Are You Creating Meaningful Content?

image of long stem rose

Everyone’s creating all this online content, but does it matter?

More importantly, are you accomplishing your goals with the content you deliver, or are you simply spinning your wheels?

Well, if you’re doing it right, your content is highly effective and tightly tied to your ultimate objectives. Otherwise, you’re just filling up space on an ignored web page.

Content marketing
is the most effective and lucrative form of online marketing, because it not only works, it also builds a media asset at the same time. So it makes sense to understand exactly what makes content effective, right?

The key is meaning.

Effective Content is Meaningful

The simple definition of content marketing is to give away valuable information in order to sell something related. The word in that definition we’re focusing on today is value.

Value is a function of perception. So, you want the people you’re trying to reach to perceive your content as valuable, even if people you’re not trying to reach perceive it as worthless.

This is an important point, even though it seems simplistic.

The snarling enemy of meaningful content is the urge to water it down for the lowest-common denominator in the hopes of either (a) reaching an unreasonably mass audience, or (b) not offending anyone.

The result of that approach is content that means very little to anyone.

Meaningful Content is an Experience

Yesterday, Sonia showed you that content (what you say) without copywriting (how you say it) can be a complete waste of otherwise valuable information. But no matter how you say it, what you say has to have meaning to the right people.

Meaning is a function of what people believe before you find them. As we’ve discussed before, what people believe is how they view the world, and your content has to frame that view appropriately to be effective.

As a function of belief, meaning is derived from the context in which your desired audience views your content. From there, your content has to provoke a desirable reaction.

For example:

  1. Content – 10 Tips for More Productive Writing
  2. Context – Your ideal prospect believes productive writing is important
  3. Reaction – Your ideal prospect believes he can now write more efficiently

While everything we perceive is technically an experience, experiences begin to become meaningful at the reaction stage. It’s at that point that your content is good.

But is it great (meaning highly effective)?

No.

Meaningful Experiences Involve Action

A higher grade of experience involves active participation from that ideal prospect. So, beyond the belief that your advice is beneficial, your ideal prospect actually acts on your advice.

  1. Content – 10 Tips for More Productive Writing
  2. Context – Your ideal prospect believes productive writing is important
  3. Reaction – Your ideal prospect believes he can now write more efficiently
  4. Action – Your ideal prospect implements your productivity tips

The action taken can vary. It can be acting directly on your advice, spreading your content, buying your software that helps implement the advice, buying your book for more detail, or hiring you as a personal productivity coach.

At this point your content is truly meaningful, and truly aligned with your objectives. There’s only one level that’s better.

The Content Holy Grail: Results

What’s better than action? It’s action that leads to beneficial results.

Now, this won’t happen with every piece of content. In fact, it’s safer to say that reader (or viewer or listener) results happen thanks to the totality of the story you tell over time.

But let’s look at it in its simplest form:

  1. Content – 10 Tips for More Productive Writing
  2. Context – Your ideal prospect believes productive writing is important
  3. Reaction – Your ideal prospect believes he can now write more efficiently
  4. Action – Your ideal prospect implements your productivity tips
  5. Result – Your ideal prospect is a more productive writer

Whether you know about these results or not, it doesn’t matter – you’ve now earned a true fan. But odds are, a true fan is going to tell someone.

And that’s the fantastic last part of a cycle that repeats itself over and over in social media, all thanks to content marketing. And all the while, you’re building a media asset on your own domain that has independent value beyond the cash flow you pull every month.

You are building that asset, right?

We’ll discuss this more on tomorrow’s Internet Marketing for Smart People Radio show.

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Twitter.

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  1. Brian:

    Yesterday, Sonia gave us a definition of content marketing and copywriting. She then proceeded to talk about the difference.

    Thanks for continuing with the discussion of good content – an important topic.

    Randy

    • Randy, you are almost always the first comer here :)

      1 Content – 10 Tips for More Productive Writing
      2 Context – Your ideal prospect believes productive writing is important
      3 Reaction – Your ideal prospect believes he can now write more efficiently
      4 Action – Your ideal prospect implements your productivity tips
      5 Result – Your ideal prospect is a more productive writer

      I think the action should be splitted into : call to action and the action itself

    • Agreed, I don’t think enough bloggers or micro-bloggers understand how to create meaningful content. (*ahem* Twitter users: I don’t care that you just went to the restroom) . It’s something that we can all get better at.

