Over the last 20 years, I’ve done a lot of educational content campaigns, both for my own companies, and to help others. But it’s only recently that I’ve come to grok the odd paradox of how certain types of content earn reach, amplification, and success with the people they’re meant to engage.
Here’s the problem:
- Broadly helpful “Beginners’ Guide” content appeals to groups that tend to have high consumption (i.e. they read/watch a lot), but low amplification (i.e. they aren’t especially influential in their fields, at least not yet).
- Higher-level, more tactical content tends to appeal to smaller audiences, but (especially if it’s truly unique and valuable), the groups with whom that work resonates often have substantive amplification potential (i.e. they’re the thought leaders, writers, publishers, editors, speakers, podcasters, etc of their worlds).
- The amplifiers can usually help you reach the beginners. The beginners usually can’t help you reach the amplifiers.
If you’re planning a content strategy to reach high-consumption, beginner-level audiences, how do you work around this paradox?
There’s a few ways to go, but the biggest sticking point I’ve seen is applying a set of strategy and tactics that don’t fit the situation. And that happens because content creators and marketers either don’t research the field, or don’t effectively apply that research to their work.
The Audience Research Process
I see a lot of content marketing processes that look like this:
- Create content personas
- Determine the content those personas want/need
- Create content for the various groups
- Apply SEO-focused keyword research
It’s not the worst process in the world, but it’s missing a key element:
Who will help amplify this and why?
If you don’t have a great answer to this question, you’ll wind up with a lot of “high quality content,” that doesn’t earn amplification, doesn’t get linked-to, doesn’t rank, and thus, doesn’t get traffic. Content, even more so than products, relies less on its inherent quality and value and more on its ability to earn the signals that impact search, social, and content platform algorithms along with the psychology of people consuming and sharing.
If you add a few more elements, the output substantially improves, e.g.:
- Find and follow the sources of influence in the field you’re targeting
- Gain a deep understanding of which content resonates, earns amplification, and how/why
- Create personas for both target customers AND the sources of influence who’ll help you reach them
- Determine the content those personas want, need, and will share
- Create content for the various groups
- Apply SEO-focused keyword research
It’s only two more steps, and a slight change in thinking, mostly around the audience that amplifies vs. the target customers.
More details here: Want Your Content to Succeed? Make it Resonate With the Right Audience.
Different Markets Have Different Distributions & Behaviors
The central paradox is that beginners and experts in a field want and share different things. Not only that, the size and amplification-potential of these groups differs from industry to industry (not just B2B vs. B2C) and sometimes, content intended to appeal to one group can do better with the other. All these caveats make it difficult to settle on a singular approach or simplistic rule of thumb.
Instead, we have to do the research and apply it to our content strategy and the individual pieces we choose to create (and how they’re amplified).
The options are many: we could…
- Create content with broad appeal, market it to well-followed experts, and hope they’ll share/amplify to the beginners
- Create content for beginner-level audiences and attempt to rank in Google by leveraging a high-authority publication that’s got the signals to show up on top
- Build for experts, and rely on the ongoing advancement of the beginners who stick with the practice to eventually discover our work
- Create news, surveys, host interviews, and engage in other forms of content that tend to appeal to a wide range of audiences
None of those are bad options. The only truly awful choice is not having a well-thought-through strategy around our approach. Unfortunately, a lot of content creators, even those publishing exceptional work, haven’t thought through the process.
Let’s say, for example, you’re creating an indie game, and need to earn excitement, buzz, and amplification for your Kickstarter campaign. You’ve got a lot of places to potentially focus effort…
… but chances are good that spray+pray at all of them will fail. A few tweets, a couple of blog posts that rank for long tail keywords in Google, a podcast appearance or two, a Clubhouse chat, a few visuals or videos on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, etc. That is how a lot of unfocused, doomed-to-failure marketing campaigns I’ve seen in indie game world are done.
While it’s true that your potential audience is probably in all of those places, it’s also true that repeated exposure via trusted sources is far more likely to drive action than broad spray-and-pray.
The audience you want to research are, weirdly, not those who might eventually buy and love your game, but rather those who’ll drive exposure via indie-game-world interested audiences. To create for them is a different beast, entirely. You’re selling to games media, other indie developers, social influencers on Twitch, YouTube, Twitter, & Instagram, and what they like to consume and amplify is fundamentally different, but eminently research-able.
You can reverse engineer many of the recently-funded successes in the market and see this reality in action. Five out of six of these $100,000+ raising indie games have:
- Notable presences from a variety of amplifying accounts on Twitter & Instagram
- Coverage (as per some Google searches) of their campaigns by varying outlets in the game media world
- Pre-existing audiences from the development or creative team (or from a previously well-loved/followed fictional universe)
Indie games world looks nothing like digital marketing world. The “experts” and “beginners” in the marketing field fit those nouns pretty well, but they’d be better described in gaming as “indie developers, media, influencers, and those heavily-involved,” vs. “mild enthusiasts or ancillary consumers of games content.” There are far more people in indie games who’d readily put themselves in the latter group, and far more in marketing who’d say they’re closer to “experts” than “beginners.”
Take any industry or niche and you’ll find the distribution varies quite a bit, as does the audiences responsible for amplifying, those that follow them, who follows what, who shares what, why… This, my friends, is why researching the field and knowing these answers matters so much.
Despite the differences between indie gaming world and digital marketing world, I see the very same paradox in content amplification and *who* does the sharing/influencing vs. who’s consuming. In both fields, the influential publications and people aren’t representative of the larger audience. They’re more specialized, more likely to be long-tenured professionals, more likely to be creators themselves, and less likely to share “beginner,” types of content (though what that means in these two worlds is quite different).
The Content Marketer’s Responsibility
If you’re crafting content, anything from a tweet to a YouTube video to a blog post to a full-blown downloadable, gated report, you’ll be far more effective creating it, titling it, positioning its contents, and marketing it if you know:
- The distribution of your audience’s “beginners,” and “experts”
- Who follows whom for what
- Who shares what and why
- How to appeal to the amplifiers while serving the audience(s) you need to engage and convert
There’s no silver bullet here (and no secret, either). Just interviews, surveys, tools, study, experimentation, and iteration. Thankfully, the juice is worth the squeeze.