Don’t worry, this isn’t yet another post attempting to define content engagement from a qualitative or a quantitative perspective.
This article captures what engagement looks like from the audience’s perspective. We asked the experts speaking at Content Marketing World to share what content prompts them to engage with or trust a brand.
Read on for a deep look inside the minds of CMWorld speakers to learn what content prompts them to engage. And in some cases, learn which brands they think are doing it well.
“Content that triggers an emotional bond” gets noticed by Jacquie Chakirelis, director of marketing, Great Lakes Science Center.
Emotion also is the connector for Jeff Leo Herrmann, president of Madison, Michigan & Market. As Kiley Peters, owner and CEO, Brainchild Studios, explains succinctly, “It’s funny. It’s different. It’s relevant. It evokes emotion.”
For some of the experts, which emotion the content prompts depends on its relevance to them or their need at the time. For others, it’s not about emotion, it’s about how helpful or entertaining the content is. Or it’s about how committed the brand is to deliver on its commitment.
“It brings me joy. Seriously, it’s joy. My inbox fills up with emails I know will have great information and advice, but they often languish there unopened. Why? Usually because the content is dry.
“The ones I always open are the ones that bring me joy. Maybe they’re always funny. Maybe they always tell a story in a really engaging way. Maybe they always have stunning images or quirky videos. Maybe I just really love the tone of voice the company or individual uses. But the common thread is these emails make me feel happy when I open them. I look forward to opening them.” – Dan Hatch, founder, Typeset
“The best content brands respect my time, earn my attention, and reward that attention with smart, entertaining, well-crafted content that they clearly enjoyed creating.
“Their content comes straight from things they really believe and value. I believe and value those things too, so their content resonates with me.” – Doug Kessler, co-founder, Velocity Partners
Speaks to me
“The content I love most does two things: 1) It speaks to a specific problem/challenge I’m facing or an idea I’m inspired by and 2) it uses the same language that I do in a conversational, engaging style. The content I am moved to act on is inspiring, clear, and actionable. It connects the dots from where I am to where I want to be.” – Sydni Craig-Hart, CEO, Smart Simple Marketing
“The content I engage with feels like it has a real person behind it, not just a nebulous brand voice. And not just any person, a person who gets my problem, has struggled through it, and has emerged victorious with a feasible solution. Whether it’s an email, written content, a video, or a podcast, I need to know right up front that there’s something awesome that’s perfect for me coming, which my favorite brands do with enviable consistency.” – Andrea Fryrear, Agile marketing coach and trainer, co-founder, AgileSherpas
“I interact with brand content when I need information about the brand, including how to use it better.” – Buddy Scalera, content strategist; associate director, social media solutions, Novartis
Thinks like British public media
“Brands are becoming like the BBC: to inform, educate and entertain. The best content marketing makes you laugh, cry, say ‘wow,’ or do something. It triggers human emotion. Part of that is making someone say, ‘How true is this?’ and want to share it with others who feel their pain and appreciate its truth.” – Adam Ritchie, principal, Adam Ritchie Brand Direction
Can be found easily
“A lot of the time I am searching for the content because I have a thirst for certain knowledge. For example, having a good search strategy so that your content is showing up for specific keywords that people are searching for is a key way to get the right people engaging in your content.” – John Hall, co-founder, Calendar.com
“Fun and personalized content, especially in a lead nurture stage, tends to be the type of content I will engage with. Anything that seems robotic or even spammy, I never engage with it.” – Arnie Kuenn, senior advisor, Vertical Measures
Lets me get involved
“The best brand content understands how I feel about the brand, and shares something that it knows I’ll love and want to weigh in on. This level of getting your audience is not something you can extrapolate from third-party data or emails from your sales team about their conversations.” – Erika Heald, marketing consultant, Erika Heald Consulting
Comes from a relationship
“Brands and companies get me to purchase and remain loyal to them despite near substitutes and price competition because of the people behind them! The employees work to really help me and make sure that I am happy with my purchases. As a result, I develop a relationship and trust with them over time.” – Heidi Cohen, chief content officer, Actionable Marketing Guide
Knows I am their audience
“Brands that I’m in the exact right target audience for and they know it. Whether that’s because they’re creating content for writers that care about content marketing and SEO, freelancers, young female professionals, or dog owners (to name a few examples). They know what that means and how to appeal to me because of it. By contrast, the companies I get the least relevant content from are those that automatically sign me up to their list or start sending sales emails after I download a report or case study, without bothering to check if I’m their target audience.” – Kristen Hicks, freelance content writer
“It appears to be genuine. It serves my need/solves my problem at that time. The content is entertaining, thought-provoking, or educational. They take time to respond back. Brands or organizations that don’t respond back (even after several attempts) lose my loyalty or interest in becoming involved.” – Melissa Harrison, CEO, Allee Creative, LLC
Provides at least one E
“I describe engaging content through my 4Es of engagement: Content must educate (provide skills), explain (provide context), entertain (provide joy), or empower (provide confidence). Content that does (at least) one of these things, in addition to being relevant and contextual to the brand and industry, will make me want to engage.” – Zontee Hou, co-lead of consulting, Convince & Convert
Follows the best policy
“The content is honest. It doesn’t say, “we’re great at everything,” it says, let’s ask you questions about who you are and let us guide you to the right answers.” – Wil Reynolds, founder, Seer Interactive
Doesn’t trigger an allergic reaction
“The quality and the depth of the content needs to be much, much bigger than a few years ago. I’m increasingly allergic to fluff and annoyed by companies that succeed in “winning” on Google just to drive me to content without real value.
