The startup marketer’s guide to creating killer content

typing content on a computer

I had coffee last week with the frazzled marketing coordinator of a tech startup. Let’s call her Helen.

When it comes to marketing and growth hacking, Helen’s as clever as they come. In the past year, her efforts have helped the company win a bunch of awards, expand its user base and secure investment from some of the industry’s heavy hitters.

She’s a dream employee. Her boss loves her work, as does the advisory board.

Behind the scenes, however, Helen told me she was in trouble. She’d been so busy perfecting the company’s Adwords strategy, nurturing connections with influencers and doing the work of an entire marketing team, that she’d neglected content development.

This was fine until investors decided the startup needed to grow faster. For that to happen, Helen had to become a lead generation machine. She needed a content arsenal to attract and convert leads: blog posts, reports, case studies and videos.

What she had was an app and a website.

So she came to me for advice.

“Amy,” she said. “I’m in the office until 7pm most days, and still barely have time to reply to emails.

“What’s the most efficient and effective way to start our content development journey? I don’t want to waste time or effort on things that don’t work. Point me in the right direction.”

Startup founders and marketers ask me this question all the time. They’re familiar with hacking every other aspect of their lives – from sleep to memory retention – so why not content marketing too?

I gave Helen some tips for getting started, which I’ve shared below.

If you’re a marketer and feeling totally overwhelmed at the thought of producing content from scratch, you might find these insights helpful too.

Figure out what you actually want your content to achieve

Do you want to educate people about your product and the problems that you solve? Does your content need to attract new customers, or is retaining old ones a key focus? Perhaps you’d like to differentiate your product in a crowded niche?

Think about your objectives, and plan your content accordingly. At Mint Content, for example, lead generation is one of our blogging goals. To do that, we publish blog posts that:  

  • Highlight our subject matter expertise
  • Solve real problems for our target audience
  • Position Mint Content as the go-to source for content writing and strategy advice

This objective helps us plan our future blog post topics. It guides us towards producing more content with actionable insights, like how to become a better business writer, instead of, say, an article about the top 15 celebrities that like content marketing.

Identify popular content in your industry or niche – and then do it better

When I met with Helen, she mentioned that she needed content, but had no idea what to write about. What if she kept choosing topics her target audience found boring? What if nobody shared her blog posts?

Stop worrying. Right now. One of the easiest, fastest ways to identify great, shareable topics is BuzzSumo. It’s a free tool that analyses the type of content that performs best for any topic or competitor.

I searched for the top performing content on ‘cybersecurity’. Here’s what I found:

Buzzsumo cybersecurity

I can see that in this niche, the most popular content is:

  • Topical (MCAFEE: I’ll decrypt San Bernardino phone free)
  • Related to personal privacy (Stop doing quizzes on Facebook if you place any value on your privacy).

If I were the marketing manager of a cybersecurity firm, I’d think about creating topical content around how individuals can protect themselves in the wake of recent Dropbox/LinkedIn/other hacks.

Bonus tip: Are the top performing articles in your niche list-based (i.e. 20 landing page designs we love, or Top 10 words you must include on your landing page to drive conversions)?

If so, creating shareable content is simple. Take the same list-based topic and write a blog post that is longer and more extensive (i.e. 100 landing page designs you’ll want to copy). Voila, instantly shareable content!

Keep a list of customer questions, headaches and barriers to purchase

The idea for this blog post came from a real-life conversation I had with a potential client. Helen isn’t the only person who has asked me about content development strategies, and she’s not the only one who would get value from a blog post on the topic.

Half of content marketing success lies in showing your target audience that you understand their pain points, and can help fix them. Your list of customer questions and headaches is an almost inexhaustible content resource.

For example, if leads frequently ask how your product compares to a competitor’s, you know that creating a competitor comparison document is probably wise. If they confuse your product with another, then an educational piece about the difference between the two may be useful.

Here are all the Mint Content blog posts we’ve developed using this technique:

Turn one piece of content into 25

This technique reminds me of Sarah Wilson’s advice on how to stretch one organic chook into 15 meals. Instead of creating 30 pieces of individual content from scratch (not efficient; also not fun unless you love writing like we do), you start with one big, high quality piece of content and break it down into smaller chunks.

Here’s an example of how it works:

  1. Create one comprehensive, high quality piece of content, like a white paper, ebook or guide (1 piece of content)
  2. Turn each section into a blog post (6-8 pieces of content)
  3. Film your CEO discussing key findings, and what they mean for your industry (1-2 piece of content)
  4. Host a webinar on the same topic (1 piece of content)
  5. Turn your big piece of content into a Slideshare presentation (1 piece of content)
  6. Create a mini email course based on the big piece of content (5 pieces of content)
  7. Share interesting/relevant statistics and research on social media (10+ pieces of content)

This approach is extraordinarily popular with marketing teams on shoestring budgets. It’s also a winner because it provides clear direction, so you don’t need to stress about what piece of content – or what topic – you’re going to cover next.

Break down the buyer’s journey

It is possible to create compelling, engaging content simply by following the four recommendations above, especially if you’re a startup.

Eventually, however, you’ll probably want to tailor your content to each stage of the buyer’s journey (awareness, consideration, decision).

As you become more confident, this approach will help you target the right people with the right content at the right time. For more, read HubSpot’s overview of the types of content that work best at each stage.

What next?

Every business will have a different approach or creating content that works for them. Being clear about your objectives and thinking creatively about content development can help even the most stressed-out marketer get better results.

And if you need help with content development, you know who to call.

What other content writing advice would you add? Do you have a tip or two to share about how you kicked off your own startup’s content journey? Leave me a note in the comments below.