Plenty of businesses do content marketing.
I mean, I use ‘do’ in the same uncertain tone I use when I say “Yeah, I play” after someone spots my acoustic guitar in the corner of my lounge.
Bought with the best intentions, untouched for 6 months. If I'm honest, it's more of an ornament than an instrument these days.
Just as learning basic chord structures is a world apart from writing a best-selling record, there’s a crazy difference between having a basic understanding of content marketing, and being able to execute an effective strategy that sees results.
This may be just one piece of the content marketing whole, the bassline for the album. But take it from us, there’s more to it than saying “Let’s create an eBook!”.
Behind every piece of content we create is process and forethought.
Goals, task lists, deadlines, collaboration, humans racking their left and right brains to pull together something worthwhile. And all the nitty gritty stuff that goes on in between.
So, how do we take an eBook from concept to completion? How do we hit deadlines and bring focus to the content we create?
(For the sake of time and clarity I’m going to use an eBook as an example here. It’s an extremely popular format in B2B content marketing after all, and one of the most common types of awareness content.
That said, many of the principles in this post can be applied to other content too.)
So, let’s start from the beginning...
Of course, the endgame is bagging new customers and turning them into brand ambassadors. But buyers aren’t always ready to make that step.
Content marketing square one isn’t about sales conversion - and that’s what sets it apart from outbound techniques.
Before we get anywhere near the creation process, we need to understand the why behind your awareness eBook. What’s the purpose of it all?
Which buyer persona are we trying to reach?
What business pain point are you going to focus on?
Basically, how are we going to make this project meaningful? Because if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, there’s no way you can possibly know what to create.
Once we know what we’re trying to achieve, we figure out what we’re actually going to be creating. eBooks can take many different forms. Ultimate guides, industry reports, interview compilations, myth busting compendiums, listicles on steroids...
You might want to educate your audience on the subject of ecommerce, but do you want to show them how-to create an effective customer experience? Or are you going to explore the broader context and challenges for ecommerce companies in the UK?
This is when you go back to your goals, revisit your buyer personas and make an informed decision on which type of eBook you think will best house your message.
Now shape up a detailed brief or summary of what you want from the eBook...
- What angle are you taking?
- Who is your target audience?
- What tone of voice are you going to use?
- What will be the main takeaways?
- What about themes and support points?
Make it clear, make it concise.
HOOK, LINE AND SINKER
Time to get the team together and brains in gear.
Every piece of content needs a hook - the creative concept that air lifts it from Mount Monotony and drops it slap bang in the reader’s lap.
We aim to give every eBook an edge that competitor content fails to emulate.
Hold a creative session. We always like to think big to begin with, and have some fun with it too. Search the abstract realms of the mind and think proactive. Vent it all out and then focus on two or three of your stronger ideas.
Once you’ve got them, hone them further.
Keeping the copywriter(s) in the loop at this point is critical.
The worst thing you can do at this stage is leave them at sea.
Your hook needs to be at the heart and soul of your eBook, and it’s the copywriter’s job to weave it throughout; complementing or even exaggerating the creative concept by manipulating the language.
SEARCH, RESEARCH, SEARCH AGAIN
Now’s the time to roll up those sleeves and get your hands dirty.
We tend to jump head-first into desk research. Digging out and swallowing as much information as we can.
This stage will help shape your message.
We often run a survey and/or undertake interviews during the eBook creation process.
It means we get our hands on juicy original information, bringing a different dimension to the eBook. We usually ready our interview and/or survey questions at this stage, tracking down and reaching out to influencers and market researchers at the same time.
LAYING THE GROUNDWORKS
With hours of desk research in the bank, and a firm understanding of the brief and creative concept behind your eBook, it’s time to create the structure.
This is a top writing best practice. Your eBook may have three main sections, it may have ten - either way, by clearly defining what each one is going to discuss (think working titles, summaries and bullet points), you can write with all important focus.
This is also particularly useful for us as an agency. It means we can pass on a detailed snapshot of the eBook without actually triggering the full copywriting process.
Once the structure has been signed off, you know everyone is on the same page.
FEED THE BEAST
Interviewees can be hard to pin down — especially hot shot influencers.
Once you’ve written your questions and arranged dates and times, be prepared to stay flexible. The people in this world worth talking to are usually the busiest. And remember, they’re doing you a favour, so catch them when you can and, when you do, squeeze as much value out of them as possible.