      • You are absolutely right Courtney. It is possible to produce meaningful content even with just 140 words.

      • Agreed. On Twitter brevity doesn’t often equate to wit. If no one is likely to care is there any point in saying it?

      • I second that. Everyone is creating “content” but much of it is like listening to a 12 year old girl (my daughter) talk for hours with her friends. There’s nothing there and what is there could of been expressed in ONE sentence!

        The “problem” is that the majority are lazy and writing REAL content takes some research and a lot of time and iterating.

  2. If you don’t have something of value to give to your readers, they will feel like not only have they wasted their time, but also annoyed if your content seems to be full of rah-rah’s and cheering of your own material. To get and keep residual traffic, give them something they can relate to and refer back to time and time again.

  3. Whether it’s a post or a significant feedback conversation in person, the keys for me are in the 3 M’s: the message must be (1) meaningful, (2) motivating, and (3) memorable. Be relevant, be limited in how much you hope to cover and make it easy to remember.

    Thanks a great post!

    • That’s so true Marc, it should be easier enough to remember. That’s what helps our readers. GO on advising long time and no one would want to read you. Give them the proof, get recommended and do it quickly.

  4. Brian

    Good continuation from Sonia’s article. The hard part is getting the reader (or listener or viewer) to actually do something with that content. Following an article or piece of content with a Case Study that takes them by the hand and walks them through your proposal is sometimes an effective way of reinforcing the original content message.

    Looking forward to the podcast.

    Paul

    • It can be the hard part, but it’s surprisingly how far you can get just by asking them to do something simple.

      Depending on the reader to decide on her own what to do, out of a universe of possibilities, rarely works. It will work on the 1% of your readership who are superstars, but I find it better to decide myself what I want them to do, then spell that out.

      I do the same for paid/teaching content, I always pair it with specific next actions for the learner to take.

    • Well, for motivating them to take action, one should make the idea as simple as possible, make it convincing and turn it into a ‘need’. That’s how you get it done. If you say ‘you may’ you are not doing it right. If you say ‘it’s must’ they’ll probably look forward to applying it.

  5. I can see how our audience taking action and producing results is ideal, but what is it about that content that will make people take action? You call to action?

  6. I love this! I believe that our “sweet spot” in defining our offering is not only a.) what we’re great at and love to do and b.) what the client wants, combined with c.) what the client is willing to pay for, but also d.) what the client will actually use (or what you’re calling action) and hopefully get results with. Because without that fourth point, everything stops — your satisfaction level stops, the quality of the relationship stops, the chance for other people to see the results and be attracted stops, the flow of energy stops. I’ve compared it all to an energy cycle that needs to perpetuate, as energy needs to keep moving, and you’re taking a similar path here with a cycle that repeats with social media, thanks to content marketing. It’s yet another dimension to my thinking — thanks so much!

  7. To me, the important strategy here is to begin with the end in mind. While the process ends with “Result – Your ideal prospect is a more productive writer,” you should begin by asking “How can my audience be better writers?” Then fill in the steps going backward. Done right, it should help you develop a stronger sense of meaningful content, rather than just plopping a bunch of here’s-what-I-think stuff on a page.

  8. I try always to follow the golden rule you point out here..
    My loyal subscriber feel comfortable about my writing.
    However I’m lacking from some effectiveness to reach the right people.
    What do you recommend to reach the next level?

  9. Standing O!

    content (what you say) … copywriting (how you say it)

    That’s the money line. Can’t make it any clearer than that either.

  10. I think it’s also worth saying that writing Meaningful Content does not mean meaningful for everybody on the net. Rather, just make it meaningful and very useful to your readers. Just decide exactly what you want (as already pointed out in the article) and start focusing on that.

  11. Great deconstruction there Brian.

    Mike Lopez has it spot on though – you need to ensure that your content is meaningful to the right people, otherwise you’re not going to get the desired action. It’s all well and good making burgeoning bloggers more productive, but you’re unlikely to get the desired action from someone who just stumbles accross your post through a social bookmarking site.

