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Characteristics of a High-Quality Blog Post (10 steps to producing better content)

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Characteristics of a High-Quality Blog Post (10 steps to producing better content)


How many times have you written a blog post that has faded
into obscurity never to be seen again? No views, no shares and don’t even dream
of any links.

Even worse, how many times have you commissioned content for
your blog that is not delivering any direct measurables and you suspect the
strategy involves throwing titles at the wall like spaghetti to see what
sticks.

Writing a blog post is not sitting down and bashing out 500
words of whatever is on your mind or about what the CEO wants to talk about.
Then grabbing an average stock image, loading and hitting publish. Writing a good
blog post involves a lot more than knocking out copy when you feel the urge –
you get out what you put in (garbage in, garbage out, GIGO)

Rand Fishkin first termed the phrase 10x Content on his Whiteboard
Friday presentation
in 2016. He offers great advice about what quality
content requires, such as:

  • Optimal viewing on any device
  • Trustworthy and useful
  • Solves problems
  • Delivers an emotional response
  • Delivers content in a unique or remarkable way

Just after this or around the same time, Brian Dean termed
the phrase ‘skyscraper
technique’
a similar concept that is based on finding the best content
already ranking for your term and creating something better.

I’m not going to repeat what both Rand and Brian have said,
so if you haven’t already, then I recommend reading both pages. What I am going
to offer you here are ten steps with examples of other blogs as a foundation for
creating high-quality and outstanding blog articles. If you implement every
step, then the quality of your articles will not only increase but more
importantly, they will start to work for you and elevate your blog and brand to
be an expert or ‘go to’ for your niche.


1 Why are you doing this and what is it meant to do?

First of all, always start with ‘why?’, I’ve been saying this for so long it almost feels like it’s
a cliché but knowing your endpoint and objective is the first thing you should
think of so that you can work backward to get the best results.

What is your blog for:

  • Are you an information resource on a niche
    topic?
  • A thought leader to be the authority in your
    space?
  • Or, a topical or trend site that breaks news or
    cutting edge design and technique?

Once you understand the fundamental identity of the blog as
a whole, then for each article you should answer, what is this post for:

  • To grow readers?
  • To grow subscribers?
  • Is it a spoke to support a hub page?
  • Is it for shares or for links?
  • Is this to newsjack a trend for a quick win?
  • Or, do you want longevity from an evergreen
    article?
Characteristics of a High-Quality Blog Post - Backlinko

Backlinko is a blog
I refer to often, as Brian has led the way in producing posts of a such a high
level of content, value and production that it’s almost impossible to better in
the same niche of link building. He is the best example of his own term of ‘skyscraper technique’.

Brian is very clear about what he is doing. His intention is
to be the go-to site for anything about link building and SEO. He’s used the
quality of the content on his site to build his authority and reputation within
his industry.

Every page is a huge in-depth resource and Brian believes in
spending time on quality over quantity and may only post every few months, but
this approach has worked for him.

Brian doesn’t ever try to experiment with thought leader
style commentary or, talk about any other random subject. Backlinko knows who
it is and what it’s for.


2 Who is your audience and what do they want to read?

The second most important part of any content production or
strategy is knowing whom you’re speaking to. This is relevant to your blog
article because you need to know what your audience wants to read and not what
you think they want to read.

Define your personas, know what they are interested in and
most importantly what their problems are so that you can solve their issues
with what you write about. This is a sure-fire way to get someone’s attention
and connect with them.

Corporate blogs have a tendency to talk about what they’ve been up to and what’s been happening internally etc. But, no one cares that you donated to charity or that your sales director is leaving or that your new machinery has increased output by 25 percent. People care about themselves and how you can help make their lives better or easier.

Characteristics of a High-Quality Blog Post - Wellness Mama

Wellness Mama knows
that their audience consists of woman and mothers who want to make better
healthy choices for their family and be a better mum (or mom).

The site is full of the kind of advice that your once upon a
time your grandmother would’ve passed down to you but was being lost through
the generations.

The site doesn’t deviate from knowing whom it’s talking to
and all of the article titles are focused on their audience to help them
achieve their goal of being the best parent they can be. It’s an incredible
resource and wealth of information. A great example of how to ‘do’ being a
publishing site.


3 Only write about what you’re qualified to talk about – don’t fake it

If a chicken farmer is telling me how to catch fish I’m
sceptical.

For a brand to become an authority, it needs to have
expertise and be qualified in its field. A legal firm offering recipe ideas is
not going to reassure you of their conveyancing skills and a tennis coach
wouldn’t try to give tax advice. If they do, I would be searching for someone
else to do my tax return.

Once you know your niche, then go all in to be the expert
surrounding that topic and cover every facet with the articles that you write
(like Brian and Wellness Mama).

If you did your due diligence to define your audience then you will have a clear understanding of their pain points. Combine the pain points with your specialist knowledge, what your audience wants to read to find your sweet spot. This will give your articles the edge by firstly the titles getting the attention of your audience and then secondly the body of the text will deliver on offering the best advice that will help them to get what they want.

The No. 1 thing that you can do is … you need to decide what’s the one
thing that you are better at than anything else … and you need to become the
extreme version of that” Gary
Vaynerchuck


Characteristics of a High-Quality Blog Post - Mercola

Guaranteed, whenever I search for something surrounding
health, such as what are the symptoms of
kidney stones
, what is the best way
for the body to absorb vitamin C
or intermittent
fasting
, Mercola is in the top results.
Once I see ‘Mercola’, I always click through on their link first because I know
that everything I want to know will be answered on their page.

Mercola is fronted by Dr Mercola, a natural health
physician and he has a strong list of credentials. I don’t blindly follow
everything that he says as being the right approach for me but I do know that
his articles are a high quality and backed with references. Mercola has a media
wide reputation; therefore, the articles he produces has to be able to stand up
to scrutiny. Mercola has earned my trust as being a valuable resource and
qualified to talk about his subject.


4 Research to a journalist standard

The inspiration
for the original Google Algorithm
came from the importance of citations in
academic papers. The amount of citations a paper contains and how many other
papers link back to them is how the paper is judged. This became the basis for
how the algorithm was structured on links (and before anyone could conceive of
link farms).

I like to consider that search content has come full circle
back to writing academic papers with citations of credible sources.

Any high-quality article must be written in a journalist
approach as standard. What I mean is that all statements should be backed up by
evidence – no unfounded claims. And the piece should be well researched and
include other information, stats and studies to support the topic.

Offering unreliable information is the fastest way to lose
credibility.

The best blogs are now hiring journalists to bring their
expertise to what is being published online and a high-quality article, as
standard, should have links and citations to other respected and credible
material to support its validity.

As mentioned previously, Mercola always offers medical
references to support any claims and advice.


5 Don’t run with the herd – be original or find a fresh approach

I used to refer to content that talks about the same things
that everyone else is saying as ‘me too’ content but that term now has a
seriously different meaning. Instead, I’m going to say ‘herd content’.

Herd content is the stuff that you see replicated across
sites in the same niche. Saying the same things. It’s obvious when scoping a
niche that you can see the example of lazy research where one article has
lifted the references and structure from another article.

To create high-quality articles that stand out you need to
be ahead of the pack and if possible to say something original or to take an
original approach to an existing subject.

Even though everything has been done before it’s always possible to find your unique approach to a subject. Even though everything has been done before it’s always possible to find your unique approach to a subject.

Characteristics of a High-Quality Blog Post - Larry Kim

As I was researching this article and searched the phrase ‘Characteristics
of a High-Quality Blog’
all of the top listings were articles that said the
same thing, it was obvious they had copied each other and none of them stood
out as a quality piece. The irony. However, one article, by Larry Kim, did
stand out as it took a completely different view. It had:

  • A unique tone of voice
  • An original slant on the topic – The Unicorn Power Law!
  • A lot of data to back up his theory
  • Screenshots and visuals make it easy to consume
  • Use of analogies and stories
  • The theory is worked from many angles

His article doesn’t necessarily tell me how to create a
high-quality blog, but true to his title, it does define what makes a quality
article. A refreshing read backed back by data – and the online marketing
audience loves data. Larry knows his audience and he has a strong unique voice.


6 Be informative and answer your audience questions

The internet exists as a huge information resource
(unconceivable only 30 years ago when research was done in libraries). And, the
majority of people searching online want help with something. Searches are
focused on answering questions to problems. Content marketing works by
answering questions, helping people and offering solutions. It also works by
brand recall – the more a user reads your articles or sees your brand/name
linked to content, the more they invest trust in you and are then more likely
to buy from you.

Articles generally exist to provide information. An article
that doesn’t say anything is of little value and use and is not going to
inspire, engage or connect with anyone. It’s not going to do its job. I cannot
tell you the number of times I’ve read a thin blog post, got to the end, and
thought – that told me absolutely nothing at all. In fact, it must be a skill
to write 500 words and manage to say absolutely nothing at all.

Therefore, a high-quality article should be answering very
specific questions (circle back to knowing what your audience wants to read).
It should tell you something and not just be an outpouring of speculation and
waffle (spaffle?) on a page.

In the digital marketing space, we’re spoilt by the quality of blogs on offer. Most digital bloggers offer value in their posts with lots of takeaways and tutorials and the standard is generally higher than other industries.

Characteristics of a High-Quality Blog Post - smashing mag

Smashing
Magazine
offers excellent content with practical advice and solid
takeaways. Each post has a real focus, is well researched with plenty of
references to back up any claims and after reading, you have absorbed something
of real value.

When I looked at their home page and skipped down the
current article list, the read times per article are all varied between 20
mins, 30 mins and 50 mins – no thin content here.

Apart from the quality, the success of Smashing Magazine is
that it knows its audience and never deviates from being laser specific on the
content it offers. This has helped them to build a strong community and
following in their space.


7. How long should a high-quality article be?

A. Long enough.

There have been many studies on
what is the best length for an article, and results are usually weighted
towards long-form content dominating top 10 search results with an average
length of around 2,000 words. The reasoning behind this is that longer posts
get more social shares and are more likely to attract links due to the quality
and research.

BUT, (and it’s a big but) just because you may have a
benchmark of 2,000 or 3,000 words doesn’t mean that you should write an article
that long – unless you have something to
say.

Your article should be long enough to offer value but short
enough to be to the point and avoid any filibustering. Concise and concentrated
is the key.

