The old adage “Write what you know” may be a helpful guide for aspiring short story writers, but it can actually be a limiting mindset for brands that want to produce ambitious content.
What companies know best will always be their products and services, but there are other topics that fall within their areas of expertise that offer far more value to consumers. In fact, a study by Kentico Software found that 74 percent of the general public trusts content from companies that educate them on a topic, but when those same companies include a product-focused message in their content, credibility drops by 29 percent.
The good news: Brands are really starting to embrace this storytelling that eschews self-promotion. Take Dove, which would be fine with commercials that market reduced-residue soap, but has moved forward instead with “Real Beauty” videos about confidence that really tug on our heartstrings and leave a lasting impression.
You can think of a brand’s area of influence as concentric circles. The center is for products and services. The next level focuses on how to use those products. And the outermost ring is more emotional: how your product makes consumers feel.
(Editor’s note: It’s concentric circle metaphor week here on TCS, but unfortunately, no Fat Joe cameo this time.)
Brands should use these rings as a roadmap for creating content that readers will trust.
Your products and services
Your readers already know and trust that you’ll provide the best content about your products and services. They come to your site for product information, hours of operation, and pricing. They turn to your social handles for customer service and support. They might even check your blog for company updates.
Betty Crocker’s website is a great example of a rich content offering anchored in products and services. There are detailed subpages for each product, a tab for information about coupons and sales, and an archive of instructional content to help with meal planning, food preparation, ingredient substitutions, recipe conversions, and more.
This type of content is undoubtedly a useful resource, but it relies on consumer pull. They come to you when they need you, if they think of it in time. To truly create a dynamic strategy that makes you a part of a broader conversation and keeps you top of mind, you must create content that extends out from this core area, no matter how safe it might be to stay at the center.
How your product gets used
This is the application of your product or service in a tactical sense. It’s the practical application of your product, the problem they hope it solves, and the physical space in which people use it. When covered effectively (and without too much self-promotion), this area of authority can make it easier for consumers to trust your brand.
When Woodford Reserve, a whisky company, partnered with Thrillist to publish content about cocktail recipes and other essentials for a Kentucky Derby party, the brand was acknowledging its role not only as an ingredient, but as a tool for entertainment.
Likewise, When True Religion worked with InStyle on “5 Rules Every Woman Must Follow When Buying a New Pair of Jeans,” the company was trying to reach customers through actionable tips that could help anyone, not just people who bought True Religion jeans.
How your product makes people feel
This ring covers the more personal, internal, and emotional reason that someone might use your product. It’s the feeling your product gives them or their motivation for using it.
For example, Squarespace, at the most basic level, helps people share information about their businesses, which is clearly explained in a sponsored Entrepreneur article titled “Create a Website Built to Pull in Visitors and Sales.” But on a more personal level and emotional level, Squarespace empowers people to build something for themselves, which is why it sponsored profiles of “side hustlers” on the Guardian.
And just because a brand creates content that focuses on emotion doesn’t mean it has to avoid direct advertising about its products. Dove is one brand that embraces all three layers of content creation. Sometimes, Dove touts the benefits of its soap versus competitors. Other times, it talks more generally about hygiene. But its most compelling and viral pieces of content are about personality and emotion. The brand’s heartfelt videos about “real beauty” rarely, if ever, mention soap at all. In “Real Beauty Sketches,” a sketch artist draws women based on how they describe themselves, then draws a second image based on how other people describe the same women. It’s easy to see how all of this relates back to happiness, beauty, body image, and soap, even without the need for an overt product push.
Combined, these three areas of expertise lead to a well-balanced content marketing plan. Brands should still write what they know—but only if they continue to educate people and create content that resonates with consumers on meaningful levels.