    I guess what I’m getting at is that while it’s sensible to focus on actions and results, the key point on your list (for me anyway) is always 2. Context.

    • Mike and Andy, you’re absolutely correct. I tried to say that in the second section:

      Value is a function of perception. So, you want the people you’re trying to reach to perceive your content as valuable, even if people you’re not trying to reach perceive it as worthless.

      But maybe it didn’t come across clearly enough. It’s definitely one of the most important aspects of meaningful content.

  12. I think the most difficult part is the ‘Action’ .. Getting other’s to involve in our writing and build their experiences ..

    — Love this one, thanks

    • I agree that action step can be the most difficult part to accomplish especially without appearing pushy. I often write my content with this objective in mind. I make it easy for my readers by to take the desired action I want by asking well chosen questions throughout my articles. I do this so when they get to my call to action, it seems like the next logical step.

  13. Shane I like how you summed it up :)

    Brian is right, when you are creating webcontent or blog posts you are essentially creating Assets.

    In the world of online marketing, and generating inbound links to your website for more traffic and SERP rankings, you need to use your websites assets and leverage those as linkbuilders for you, blog posts are a great way of using your websites assets to generate links. But you must make them “meaningful content” and give the reader a reason to link back to you.

    Good post :)

  14. Makes sense, but is it possible to create meaningful content that no one will ever see? Is it possible that I write the most prolific piece of journalism of the last century but no one will ever read it, and if so, is it still meaningful if no one is able to judge it?

    • Yea Alex,

      In my definition of Meaningful content really is summarized to “Providing Value to Your Audience”, or “Filling their needs, wants through your content” If you got that nailed down, than the next step would be to promote your content. Use Social Media Marketing strategies to notify the top bloggers, twitter users, facebook fan pages about your content and let them know how it would benefit their readers and don’t say “Facebook me, or tweet me” simply respond in a friendly manner and kindly ask for a “mention or share” your content and help spread the word.

      Something this simple could potentially generate a lot of traffic, and links for your blog posts if you keep persistent and pick the right thought leaders to contact and build relationships with :)

      Hope that helps

  15. “The snarling enemy of meaningful content is the urge to water it down for the lowest-common denominator in the hopes of either (a) reaching an unreasonably mass audience, or (b) not offending anyone.
    The result of that approach is content that means very little to anyone.”

    Brian, those are profound points.

    I gave a presentation yesterday about 3 tips to make your ideas sticky. I rehearsed the presentation with a trusted friend and she told me that all my examples relate to business — so people uninterested in business might not be engaged.

    I considered replacing a business example with one related to art or music. But the audience is primarily business people and that’s the audience I want to reach. The consistency of my message would be diluted if I had tried to make it appeal it to the broadest possible audience.

    Then my talk would have meant little to anyone.

  16. This is and excellent point, “The snarling enemy of meaningful content is the urge to water it down for the lowest-common denominator in the hopes of either (a) reaching an unreasonably mass audience, or (b) not offending anyone.” I would call this trusting your reader and knowing your market. If you have this you don’t have to dumb your content down. You know they get what you are saying.

  17. Yea Nicole hit it right on the money,

    If you know your market, than you know what your market would like to read. Best way to really find out is to monitor your blog comments, find out what people are saying about your posts, and run surveys and polls on your blog or via email marketing strategies.

    The more you know what your market’s “fears, desires, passions” are, the better your blog will be :) Assuming you create content on those three emotions

  18. I sense a course in the making!

  19. Watering down our content in the hopes of not offending anyone or making it easily understandable to everyone is just doing ourselves a disservice. You’ve got to get right to the heart of what your ideal reader wants. Ignite that fire!

    My question though (and I hope you’ll talk more about this) is, once they’ve read your tips and decided that they’re perfect and worth acting on, how do you get them to follow through on that action? It’s not just about measuring numbers of clicks and conversions. How do you spur them on to action?

    • Sherice, that’s a big topic, and one I know we’ll go into more in future posts.

