All epic reporting. All non-fiction stories. All unforgettable.
And when I say epic I mean over 10,000 words long. In the print edition these stories range across twelve pages. Online they scroll for ages — and click through seven pages.
The long-form story (“epic content” in the Copyblogger vocabulary) is The New Yorker’s unmovable anchor in the rough seas of magazine publishing. A monument to good writing. A reason that people are willing to scale a pay wall.
The Atlantic, The New Yorker’s contemporary (and equally successful partner), is using the epic content model (and seductive headlines) to build a sustainable business around an audience that wants substance — and substance to share.
As both The New Yorker and The Atlantic demonstrate, this model works. And the New Yorker model is now the buzzword for all things content marketing.
The current shape of content marketing
Technology media is joining the bandwagon: Fast Company is producing long-form posts that draw readers.
What do these companies know? They know that quality content rules.
American Express, Mint, and Hubspot know it, too. They’ve built their brands, generated leads, and acquired new customers based on massive amounts of content.
Then there is a scrappy company called Copyblogger Media — a nearly seven-year-old software company built solely on the back of authoritative content, and the audience that it attracted.
Content marketing is here to stay. Why? The demand for content never changes. It is never limited. The only things that are limited are attention and distribution.
But, without an audience, content has no value.
Tumblr wants to be the next New Yorker
There are a lot of media sites with huge audiences. The only problem is their content is shallow and dies off quickly. This is why low-grade content creators like Gawker and Buzzfeed have jumped into the long-form game. They’re trying to add content with substance to build companies with depth and maturity.
… ‘Real’ New Yorker journalism involves airplane flights and fact checkers and multiple bouts with copy editors and long stretches of time and yes — a living wage for talented writers.
Maybe even a few copy editors.
In other words, I don’t believe Tumblr is really interested in ponying up the real costs of ‘New Yorker‘ journalism; like so many ‘maturing’ online publications they’re seeking the credibility and prestige of New Yorker style journalism, not the investment.
His point: epic content comes at a cost.
Are you, as a content marketer, willing to do what it takes to create it? Should you create it? And can you even create it?
Let’s take a look.
What is epic content?
The definition for long-form, epic content is hard to nail down. Do we define it by the quality? The time it took to write? The research involved? Or the length of the article?
These epic articles fly in the face of conventional wisdom that says people don’t want to read a lot of content on the web. Conventional wisdom says make it brief. Otherwise you get burned by the dreaded tl;dr — “Too Long; Didn’t Read.”
But that is changing.
Why epic content matters now
Here’s the thing: a writer or site that continuously produces quality content builds an audience. Great content drives people back to the blog or website.
And this is the type of content that people hang on to for a very long time. As Mallary Jean Tenore reports in this Poytner article dated March 1, 2012:
Pocket (formerly Read it Later) data shows that, on average, users keep a video or article in their queue for 96 hours before marking it viewed. As this Bit.ly study shows, that’s a pretty long time compared to the life span of stories shared on Twitter.
Let people take content with them, and they will soon value it more highly than if it is shot at them. Content creators will be rewarded with a longer social lifespan for the stories and videos they work so hard to create. And that ultimately lifts the value of a media brand.
We once feared that the web was killing our brains. Not so. Evidence seems to suggest that instead of destroying our minds, we’ve revolted. Consumers are demanding that writers respect their intelligence — and give them something substantial.
We want something that we can take anywhere — during those times between task and location — and read.
The rise of tablets, smart phones, and apps like Instapaper and Pocket (formerly Read It Later) have also made it easier for people to find and save articles for later reading.
In turn, websites like Longform, Byliner and The Atavist and #longreads hashtag have surfaced to help us satisfy our desire for epic content.
It’s the new tools that have made this happen.
In a panel at SWXW on the Death of the Death of Longform Journalism, Evan Ratliff and Max Linsky (founder of Longform) discussed how the problem wasn’t that the stories were too long. The problem was the delivery method. And now we finally have the tools to read pieces when, how, and where we wanted.