Please, no more 500 word articles stretched to over 2,500
words.

Think, content density, not content length.

The Book
of Life
offers a mixture of articles based on learning better emotional
intelligence. It’s the resource that I really needed twenty-five years ago, but
better late than never.

From the short but powerful, Stay or leave? At 700 words to the lengthy Emotional Education: An Introduction at 4,600 words you can be sure
that every word on that page is justified and there is no superfluous waffling
or filling of space to make up space to hit an SEO target word count.


8 Speak in the right Tone of Voice for your audience

Imagine you’re at a B2B networking event mingling at an
executive level. Would you speak to them in the same tone of voice as you would
your five-year-old daughter? (unless you were seriously weird).

Would you talk to your boss the same way that you speak to
your significant other?

Again, circling back to knowing your audience (everything
does, that’s why it is so essential) you can then pitch the tone to their
level. Of course, it’s important to retain some level of your personality, but
it should be aligned with your audience. Or, to be honest, you’re just not
suited to your audience and shouldn’t be pitching to them.

Consider the level that your audience operates at,
freelance, a corporate mid-level accountant or a top-level executive. Your
article needs to be pitched to their level of intelligence. Speaking at
top-level will require wider frameworks and strategies for leadership whereas
freelance level is more likely to want practical step-by-step guides on more
granular issues.

If your audience is B2C, then you may want to engage on
their level in a conversational tone whereas a B2B business is going to use
very specific industry language. Make sure you get it right!

Nobody wants to be that person at a society wedding trying to impress a high-profile journalist and mispronouncing the word hyperbole (yes, that was me, hi-per-bowl)

Characteristics of a High-Quality Blog Post - Mr Porter

One of the best blogs I have ever seen that really knows its
audience and delivers an outstanding range of targeted content to engage their
audience is Mr Porter.

The Journalis a brilliant mix of ‘how to’, ‘where to go’, ‘what to do’ life
lessons combined with how to dress when you get there and a smattering of
intelligent interviews. The editorial is well researched, well written and
pitched at a level of reading worthy of someone who can discuss the current
state of the financial markets, can tackle a black run and knows which fork to
use with which course.

When they talk about style icons, they mean Yves Saint
Laurent and Serge Gainsbourg. Not Wayne Rooney.

Mr Porter has a defined niche market and speaks to them in
the tone of voice of a person who is educated, intelligent, in a high earning
bracket and regularly travels worldwide with work.

As a young male-targeted publication, it’s a long, long way
from the language that was used in the lad culture typified in Nuts magazine.


9 Presentation is essential – avoid the wall of death

Have you ever tried to read a wall of text?

Characteristics of a High-Quality Blog Post - wall of text

Maybe an extreme version, but a significant number of articles do present their content so badly that you simply can’t read it so click away.

As long-form articles have become more popular online, it’s
essential to keep the eye and the reader visually stimulated so they will
continue to read.

As marketers, I’m sure you know about Neilsen’s
articles
and how users read online. These ideas have been updated since
1997 but still hold fast – people do read differently on a screen to a printed
page. It’s widely known, and on a basic level, you must use lots of subheading,
bullets and short paragraphs.

For a long time, my interest has been understanding the development of long form articles and how information is presented.

Characteristics of a High-Quality Blog Post - shark and minnows

Sharks and Minnows from the New York
Times was groundbreaking when it was published in 2013. The combination of
large format imagery, video, maps, graphics and short blocks of writing ensured
that a large volume of content could be presented online and keep a reader
engaged. I spent hours reverse engineering this piece and then producing my own
efforts.

What we can take from Sharks
and Minnows
is that the use of full-screen imagery, graphics, video,
excellent typographic hierarchy and structure are what is needed to elevate an
article to a high-quality. And, now considered standard rather than the
exception.

I still believe that the basics start with having a strong
topic and a high standard of research and writing, but the presentation will
ensure that your article is read. You can have the best piece of writing that
was ever written in this world, but if no one reads it, then it’s irrelevant.


10 Keep content information up to date

Finally, what happens to your article once it’s been
published?

Do you publish and then forget it forever?

For high-quality content, I see evergreen content (enduring
information) as a valuable investment that will pay back over a long term with
sustained search visibility – it’s where I’m now specialising. And, after all,
the reason we are all producing this content is for marketing purposes and to
drive traffic and leads.

One high-quality, in-depth evergreen post will have more
value than 10 or even 20 thin articles.

But, if your content is evergreen, you will need to ensure
that information is kept up to date by reviewing pages periodically. Also, the
benefit of updating the publishing date does mean that users are more likely to
click in search results and it’s considered that Google does give preference to
fresh quality content.

If you run a content audit on your site, you can see what existing pages do have value and drive traffic. If upon review, the article appears out of date then a refresh and an update to the publishing date should see a strong boost in traffic.

Characteristics of a High-Quality Blog Post - Backlinko

Circling back to the first blog on this list, Backlinko is the master at keeping his content updated as any of his significant posts show with an annual update highlighted in the title. In fact, it’s Brian that shows reviewing and republishing content gave him a 260% increase in organic traffic.


Takeaway

To produce high-quality content, the following ten steps
will ensure your publishing will be elevated to outstanding and deliver better
results for your blog:

  1. Why are you doing this? Know what it’s meant to
    do.
  2. Know your audience and what they want to read.
  3. Only write about what you’re qualified to speak
    about. Don’t ever fake it.
  4. Research to a journalist standard
  5. Be original. Or, take a fresh approach to old
    ideas.
  6. Be informative and answer questions.
  7. Be long enough to offer value but short enough
    to avoid filibuster.
  8. Speak in the right Tone of Voice for your
    audience
  9. Pay attention to presentation. Up your
    game. 
  10. Keep
    information up to date. Review and refresh.

This article first appeared on Search Engine Journal, April 2019.

The post Characteristics of a High-Quality Blog Post (10 steps to producing better content) appeared first on ShellShock UK.

5 Ways Personas Can Improve Your Content

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5 Ways Personas Can Improve Your Content


Do you know who the personas are for your client or brand?

Maybe the client won’t provide a budget for audience research,
or your schedule doesn’t allow the time for research and you just have to get
work out of the door. Like, now.

Or, maybe you’ve created a range of personas for your brand
and clearly defined who your audience are. You spent the time to research what
drives your audience, what their frustrations are and where they hang out
online.

Hopefully, you’ve named your personas with real names and
not a stereotypical pseudonym such as Digital Dave, Snowflake Suki or
Millennial Max.

And, you’ve written all your personas in first person and
crafted a narrative about their day.

Perfect. If not, you can read an in-depth
guide here…

So, there is a persona mood board is staring at you from
your desk, but now what? How do you apply these carefully crafted personalities
to improve your content marketing efforts?

Below I’ve outlined a simple five step framework for
applying a persona to your content marketing:

  • What’s the problem?
  • Speak the language
  • The right questions…
  • …At the right time
  • Be where they are

1. What’s the problem?

5 Ways Personas Can Improve Your Content

Firstly, if you can define what keeps people awake at 3am
and then offer a solution, you have their attention. If you can then craft your
content based around the persona’s pain points and offer logical solutions to
their challenges, you now have an engaged prospect to move along the sales
funnel.

People are emotional creatures and their amygdala (that
regulates emotions) known as the ‘lizard brain’ makes an initial instant
decision based on primitive instinct. A split second later, but just enough to
be in second place, the prefrontal cortex then regulates our seemingly
irrational impulse. Often, the prefrontal cortex will offer justification to
your impulses by finding a logical reason to back up the urge. More often than
we realise, we’re making choices that are entirely from our primeval amygdala
that we have little control over.

A student with limited funds will see the new iPhone and
their lizard brain will instantly say ‘buy
it now’
whilst their rational part of the brain then quickly looks for a
reason to justify why they can buy it. Most advertising campaigns trade on this
emotional drive.

Coming back to our persona, imagine we have defined Helen
Matthews, senior manager, who is responsible for 12 team members at a property
management company.

Helen is kept awake at night worrying that her CEO thinks
she is overwhelmed by problems in her team and that she’s not leadership
material. She wants to make director level next year and she worries that she
will be overlooked unless she can start delivering a better performance from
her team.

Now imagine Helen is reading Business Week and there are two headlines:

  • How to
    better manage your team
  • A
    framework used by top leaders to increase team efficiency and beat overwhelm

It’s a safe assumption which article Helen is going to be
drawn to read so that she can ease her worries and start to chase her
directorship. If within the article, we then have a call to action that offers
a tool that can help her to implement the framework, a seed is planted and she
now has an ally that can help her.

People don’t want to buy a product just to own a product, they
want to buy a solution to their problems or, they want to change how they feel.
As Tony Robbins said,
People don’t buy products, they buy
feelings.”
People don’t buy insurance for the sake of insurance, they buy
the feeling of security and certainty. They buy coffee to feel alive and
energetic. And they buy a new expensive car to feel significant (and superior
to their neighbours).

If you can understand your persona so that you know what
their needs and drives are, then you can offer to them the feeling that
underlines their needs. And then you have a very powerful connection through
your content.

As Theodore Levitt said, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch
hole.”
But, why do they want the hole? To hang a photograph of their family
so they feel happy and surrounded by love.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. Maya Angelou

2. Speak the language

Once you have the awareness of your persona, to confirm the
connection and engage them it’s necessary to speak their language. There are
two reasons for this: trust and to cut through the noise.

Consider the different tones of voice that you use through
the day, how you speak to your family, how you speak to your friends, how you
speak to the people you work. You wouldn’t speak to your boss with the same
informality and intimacy as you would to your partner.

Getting the level of language right in your content will
make the difference between a reader connecting with what you write and just
thinking, ‘meh’ and skipping to another page. It’s one thing to get a prospect
to a page but it’s another entirely to turn them into an engaged reader so that
they want to consume more content that you can offer.

People are naturally drawn to group together in like-minded tribes. By truly understanding your persona and what motivates them you can speak to them in a manner that they can relate to so that they want to be part of the brand tribe.

Successful brands like Mr Porter, Patagonia and The School of Life are built on
being positioned to niche, outlying tribes. And they go deep on the content
they offer to that tribe covering all bases and emotions.

A useful trick I use to apply a persona to content is to
imagine them as an actress. Who would play the part of Helen Matthews? Anna
Kendrick? Imagine how she would speak, the accent, how she would conduct a
conversation and the level of language and intellect she would use.