“And, on a positive note, I’m increasingly fond of brands where I can feel their personality. To give an example every reader knows, I’ll point out Velocity Partners. You can feel them in every word – like their cookie notice that goes: ‘We just cookied your ass. And you know what? It felt good. Read our cookies policy to see why.’ I have a huge crush on things like that and of course their posts, e-books, etc., are the same.” – Jesper Laursen, CEO, Native Advertising Institute
Fills craving for connection
“In a world where consumers are overwhelmed by content and are switching off, I believe that entertainment – or even utility – is not enough. Brands that will succeed will tap into a need for human stories, for human connection, in a way that is seen as a force for good. And by that I don’t mean heavy-handed tear jerkers. I mean content about real people that makes us feel more connected as a community. Two brands that do an exceptional job of creating purposeful, human content are Patagonia and Airbnb.” – Lauren Quaintance , co-founder and head of content, Storyation
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“The brands that prompt me to engage the most often do three things: The content is created by a person I’m building trust with; they’ve made an appointment with me and deliver on their commitment; and finally, they consistently deliver content that makes me smarter.” – Andrew Davis, author of The Loyalty Loop, Brandscaping, and Town Inc.
Doesn’t focus on the brand
“The brands that are most successful don’t make it all about themselves. They find ways to connect their products to my life in authentic and unexpected ways or they keep their content fresh by showing how they provide fresh/new thinking or benefits.” – Kathy Button Bell, senior vice president, chief marketing officer, Emerson
11 brands creating engaging content
Now, let’s dive into some brands cited by CMWorld speakers that are creating engaging content.
“Fender – I’m a musician and they know that. Their content makes me click almost 90% of the time. I see myself in their imagery and their stories. Sure sometimes it is aspirational and even borders on fantasy, but it is compelling” – Michael Weiss, vice president, Creative Circle
“Precision Nutrition has some of the best content I’ve ever seen. I regularly use them as examples of what to do for those who need some concrete ideas for inspiration. They have both B2B and B2C clients, and they create incredible content for both.” – Anna Hrach, strategist, Convince & Convert
“Netflix and Amazon. Not because of their media content, but because they use my past viewing habits to recommend things that are personal and unique to me.” – Michael Brenner, CEO, Marketing Insider Group
“I engage online the most with brands that share my values and aren’t afraid to be authentic. Wildfang comes to mind. They’re a retailer and e-commerce company out of Portland that sells menswear for women (usually queer women). They don’t just make feminist, pro-queer statements, they participate in real activism, raising money and hosting events. And they aren’t shy about that. Pair that with the excellent quality of their clothes, and they’ve got my loyalty for life.” – Courtney Cox Wakefield, group manager, digital marketing, Children’s Health
“LEGO – because they are very up front about their goals, what they’re about. And then they are transparent about the why, which gets you right alongside them for the ride.” – Ben H. Rome, manager, marketing and communications, AIHA
“19 Crimes’ website, customer communication, and AR product experience make it one of my favorite brands. They show up delightfully different. They understand what adds value to me and are patient about building the relationship before asking something from me (i.e., giving up my information). They’re personal without being creepy and they are excellent at integrating the online and offline experience.” – Carla Johnson, speaker, author, storyteller
“Apple News: A news feed curated by humans, not robots
“Stark Bro’s: A nursery with good how-to and when-to gardening content
“Sweetwater: A music store with good how-to content, product comparisons, events for musicians, and a personal guide to help you get what you need.” – George Stenitzer, founder and chief content officer, Crystal Clear Communications
Go forth and foster engagement
And sometimes that goal of engagement requires stepping out of your brand’s status quo and giving it a voice. As Katie Martell, communications consultant, Boston Content, says, “(Engaging content) comes from a place of honesty. It speaks to me as a human being and isn’t afraid to be provocative or bold where necessary.”
These explanations of what kind of content engages the CMWorld speakers vary, but they all circle a theme – engaging content addresses a need or a want (sometimes still unknown to the audience) of the individual reader, viewer, or listener. Whether it answers a question, entertains someone, or does everything to spark joy, content that draws in the audience requires brands to know their audiences. Put simply, brands that get their audiences get engaged audiences.
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Engage with all these speakers and dozens more in person at Content Marketing World Sept. 3-6. Register today using code CMIBLOG100 to save $100.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute