Doing a Taylor Swift and 6 other content strategies I learned from pop

What can Taylor Swift, will.i.am and U2 teach you about b2b content strategy? Here are 7 easy content marketing techniques you can steal from the world's top pop stars...

Doing a Taylor Swift and 6 other content strategies I learned from pop

1. Empathise like Taylor Swift: make an emotional connection

American popstrel Taylor Swift is hot property right now. Her 1989 album was the biggest selling record of 2014 and she has soared to #3 in the Forbes music rich list – largely through a combination of ‘sick beats’™ and carefully crafted lyrics designed to make every teenager believe that she’s just like them. Dumped by your boyfriend? Unpopular at school? Been on an embarrassing date? There’s a Taylor track for you…

Of course, Taylor isn’t anywhere near 15 anymore, and she certainly isn’t sweating over a teenage crush. But by focusing on her young fans and their problems with empathy and humour she creates an emotional connection.

With a little bit of creative copywriting and the right angle, you can do something very similar with your content to connect with consumers everywhere – even in the b2b world.

Consider this example from Unitrends, a US-based company specialising in backup and data recovery appliances. It’s a pretty specialist niche and a challenging product to write lively content around, right? Instead of the usual hyperbolic ‘our software is fantastic’ messaging, it bravely begins by acknowledging that disaster recovery won’t make you ‘swoon’. The use of empathy and humour makes it a far more enticing download than the usual dry whitepaper.

The key to this technique is to try to understand the mind-set and issues facing your audience and empathise with their real-world situation. Give it a try and you could end up creating a genuine, emotional connection with your audience.

Empathy is also the secret of the very best short-form copywriting. Top copywriters use customer insights to push the right kind of reassuring micro-content at the right time. In this example from Naked Wines, note the text on the right hand side reassuring the customer that they have ‘nothing to lose’ at exactly the right time. It’s the tone and the placement of the message that makes it so effective. 

Conversion expert Michael Aagaard has a great example of how putting yourself into the user’s mindset can yield great results.

Aagaard’s e-book, Universal Conversion Optimization Principles, was painstakingly put together over four years, and the original landing page copy ensured that everyone knew just how much effort he had put into it. It read:

‘Insights and experience from 4 years of research and over 350 A/B tests distilled into one 26-page free ebook.’

Sounds interesting, right? But I know what you’re thinking: ‘I haven’t got time to wade through four years of research right now. I’ll download it later.’ But once Aagaard chose to front-load his call to action with a statement that showed empathy with time-poor readers, his download rate soared.

‘Read the book in just 25 minutes and get insights from 4 years of research and over 350 A/B tests.’

What happened next speaks for itself: Downloads increased by 18.59%.

2. Know your niche. Do a U2 and give people what they expect

Despite the furore surrounding U2 and Apple’s decision to force-feed the public the Songs of Innocence album, it was nevertheless interesting to hear Bono explain his motivations. It turns out that, after a few years of falling album sales, the band had decided to revert to writing the kind of  ‘hold your phone aloft-style stadium fillers’ that had made them famous – and Bono wanted everyone to know about it.

Often, the success of an editorial strategy relies on you knowing your niche. The kind of music you can make better than anyone else, if you like. There is a lot to be said for knowing your areas of content expertise and what your users are expecting from you, and then focusing on delivering on that really well.

That’s exactly what US-based swimming pool company River Pools and Spa did. After struggling to stand out online using standing PPC advertising, the company decided to write a series of really niche blog posts, showcasing its expertise in advising customers installing home pools. With topics like ‘How much is my pool really going to cost?’ and ‘5 reasons why tarp pool covers are a terrible investment', the blog generated a 120% increase in organic web traffic to the company website, which ultimately led to more than $1.7 million in sales for the once tiny company. All of this came from the technique of really knowing your editorial niche and working it.

Charles Tyrwhitt is another brand that invests in highly specialist advice pieces, painstakingly mapped to real customer insights and beautifully produced. Who knew there were so many ways to fold a pocket square, for instance?

Charles Tyrwhitt

3. Work it like will.i.am: Invite and collaborate

Will.i.am is a pop superstar. As a solo artist and the brains behind the Black Eyed Peas, he’s sold millions of records around the world. But while an accompished songwriter and performer in his own right, there's one thing that really sets will.i.am apart from his peers: his knack of partnering with the biggest names in the business. Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Usher and Justin Timberlake are just a few of his star collaborators.