Speak to the dog in the language of the dog about what matters to the heart of the dog.” Bryan Eisenberg

Write to please just
one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your
story will get pneumonia.”
Kurt Vonnegut
Jr

3. The right questions…

Content marketing is based on answering the right question
at the right time.

And that question is driven by your reader: their thoughts,
wants and worries. It’s all about them, not you.

A brand that broadcasts what they want to say without
considering what their audience wants to hear is like the boorish person at a
dinner party talking incessantly about themselves. No one wants to sit next to
that person.

Don’t just amplify what you want to say, listen to what your
audience wants and needs to hear.

By doing the research and understanding your persona, you can build a content map based on what questions are asked at each stage of the buying journey.

5 Ways Personas Can Improve Your Content

4. …at the right time

A project I conducted last year was for a personal
development workshop retreat, known as a ‘Weekend’. As part of the application
for the Weekend, a participant was required to complete extensive paperwork surrounding
deeply personal and emotional questions. For some people this was like taking
an egg and smashing it with a spoon. Cracked wide open. Unsurprisingly, they
had a high drop-off rate at this part of the registration process.

Through a review of their buying process and personas I
mapped a combination of a user journey flow chart (I call User Flow) that
highlighted where key touches of content could answer ‘the right question, at
the right time’. This was only possible through a deep understanding of their
three distinct personas.

I mapped automated email series to run after downloading an
introduction brochure. And, a series that would help a person after the Weekend
to assimilate from a deeply personal journey back into ‘real life’ and encouraged
them to join the on-going community (for extended engagement).

I created a series of documents to be sent at the key stages
of the buying process that explained the process of the Weekend and why certain
information was requested.

As their biggest driver of sign-ups was through word of
mouth, I created a document that taught Weekend graduates how to talk about the
Weekend to others and also to recognise who might benefit from experiencing the
Weekend for themselves and more importantly – who wouldn’t – to reduce
enquiries from people who were not suitable for the course. Making all
participants brand ambassadors of this life-changing experience.

I also created a full content map based around the queries,
feelings and concerns for possible participants and mapped a full range of
content for on and off site for awareness and connection.

All of this reduced the friction of the user journey, reduced drop-off and made participants feel better connected to the brand. All through understanding who we were speaking to and answering the right questions, at the right time.

5. Be where they are

5 Ways Personas Can Improve Your Content

The final stage of content marketing to unlock is to know
where your audience hang out so that you know where you need to be.

By trying to be everywhere, you’re in danger of spreading
your efforts too thinly, or you may find yourself in the wrong place where
there is no one of relevance to engage. Much like a Dungeons and Dragons
officiado attending a fashion show. Looking out of place in their Gary Gygax t-shirt
they will struggle to talk to anyone dressed in Helmut Lang about how to defeat
a Goblin with the next throw of the dice.

Part of researching your persona will include what social
media channels they frequent and what high-profile sites they turn to on a
regular basis. Not forgetting to include offline watering holes and places your
persona turns to when looking for information.

Taking an individual piece of content and broadcasting it
across all social channels through a scheduled tool is lazy marketing and not a
strategy to deliver the best returns (a lot of people still do this). Each
channel has its own nuances and unwritten rules – your content should be
tailored to each channel.

An individual piece of content can be repurposed across
different channels but ensure that the messaging is using the right tone and
language for each channel or medium.

It’s also important to consider the types of content that
your persona will best relate to. Webinar, video, podcast, blog, white paper,
quiz, tool/calculator, listicle?

If you’ve done your research you can answer all of these questions and create much better content.


As a summary:

Defining your persona and really understanding their
motivations and challenges is essential to underline your content strategy and
production efforts.

But, you do have to apply your persona in the right way to
benefit from your research and hard work.

As a starting point, walk through these five steps to apply
your persona to your content marketing:

  • What’s the problem? Use their painpoints in your content to get their attention
  • Speak the language: Get the right level and tone of voice to enage your prospect
  • The right questions… Know what questions your persona will have in their mind
  • …At the right time: Know at what stage of the journey they will be asking those questions so that you can be there with the answer
  • Be where they are: Know where your prospect will hang out online (or offline) so that you can be there with content to get their attention.

This article originally appeared on Search Engine Journal, February 2019

The post 5 Ways Personas Can Improve Your Content appeared first on ShellShock UK.

How to Create and Use Surveys for Content Marketing

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How to Create and Use Surveys for Content Marketing


When you think of ideas for your content, do
you write about what you’re interested in or do you structure titles based on the
pain points of your audience that can generate an emotional connection by
understanding their needs?

Do you create a content map based on research
backed audience understanding or do you sketch out a plan for content titles
based on, I think this is what they
think, I think this is what they want?

Writing an article on your blog each week
about what your company is thinking or doing is not content marketing. Neither
is writing about what is of interest to you.

To begin a content strategy or to update your
content plan with fresh ideas, a survey is the go-to starting point. The
responses from your audience will provide you with the insights into their pain
points, challenges and needs and this is the basis to structure your content
ideas and plan.

Creating your content from a place of knowing
what your audience wants and needs, and being highly specific with content that
will make them say: That is exactly how I
feel. That is exactly what I have been thinking. This person really gets me.
Will
get your marketing to actually work for you.

I digress, we all know content marketing 101,
right?

And, if it couldn’t get any better, surveys
have the capacity to supplement your content with unique data and insights that
you can use to reach out to journalists and for them to say, this is a story, I want this. Rather
than – you seriously think I care or have
any interest to share this
?

Oh, and one last thing (as Steve Jobs used to
say), marketing is a continual conversation and the means to engage a customer.
By offering a survey or questionnaire, your audience can have their say and participate
in a two-way dialogue and by extension, will feel involved in your brand.
Priceless.

Could surveys be the best thing ever since
sliced bread? I think so. Let’s get started.

I’ve split this article into the two main applications of a survey specifically relevant to content marketing and then finished it off with tips on how to create a survey and how to write questions.

How to Create and Use Surveys for Content Marketing

1. A survey helps to better understand your audience:

What is your biggest challenge?

A survey will give you the insights into what
motivates your audience. The main question you want to answer is, what is their biggest challenge. If you
can identify and answer a pain point that your target audience has, then you
will have their attention.

When I create a content strategy, I gather
information from many sources to understand what the audience is doing.
Analytics and social media offer plenty of insight into what users do on your
site and how they engage with your brand, but you want to get in their head and
the only way to do this is to ask them.

Once you are aware of what your audience’s pain points and interests are, you then have a solid basis to construct your concepts and content titles from. Each piece of content should be laser-targeted on solving or highlighting a pain point or challenge. The more niche a title is, the better.

How to Create and Use Surveys for Content Marketing

Set up an auto-respond on email sign-ups

A great way to seek understanding is to ask
each individual at their point of contact or sale. As a user completes an email,
sign-up or contact forms send an auto-responder email with one or two questions
to answer. For example, what is the
biggest challenge you face? What one product would make a major difference to
you right now?

The information gleaned from these insights
will then help you to target other people in similar positions that have the
same challenges. The best articles are highly specific and offer real
information that makes a reader’s life better in some way.

Segment your audience

To drill down to even more specific content,
you can insert a survey into your email sign-up form to segment your audience.

This is easy with MailChimp, as you can use
the groups function which then adds preselect check-boxes to your sign-up form.
(Remember that if you are targeting an audience in the EU, then you have to
comply with GDPR).

For example, If your sign-up form is for a
content marketing newsletter, you can ask:

  • Do
    you work for a brand in-house?
  • Do
    you work for a content agency?
  • Do
    you work at a start-up?
  • Do
    you have your own business?

Once your audience is segmented, you have the
option of sending your general content marketing newsletter to all or you can
send highly specific content to each segment based on the specific challenges which
that group faces. An in-house content manager faces very different challenges
to a start-up or a small business owner.

How to Create and Use Surveys for Content Marketing

2. A survey will feed your content:

To inform your content with unique data

When writing a piece of content online, a
writer will want to link to any references that back up their claims, point of
view or to offer statistics. By offering unique research, data or statistics
for your industry or niche, then you have a highly linkable asset.

One strong set of data and research can be applied
to several channels of content to gain maximum value:

  • A
    webinar and/or industry talk
  • A
    gated white paper/ebook download
  • A
    data visualisation
  • A
    SlideShare deck
  • An
    in-depth article on-site
  • Quotes
    on social media
  • Promotional
    printed marketing material

How do I generate data for my brand?

Conduct a survey to reflect the current state
of your industry – the Content
Marketing Institute
do this on a regular basis. Buzzsumo
are also regular producers of in-depth industry research.

Review your customer data and look for
insights on buying behaviour. Anything that shows a regional bias can be used
to construct an index or map that is always popular for outreach, especially to
local media.

As your starting point, brainstorm a series
of hypotheses or sets of data that would be valuable or of interest to your
audience.

For example:

  • Where
    in the UK is it easiest/hardest to gain planning permission?
  • Who
    are the best/worst restaurants in the UK when dealing with gluten intolerance?
  • What
    are the job titles that get paid the most in your industry?
  • Do
    the early birds at the gym earn the most money?

If your data can answer your questions, then
you can construct your content based around this and you then have a
significant story to approach journalists with.

Journalists are most likely to share a story
that has a unique insight or which has data with a strong hook that will be of
interest to their readers, and this is the key to securing top tier media
links.

Depending on your data, you can create an
interactive graph or map, an infographic, a white paper or a landing page with
animated elements. Once you have their attention, having strong visuals to
support your data is the secondary back-up to get the response you want.

3. How to create a survey

Customer database

The ideal situation is that you have a
customer database email list to leverage, as this offers direct access to your
audience for their feedback, opinions and insights.

My preference for running a customer survey is Survey Monkey or Google Surveys. Both are easy to set up and both offer free versions with limited questions and styling options.

How to Create and Use Surveys for Content Marketing

Paid responses

If I don’t have an existing database to
target, then I use Pollfish where I can gain access to an audience and
‘buy’ responses. You can laser target and segment who answers your questions to
ensure you don’t waste money on unqualified responses.

A little trick that works for me to save
money, is to use a pre-qualifying question. If you ask a question such as, have you applied for planning permission in
the last twelve months?
then it’s unlikely you will get responses from
anyone under 18 therefore, you don’t need to preclude them in the target
audience first screen. Setting a pre-qualified question is cheaper than
segmenting the audience.