My personal favorite is Readability. With a simple Chrome extension, I save articles as I surf the web, which are also saved on my phone. And when I’m stuck at the Chinese joint waiting for my Moo Goo Gai Pan I can read a great story.
That short scenario is played out millions of times a day. Lewis Dvorkin from Forbes shared this data about our new reading habits:
Perhaps not surprisingly, the data from more than 100 million articles on ReadItLater shows that consumers save articles consistently throughout the day. But here’s when they’re reading it: on computers, from 6pm-9pm; on iPhones, at 6am, 9am, 5pm to 6pm and 8pm-10pm (“the moments between tasks and locations”); and on iPads, predominantly from 8pm-10pm.
On a whim, I polled friends to corroborate the research above. I asked three questions: How do you consume online content? When? Where?
The garden variety answer was this: “1) Phone, tablet, desktop; 2) Always; 3) My home office.” And one Facebooker summed it up nicely: “It’s all about utilizing the little moments of time efficiently.”
And this holds true for the business world, too.
Can you deliver epic content?
There’s no question about it: people want epic content. It doesn’t matter if you are in the aviation engineering business (think GE) or the SEO business (Raven Tools) — your customers want stories.
More and more companies are using content marketing to build brand awareness, acquire more customers, and generate leads.
According to the CMI report, these companies are spending 33 percent of their marketing budget on content (up from last year).
Furthermore, fifty-four percent of marketers will increase their content marketing spend as more executives are buying in.
With this growth in content marketing, however, come doubts.
Marketers are unclear about content marketing tactics and their two biggest challenges are producing enough content and creating content that engages.
Last year 40% of B2B marketers identified their content marketing as “effective” or “very effective.” That number dropped to 36% in 2012.
This is corroborated by another research report on content marketing: 2012 B2B Content Marketing: Ready for Prime Time. Lack of resources leads the list of top challenges for content marketers, but this is closely followed by a lack of skill to create engaging content.
Which brings us back to what The New Yorker can teach us about content marketing.
The New Yorker guide to content marketing
The New Yorker is the authority when it comes to long-form journalism. That’s why Tumblr invoked their name when advertising for freelance writers.
But what can they teach you about business-to-business content marketing? What can they teach us about using epic content to build the value of your brand?
Fortunately, a lot.
Solve business objectives — Your costumers are probably not looking to kill time with a seven-thousand word essay on Taylor Swift’s teenage angst empire (New Yorker customers are, however). Your customers want to know how to generate more traffic, leads and sales. Use epic content to do that.
Educate with stories — Dig into the history of your company or customer testimonials. Begin with a meaningful conflict, agitate the pain and then trot in your solution. As The New Yorker has demonstrated, people like in-depth stories. It makes learning fun. Give it to them.
Diversify your content — Think blogs, email white papers and ebooks. The more vehicles in which you communicate your message the more people you will reach and the more effective you will be. Warning: Keep your message consistent across mediums.
Invest in quality writers — Great content is hard to create. And you can’t fake it. Gone are the days of keywords stuffing or outsourced content farms. Only superior content will build your influence with your target audience and Google. There’s no way around it (even if you are Tumblr).
Speak their language — When you answer their questions, alleviate their fears and encourage their desires you will write effectively for both people and search engines.
Create a schedule — A giant publication like The New Yorker knows six months out what content it will create—and when it will publish. Create and manage an editorial calendar, using tools like the WordPress Editorial Calendar plugin.
I’ll dig in deep with some of the above techniques in future posts. In the meantime, get free access to the Scribe Content Marketing Library and work your way through the Copyblogger guide to content marketing.
Over to you …
What challenges do you have when it comes to content marketing?
Do you wish you could create more content?
Do you feel your content could engage your customers better?
Does your content fail to get traffic? Rank high in search engines? Have your subscriber numbers stalled? Do you wish you could get more social shares?
Share your struggles in the comments below so we can give you the help you need in future blog posts …