Articles | Content Marketing | 4 Steps to Compelling Content – Content Marketing Success Series (Part One)

4 Steps to Compelling Content – Content Marketing Success Series (Part One)

Effective marketing is rooted in strong relationships with the right target audiences – those with whom your organization shares wants and/or values. No contest on that.

Assuming that’s so (it is!) content marketing—creating and distributing relevant, mission-based content to your target audiences—is the best way to strengthen those ties and raise the engagement level of your target audiences. It’s nonprofit marketing par excellence this year and going forward.

Content marketing is being used by nonprofits as diverse as The Arthritis Foundation, Environmental Working Group and Feeding America to 1) strengthen existing relationships and 2) acquire new donors, volunteers and other supporters.

Content Rules Rules – Your Core Guide to Content Marketing

I just finished reading Content Rules (partner link) by Ann Handley (Marketing ) and C.C .Chapman. It’s a terrific how–to guide to shaping and maintaining a stream of content that is right for your organization, engages your target audiences, establishes your organization as an expert in your field and provides a reason for them to share your name and site, and come back themselves again and again.

That’s what the Environmental Working Group does so well with its safe cosmetics database, consumers guide to pesticides in produce and cell phone radiation guides; Feeding America has released two extensive research studies Hunger in America and “Map the Meal Gap.” These studies educate readers about the growing presence of hunger in America and detail food insecurity rates for each county, according to the Nonprofit Times. They show how crucial the organization’s mission is, engaging current audiences and opening the door for new supporters who might not have responded to more traditional marketing and fundraising outreach.

The Arthritis Foundation in Atlanta increases its membership appeal by offering a free guide to arthritis medication with a subscription to its Arthritis Today magazine. And the Nonprofit Times reports that The American Diabetes Association membership package includes a buyer’s guide to diabetes supplies, a subscription to Diabetes Forecast, and recipes for healthy eating.


That challenge is this – without a systematic approach – implementing effective content marketing is an overwhelming challenge.

Handley and Chapman lay out 11 rules for organizations to follow for content marketing success. Here are the 4 steps you need to start strong:

1) Build a Campfire

But put away your matches.

In the context of content marketing, a campfire is a metaphor for developing your content library. To build a successful campfire, you need to begin with ignitable tinder and gradually add more and more wood until you have a roaring fire. It’s the same with content.

But before you even start that campfire, you know what your goal is – to build a fire. You’ll need to set clear goals for your content marketing program, so you know where you’re trying to go with it—and the target audiences you must engage to meet that goal.

Most importantly, with so many channels, formats and types of content options “it is essential to establish a solid foundation for your content strategy rather than randomly gathering content and hoping it all ignites in the end.”

2) Keep the Fire Going

Starting the campfire is just the beginning. Now you have to keep it going.

So rather than thinking of your content creation/release process as a one off, consider it an ongoing process. Here’s how:

  • Develop a broad theme, such as guides to environmental health or accessible summaries of the latest research on the disease your nonprofit funds research on.


  • Work from existing content – particularly if your organization is producing content already on an ongoing basis, like the Environmental Working Group’s guides to healthy personal care and cleaning products or the Peak Performance performing arts series at Montclair State University’s program notes and recordings of post-performance discussions with the artists.

Then, rather than release the whole report or series at once, break it down into more digestible chunks that you drip out over time.

No matter which approach you take, always be on the look out (and ask – and train – your colleagues to do so too, this is an all-org effort). Look for relevant content generated by programs, audience feedback, research and other sources. That’s the content that your network will share with their networks, offering huge potential to grow your organizations base of supporters!

What information or story can you share with your network that shows your value and impact, rather than telling it?

3) Sparks are Meaningful – Do Something Unexpected

It’s important for your organization to be able to shake things up a bit with your content, as long as you stay within the comfort level of your leadership.

For example, if all your content is written, then make a few short videos or podcasts, or upload a photo slideshow. If you tend to write long, experiment with writing short.

When you make an effort to be more creative (without going overboard), your network will appreciate it greatly and are likely to pay more attention to these sparks. It’s human nature to be more engaged by variety than by repetition.

Content Rules shares a great example–Agilent’s “Puppet Chemistry” video. The company is actually one of the world’s premiere measurement companies, making products such as atomic spectroscopies, bioanalyzers, and liquid chromatographers.

You’d think that they would have a hard time trying to come up with engaging and creative content for their products. But, in creating this video, Agilent (which realizes that their products are not that accessible or interesting to most) showcases that understanding and its sense of humor. It worked!

4) Speak from the Heart—Be Human

It is absolutely crucial your voice is human, not corporate-speak or robotic. But in far too many cases, nonprofits reach out with inaccessible or off-putting content—whether it’s in a website, conversation, emails or letters.

So much content is jargon-heavy, depersonalized and/or just horrible. Here’s a example featured in Content Rules:

Communicative Health Care Associates (CHCA) specializes in full speech-language diagnostic services, therapeutic care, and hearing screenings and through our division, Allied Rehabilitation Associates (ARA); we offer comprehensive, multidisciplinary rehabilitation services including physical and occupational therapies.

Oof. Where’s the personality, tone and voice that’s so critical to engaging target audiences? Those essential building blocks have been replaced by jargon that most people—including parents who must be one of CHCA’s target audiences—might not understand and definitely won’t relate to.

Ann and C.C. suggest a great way to ensure you stay human—let your target audiences talk for you. There’s nothing more engaging than a peer, talking in her own words (slightly modified if necessary). Your voice—whether it comes from your organization or your network—should be natural, loose, and direct. That’s what makes rich and memorable conversation!

What are you doing to create truly compelling content?

Creating engaging online content is a must for any marketing-savvy company that wants to get the most from their online endeavors. Please share your strategies, challenges and successes here.

P.S. Here’s Beth Kanter’s terrific summary of Content Rules.

Nancy Schwartz in Content Marketing | 0 comments

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