example (and I even hate uttering these words) is The Dress phenomenon on social media. Everyone seemed to think that his or her audience was just dying to hear another opinion about #TheDress.

There were even marketing organizations who figured out some way to associate their product or service with the viral hashtag.

Yes, this is an example of timeliness. But NOT relevance. You must have both.


Now, there was one blog post I read that analyzed #TheDress from a social media perspective, and while even that felt a bit slimey to me, at least the writer found a way to make it relevant to his marketing follower base. (However, I did find it ironic that he used the formula showing how timeliness x relevance is vital.)

When you write content, ask yourself:  What does my customer or community care about? Is this relevant to my business? Is this important or will it help solve a challenge my customer has?

Element #3: So what?

Viral Marketing Content

Too often we create marketing content without answering the So What? question.

This is perhaps my greatest content bailiwick, other than proper grammar. This Business Week mantra still echoes in my mind: “Interesting story idea, Margaret, but so what?”, my editor would say.

The So What factor is critical – it’s what makes your readers have that “ah ha” moment.  It sucks your audience in.

When you successfully answer the So What question, you are bridging timeliness and relevance to personal passion.


You should ask this question every time you write a new piece of content and when you create messaging and positioning for your company or product. So often we will see messaging statements about how great a product is, because of features or color or its cool blinky lights, but the content never tells us why we should care or what’s in it for us.

To answer this question, ask yourself: What value does this bring to my community? How is this different or better or new? What impact will it have on the world (or at least my market)?

Element #4:  Call to Action or Takeaways

Marketing call to action

Image source: webdesignerdepot.com / http://www.exactdrive.com/5-steps-to-crafting-an-effective-call-to-action

You need to give your readers something to do when they are finished perusing your content. The best thing is to give them a specific call to action; share this, download this, sign-up for this, comment on this, etc.

If a call to action is just not possible, then at least give them something to take away from the content. Think of this like you would a job interview – you never want to leave that meeting without reiterating a couple key points you want that interviewer to remember about you. Same thing with great marketing content.

Recap the main points or provide a final piece of wisdom.

Element #5: Lasting Value

This element may seem to contradict number one, timeliness. However, a piece of content can be timely and still provide lasting value to the reader – or to Google and your SEO!

Ask yourself: If someone found my content in a few days or weeks or months, would there be nuggets of value they would find? If not, rethink the content.

To create lasting value, incorporate into your content helpful tips, life lessons, examples, great keywords (so people find it) and compelling information about the topic. As we’ve all learned, SEO authority and ranking can build over time, and the same can be true with your content reach and value.


Quality over Quantity

Focus on Quality Content

In this era of digital marketing, we seem to often place activity levels over quality.  I’m still amazed when I receive sales emails day after day with  horrible subject lines, insulting content and over the top pitches. This, in spite of consistent data, research and anecdotal feedback proving to us that customers prefer a few great pieces of content rather than a million pieces of crap.

Take time to create GREAT marketing content. Follow these five principles, as well as other best practices.

What tips do you have for your fellow marketers around content?

Margaret Dawson

A 20-year tech industry veteran, Margaret is known for taking people, brands and companies to the next level through creativity, awesome positioning and messaging, coaching and hard work. She is a proven entrepreneur and intrapreneur, having led successful programs and teams at several startups and Fortune 500 companies, including Amazon, Microsoft and HP. She’s a frequent author and sought-after speaker on subjects such as cloud computing, big data, women in tech, and the convergence of technology and business. She is also an active mentor for men and women in technology. You can follow her on Twitter @seattledawson.

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