      You might take a look at Ethical Selling that Works from Pam Slim. (No, that’s not an aff link) Looks like she specifically gets into what a sales process looks like. We’re going to do a Third Tribe seminar with her on it this month.

  20. This competes with other posts for the best post I’ve ever read. This is so right on. One of my biggest messages is valuable meaningful content.

    While studying Tim Ferriss, I also got turned onto the idea of “not trying to please anyone,” definitely the way to go.

    This post means a lot to me, particularly because of the psychological aspects of it. Yes, reality absolutely is what people believe. Great stuff.

  21. “1,000 True Fans” is to this day one of my favorite reads!

    In re-reading your process, it makes me pause and reflect on how I’m writing out my posts. I’ve been writing more and more in my moleskine notebook (it cuts out the distractions from dozens of browser tabs ya know). So far, it’s been effective. But the thing I should be asking myself is “what’s the outcome I’m looking for here.” If I’m hitting that target, I’m good.

    Look forward to listening to the podcast tomorrow Brian, love what you all have been doing with it.

  22. Thanks for this and all your other useful content. Copyblogger’s articles never fail to point me to specific action steps that help.

  23. You have a ‘true fan’ here as well.. I too reach for the notebook and jot the reality tips. In Brian’s case it’s always the whole thing.

    In a niche business that sits like a fresh pea in a bag of mixed veges – small + wanted but not the only one!

    The next step is about joining the dots on how to keep content going forward when you are a small business. The corelation between newsletters and articles on site -off site blogs – posts. How to do this would probably be about – positioning, developing the how, where, when and whys! [or is that wise] of content.

    Ditto on the podcasts.

  24. Thank you Brian. You made it look easy. I copied the form and I decided that I should remember this always every time I write.

  25. I like the notion of a call-to-action or a takeaway. I had a professor who wrote a book, and at the end of each chapter, he had a sentence in bold that read: “THE BOTTOM LINE:” It was the one thing, if you forgot everything else, to remember from that chapter.

  26. You impressed me once again.

    Beautiful insights and prose to sketch, tease out, and embellish the points.

    I’m a fan of action and meaningful results. (I’m biased, the tagline in my book includes “meaningful results”)

    Great point on value — and I like the way you put it.
    The way I’ve framed it is “value is in the eye of the beholder” and that echoes your point.

    I’m also a fan of the experience and I think experience is the differentiator.
    Assuming you’ve got scenario parity — it’s experience that sets them apart.
    I also think that’s the way of the Web — pay for incremental experience.
    Example
    1. free html
    2. pay for PDF
    3. pay more more print
    4. pay much more for the live “experience”

    Experience is a great way to differentiate and incrementally render the experience
    … from freemium to premium.

  27. Excellent information, Brian, especially coming off of Sonia’s stellar post from yesterday. I feel like I’m in school, and that’s a great thing.

    I’m curious if you see this formula as a variation of the classic “sales funnel” as it applies to content marketing? Also, in your experience, do you see this as a constant cycle, or is there a point where those who have achieved results should, or will, move beyond my content?

    Thanks again!

  28. What is meaningful content? Anything that is useful to your readers that someone else is not already writing. If you’re not doing it, you’re producing meaningless content.

  29. Two very good pieces of meaningful content, written in context and posted back to back.

    My reaction is to sing Hosannas to Sonia and Brian which will cause an action, dogs will bark and cats will squall loudly.

    Seriously, those were damn good.

    Looking forward to listening to more tomorrow ;-)

    PS – without a call to action, no piece of *sales* copy is worth it’s font weight.

  30. I found this article particularly useful because I’m writing about call to actions as we speak. I enjoyed the 5 steps to holy grail content but the challenge I think is in creating consistency between each step. Thanks for the share.

  31. Awesome post. I picked and will remember the keywords like content, context and meaningful (or is it ‘relevant’)?

    Let me read other posts here on content marketing :)

  32. This is great post Brian. I really love to write and still enjoy doing it until today. One thing that I want to share is all of us, about effective content marketing is, we need to create an influence content. Which is based on research, statistic, and examples from books.

    Readers will automatically increase in confidence, once they read our content, that is full of research and proof from other expert.

