If content is king, then content guidelines are its council. Learn why your B2B company should put in place content guidelines to ensure your content occupies its rightful throne.
With decision makers now traveling further and further through the sales funnel before engaging with a solutions supplier, content marketing has become central to B2B sales conversion and customer engagement. In fact, research shows that 80% of decision-makers prefer content marketing to advertisements, and 61% of customers are more likely to purchase from businesses that create custom content.
What’s more, when your B2B sales cycle is measured in years, not days or months, content becomes imperative in guiding, educating, and informing potential customers through the decision making process.
So now that we’ve established the importance of content marketing, the next step is to create lots and lots of quality content, right?
Royal Delegation: How Freelancers Can Help
Reality check, as we both know day-to-day operations can get a little hectic as a business owner. Blog posts, eBook development, whitepaper creation and Thought Leadership articles often fall to the bottom of an ever-growing priority list. Needless to say, we may need a little help. Thankfully high-quality Content Marketing consultants/freelancers are numerous and pretty easy to hire these days. But once we’ve hired a “pen for hire”, how can we ensure content remains on brand and provides value for customers?
Time to Turn to the King’s Council
This is where content guidelines come in to play. Just as a king relies on his council to help him rule, you can lean on content guidelines to help you ensure that your company is creating quality content.
What are content guidelines, you ask? Well, they are similar to traditional brand guidelines. However, instead of specifying the requirements for key design elements, such as logos and fonts, they dictate the rules of website and collateral content.
In order to fully understand what brand guidelines are, it’s important to be clear on some of the fundamental principles of branding:
- A Brand is a corporate personality that can reduce psychological risks, search costs, and perceived risks related to making purchasing decisions.
- Brand guidelines are a tool for achieving this goal as they ensure consistent representation of your brand at all customer touch points. In turn, this helps to develop awareness, trust, and brand equity.
- Brand equity “is the credibility and trust you have stored up in the minds of consumers.”
Ultimately, you want your brand to build coherent, relevant, and valuable connections in the mind of your chosen consumer (as represented by your buyer persona).
A great example of this is Apple. When you think of Apple, you think of uncomplicated, beautifully designed products for creative people. If you’re still feeling a little lost on the whole brand thing, you can find a great overview here.
Forming Your Royal Council
Okay, now back to our principal concern, content. Content guidelines can be viewed as an extension of your businesses’ overarching brand guidelines. They reinforce and communicate the associations you intend to create for your customer. They build the foundations of your customer relationships and tell your customer a coherent story as they travel through your company’s brand experience.
Naturally, if the “story” goes off the rails, it’s likely you’ll lose credibility, not to mention potential customers. There’s no point in building an awesome optimized and beautifully designed website and sales experience if you’re just going to lose your customers as soon as they start hitting up your blog posts and product pages.
Consequently, alignment between your brand identity, the products/services you offer, and the content you create is key. To help you avoid a content marketing catastrophe, Maven Collective Marketing has come up with four key elements to build into your content guidelines. Because you * ahem * totally have content guidelines already right?
One ~ Get clear on your Content Strategy and Goals
To become credible, your content must be valuable. So what value are you creating for your customers through content marketing? Do you aim to educate, inform, or simply engage your customer? Before you hire someone to create amazing content for your brand, you need to be clear on what the intent of your content is. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Who is my customer? Who am I to them? It’s important to have a rich idea of who your customer is and who you are to them. See content marketing element #2 for more on this.
- How can we reinforce our product “need” through our content? Remember that content marketing is a means to an end. Ultimately you’re looking to push your customers through the sales funnel. Your content should help the customer connect their needs to your product offering. Create content that instigates action, enhances value and reinforces why your product or service will make life easier for them.
- How often do you plan on posting content? Part of building trust and awareness through content marketing comes from posting consistently. You want to create a pipeline of customers that view your blog/content as a valuable resource. Make sure you create a content posting schedule and ensure freelancers can deliver accordingly.
Two ~ Know Your Audience and Set the Tone accordingly
Personality is an important aspect of any brand. Just like the “persona” you have created for your buyer, your brand should have a complementary persona too. By exploring this idea, you can determine how this “person” thinks, how they speak, and the feelings they convey to the people around them (i.e. your buyer persona). Once your brand personality is solidified, it should be reflected in all aspects of your marketing communications, especially your content marketing.
In the development phase, your goals and buyer persona will inform your the personality and tone of your content. Should your content be witty? Serious? Straightforward? The better you understand your customer and their needs through a thoroughly developed buyer persona, the more effective your content will be.
For instance, if you’re looking to educate and become an expert resource on a particular subject, using sincere and less comical language may be important. For blog-based content, using conversational dialogue and asking questions can pull the reader in and drive engagement.
Setting the tone is also a great opportunity to learn from and differentiate your content and/or brand from competitors. Take a good look at how your competitors communicate and convey their brand, and then consider how you can improve upon it.
Three ~ Establish quality and formatting parameters
With the multitude of information being thrown at us on a daily basis, originality is fundamental to creating authentic connections and engaging with customers. The goal is to have your readers get all the way to the end of the post – maybe share it on social – and feel that they’ve gained or provided some value from doing so.
Don’t waste your potential customer’s time with poor quality content. Make it is clear to freelancers that content should be original, well researched, interesting and shareable, not a mis-mash of the work of other bloggers.
Format is also important in maintaining brand and content consistency. Make sure your content guidelines specify items such as:
- Ideal post lengths
- Quality standards (including resource links etc.)
- How to organize information (lists formats, heading protocol, text formatting etc.)
- Image requirements
- Where and when calls to action should fall
Four ~ Don’t forget about design
There’s no doubt about it; people are visual beings. If you want people to read the content you and your team have thoughtfully created, make sure it’s enjoyable and easy to read. Or in other words, “scan-able.” Content guidelines should establish the appropriate visual language, layout, and aesthetics for your brand.
What types and styles of images should be used? What color schemes should be included? Should text be organized or displayed in a certain way? Bolding text, using lists, incorporating subheadings, and writing short paragraphs are good rules of thumb.
The medium used to communicate content is another strategic design and content guideline decision. Aligning the purpose of your content with your chosen medium of presentation will significantly impact how it’s received. Be it through blog posts, e-books, videos, or podcasts, you should consider that not all buyers have the same visual or learning preferences. Consequently, variety is important. That being said, the end product should always be on brand and in the most effective medium for conveying the message at hand.
Keep your King (content) in check with content guidelines
Creating content guidelines is crucial to ensuring your content remains consistent, effective, and valuable to your customer. Having a content purpose, knowing your audience and setting the right tone, establishing quality and formatting parameters, and keeping design top of mind are a great way to start the process.
Do you have content guidelines you share with your content authors and pens for hire? We’d love to hear if you have anything to add Don’t hesitate to leave a comment below – we’d love to hear if you have anything to add. Or, if you’d like to learn how more about implementing content guidelines at your company, reach out to us: firstname.lastname@example.org .
A graduate of the Management of Technology MBA program from Simon Fraser University (SFU) and a former Board of Director for the SFU Alumni board, Erica finds balance through academic challenges as well.
As a self-diagnosed digital marketing junky, she spends most of her days studying search engine algorithm updates, A/B testing her own confirmation biases and building digital marketing strategies for various B2B clients.
When unplugged from the Digital World, Erica spends her time brewing beer, ultramarathon running and exploring the vast north of the 49th parallel with her husband, kids and vizsla.