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What Does All Great Content Have in Common?


Why do some pieces take off like a rocket while others fizzle out? What is it that an awesome piece of content has that a mediocre or awful piece simply doesn’t?

Summed up: Every strong piece of content adds value to the reader – whether that’s entertainment value, information or an emotional response.

Well, duh. That’s blindingly obvious, right?

Yes, it’s a tired platitude.

But if, like me, your gag reflex fires a little every time you read “add value” and you’re about to reach for the “Back” button, don’t give up on me just yet.

I want to tunnel through the clichéd veneer and get to the heart of what adding value really means. I think I can offer some actionable ideas on how your business can actually accomplish a value-add – specifically, what is it that makes a piece valuable?

If your piece doesn’t succeed at one of the following, it’s likely doomed to be shuffled to the bottom of the internet’s content deluge, never to be heard from again.

1. Brand new/First to report

This is the rarest and toughest value to add, because so few things are genuinely “brand new” outside of news stories and (in even rarer cases) ideas that aren’t just repackaged in a novel way, but have never been expressed before. This could also include content that reveals information either exclusive or proprietary – for example, the results of a study you’ve conducted.

Attempts to add the “brand new” value are where so many pieces of content fall flat. Businesses attempt to use their blogs and social platforms to simply “re-report” industry news in an effort to show that they are engaged and up to date with what’s happening.

But while the goal is to become a trusted source for the latest and greatest for their audience, merely parroting other sources means that someone else is stealing the lion’s share of the value.

This value add-succeeds because it introduces exclusive information. If you cannot be the first to report or offer something brand new, you’ll need to add value in a different way.

2. Most current

There’s some overlap between having the most current resource and being the first to report – but the difference is that you don’t need to break the news, you just have the most recent information available, all in one place.

We see this all the time with news sites – but we also see it often with guides, interviews and other seasonal or annual content formats that are naturally the most current of their kind even if the information itself is not necessarily brand new.

As with other value adds, this one has a finite timeline – you’re only the most current until someone adds to your story, making the need for a heavy promotional push all the more important. It’s also common to combine this value add with the first, being both the first to break the news and extending the effort to keep your resource the most current.

3. Most complete

If you can’t be first, you can still become the best source and add value by offering the most complete set of information in one place. The reason that “ultimate guide” posts do so well is because they promise the reader that they won’t need any other source to get the information they want, addressing the underlying inconvenience of checking multiple sources.

I’d also argue that this value-add is behind all of the recent praise for long-form content like 5,000 word blog posts, ultimate guides and downloadable whitepapers. As readers, we’ve developed a heuristic that long = comprehensive, and complete = time saved searching, so we gravitate towards juggernaut-sized resources in hopes that they’ll be all that we need.

If you hope to use this value add, you can make your content budget go even further by utilizing the concept of repurposing. If you’re going to be doing all that research anyways, you might as well set out a plan to spin off dozens of pieces from the one cornerstone asset you’re already building, giving you reams of content you can promote over the long haul and use to funnel people back to your gigantic, primary resource.

4. New packaging

This value add is often overlooked, but is among the most attainable and valuable, especially for businesses with limited resources.

With content, it’s really hard to reinvent the wheel – and trying to be first to report requires a ton of listening and resources that you may not have. Still,  you can almost always find ways to wrap up existing information in new ways that speaks to a different kind of audience, or even different types of learners within the same audience.

For example, some will benefit most from bullet points and lists, others learn best by examples, and still more will learn best by auditory or visual formats (like podcasts, images or videos).

Infographics are a classic example of repackaging, and more recently, interactive resources like Built Visible’s “Messages In the Deep” are starting to take centre stage. But you can go further:

  • 6-second Vine videos have been used by the likes of Lowe’s and General Electric to build audiences and share helpful advice in a hugely consumable way.
  • Delloite wowed their B2B audience with videos predicting changes in various sectors – a format uncommonly used in their niche.
  • Cosmetics company NARS used SnapChat to preview their new collection to customers in a novel and visual way.
  • Epicurious.com released a visual guide to pasta that turned boring text and usually stagnant visuals into something interesting to read.

Adding value through repackaging requires a deep and thorough understanding of your audience and the many different sub-groups within it, as well as a finger on the pulse of what sort of resources already exist that you could recreate in a new way.

5. Unique voice

This one is often misunderstood because everyone assumes that their voice is unique just by virtue of belonging to them and nobody else.

Chirping the same tired conclusions but with different prose doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve found a unique voice or that that voice will be compelling enough to add value. The most common culprits of this are “me too” blog posts that read like carbon copies of other posts – usually transactional information churned out as quickly as possible.

Having a unique voice goes beyond that and instead presents a personality; a way of adding insights that, while not necessarily unique, are uniquely expressed.

Whether it’s a dissenting opinion, a humorous interpretation, an unheard perspective or a more eloquent presentation, there’s got to be something consistent and compelling for the audience to latch on to for voice alone to be a value add.

Too many companies think that they can wing it, when it comes to creating content for their business. This is a bad idea! Content has to be of quality, relevant, and unique to produce results. Furthermore, it has to be properly published and distributed. In addition, all of this has to happen regularly and optimized for best results. Companies have much to gain from having a dedicated team that is responsible for their content.

It needs to either elicit a strong emotion or make the subject matter easier/more interesting to comprehend.

That may mean a sort of “repackaging” in a literary sense, filtering information through a voice targeted at your specific audience: For example, a piece on the Hadron Collider made easy for children to understand or this provocative piece on the recent events in Ferguson, written in an emotionally gripping way.

Are you actually adding any value? And if so, can you explain how?

The point of this piece is to get you thinking (and rethinking) about your strategy. At the core, what are you doing that makes any of your content worth reading? Do you have a plan in place to add value, or are you simply hoping people find your content useful? Being deliberate in how you approach this could be the difference between mediocre results and something truly spectacular.

Lastly – Are there any forms of value-add that I’ve missed? If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments, so let me know!