Social media polls

If you have accounts with enough followers, then
you can use social media to run polls and ask questions for a wealth of
feedback. I’ve had great results from polls and questions posed on clients’
Facebook pages/groups and then used that information to inform content pieces.

Tips for setting survey questions:

Don’t
ask yes/no questions.

Instead of asking a direct question of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ where a respondent is psychologically biased to answer ‘yes’, structure your question with options. In your list of questions integrate the answer that you want answering:

How to Create and Use Surveys for Content Marketing

Keep
it short

In the freemium version, Survey Monkey limits
a survey to ten questions and I would always aim to keep your survey to ten
questions or less – unless you have a specific reason and offer incentives for
something more in-depth. The shorter the better.

Don’t overload people with too many questions
and options, keep it as to-the-point and as simple as possible and avoid asking
repetitive questions.

Limit
the use of matrix questions

Offering too much choice is proven to cause
decision paralysis and respondents are most likely to skip if they can, or
click on anything just to move forwards – rendering your results inaccurate.

For a complicated question that does require
a matrix answer, limit them to five header options and only use one or two
matrix questions in a single survey.

Don’t
ask leading questions, keep them open

Asking leading questions which influences the
respondent’s answer, does not provide results of any authority and could be
dismissed upon scrutiny.

Keep your initial questions open and then if you receive the answer you wanted, offer another a secondary question that drills down into more detail with the focus on the answers you really wanted.

How to Create and Use Surveys for Content Marketing

Make
sure you cover every option for respondents

It’s easy to be so focused on the answers
that you want and to forget to include options that cover every permutation. By
adding ‘don’t know’, ‘not sure’, ‘stayed the same’ or other alternatives, you
can ensure that responses are accurate and that the respondent isn’t just
clicking on an answer because there isn’t an option that is relevant to them.

How
many responses do you need to be statistically accurate?

Being able to justify survey results as
statistically significant is essential if you want to approach journalists or to
have authority with your published white papers. This is dependent on the
population group size that you want to represent.

If you’re publishing data on a nationwide
opinion, then you will need many more responses than a survey which represents
content marketing agencies that have an office in the city of Leeds (yes, me).

Any data that represents a nationwide survey
should be based upon 1,000-2,000 responses, whereas a more niche survey could
be justified based on only 300 responses.

There is a mathematical equation that can
calculate how many responses you need for statistical accuracy (Pollfish
calculate this for you as you build your survey). Survey Monkey provide a
useful sample size calculator and their in-depth answer on how to calculate the
survey size is useful to read here…

Make
it obvious

Most importantly, use clear and concise
language without any ambiguity. People misread, speed read and misconstrue
meaning. Your job is to make sure you communicate as clearly as possible what
you are asking them. Review your questions over and over until you can distil
them to a very clear essence without any superfluous language – a much harder
job than it sounds.

And don’t forget to spell-check – it really does count.


This article originally appeared on Search Engine Journal, August 2018

The post How to Create and Use Surveys for Content Marketing appeared first on ShellShock UK.

17 Sources of Inspiration for Content Campaign Ideas

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17 Sources of Inspiration for Content Campaign Ideas


Sit down with a pen and a blank sheet of paper
and write down ten ideas that could propel humanity to a new level. For
example:

  1. Growing
    new limbs and organs from our own tissue
  2. Recycling
    waste into a source of energy
  3. An
    organism that purifies water to a drinking level
  4. A
    teleporting transporter (my dream invention, no more flying)
  5. Ermmm…????
  6. …..???…..
  7. …..aaaarggghhh

The first one or two are easy and then by idea five, you’re thinking hard and your head is sweating. By eight, your brain is ready to implode. Thinking of ideas is not easy. Your brain hurts and it will do anything it can to avoid working that hard. Being creative can be physically painful and as John Cleese said, the real secret to creativity is the ability to sit with the discomfort until the right solution comes along. That is far, far harder than you can imagine and only those that know the agony of sitting with a blank sheet waiting for five outstanding concept ideas on it can tell you.

The brain is a muscle and the more you flex it, the better it becomes at idea generation. Therefore, the more you do concept work, the more you become used to having ideas. As James Altucher recommends, writing down ten ideas every day will keep your brain sharp and agile and then when the pressure is on for you to deliver the campaign, your brain is on your side.

I’ve spent a lot of time studying and writing
about creativity and idea generation, brainstorming, ideation or whatever the
current buzzword might be and the hard truth is that there are no shortcuts to
having cracking ideas. The kind of ideas that make you have a sharp intake of
breath and realise that all the hours of banging your head on the desk in
desperation with a looming deadline were worth it and your job (and reputation)
is saved after all.

What I have learned from many, many years in
creative industries and simply doing the hard graft is that to get good ideas
out, you have to put good ingredients in. Just like if you’re planning a day of
hill climbs on your road bike, you won’t survive 2,000ft on just a slice of white
toast.

The ability to create good ideas consistently
involves much preparation and research on a constant basis:

  • Watching
    what others are producing
  • Reading
    a diverse range of topics
  • Exposing
    yourself to culture
  • Searching
    through random parts of the internet
  • Getting
    offline and looking at things

I often get asked what my process is and I have outlined this in how to generate ideas for content here but, it’s not an isolated event that can be neatly packaged. Just like training in the gym to be faster and stronger on the bike, you have to put in the hours to get quality output on demand.

I do focus on reading offline books as widely
as I can, especially psychology, behaviour and creativity but also random
subjects such as sleep, learning languages, biology, business, classical
history and biographies. When we work online so much, getting offline has huge
benefits in exercising the brain and keeping it agile.

Aside from all the cultural input, keeping up
with trends and what others are producing is essential – this is where I find
the most inspiration for creative campaigns. Anyone who is involved in
generating creative content will know what all the other recent campaigns are
and will also know what has been successful and what hasn’t. If they don’t,
then they really should do.

So, we come to the meat in the sandwich, and we
get to the point.

If you want to generate ideas, then the first
stage is to sit down and spend some time searching for inspiration in order to
feed your brain with some ingredients, that it can start to bake its own ideas
with. The following are a list of sources that I use on a regular basis.

(If you’re specifically looking for data sets as a starting point for your inspiration then I have a full list of the best free data sources here).

The
best sources of inspiration for content marketing ideation/idea generation


Reddit

Reddit has been in and out of favour with marketers over the years, due to its unpredictable and unforgivable nature towards manipulative Redditors. Back on the up, Reddit is now considered one of the best sources of the random, weird, wonderful and everything you can imagine.

17 Sources of Inspiration for Content Campaign Ideas

For content ideas the best subreddits are:

  1. Dataisbeautiful
  2. Datasets
  3. Mapporn
  4. Internetisbeautiful

Media

For current, topical, news-led graphs and
infographics, the newspapers listed below offer stunning examples of the best
journalistic content.

If you have aspirations of landing placements or coverage from a top-tier media site, then searching each of these sources will give you an idea of the topics, and the level, which you should be aiming for.

5. Guardian Datablog

17 Sources of Inspiration for Content Campaign Ideas

6. Telegraph Data

17 Sources of Inspiration for Content Campaign Ideas

7. BBC Infographics

17 Sources of Inspiration for Content Campaign Ideas

8. Bloomberg

17 Sources of Inspiration for Content Campaign Ideas

9. Entrepreneur


Data visualisation

For pure data viz porn, the following sites
all offer an excellent curation of the best examples online and as a set of
sources, will cover most of the data visualisation worth seeing.

David McCandless is considered one of the leading data visualisation producers and his Information is Beautiful site has a wealth of inspiration in his work (I attended one of his workshops a few years ago). The awards event that he also runs (IIB Awards), is a fantastic source to see some of the best up-and-coming creative minds in data viz.

10. Information Is Beautiful

17 Sources of Inspiration for Content Campaign Ideas

11. IIB Awards

17 Sources of Inspiration for Content Campaign Ideas

12. Chart Porn

17 Sources of Inspiration for Content Campaign Ideas

13. Flowing Data 

17 Sources of Inspiration for Content Campaign Ideas

14. FiveThirtyEight

17 Sources of Inspiration for Content Campaign Ideas

15. Visualising Data


Other sites

16. Bored Panda

17 Sources of Inspiration for Content Campaign Ideas

As I like to look at a diverse mix of inspiration for random ideas, my guilty pleasure is Bored Panda. Although, be warned, you can easily get sucked into the rabbit hole of mindless scrolling.

17. This Is Colossal

17 Sources of Inspiration for Content Campaign Ideas

This is Collosal is the slightly more cultural offering of Bored Panda.

If you ever need a coffee break and some inspiration, then you will find something that gets your attention. Or, at least something that you can post on your social feed.

When looking at content campaigns in the industry, many times I have seen direct influence from something featured on one of these two sites.


This article originally appeared on Search Engine Journal in October 2018.

The post 17 Sources of Inspiration for Content Campaign Ideas appeared first on ShellShock UK.

How to connect your content to what journalists want for top-tier links

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In the last six years that I’ve been
producing content for links, link building has changed dramatically. After
undergoing a damage limitation rebrand, the industry is now called ‘outreach’
and is more aligned to classic PR rather than the bedroom SEO approach which preceded.

In certain industries (finance, insurance,
gaming etc.), you can’t compete without serious volume link building and no one
is under any illusion that it’s squeaky clean. To compete on a level playing
field, you do what everyone else is doing but just a little better (so said
Lance Armstrong). Everyone knows this but they don’t talk about it in public.

So, we find that link building outreach has now become polarised to where we are today. As long as links are a vital ranking factor (and let’s face it, that’s never going to change) the low-end volume blanket email campaigns are still part of the programme. But, for brands that have bigger budgets and more to lose from a link based penalty, we also have the ‘digital PR’ approach to secure ‘top-tier’ links (media coverage).

Most smaller sites don’t have the budget to
create big digital assets that have been popular over the last few years. And,
the reality is that most of my clients who can afford ‘hero content’ are big
brands who can dominate SERPS in the same way that they can dominate high streets
with their deep pockets.

However, it doesn’t mean that there is no
hope for the indie site and as we enter into the ‘digital PR’ era, with
creative smarts and small budgets you can create content to get attention from
top-tiers.

You just have to understand what a journalist wants.

