Longform Content Marketing Formats Proven to Drive Results

content-marketing-longform

When Matt Ogle and his team at Spotify launched Discover Weekly, the company’s game-changing “made for you” playlist, they accidentally shipped a few bugs. As a result, the algorithm suggested songs that users had already heard (at a rate of about one old song to 10 new ones). When the team removed the bug, they noticed that engagement dropped. In other words, Spotify users wanted a little bit of familiarity mixed in with their new music.

As The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson wrote, this is an example of a psychological phenomenon called “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.” The concept of MAYA was founded by Raymond Loewy, a mid-20th-century industrial designer who created cultural icons such as the Exxon logo, the Lucky Strike pack, and the Greyhound bus. According to Thompson:

Loewy had an uncanny sense of how to make things fashionable. He believed that consumers are torn between two opposing forces: neophilia, a curiosity about new things; and neophobia, a fear of anything too new. As a result, they gravitate to products that are bold, but instantly comprehensible… He said to sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising.

Whether it’s music or art or books, humans want a balance of surprising and familiar. In content marketing, you don’t need to be completely unique to be effective. You just need to find formats that fall safely in between original and familiar, and that works for your brand and readers.

In this post, I’ll share a few of the content formats that work for my company, Campfire Labs. There’s no rocket science to any of these – they’re simply ways to approach producing high-quality, brand-building content that people actually want to read. They’re usable by anyone, whether you’re a solo blogger or the CMO of a Fortune 500 company.

The Teardown 📜

What is it?

An analysis of another company’s work including what they do well or what they do poorly. These stories typically include a lot of screenshots, graphs, and metrics from third parties.

Examples

Advantages

  • Shareable – People often share content that represents their opinion.
  • Builds authority – If the analysis is good, your brand will earn kudos and street cred.
  • Engaging – These stories tend to keep people on the page and get them coming back.

Challenges

  • Requires expertise – You can’t delegate these stories to your summer intern. They require a domain expert with a well-informed opinion.
  • Difficult to coordinate – It can be hard to find the time to write these stories as an expert and/or hard to get time on someone’s calendar to interview them.

Suggestions on how to produce them

  • If you have someone at your company with lots of (informed) opinions and time to write, great. Get them to commit to a story every month breaking down another companies’ strategies.
  • If that person doesn’t have the time to write, consider having a marketer or external resource interview them and ghostwrite the story.
  • If you don’t have an expert at your company, consider interviewing authorities in your industry and ghostwriting the story for them, e.g. “Nir Eyal breaks down why Slack’s onboarding works so well.”

How I (or They) Built This 💪

What is it?

A story about how someone did something specific (grew revenue to X, built a product, etc.). This style of content uses real stories to educate readers on a topic by showing, not telling.

Examples

Advantages

  • Shareable – One of the most shared types of content in B2B content marketing.
  • Personal – Builds a relationship between you and your customers and gets them bought in.
  • Quick to produce – Can be produced in weeks, not months (by either stream of conscious writing or interviewing someone about their story and then writing it up).

Challenges

  • Limited by # of stories – If you are producing these about your own company’s experiences, you need to have something to say (duh). If you are producing these about other companies, you need to find the stories. This takes time.
  • Requires transparency – The best stories are the most open and honest. That means sharing failures, real metrics, real strategy. If you aren’t comfortable with that transparency, your stories likely won’t perform well. If you are writing about other companies, it can be difficult to get them to be transparent.

Suggestions on how to produce them

  • Crowdsource your ideas by posting to your company’s Slack channel and ask if anyone wants to share a project they’ve worked on recently.
  • Schedule monthly calls with your company’s executives and founders to ask them to share experiences from their career or their work at your company, and ghostwrite the stories for them.
  • Search for people in your industry that have shared their own “How I Built This” style stories and ask to interview them and write a third-person version of the story for your blog. Pro tip: podcasts and Medium are great sources.

The Thought Leader Interview 💼

What is it?

Interviews with thought leaders in your industry, authors, and people that your customers look up to or can learn from.

Examples

Advantages

  • Peer positioning – Interviewing thought leaders is a great way to position yourself next to their ideas and brand.
  • Built-in distribution – Thought leaders often share stories written about themselves on their social media channels.
  • Audience interest – If you choose interviewees who your audience wants to read about, there is a good chance they will click on the story.

Challenges

  • Difficulty reaching them – High-profile thought leaders are often in high demand. If you don’t have a large audience or a great brand, it’s hard to convince them to spend the time to do an interview.

Suggestions on how to produce them

  • The best time to reach thought leaders is while they are on a book tour. Search for recently published or soon-to-be-published books to find the most likely thought leaders to accept an interview request.
  • Tell the thought leader what’s in it for them. Your goal is to sell them on saying yes. Offer to buy their books and do a giveaway to your customers. Tell them how much traffic your blog gets. Share your best piece of work to show them how your story will make them look great.
  • Build a large backlog of people you want to interview and email a lot of them. For the highest-profile thought leaders, it’s a numbers game. Don’t send a few emails and hope it works.

Mini-Sites and Multi-Part Guides 📚

What is it?

Well-researched content that aims to be the most in-depth and engaging of its kind. (Note: This is very different than a quickly-slapped-together “Ultimate Guide to XYZ.”)

Examples

Advantages

  • Quality = High Page Rank – If you create the best resource for a topic and follow all SEO best practices, you’re very likely to win the top spot for competitive keywords.
  • Sales enablement – Thoughtful content is a good resource for the sales team to share with prospects during the buyer journey.
  • Built-in distribution – If you include outside contributors, they will be likely to share the resource when it launches.
  • More distribution options – You can do a small PR launch for the resource by pitching industry publications, posting it to ProductHunt and other leaderboards, and pitching snippets of the guide to publications as thought leadership stories.
  • Brand authority – Prospects and customers will see you as an expert on the topic you’ve spent months researching and writing about.

Challenges

  • Time and money – There’s no way to fake this. You have to put in the time and money to do it right in order for it to be successful. If you don’t create something that provides real value, you’ll end up with another lifeless “Ultimate Guide to XYZ.”
  • Buy-in – You need to have a team and company leadership that believes in making brand investments and aspiring to be the best, as opposed to shipping something quickly that makes a small, but immediate impact.

Suggestions on how to produce it

  • Break the project into 10-12 parts and aim to produce one part every week for the entire quarter.
  • Partner with another company to share the cost and time to produce it.
  • Hire an outside resource like Campfire Labs to produce it (shameless plug).

Want to know how today’s best marketers are cutting through the noise and producing content people actually want to read? Download the Modern Marketer’s Playbook here.

Michael Thomas is the founder of Campfire Labs, a content marketing agency specializing in longform storytelling. His writing has been published in magazines like Fast Company, The Atlantic, and Quartz.  

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post. Interested in contributing content to the Drift blog? Email Molly Sloan at msloan@drift.com.

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