    Just sharing, Brian. Hope you don’t mind. :)

  33. …and you’ve now earned another fan! Wow! I love your blogging stye–so direct, so concise, so organized and makes a lot of sense. Thank you so much for sharing your views on this topic. As a new blogger myself, I tend to worry all the time about how I’m going to create a meaningful content that will benefit those who will read it. I’ll surely keep your advice in mind. =)

  34. I have been writing the aforementioned content for years. It’s like shouting into a canyon really, you make a lot of noise but nobody really hears you.

    Copyblogger is good company.

  35. Great post with some thought provoking content. (to coin a phrase). Meaningful content is obviously vital but its also surely about personality or getting your across as well ? We all need to engage thats what makes us all unique. Great blogpost once again

  36. I think I produce a lot of meaningful content because my readers would not keep coming back if I was just posting rubbish. :)

  37. That was an insightful post!

    As I was reading I was thinking about how I progressed through all the stages you mentioned.

    I was looking for ways to write better headlines when I came across the “How to Write Magnetic Headlines” series.

    After reading the series, I believed that I could write better headlines, and now when writing blog posts, I regularly use the tips provided.

    The result was that I have become a better writer, and the number of clicks per post I have written have increased!

    Thanks for the advice!

  38. I am rather new to copyblogger and LOVE this site, it’s not only full of great tips that can be applied broadly but it’s visually appealing in its simplicity (and the images you choose definitely resonate with me). Once I click thru, I can get lost here for hours! I think many people underestimate the power of design and the impact it has on your readership. If a site doesn’t appeal to me visually, I can’t stay long no matter how good the content (I know that sounds superficial but I have been known to just look for the same information conveyed more esthetically somewhere else!).

    Question for you, I am a graphic designer (in addition to being a struggling writer) and I just have to know the font used for ‘copyblogger’ in your design. It feels like a trusted news font but there’s something about it that has a bit of an fun feel to it and I would love to use it in some of my layouts. I don’t really have time to do side by side comparison checks, can you share???

    Thanks!
    Lisa

  39. I think you just discoverd the ultimate formula of how to grow your list. It’s true when you help somebody get results, he will tell other people. Not only that, other people will ask him how he got these awesome results, so what he will do is forward these people to your site and because they have already seen the results they will not be suspicious or hesitating.
    Awesome information, thanks.
    Greg

  40. Watering down content might get you some initial viewers if the headlines are strong and grab the reader, but you are obsolutlely right, they will be one time viewers only. TO have really good success the only way is to have strong content from the beginning.

    It is all about delivering on the promise. When you do it successfully and succeed, do it poorly and it is just sure to result in failure.

    Thanks for the post, have a great day

  41. If we’re talking about a couple of peices of content being meaningful – that’s easy to create. If you’re talking about a whole blog – that’s insanely difficult to create. If you’re talking about a book full of meaningful content – again – like a blog, tough to do.

    It’s impossibly hard to create meaningful content in subject areas which bore you. I’ve tried. You are better off to tackle subjects you LOVE and have mad passion about.

  42. I agree wholeheartedly. I also think that having very strong content is simply the best way to go. Social media, snappy headlines and other tricks to get people to the page help a lot. They get the bodies to the content. But without incredibly strong content to back it up, how many are really going to want to come back on regular basis?

    To be successful content needs to influence, teach, question and hopefully have a new slant or idea on the topic. Simply worn-out and retreaded material will only get you so far.

    Thanks for great post, have a wonderful day

  43. Marketing is nothing without the product one is promoting. Content is so important as breathing is to life. What is the point of marketing without any product to promote. However, with the influx of products not only of different kinds but of the same kind, the dilemma that an end-user will have is …which one to choose? Of the blogs i have infront of me..which for me seems worth reading? that is when copywriting comes in…What will make me read it. Copywriting and Content, Form and Function..the best mix is still, for me, the most effective.

  44. Brian,

    This is one of my favorite posts. (and for me thats serious cause they all are top quality)

    I was just telling my partner we need to start implementing “action” into our posts at TheEntrepreneursBlog so the reader doesn’t get done and just think “oh, that’s an interesting thought or idea”

    This article explained exactly what I was trying to get across, but was having a hard time explaining. Could’t have been better timing for this post!