How to connect your content to what journalists want for top-tier links

What
a journalist won’t pay attention to

The traditional link building approach of ‘I have this piece of content you may be
interested in…
’ that blogger outreach has existed upon is not going to work
with journalists. To get their attention you have to consider what they want.

Journalists don’t care about listicles,
tools, cute memes or ‘ten ways to [insert
anything here]
’. They certainly don’t care about you or your business.

What
do journalists really want?

Journalists care about one thing only:
information that will help them to write a story of interest to their readers.

That could be from unique data or a breaking news story. Most likely, the only thing that you can offer to them is a set of unique data unless you dressed up as Spider Man and scaled monuments in London. A bold and brilliant (yet illegal) move that gained consistent exposure for an aggrieved father but not something I recommend for the average business.

Journalists must write stories every day for
their readership and they constantly need feeding information that can help
them to fulfil this. This is your starting point for securing a link.

First,
know what your journalist is writing about…

The starting point for creating content for a
journalist is to understand exactly what they write about and therefore, what
they will be interested in sharing.

Do your research and source journalists that
are specifically relevant to your niche. Search for trade publications,
magazine style hub sites and also check out the sections in the mainstream
media looking for anywhere you may fit.

Review what the journalist is writing about
and what other sources they are citing in their articles – this will leave
clues for where you can look for sources of data and what topics or research
they are likely to respond to.

Once you have an understanding about what may
gain attention you can structure your content around data that will form the
basis of a story.

How
to connect an existing idea with data for journalists

A client came to me with an idea for a piece
of content based around planning permission. As a standalone topic, this was
not significant enough for a successful outreach campaign and I was not
confident it would gain any significant links.

I often find this issue with clients who want
‘brand’ content to fit their site but they also want links. Taking an existing
idea to turn into something that will appeal for top-tier links is a challenge
but can be done when combined with a data set or a survey.

The main piece of content was created from
the complex information of planning permission (in the UK) distilled into an
at-a-glance guide that delivered key facts for anyone considering basic home
renovation. Very much on topic for the client and their market audience.

To supplement the piece, I conducted a survey
that could offer unique information and insights.

The key question I wanted to answer was: what was the main reason that people had planning permission turned down for. I thought this would be useful information for anyone considering a planning application.

What a journalist won’t pay attention to
The traditional link building approach of ‘I have this piece of content you may be interested in…’ that blogger outreach has existed upon is not going to work with journalists. To get their attention you have to consider what they want. Journalists don’t care about listicles, tools, cute memes or ‘ten ways to [insert anything here]’. They certainly don’t care about you or your business. What do journalists really want?
Journalists care about one thing only: information that will help them to write a story of interest to their readers. That could be from unique data or a breaking news story. Most likely, the only thing that you can offer to them is a set of unique data unless you dressed up as Spider Man and scaled monuments in London. A bold and brilliant (yet illegal) move that gained consistent exposure for an aggrieved father but not something I recommend for the average business. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3653112.stm Journalists must write stories every day for their readership and they constantly need feeding information that can help them to fulfil this. This is your starting point for securing a link. First, know what your journalist is writing about…
The starting point for creating content for a journalist is to understand exactly what they write about and therefore, what they will be interested in sharing. Do your research and source journalists that are specifically relevant to your niche. Search for trade publications, magazine style hub sites and also check out the sections in the mainstream media looking for anywhere you may fit. Review what the journalist is writing about and what other sources they are citing in their articles – this will leave clues for where you can look for sources of data and what topics or research they are likely to respond to. Once you have an understanding about what may gain attention you can structure your content around data that will form the basis of a story. How to connect an existing idea with data for journalists
A client came to me with an idea for a piece of content based around planning permission. As a standalone topic, this was not significant enough for a successful outreach campaign and I was not confident it would gain any significant links. I often find this issue with clients who want ‘brand’ content to fit their site but they also want links. Taking an existing idea to turn into something that will appeal for top-tier links is a challenge but can be done when combined with a data set or a survey. The main piece of content was created from the complex information of planning permission (in the UK) distilled into an at-a-glance guide that delivered key facts for anyone considering basic home renovation. Very much on topic for the client and their market audience. To supplement the piece, I conducted a survey that could offer unique information and insights. The key question I wanted to answer was: what was the main reason that people had planning permission turned down for. I thought this would be useful information for anyone considering a planning application.

Create
a survey to supplement your content

Running a survey is relatively simple. If you
have an existing customer database you already have a wealth of resource at
your command.

Access to a database is not always possible so the alternative is to use sites such as Pollfish, Google Surveys or Survata. I’ve had great success with Pollfish.

The key to getting the best out of your
survey is to consider what you want the results to show and then structuring
your questions around this. The question that I wanted answering was for what
reason planning applications were turned down. I also asked about the
experience of the planning application, if they applied directly or through a
third party and how difficult or easy the process was.

I was then able to use this information
through the piece which offered another layer besides the rules of planning
permission.

When running a survey, your budget does dictate as to how many responses you can get. The more responses you have, the more credibility the information has. I aim for between 400-800 responses looking for a strong bias of results – a sample set of 400 responses is your minimum for results that are statistically sound and viable.

How to connect your content to what journalists want for top-tier links

Source
a data set to support your content

If you don’t have a wealth of data from your
business or you don’t have the budget to run your own unique survey, other
pre-existing sources of data can supplement your content outreach by offering
something newsworthy to the journalist.

For planning permission, and in addition to
the survey, we found a data set that contained information for each regional
planning authority with a breakdown of the numbers for how many applications
were approved first time. From this we created our ‘story’ for outreach.

To find data sets research your niche or
theme in known sources (see below) to see what is available or, use Google
searches to see what comes up. Often trade organisations run annual surveys
surrounding the industry but these are usually snapped up quickly directly by
journalists.

If you’re in-house, have a retainer client or
have your own brand then get to know your niche and monitor relevant sources on
a regular basis to try and capitalise on the fresh data.

You can find a compiled list of data sources for content here…

Remember open source data is available to
everyone and if you found it, then most likely others have too. Might seem
obvious, but check that no one else has covered the same data set. Even if it
has been covered, it is still possible to put your own spin on the content and
present in a different way but don’t waste your time with something that has
been covered extensively.

How
do you generate a story for your journalist?

So, you have your content and your data – how
do you make the pitch to the journalist?

Getting someone to do something that you want
is all about presenting in the right way and making as easy as possible for
that person to say yes. You have to make it obvious and lead with that.

If you’ve read Made To Stick you will be familiar with this example: Nora Ephron, screenwriter recalls her first day at journalism school when she was presented with a brief that contained information about a teacher training day that would improve student efficiency. What most of the students missed and was the foundation of the lead for the story was that next Thursday, there would be no school. That was the hook.

In all sets of data there is a story. Your
job is to find it.

In our example, we have our set of data that
told us where in the UK it was easiest/hardest to gain planning permission.
This lead story appealed to trade publications and to regional papers – it also
perfectly connected and complimented our content piece about planning
permission.

We wrote a long email with this as a headline
and talked through the results of our survey and the data source and then
concluded with our piece of content.

The result was significant coverage of the lead
story linking back to the piece of content.

Remember:

  • A
    journalist will not link to listcles, tools or quizzes
  • A
    journalist is only interested in information that will help him to write a
    story.
  • A
    journalist leaves clues for sources of data and topics that they will respond to.
  • Use
    a unique survey to embellish your content.
  • Find
    or create a data set as a foundation for your content to appeal to a
    journalist.
  • Your
    job is to find the story in the data and then present it.

This article originally appeared in Search Engine Journal in June 2018.

The post How to connect your content to what journalists want for top-tier links appeared first on ShellShock UK.

How to Create a Persona

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Imagine you are at a party, and an attractive girl starts talking to you about how much she loves her dog. She goes into great detail about the dog, he’s her best friend and he looks so cute in a doggy t-shirt. She presents photo after photo from her phone. How interested would you be in asking the girl out for a date?

What if you were a cat person and hated dogs? What if you had a bad experience with a dog when you were younger and it left you with a phobia about dogs? Would you still want to date or spend time with this girl?

Or, maybe you love dogs, and she had you at ‘Fred is my furry BFF.’ You can already visualise your wedding.

Dating and marketing are very much alike, they both involve engaging the attention of a niche audience that you want to develop a relationship with. And in both instances having a clear idea of who you want to engage is going to make the outcome more successful.

If you love waking up early, going to the gym and lots of outdoor physical exercise, then a nightclub is not going to be the best location to find someone who shares your fitness passions. Likewise, if your idea of holiday heaven is going to Ibiza for a seven day hedonistic non-stop party experience, then approaching a potential date in a walking group reduces your match potential to minimal.

We connect with people that are similar to us. Like attracts like. So, if you have a product to sell, by knowing who your audience is you have an insight into what you can say that will capture their attention and connect with your company and product.

If you can identify your audience first, understand their needs, challenges and pain points and then address those needs with your message and your product, then your content is going to speak to your audience.

Over ten years ago I read Call To Action by Bryan Eisenberg, and opened up so many new ideas for me. At the time, I was creating websites for clients and my interest in online marketing was just starting to pique. I still cite this quote today as being the fundamental concept of all marketing:

Speak to the dog, in the language of the dog, about what matters to the heart of a dog.” Bryan Eisenberg

Why create a buyer persona?

Business is customer centric, without a customer you don’t have a business. Therefore, the starting point for any business/product should be first to define who you want to sell to and then create your product and marketing directly focused on that person. Not the other way around.

Content marketing is all about questions and about being in the right place, with the right answer at the right time.

Marketing has turned away from a one-way broadcasting style and through the catalyst of social media has become a two-way conversation with their audience. Marketing is now dominated by the audience and not the brand. A complete role reversal.

Therefore, understanding as much about who you are talking to is essential so that you can have a direct conversation.

You can’t engage a cat person if you are talking about dogs and you wouldn’t read a Stephen King novel to a five-year-old or Peppa Pig to a teenager.

I’m going to walk you through creating a persona and have provided a template for you to download (at the end) so you can complete your own version.

What is a persona?

A persona is a detailed profile and summary of a person’s life, likes, dislikes, challenges and dreams.

A persona is NOT a stereotype such as Emo, Snowflake or Millenial, which is merely a caricature and is susceptible to the reader injecting their own interpretation.

