Good content marketing and brand journalism are more storytelling art than SEO science. Follow these principles to create content that lifts your brand rather than creating more noise.

1. Start with a Story

I grew up in a large family that ate a formal dinner every night in the dining room. My father was famous for his “shaggy dog stories,” tales that wore on, detail by detail, but nevertheless captured our attention. There was probably a hidden point to each one but I remember the entertainment, the laughter and guffaws. What he didn’t do was to start out by preaching his main point, some big idea he expected five boisterous children to listen to, let alone understand.

Stories are the best way to educate, inform, and inspire your audience. Don’t bury them as examples at the end. Use them to engage, to peel away distraction, and guide your audience to your main message.

2. Amplify Your Brand Voice

Your “voice” is your brand. In the absence of a logo on your content, it is your logo. Craft your content voice so that it can do your brand justice wherever and whenever it’s consumed.

3. Source Wisely

When quoting experts and research, do you source a lone blogger or a prestigious consulting firm? Brand association matters. It can enhance your brand, or not. I advise clients to steer clear of sources who don’t have adequate academic, professional, or authoritative experience and associations. Lift your brand by carefully selecting prestigious sources. Just make sure you’ve done your own due diligence on the source and its sources. Or, be the expert guide yourself and expose your readers to a new source.

4. Be Vulnerable

What’s the key ingredient of the best TED talks? The speaker reveals him or herself. They share personal stories. This isn’t easy. It takes practice. But if you want to personalize your brand, the most effective approach is to share your experiences. Your courage to be vulnerable will be rewarded with equal measure of audience engagement and loyalty.

5. Details Matter

We recently wrote about a cool technology for instantly answering customer questions during the ecommerce process by describing a mom trying to buy a last minute gift for her sister late at night. Write about the problem your product or service solves for your audience. To do this well, pick a person and write about his or her struggle in a specific moment. Describe her environment and the factors that drive her need. Use details. Your readers will relate to the moment and listen to your message.

6. Keep it short

Would you read the entire article on a phone while waiting for the plane to take off? No? Make it shorter. Keep blog posts and guest articles to 400-800 words.

7. Outline First, Copyedit Last

Insist that writers complete an article brief outlining the story/example, the audience’s key issues, research sources, and the big idea. And ask a copyeditor to give each piece that critical last review.

8. Get to the Point

Once, a popular mystery author agreed to review the first chapters of my manuscript. In a carefully worded email to me, she insisted that my novel started three chapters in. She was right. It’s easy to meander on the way to making your point. Hopefully, you’ve had the experience of an editor telling you that no, your story doesn’t start here, it starts there. Remember to arrive late and leave early.

9. Quality Trumps Quantity

For crying out loud, content marketing isn’t a license to shout every day, all day, across every channel. Be selective with your topics, voice, and cadence. Your audience prefers personalized content from people who say something of value.

10. Save the How for Last

Ease readers into your messaging by giving them something to relate to first. Start with a personal story, either yours or theirs. After this, describe your audience’s struggle, add research or context to show the wider trend, then dive into how your solution solves their problem. That’s when they’ll listen.

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