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When I go shopping, nothing frustrates me more than a “one size fits all” label. It never does. At least the “one size fits most” is a bit more honest, but still. The caps are too small, the gloves too long, the flip-flops are a travel hazard. Just no.
Yet content marketers apply the dreaded “one size fits all” label to pretty much all that they make. It’s tough to get away from that if you don’t have a team of people helping you create all kinds of “sizes” of content. Solo bloggers are working hard enough just trying to blog, much less make content in a variety of forms.
So let’s take a two-pronged approach: understanding the core content types, and understanding how people learn. With the launch of CoSchedule’s new ability to not only plan your blog and social media content, but now a lot more content types using your all-in-one marketing calendar, now is a great time to learn all about this.
Let’s take a look at the most effective content types, and then figure out which “size” fits your audience the best.
Defining content types is not easy. Some content marketers use the phrase to talk about way a piece of content is written, while others use the phrase to talk about the format the content takes.
In this post, I’m working with the latter approach, breaking it down to the four content types: graphics, video, downloads, and articles.
Bold truth: Even if you’re not a die-hard visual learner…visuals still work on you. Even if for no other reason than it’s easier to watch and feel than read and decipher. Most people would rather watch the movie than read the book. Whether it’s a meme, photo, illustration or infographic, the data is clear: Our brains love visuals.
So for this reason, and the fact that social networks have all built themselves to handle images, visuals are the top content type. You could make a brand viable on visuals alone (e.g. Pinterest, Instagram).
Videos may be a tough content type to get you or the team excited about, because they aren’t that easy to make. A poorly made video is dangerously close to being worse than having no video at all.
And yet, despite all of you fellow wordsmiths out there (like me) who love the written word more than anything, the stats in support of video are pretty hard to argue:
That’s just 10 of 25 mind-blowing stats from Digital Sherpa about video potential that will either make you cry if you’re unprepared for video creation, or jumpstart your interest if you’ve let them lag a bit.
Ebooks (and other free downloads) are that beloved carrot that we use to collect email addresses for our ever-growing email list.
The ebook is the portable piece of content that the reader can take with them when they aren’t on your blog. Readers who are also content marketers are always building their own library of resources because, let’s face it, we’re all in a bit of a desperate race to find something to write and talk about every day.
As I said before, everything is derivative, and that’s OK. Ebooks are popular for people looking for inspiration for their own content. But ebooks are also popular for people who just like to…read.
I’d encourage you to make your ebooks available beyond just your email sign up or landing page. Consider putting them where people go to buy and download ebooks for ebooks sake (i.e. Amazon, iTunes, Scribd, etc.). Most content marketers are sold on ebooks as a carrot for growing the email list, but they aren’t thinking beyond the realm of their own site. Ebooks can get your brand out there just like a best-selling author.
Articles are blog posts, long social media posts, interviews—anything that is longer, written content found on your content properties. These are the pieces of content that bring people to your website, the search engine honeypot.
Like visual content, articles have a wide range of approaches. They might be short form, long form, lists, narrative, outline, interview—the only limits on what you create with the article content type is what limits you as a writer, and where you will be publishing.
We all learn differently. That’s why that one-size-fits-all approach fails.
Some of us want to hear, some of us want to read, some of us want a picture—we’re looking for a different hook. How we learn plays into how your audience prefers to consume content, and ultimately, if they will remember it. Understanding how readers learn will help you find the most effective content types to get your brand’s story to resonate.
The seven learning styles are generally thought to be visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social, and solitary. Some of these don’t directly apply to the content you’ll be creating, so let’s package them up into something a bit more portable than a list of seven.
Visual learning is known as spatial learning.
Visual learners need to see your data, your theory, or your story spelled out in imagery. They want to associate feelings with the photos you provide. They will remember an article better because of the graphic that topped it.
Visual learners like whiteboards. They prefer to diagram and map out the idea they are discussing, because they see things as spatial and related. The are pleased when they see Venn diagrams or flowcharts. They brainstorm with mind maps.
Number crunchers are logical beasts, preferring that you provide them with facts and data and let them draw their own conclusions.
They are quick to pick out patterns and form connections between data. They love content that provides a systematic way to solve a problem that they can apply in their own situation. They like organization, lists, tied up conclusions, and the use of words like “template” or “data-driven solution” are an immediate attraction.
Some of us love the written word. Sure, we love a helpful graphic or chart now and then to assist in visualizing some concept, but word pictures do a better job than actual pictures will, in the long run. A great metaphor or simile, or the perfect analogy—those kinds of word pictures will help us understand your brand much better than a pie chart.
The trick here, of course, is that many content marketers love to express themselves verbally (that’s why they blog), but their audience may not always learn verbally.
Some people learn best when there are other people involved. They want to surround themselves with a group, thriving off of feedback. This is the social learner.
The social learner is especially fond of linking and name-dropping, and it makes sense that these learners are drawn to content marketing. Why?
Content marketers rely heavily on each other.
They write blog posts and share content that others have created, quoting and referencing the findings and ideas put forth by others. It is very much a group activity, which helps your brand. When your brand story is told secondhand, it gains authority in a kind of second generation format. It is given validity not only because you wrote it, but because someone else believed it enough to share or base their own content on it.
Social learners receive curated and ultra-linked or ultra-discussed content well—anything that makes people a part of the content.
So how do we wrap this up, this crazy mix of content types and learning styles? No single audience is going to be made up of just one type of learning style. There are going to be many preferences at work, sometimes a mix of more than one.
When you compare the lists in each learning style with the list of the most popular content types, you see some of those types popping up in multiple learning styles.
There is no one content type reserved for one particular learning style. That’s a relief.
What you don’t do is create a single piece of content and load it up with everything for every learning type. That won’t work for anyone.
The best approach is to think of your content as if it were a flower seed, with the potential to have various stages until full bloom. Let’s say that the seed is like a blog post. It is your base content. You will probably add fertilizer to that seed by including visual images in it, because even if people don’t learn visually, they appreciate a picture or two (remember, visual content is #1).
The seed gets watered when you share it on social media. At that point, it starts to grow in the direction of the sun (your audience). The stem branches out from that original seed—maybe you create an infographic and share it. Maybe you create an ebook, and then create a video and podcast after that. Whatever the case, the content isn’t just a blog post anymore. It became more.
The flower and stem aren’t literally packed into the seed. It comes later. In other words, your base content grows in the direction of your audience. Whatever they want, you create the content type to fit.
This sounds familiar, hopefully. This is about repurposing your content, a concept we have often prodded readers to try. Because it really is important.
June 3, 2015
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