We use video and web conference service Zoom to conduct most of our interviews, and make sure to record our calls so that we can revisit them when we need to.
We also use Rev transcription provider as an easy solution to turning audio into text.
When it comes to surveys, it all depends on budget and gut feeling.
Roughly how long is your eBook going to be? If your answer is anywhere under five-thousand words, we’d recommend you include no more than ten questions in your survey — if it’s only being used to complement your desk research, that is.
If in fact your survey is the main focus of the eBook, anywhere between 15 and 25 questions is the sweet spot.
Make every question work as hard as possible to keep costs down.
THE UGLY FIRST DRAFT
Here we go! Armed with every shred of information and insight you’ve gathered, it’s time to get those fingers flexing.
Writing a large document can seem intimidating. But all the previous steps in our eBook creation process have all been geared to help us smash it out the park.
If you’ve followed our steps so far you should be ready for this moment.
Go forth and write a masterpiece!
DON'T SHRED IT, EDIT
Content marketing is a collaborative process, so everyone in the team lays eyes on the first draft. This is no time for flattery, we encourage honest feedback.
This stage of the process is underrated.
Once you’ve spent so long looking at a document it’s easy to go word-blind (we’ve all been there, trust me). Shared proofreading means more eyeballs on page, fresh perspectives and salvation from the tunnel vision that had you overlooking your repeated misspelling of “public” as “pubic”.
This is an opportunity to raise the bar.
Integrate sentence structure suggestions, correct spelling and grammatical errors, overhaul entire sections if you need to (although a good structure will cut down the chance of this happening).
Most of our eBooks go through several rounds of amends before copy is signed off. From putting commas in the right place, to ensuring we correctly source every statistic, we like things to be as watertight as possible.
NB: Cloud apps like Google Docs are great for collaborative reviews. They allow your team to suggest changes in the document without messing with the content.
MAKIN' EYE CANDY
Hallelujah! Look at that shiny signed off document. Now let’s make it look like something people might actually want to download and digest.
We know how important visual experience is to a buyer’s decisions to a) download the eBook in the first place, and b) engage with the content past the first few pages.
Draw inspiration from your creative concept, and hatch something that catches the eye. But be wary of overkill. People are perceptive creatures, so we try to keep it clean and also avoid encroaching on the copy as much as possible.
Follow basic user experience principles such as whitespace, colours, spacing, and typography. Allow the copy to breathe within the document. Use snackable pull out stats, and dedicate entire pages of the eBook to quotes if they’re poignant enough.
Just remember to stay on brand and keep up a zero tolerance policy for boring, superficial and/or cringey stock photography.
CRITIQUE AND TWEAK
The end might be in sight, but don’t get ahead of yourself.
Reviewing the design is just as important as scrutinising the copy.
Ready for launch? Not just yet. We’ve managed to get final approval on the eBook, the green light if you will, and yet something’s missing.
The next question is how do you quantify this process? Turning around a complete document like this is easier said than done. Actually hitting deadlines is even tougher.
So how do we deliver the goods?
Answer is, it all begins with task breakdown.
Anatomise the process. Transform it into lots of smaller tasks rather than one massive one. Make an educated estimate on how long each will take, and check the capacity of your team over the coming days and weeks.
Only then can you start to put realistic time scales on things, decide on a final deadline and stick to it.
We regularly create delivery plans so that the whole team can see where we’re at with a project and each person understands their role in pushing it through to completion.
Now all you need is open communication between team members.
Encourage your people to speak up when they’re struggling to hit their own personal deadline(s). Likelihood is others will be free and willing to help them over the line.
Not all mini-deadlines will be linear either. Some tasks will overlap, while others rely on another task being completed before it can be broached. This is why fluidity and flexibility are so crucial in hitting content creation deadlines, and one of the most important things to remember before you get stuck into your next project.
Deadlines lose all meaning when you keep missing them. Content loses all substance if you don’t put in the strategy and groundwork to begin with.
For us, in an agency environment where other things can take priority, process and communication are key to pretty much everything we do.
Why? Because successful content marketing is a beast that needs to be tamed, and planning, collaboration and transparency are your secret weapons.
So when you come to create your next eBook, revisit these steps and you’ll be well on your way to that lead gen masterpiece — or should I say, platinum best-seller?