The Questions That Every Content “Report Card” Must Answer

We all love report cards, don’t we? Well, OK, there were some we received in school that we could have done without. But, in the business world, report cards – whether in the form of employee evaluations, or appraisals of projects, agreements, partnerships, vendor services etc. – measure tangible value.

These routine assessments should include those of your content marketing performance – whether this is produced in-house or via an outside agency such as our integrated marketing firm. Of course, as part of the process, you may evaluate metrics in the form of SEO/traffic results and lead generation. But you also want to review the quality of your content team’s blogs, bylines, white papers and other articles as well. Why? Because there’s a lot of competition for the intended readers’ time – 95 percent of marketers in the tech industry alone use content as a tool, according to the Content Marketing Institute. In determining whether your efforts stand out, your report card should answer the following questions:

Is the content compelling? There’s a big difference between a brochure and an article. Solid storytelling must drive the latter, with a narrative that uses concrete examples to illustrate your target audiences’ pain points and then brings them to a solution that will solve their problems. Ultimately, content follows a comic book-styled plot line – somebody is in trouble and a superhero comes along to save the day.

Is it easy to read or a chore? You shouldn’t accept “painful to read” content as a given simply because it’s about a complex topic. In the tech space, there are new, intriguing developments emerging every day about cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and other IT innovations, and your content must convey this exciting sense of discovery. Keep in mind that your team has to focus on making a business case for the technology, as opposed to getting bogged down into every fine detail of how it works. (To paraphrase an old saying, you don’t have to explain how a watch works to tell someone what time it is.) In presenting the business case, your team needs to avoid laborious, tedious phrasings and unnecessarily obscure terms. If unfamiliar language is required, for instance, then the team has to clearly define these terms to make for an easy, smooth read.

Does it seek to educate first, and promote second? If readers get the impression early on that an article is going to be a “sell job,” they’ll click off of the screen in a hurry. Remember that – in most cases – they’re looking for solutions to their problems. Nearly seven of ten, in fact, most value content that either “informs” or “educates,” according to research from OneSpot and the Marketing Insider Group. Given this, your thought leaders/subject matter experts (SMEs) need to come across as helpful teachers with useful knowledge to share. Save the “sell” for an executive bio at the end of the article, with a link to your products and services.

Is it backed by research? Strong findings from industry analyst firms, universities, think tanks and research institutions lend authority to an article’s core themes and assertions. Your team should include this in its content. What’s more, the research has to be fresh (avoid using statistics which are more than three years old – within the past year is ideal) and linked to the original source (instead of a second-hand account, i.e., a media report).

Is it entertaining? Sure, there are times when content has to stick with “the basics” of influence writing. But there are far more opportunities when creativity can distinguish your message from a crowded field of competitors. In the OneSpot/Marketing Insider Group study, 17 percent of survey respondents said they most value content that “entertains.” Speaking from my own experience, I’ve often worked with clients to incorporate colorful analogies (like this “factory” one, for a white paper about insider threats) and anecdotes. Also, as somewhat of a movie buff, I’ve introduced film references into tech content, such as The Truman Show to describe an emerging cybersecurity technique and The Shawshank Redemption to illustrate the power of fraud analytics. People love great movies. If they see them referenced in the content, they’re likelier to read all of it! 

At W2 Communications, we’ve helped our clients — ranging from startups to top publicly traded companies — address their content needs for nearly a decade. We always strive to ensure we deliver articles that are compelling, easy-to-read, informative and even entertaining. It’s the best way, we’ve concluded, to distinguish our clients’ value from their competitors while positioning their executives as top industry thought leaders. 

 

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Dennis McCafferty, Vice President of Content

As Vice President of Content, Dennis McCafferty brings more than 20 years of experience in editorial, working in all forms of content: metro/national newspapers, regional/national magazines, custom publications/content marketing, radio, TV, blogs and social media. Since joining W2 Communications, Dennis’s projects have included white papers, industry-publication byliners, blogs, op-eds, podcasts and case studies for the range of the agency’s clients.

Previously, he launched his own B2B/B2G/custom-publishing business, DM Enterprises, and worked with clients such as IBM, Advanced Micro Devices, USAA, Nationwide, Amtrak, Ritz-Carlton, MasterCard, GM and many others for their content marketing needs. He has also contributed to Baseline, CIO Insight, Washington Technology and VARBusiness magazine, among other titles.

From September 1997 through March 2010, he served as Senior Writer at USA WEEKEND, for which he interviewed newsmakers such as Presidents Bush and Clinton, Caroline Kennedy, Donald Trump and Web founder Tim Berners-Lee. Before WEEKEND, he was a staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where he won a national, first-place award for investigative reporting.

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