best content marketing advice 2016

The Q4 crush is almost behind us, and we’re getting ready to close our email and enjoy the best week of the year — our team will be celebrating our annual tradition of closing up shop between Christmas and New Year’s. We have big plans: Eat ALL OF the cookies, snuggle with our kids and relatives, catch up on TV, books and sleep, and (this one’s important) avoid any and all family political discussions.

Beyond the cookies, I like this time of year because I get some breathing room to reflect and think. I work from home, and my best ideas come when I step away from my laptop and take a walk (or a midday shower — hands down the best perk of working from home). I think of late December as one long step away from the laptop. When I don’t have new emails landing in my inbox, Twitter notifications to tend or conference calls on my calendar, I can really think and give some attention to the big ideas that have been bouncing around in the back of my brain for months.

For now I’m looking back at the big ideas we’ve been working through on the Rep Cap blog in 2016. If you’re looking for inspiration this season, here’s the best content marketing advice we shared in 2016:

Write B2B blog posts people actually want to read

When you write sales-focused blog posts that are directly tied to your product features, value proposition and brand promise, you miss something important. You suck the story out of the marketing.

Marketing needs a story to be interesting. If you’re telling a real story about real people, it’s going to be messy. Real stories that people want to read don’t tie up nicely into a perfect brand promise. They have loose ends. They have non sequiturs that aren’t directly related to what you’re trying to sell. That’s what makes them interesting.

Bring teams together to get everyone (not just marketers) involved in content

B2B content is all about relationships, and working together with your customers to create content helps you both. They want to look good to their peers, so find ways to produce content that elevates both of your brands. Case studies and presentations are a good place to start, but don’t just highlight the role your tech played in customer success.

Wistia does a great job diving deep into the issues their customers are facing and describing how they find solutions. Its Customer Success Stories feature meaty articles full of quotes and photos that provide lots of details about the process.

Tip: Include information about how you worked together and played off each other’s strengths to overcome a challenge. These behind-the-scenes details are what bring content marketing to life, as they give others a clear idea about what it’s like to work with you — not just the results you can provide.

Rethink marketing ‘best practices

Write what you enjoy. Look at the content you love the most and pick apart why you love it. Is it funny? Unexpected? Heartfelt? Sarcastic? Then go off and do what you love — make great stuff.

Update and refresh old content

Beyond learning about website performance, a content audit can provide valuable insights about past content to help inform future content. Julia McCoy, author of “So You Think You Can Write?,” says “content auditing also allows you to revamp existing content to increase its search ranking or to develop content similar to previously successful pages. It’s one of the best ways to maintain the ongoing quality of your content.”

Those insights can be extremely helpful for marketers and writers who sometimes get stuck with writer’s block. Or, if your blog is in its proverbial teenage years and you already have a deep backlog of blog posts on key topics, a content audit can give you direction on holes you could fill or areas you could explore further.

Get better at sharing creative feedback

We all like to work with nice people (we even made it a company rule at Rep Cap). The downside to all that pleasantness is that clients sometimes avoid giving us feedback so they don’t hurt our feelings. Trust me, I no longer have feelings about things like editorial calendars, blog titles or email subject lines. Educated opinions — yes. Feelings? No.

Keep everyone’s feelings out of the equation by focusing on the product, without ascribing any sort of motive or other narrative to the effort. Stick to the goals and facts that everyone has already agreed upon, referring back to the creative brief as a guide.

Get bigger, braver and bolder with your work

As a brand (and as a person), your tone of voice is your gutsiest, bravest asset. It’s your chance to share who you are, why you do what you do and what you’re like to work with. Here’s a helpful exercise for defining your brand voice. Fill out this Mad Libs-esque form with three adjectives:

As a brand, we are:

________________________.

________________________.

________________________.

Then, find interesting ways to infuse that personality into everything — your About page,  your social profiles, the preview text at the top of your marketing emails. Or, in Ann Handley’s words, “find interesting ways to say boring stuff.”

Write FEWER (better!) blog posts

Lately, I’ve been giving marketers new advice: Blog less. Slow down your content production. Shrink your editorial calendar.

That might seem like counterintuitive advice for a content marketing agency to give its clients.

But we’ve reached a saturation point as marketers. There’s so much content out there, in pretty much every industry. Some of it is great — really helpful, thoughtful reads that educate and add to a bigger conversation. …

But a lot of the content that marketers are churning out just isn’t awesome. As a reader, customer or prospect, it’s usually pretty easy to tell when a blog post or email is inspired and new, versus when a marketing team was just trying to check off a to-do. …

Keep iterating. Keep learning. Keep reading. Don’t get so tied to your process or plan that you miss an opportunity to create something interesting.