Nor is it a customer profile, which is a generalisation of demographic and not descriptive enough for persona requirements. Eg. ‘Tweenager’ or ‘Mid-Lifer’.

The persona must be realistic and believable to enable you to envisage dialogue and interaction. You should be able to imagine the persona sat across a table having coffee with you. How do they look, act, speak? What do they talk about, respond to, get turned off by?

Where to find information to inform your persona:

The first stage is to gather your data to inform your persona creation. Experts suggest speaking to or gathering information from between 5-30 people, as long as there are patterns and trends that emerge on which to base your persona.

Ideally, you would have an existing customer database that you can send a survey to or get on the phone and interview.

Depending on the resources you have available you can comfortably use social media for an informed persona.

Sales team

The people with the most knowledge about your customer are the team that interacts with them, and they can tell you everything you need to know to build your detailed persona. What you want to know are the questions most often asked about the product or the most common problems and challenges that customers experience.

If you have the opportunity, sitting in on calls with a customer facing team can offer real insights.

Questionnaires

A survey is always my first go-to when starting a content strategy. Asking direct questions such as:

  • What was your most pressing need when searching for
  • What is your biggest challenge when doing
  • What is the main reason you decided to use us
  • Is there any information that we could offer you to make your decision easier

The single most useful nugget of information that you need is to understand what your customer pain points are. Once you know this, you can build a solid and effective content marketing plan and strategy.

Analytics

Mine your analytics data for what your prospects are searching for and to get clues to their personality and behaviour. Look at metrics such as landing pages, bounce rate, pages dropped out from, user journey through the site and any keyword data you have.

Social Media

The depth of detail you can gather from social is staggering. If you have a group or page with followers, by viewing each person you can see their movies, books, sports, likes, groups and check-ins. The detail of information you can gather by this process alone is so powerful ten years ago a marketer could only have dreamt of having free access to a tool like this.

If you don’t have an existing list of followers, you can still access the same information. Consider your keywords that define your brand or product and make a list then:

Twitter

  • Search for keywords and study the bios of people tweeting
  • Use Twitter search to find people talking and hashtags about your keywords
  • Ask questions to users identified as your target, ask them questions

Facebook – for consumer profiles

  • Use Graph Search to find profiles associated with your keywords
  • Search competitors profiles and who their followers are
  • See what other brands users are associated with on their profiles to build a picture
  • Mine profiles to see other interests and groups your prospects are engaging with

Linkedin – for business profiles

  • Search profiles to find qualifications and level of education
  • See other companies they associate with and follow
  • See groups they are members of
  • Assess level of success and earnings

I recommend reading this article about using Facebook Graph Search
And this webinar: Understanding your audience using social media

How to create a buyer persona:

When you have gathered all your data, start to answer the following questions:

  • Age, sex, ethnicity
  • Family (and pets)
  • Where do they live
  • What is their job title and salary
  • What is their education standard (inc reading level)
  • Social status
  • What are their social groups/interests (clubs, gyms, photographers, cyclists, etc.)
  • Level of digital and online ability
  • Level of data trust and sharing online
  • Their brand associations (are they an Apple user, do they shop at Asda or Tesco?)
  • Media and news sources

Create a story for your persona – this will help you to visualise the person while you generate ideas or write for them. When I say story: consider what their daily routine is like, what they want out of life, what their daily challenges are and try to get the essence of their life/character.


How to create a persona - Jane Walker


For example:
Jane Walker is 34 and lives in Manchester with her boyfriend of five years. They have a city centre apartment and one car. She works in a designer clothing store as a manager and loves the perks of discounted clothing. Her parents live an hour’s drive away and she sees them on average every two weeks. She has one sister who lives and works in London, but they are not very close. Jane works from 9.30am till 6 pm and has to work every Saturday. She goes to the gym three evenings a week and meets her girlfriends for a drink every Friday night. Jane is internet savvy and uses email, facebook and twitter on a daily basis.

It would be a safe assumption that Jane would be engaged reading an article about: The Top Five Fashionista Bars to Visit in Ibiza or an ebook titled: How To Find Designer Fashion Sample Sales, (the secret that fashion houses don’t want you to know) or an infographic titled: Train Harder For Less Time – how to get the most out of your gym session and look younger.

Pain and pleasure – carrot and stick

Psychology dictates that people are motivated by pain and pleasure. It’s a carrot and stick situation, pain (stick) moves them away and pleasure (carrot) moves them towards. For example, going to the gym can be motivated by the fear of being unhealthy, having a heart attack or being over-weight, which is something you are moving away from (pain). Or, you can be motivated by the desire to have a bikini body and see yourself walking on a beach looking and feeling fantastic while catching admiring glances from men and women – that’s moving towards (pleasure).

In a content marketing strategy, we want to map the pain points, challenges and questions that a user has at each stage the funnel. The intention is to preempt all the questions that a buyer may have and be there with the answers. It’s a classic sales process to remove any obstacles to purchase by directly addressing concerns and questions, so a buyer has no reason left to say no.

In our persona template we want to consider their pain/pleasure motivators:

  • Day to day goals
  • Daily challenges they face
  • Long term goals and aspirations
  • What keeps them awake a 3 am

For Jane, we can then begin to structure our information into a table such as:

Attribute Stick Carrot
Busy Always in a rush More time
Fashionable Out-of-date Being first and unique
Broody Ticking clock Getting married

Referring to this table when planning your content will help you to generate ideas, and when writing, you can imagine Jane’s worries and fears and speak to her directly. Form that emotional connection through understanding her pains.

Tone of voice

Consider their tone of voice, what language would they use? What is their level of vocabulary, how would they construct a sentence, what local (colloquial) phrases and sayings might they use? You wouldn’t use street-slang to speak to a banker and you wouldn’t use corporate jargon with a builder.

A great tip is to imagine your persona being played by an actor/actress. Then visualise the actor speaking in the role as Jane. For example, imagine Anne Hathaway as our Hero Jane. As you think about writing you can hear her voice and imagine how she would hold a conversation. You then have a clear person in your mind to who you are speaking.

Use a photograph for your persona (but avoid illustrations):

Finally, a selection of photographs will bring Jane to life and as Anne Hathaway brings the tone of voice to life, the photograph will present you with how Jane looks.

Using illustrations instead of photographs of the persona would seem to reduce effectiveness. It can lead to selective consideration of the persona characteristics and can increase the risk of self-referential details being superimposed onto the persona. The study also reported a lower level of empathy towards the illustrated persona and a diminished ability among students to recall details about the persona after time.
Frank Long at the National College of Art and Design


User Persona Template

You now should be looking at a document like this:

How to create a persona - Jane Walker - User Persona Template


Download a copy of the User Persona Template here…


How many personas should you create?

I would suggest that you always have a minimum of two and up to four or more for any business or product to cover your audience.

Where to use your persona

Once you have created your persona have it close to hand; stick it on the wall and refer to it whenever you create content. Ideally, I would suggest creating ‘mood boards’ which are a visual collection of imagery relating to your persona. Much like an ideas wall, seeing this visual information in front of you will help to connect information and brainstorm ideas.

As suggested above, when you are working on idea generation or writing content, imagine Anne Hathaway speaking as Jane and look at your images of Jane so that you can get into her skin and understand how she feels and thinks.

The persona is the basis to inform all your marketing from your content strategy, idea generation, content writing to which influencers to approach to find and reach Jane.

Time invested in creating personas will pay back with a more focused content plan and content that connects with your intended audience. And more possibility that you will get that date!

Updated for 2019.

The post How to Create a Persona appeared first on ShellShock UK.

30 of The Best Free Data Sources

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The Best Free Data Sources to Inform Your Content Creation and Ideation


If you Google ‘best free data sources’ you will find a raft of articles based on this theme but in my experience, many of these lists are bloated with obscure and unnecessary sites.

To save your time wading through a lot of fluff I have distilled the usual round of 50+ or 90+ links to the core sources of data that are your starting point to find datasets of significant value for your content production.

Citing statistics and facts from credible sources will elevate any content piece and a visualisation of a data set of real interest to your intended audience offers the perfect illustration to a piece of content or as a standalone asset.

Creating your own survey is always the first preference – if you have the budget and means – so that you have something unique to offer but a data set from a trusted and credible source is also a worthy basis.

All of the sources below are your starting point to finding the data you need to supplement your content production.


30 of The Best Data Sources in the UK/US

Government

Data.gov.uk
Since 2010 data.gov.uk has been helping people to find and use open government data, and supporting government publishers to maintain data.

ons.gov.uk
The UK’s largest independent producer of official statistics and the recognised national statistical institute of the UK.

Data.gov
The home of the U.S. Government’s open data

UK Data Service
A comprehensive resource funded by the ESRC to support researchers, teachers and policymakers who depend on high-quality social and economic data.

European Union Open Data Portal
The European Union Open Data Portal (EU ODP) gives you access to open data published by EU institutions and bodies.

Eurostat
Eurostat is the statistical office of the European Union situated in Luxembourg. Its mission is to provide high quality statistics for Europe.

US Census Bureau
The Census Bureau’s mission is to serve as the leading source of quality data about the nation’s people and economy.


Worldwide

Google Public Data
The Google Public Data Explorer makes large datasets easy to explore, visualize and communicate. As the charts and maps animate over time, the changes in the world become easier to understand.

Google trends
Google Trends is a public web facility of Google Inc., based on Google Search, that shows how often a particular search-term is entered relative to the total search-volume across various regions of the world, and in various languages.

UNESCO
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations based in Paris.

The World Factbook
The World Factbook, also known as the CIA World Factbook, is a reference resource produced by the Central Intelligence Agency with almanac-style information about the countries of the world.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
One of the key tasks of UNODC is to produce and disseminate accurate drugs and crime statistics at the international level. UNODC also works to strengthen national capacity to produce, disseminate and use drugs and crime statistics within the framework of official statistics.

UNData
UNdata is an Internet search engine, retrieving data series from statistical databases provided by the UN System. UNdata was launched in February 2008.

Dataportals.org
A Comprehensive List of Open Data Portals from Around the World


Academic

Google Scholar
Google Scholar is a freely accessible web search engine that indexes the full text or metadata of scholarly literature across an array of publishing formats and disciplines.

Pew Research Center’s Internet Project
The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, provides free data and analysis on the social.

Uk Data Service
The UK’s largest collection of social, economic and population data resources


Economic

International Monetary Fund (IMF)
The IMF publishes a range of time series data on IMF lending, exchange rates and other economic and financial indicators. Manuals, guides, and other material on statistical practices at the IMF, in member countries, and of the statistical community at large are also available.

Google Finance
Google Finance was a website launched on March 21, 2006, by Google. The service featured business and enterprise headlines for many corporations including their financial decisions and major news events.

World Bank Open Data
This site is designed to make World Bank data easy to find, download, and use.


Health

NHS Digital
NHS Digital (formerly HSCIC) uses information and technology to improve health and care.

Global Health Observatory (GHO)
Part of WHO, The Global Health Observatory theme pages provide data and analyses on global health priorities.

US Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
The Food and Drug Administration is a federal agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, one of the United States federal executive departments.

HealthData.gov
This site is dedicated to making high value health data more accessible to entrepreneurs, researchers, and policy makers in the hopes of better health outcomes for all.


Public Opinion

YouGov
YouGov is a community of 4 million people around the world who share their views. We analyse this information and publish selected findings every day on our website.

Gallup
We empower you to use data for real transformation. Through analytics and advice, we provide leaders with a road map for understanding and unlocking the full potential of individuals, teams and organizations.

Roper Center for Public Opinion Research
The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University is one of the world’s leading archives of social science data, specializing in data from public opinion surveys.


Misc

Million Song Dataset
The Million Song Dataset is a freely-available collection of audio features and metadata for a million contemporary popular music tracks.

Datasets Subreddit
Datasets for Data Mining, Analytics and Knowledge Discovery.

Statistica
Find statistics, consumer survey results and industry studies from over 22500 sources on over 60000 topics on the internet’s leading statistics database.

Google Public Data Explorer
Google Public Data Explorer provides public data and forecasts from a range of international organizations and academic institutions including the World Bank, OECD, Eurostat and the University of Denver.

The post 30 of The Best Free Data Sources appeared first on ShellShock UK.

Best Books on Creativity

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I read. A lot.

Alongside swimming, reading is my passion and the love of my life.

As a child I used to devour books, often in one evening sitting and I could always be found curled up entertaining myself with an Enid Blyton and then progressing to Stephen King in my early teens. Going to bed early (and I mean 7pm early) is my guilty pleasure so that I can relax and read. On holiday, after swimming at sunrise, I just want to chill out and catch up on reading. Easily pleased (kind of).

Over the last seven years, I started to progress my writing and as Stephen King recommends, if you want to write, you must read a lot and then write a lot. I began to research about creativity and thinking skills and working my way through and devouring a library of greats expanded my mind and taught me so much. Over the last seven years, my personal growth and ways of thinking have accelerated more than I experienced in the first 37 years of my life combined. If only I had done/known/been… etc. etc.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” Stephen King

A few years ago, I wrote a short ebook entitled What Is Creativity? and during that time I read almost every classic best book on creativity that I could find on the subject, alongside watching many videos and TED talks.

The following is my essential list for a curious and creative mind thirsty to absorb some goodness. All of these books and writers are unique, original thinkers and generally heavily cited (and plagiarised) online.

Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” John Green

The 10 Best Books on Creativity (To Improve Your Mind & Your Life)

Its not how good you are its how good you want to be by Paul Arden

10: It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be, By Paul Arden

When Victoria Beckham was a teenager her ambition was to be ‘as famous as Persil Automatic’. At a young age, she knew she wanted to be a world brand, and become a world brand she did indeed! I don’t think it is any secret that Victoria was not blessed with being a talented singer, nor is she an actress or model. Although, she was very good at pointing and pouting.

It wasn’t how good she was that mattered, it was how good she wanted to be.

A short but powerfully inspiring book for creatives and designers, Paul Arden manages to puff the wind in your sails to realise that through grit and elbow grease you can do anything. Only if you think a little differently to everyone else.

If you can’t solve a problem, you’re playing by the rules.” Paul Arden

Buy It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be in the UK
Buy It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be in the US

Think like da vinci by Michael Gelb

9: Think Like Da Vinci, By Michael Gelb

It could confidently be said, that Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the greatest minds the world has ever seen. Apart from being an artist, he had many accomplishments such as engineer, inventor, mathematician and architect to name a few. He is also credited with many inventions, most notable being an early helicopter and parachute.

Da Vinci attributed his astounding creative input to seven principles that he lived his life by and Think Like Da Vinci examines each of those principles, in turn, to help boost your own genius through a series of practical tasks.

My favourite principle is Curiosita, to be insatiably curious and forever asking questions. By constantly challenging the world through questions the mind expands inwardly searching for answers. The mental process stimulates the mind and nascent ideas are teased and nurtured into life.

The ten power questions exercise is a must.

Buy Think Like Da Vinci in the UK
Buy Think Like Da Vinci in the US

start with why by Simon Sinek

8: Start with Why, By Simon Sinek

I ‘found’ Start With Why several years ago and it was a revelation in terms of understanding how you can inspire others. I began to integrate this learning into all my work projects by helping clients to define their ‘why’ as a foundation to build their marketing on.

If you have your own business, by defining your ‘why’ you can then develop a brand with irresistible heart and soul rather than ‘me too’ blandness. The emotional connection that you can cultivate with your audience will be far stronger than trying to sell your product based on price or features. Apple were the master at leveraging this.

If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.” Simon Sinek

The book can also help to define your own purpose. By writing out my ‘why’ it helped to focus my direction and purpose. Once you know your purpose in life, why you do what you do, everything else falls into place behind that.

Buy Start with Why in the UK
Buy Start with Why in the US

Confessions of an advertising man by David Ogilvy

7: Confessions Of An Advertising Man, By David Ogilvy

Long before Mad Men became popular, I discovered David Ogilvy and he was my secret. Or, so I thought. Until many others started sharing their secret too.

What I love about Ogilvy is that he went through so many different job roles until he found advertising. I myself had many random jobs from being an apple picker in Israel to a hair model for L’Oreal and I consider these experiences to be a better education than I ever found in university. Exposure to diverse roles and environments helps me to understand people better and ultimately makes me better at being creative and a marketer. You have to have a rich well of experience to draw on to be a good writer or creative.

I also respect how hard Ogilvy famously worked and the urgency with which he built his agency.

I had neither the time nor the money to wait. I was poor, unknown and in a hurry.” David Ogilvy

This book is the essential reading for anyone who wants to lead or build a creative agency. Beautifully written, Ogilvy knew how to use words sparingly and to the point and it becomes clear as to why he was so successful.

Buy Confessions Of An Advertising Man in the UK
Buy Confessions Of An Advertising Man in the US

A technique for producing ideas by James Webb Young

6: A Technique For Producing Ideas, By James Webb Young

I used to consider thinking a mystical art that came from the ether that I had neither control nor understanding of. I couldn’t explain how I had ideas, I just did (with fingers crossed). When I began my research into thinking skills I learnt there was a formulaic process and as I understood how the brain worked I had insight into taking back control of this skill.

A tiny book of only 48 pages, you can read this within an hour. But don’t be dismissive, this is a concentrated powerhouse that can show you the steps to take to generate an idea.

Buy A Technique For Producing Ideas in the UK
Buy A Technique For Producing Ideas in the US

Made to stick by Chip and Dan Heath

5: Made To Stick, By Chip and Dan Heath

I work within online marketing as a content producer and have to generate creative ideas on a regular basis that not only encourage but insist others will share. It’s demanding and can be stressful. Most of my industry network turn to books on psychology and persuasion and I am grateful to the person who gave me this book as a gift (Paddy).

Chip and Dan isolate the six elements (SUCCESS) that contribute to making ideas ‘sticky’ and use a vast array of entertaining stories and metaphors to illustrate their point. I can’t stress enough just how useful and practical this book is for anyone working within an industry that relies on attention and clicks. Probably covers most of us.

This is a book that can help your career, and that’s a bold statement to make.

Buy Made To Stick in the UK
Buy Made To Stick in the US

Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono

4: Lateral Thinking, By Edward De Bono

Surprisingly, at school, no one teaches you how to think; I mean really think. The only thinking skills that you do acquire are focused on a logical approach known as ‘vertical thinking’. Inherent with flaws, this system of encourages you to stop as soon as you reach the first solution to your problem, regardless of whether this is the best solution that you can find.

Lateral Thinking expands your mind to approach problem solving and creativity in a new way with a series of thinking skills that anyone can learn.

I have devoured most of Edward de Bonos books and scoured the internet searching for prehistoric TV footage of his teaching programmes. As an introduction, I recommend starting with this book and then progressing through his catalogue if you want to learn to be a better ‘thinker’.

Buy Lateral Thinking in the UK
Buy Lateral Thinking in the US

The war of art by Steven Pressfield

3: The War of Art, By Steven Pressfield

For anyone who knows the pain of a blank piece of paper or, staring at the blinking cursor on the screen, fingers poised at the keyboard and mouse clutched in a sweating hand. Often, the thing we are supposed to do is the one thing we avoid the most. For me, it’s writing. I have been running from this for years; I feel the need to write, but I don’t know what to write.

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between us stands resistance.” Steven Pressfield

Steven uses short chapters and anecdotes to illustrate how we can overcome our demons to make a start on what we really want to do. Be it, write a book, start a business or swim the channel (I’m scared of jellyfish and dark water). Pressfield is such an outstanding writer that the years of discipline he has shown to sit daily and write pour out of the pages in the craftsmanship of his text.

This would be the third book that I would rescue from a burning building. I keep reading it over and over again.

Buy The War of Art in the UK
Buy The War of Art in the US

The element by Ken Robinson

2: The Element, by Ken Robinson

As a creative, I’m sure you will relate to that compulsion that you have to create. You can’t do or be anything else. For me, this manifested as a need to work with my hands, to draw, to make things and to solve problems. As I have grown older, I have this burning sensation of energy in my solar plexus that compels me to write. I have no idea why and if I am honest, it scares me a little.

Ken Robinson delivered one of my favourite TED talks about how creativity is educated out of us. Ken is such an eloquent and dry humoured speaker that I bought all of his books and discovered my number two must read.

The Element is described as ‘the point at which natural talent meets personal passion’. It’s about overcoming the frustration and disillusionment we feel in life when we are not being our true self and harnessing your inherent passion and purpose.

A book that is so inspiring I bought copies for all of my friends.

Buy The Element in the UK
Buy The Element in the US

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

1: Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Have you ever experienced the feeling of being so involved with what you are doing that you transcend to a state of total focus completely unaware of anything other than the task in hand? It can temporarily remove you from all problems in your life and take you to an intensely joyful and creative state. As if everything in your life has aligned and you are fulfilling purpose in a spiritual way.

I get flow when I am absorbed in life drawing classes, when I am writing and for glorious moments in the pool when muscle memory takes over and I am a passenger within my body as I automatically glide through the water with perfect strokes. It’s beautiful and nothing else can match that feeling.

Mihaly (I can’t pronounce his surname) dissects the state of ‘flow’ and how we can achieve it.

Flow is a book that can change your life.
Buy Flow in the UK
Buy Flow in the US


“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Stephen King


The post Best Books on Creativity appeared first on ShellShock UK.

The Top 10 Books on Creativity (To Improve Your Mind & Your Life)

No Comments

I read. A lot.

Alongside swimming, reading is my passion and the love of my life.

As a child I used to devour books, often in one evening sitting and I could always be found curled up entertaining myself with an Enid Blyton and then progressing to Stephen King in my early teens. Going to bed early (and I mean 7pm early) is my guilty pleasure so that I can relax and read. On holiday, after swimming at sunrise, I just want to chill out and catch up on reading. Easily pleased (kind of).

Over the last seven years, I started to progress my writing and as Stephen King recommends, if you want to write, you must read a lot and then write a lot. I began to research about creativity and thinking skills and working my way through and devouring a library of greats expanded my mind and taught me so much. Over the last seven years, my personal growth and ways of thinking have accelerated more than I experienced in the first 37 years of my life combined. If only I had done/known/been… etc. etc.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” Stephen King

A few years ago, I wrote a short ebook entitled What Is Creativity? and during that time I read almost every classic book that I could find on the subject, alongside watching many videos and TED talks. I spoke at a few conferences and started the Creativity 101 Digest as a natural progression to share all the incredible learning I was experiencing.

The following is my essential list for a curious and creative mind thirsty to absorb some goodness. All of these books and writers are unique, original thinkers and generally heavily cited (and plagiarised) online.

Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” John Green

The Top Ten Books on Creativity (To Improve Your Mind & Your Life)

Its not how good you are its how good you want to be by Paul Arden

10: It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be, By Paul Arden

When Victoria Beckham was a teenager her ambition was to be ‘as famous as Persil Automatic’. At a young age, she knew she wanted to be a world brand, and become a world brand she did indeed! I don’t think it is any secret that Victoria was not blessed with being a talented singer, nor is she an actress or model. Although, she was very good at pointing and pouting.

It wasn’t how good she was that mattered, it was how good she wanted to be.

A short but powerfully inspiring book for creatives and designers, Paul Arden manages to puff the wind in your sails to realise that through grit and elbow grease you can do anything. Only if you think a little differently to everyone else.

If you can’t solve a problem, you’re playing by the rules.” Paul Arden

Buy It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be in the UK
Buy It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be in the US

Think like da vinci by Michael Gelb

9: Think Like Da Vinci, By Michael Gelb

It could confidently be said, that Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the greatest minds the world has ever seen. Apart from being an artist, he had many accomplishments such as engineer, inventor, mathematician and architect to name a few. He is also credited with many inventions, most notable being an early helicopter and parachute.

Da Vinci attributed his astounding creative input to seven principles that he lived his life by and Think Like Da Vinci examines each of those principles, in turn, to help boost your own genius through a series of practical tasks.

My favourite principle is Curiosita, to be insatiably curious and forever asking questions. By constantly challenging the world through questions the mind expands inwardly searching for answers. The mental process stimulates the mind and nascent ideas are teased and nurtured into life.

The ten power questions exercise is a must.

Buy Think Like Da Vinci in the UK
Buy Think Like Da Vinci in the US

start with why by Simon Sinek

8: Start with Why, By Simon Sinek

I ‘found’ Start With Why several years ago and it was a revelation in terms of understanding how you can inspire others. I began to integrate this learning into all my work projects by helping clients to define their ‘why’ as a foundation to build their marketing on.

If you have your own business, by defining your ‘why’ you can then develop a brand with irresistible heart and soul rather than ‘me too’ blandness. The emotional connection that you can cultivate with your audience will be far stronger than trying to sell your product based on price or features. Apple were the master at leveraging this.

If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.” Simon Sinek

The book can also help to define your own purpose. By writing out my ‘why’ it helped to focus my direction and purpose. Once you know your purpose in life, why you do what you do, everything else falls into place behind that.

Buy Start with Why in the UK
Buy Start with Why in the US

Confessions of an advertising man by David Ogilvy

7: Confessions Of An Advertising Man, By David Ogilvy

Long before Mad Men became popular, I discovered David Ogilvy and he was my secret. Or, so I thought. Until many others started sharing their secret too.

What I love about Ogilvy is that he went through so many different job roles until he found advertising. I myself had many random jobs from being an apple picker in Israel to a hair model for L’Oreal and I consider these experiences to be a better education than I ever found in university. Exposure to diverse roles and environments helps me to understand people better and ultimately makes me better at being creative and a marketer. You have to have a rich well of experience to draw on to be a good writer or creative.

I also respect how hard Ogilvy famously worked and the urgency with which he built his agency.

I had neither the time nor the money to wait. I was poor, unknown and in a hurry.” David Ogilvy

This book is the essential reading for anyone who wants to lead or build a creative agency. Beautifully written, Ogilvy knew how to use words sparingly and to the point and it becomes clear as to why he was so successful.

Buy Confessions Of An Advertising Man in the UK
Buy Confessions Of An Advertising Man in the US

A technique for producing ideas by James Webb Young

6: A Technique For Producing Ideas, By James Webb Young

I used to consider thinking a mystical art that came from the ether that I had neither control nor understanding of. I couldn’t explain how I had ideas, I just did (with fingers crossed). When I began my research into thinking skills I learnt there was a formulaic process and as I understood how the brain worked I had insight into taking back control of this skill.

A tiny book of only 48 pages, you can read this within an hour. But don’t be dismissive, this is a concentrated powerhouse that can show you the steps to take to generate an idea.

Buy A Technique For Producing Ideas in the UK
Buy A Technique For Producing Ideas in the US

Made to stick by Chip and Dan Heath

5: Made To Stick, By Chip and Dan Heath

I work within online marketing as a content producer and have to generate creative ideas on a regular basis that not only encourage but insist others will share. It’s demanding and can be stressful. Most of my industry network turn to books on psychology and persuasion and I am grateful to the person who gave me this book as a gift (Paddy).

Chip and Dan isolate the six elements (SUCCESS) that contribute to making ideas ‘sticky’ and use a vast array of entertaining stories and metaphors to illustrate their point. I can’t stress enough just how useful and practical this book is for anyone working within an industry that relies on attention and clicks. Probably covers most of us.

This is a book that can help your career, and that’s a bold statement to make.

Buy Made To Stick in the UK
Buy Made To Stick in the US

Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono

4: Lateral Thinking, By Edward De Bono

Surprisingly, at school, no one teaches you how to think; I mean really think. The only thinking skills that you do acquire are focused on a logical approach known as ‘vertical thinking’. Inherent with flaws, this system of encourages you to stop as soon as you reach the first solution to your problem, regardless of whether this is the best solution that you can find.

Lateral Thinking expands your mind to approach problem solving and creativity in a new way with a series of thinking skills that anyone can learn.

I have devoured most of Edward de Bonos books and scoured the internet searching for prehistoric TV footage of his teaching programmes. As an introduction, I recommend starting with this book and then progressing through his catalogue if you want to learn to be a better ‘thinker’.

Buy Lateral Thinking in the UK
Buy Lateral Thinking in the US

The war of art by Steven Pressfield

3: The War of Art, By Steven Pressfield

For anyone who knows the pain of a blank piece of paper or, staring at the blinking cursor on the screen, fingers poised at the keyboard and mouse clutched in a sweating hand. Often, the thing we are supposed to do is the one thing we avoid the most. For me, it’s writing. I have been running from this for years; I feel the need to write, but I don’t know what to write.

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between us stands resistance.” Steven Pressfield

Steven uses short chapters and anecdotes to illustrate how we can overcome our demons to make a start on what we really want to do. Be it, write a book, start a business or swim the channel (I’m scared of jellyfish and dark water). Pressfield is such an outstanding writer that the years of discipline he has shown to sit daily and write pour out of the pages in the craftsmanship of his text.

This would be the third book that I would rescue from a burning building. I keep reading it over and over again.

Buy The War of Art in the UK
Buy The War of Art in the US

The element by Ken Robinson

2: The Element, by Ken Robinson

As a creative, I’m sure you will relate to that compulsion that you have to create. You can’t do or be anything else. For me, this manifested as a need to work with my hands, to draw, to make things and to solve problems. As I have grown older, I have this burning sensation of energy in my solar plexus that compels me to write. I have no idea why and if I am honest, it scares me a little.

Ken Robinson delivered one of my favourite TED talks about how creativity is educated out of us. Ken is such an eloquent and dry humoured speaker that I bought all of his books and discovered my number two must read.

The Element is described as ‘the point at which natural talent meets personal passion’. It’s about overcoming the frustration and disillusionment we feel in life when we are not being our true self and harnessing your inherent passion and purpose.

A book that is so inspiring I bought copies for all of my friends.

Buy The Element in the UK
Buy The Element in the US

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

1: Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Have you ever experienced the feeling of being so involved with what you are doing that you transcend to a state of total focus completely unaware of anything other than the task in hand? It can temporarily remove you from all problems in your life and take you to an intensely joyful and creative state. As if everything in your life has aligned and you are fulfilling purpose in a spiritual way.

I get flow when I am absorbed in life drawing classes, when I am writing and for glorious moments in the pool when muscle memory takes over and I am a passenger within my body as I automatically glide through the water with perfect strokes. It’s beautiful and nothing else can match that feeling.

Mihaly (I can’t pronounce his surname) dissects the state of ‘flow’ and how we can achieve it.

Flow is a book that can change your life.
Buy Flow in the UK
Buy Flow in the US


“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Stephen King


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The post The Top 10 Books on Creativity (To Improve Your Mind & Your Life) appeared first on Creativity 101.

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