What will.i.am knows is that you don’t have to do everything yourself. Sometimes your content will be better through collaboration. You can curate best-of-breed content and serve your users well simply by pointing them to it. Perhaps you can invite guest bloggers and content creators to ‘perform’ on your brand’s platform. Or encourage your users to create content of their own. There’s a lot of value to be had in being a super-producer rather than the lead vocalist on all your content.

One brand that is great at using others to produce content is American Express. The US financial services company curates the hugely popular OPEN Forum, an advice-sharing platform for entrepreneurs. By allowing its consumers to have their say, American Express is not only learning more about its customers and their interests, but subtly establishing itself as a company that understands and supports business people.

4. Stick to the formats that work – like Calvin Harris

Calvin Harris is another superstar who knows how to use others to deliver sure-fire hits – again and again and again. The British producer earned $66 million (£43.8m) in 2014. And he often sticks to the same formula to make it happen. You know the drill: wait for it, wait for it, wait for it… there’s the drop!

If your organisation reinvents the wheel every time you create new content, you’re really making very hard work for yourself. Instead, take a tip from Calvin and invest time in analysing what content types work best for you, building excellent best-practice samples and guidelines and training your contributors to use them again and again.

In a world where we’re almost overwhelmed by content, we find great comfort in familiar formats. They save us time and they give us subliminal mental cues as to what to expect. In the case of copy formats, we establish reading habits around them. BuzzFeed, for instance, has got plenty of mileage out of the listicle format, while Vine and Twitter have both built businesses around a strong, repeatable content format that people find easy both to create and consume.

Consider where you can make an established format work for you. For example, here digital network company Limelight bought the rights to use the highly recognisable ‘…for Dummies’ format to package a piece of their own content marketing.

5. Take a tip from Roxette: Don’t bore us, get to the chorus

In the 1990s Roxette sold an estimated 60 million records worldwide. Smash hits like It Must Have Been Love and Listen to Your Heart received awards for achieving over 4 million radio plays. The secret of their success probably lies in the title to their greatest hits album: Don’t Bore Us, Get to the Chorus – a tactic that they’ve been using to please fans for decades.

You could do worse than follow the same advice when producing content. Readers scanning content at speed, often on small screens, need to get your point and fast. Is there too much waffle before you get to the crux of your message? A clear content strategy and content briefs that state key messages, calls to action and target audiences is the root to more effective, targeted content marketing.

For example, one glance at the The Donkey Sanctuary website makes it obvious what the charity’s mission is: to help abandoned, in pain and starving donkeys. 

Still not convinced? The stats prove that the more you lower the effort a customer has to make to understand something, the more likely they are to stick with you and increase their spend over time. In a Harvard Business Review report:

  • 94% of those scoring their customer service experience as low effort said they would repurchase from the same company
  • 88% of low effort scorers said they would increase their spend

6. Go a ‘little bit country’. Title well

Country music songs are famous for their blunt titles. For example, Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)If You’ve Got the Money Honey, I’ve Got The Time or D-I-V-O-R-C-E.

There’s a big benefit in titling your content so that it’s clear to the intended audience exactly what it’s about. It saves them time and (in the words of Steve Krug) you don’t make them thinkLure in your audience by explaining exactly what they’re going to get out of your article or blog post.

If you look at the titles of the best-selling business books of the past decade or do, you’ll see the authors follow exactly this technique of benefit-driven, self-contained and clear titles:

The same tactic works perfectly for marketing content. Our ebook '40 clever ways to build your business case for content', for instance, does exactly what it says on the cover. It’s full of tips and tricks to help you win over your stakeholders and claim more budget for your content projects.

7. Take a risk to get real rewards, Gangnam style…

A year or two ago, no one knew what Gangnam Style was. But fast forward to 2015 and the song has been watched so many times online that it ‘broke’ YouTube’s viewing counter. Who would have guessed that Psy, a thirty-something Korean pop star, would become a global superstar overnight?

Psy may well end up being the ultimate one-hit wonder, but he took a risk and it paid off – to unbelievable success. Risk is important, and your brand should build a little bit of it into your content strategy. You don’t want to be singing into a hairbrush in your bedroom all day – take a risk and make yourself heard.

Coca-Cola’s 2020 Content Strategy demonstrates how you can formalise building risk into your content plans. In their videos they explain that 70% of Coke’s strategy is to produce ‘low risk’ content, or the content that their customers expect. 20% targets specific demographics in innovative or engaging ways. The remaining 10% accounts for risk and doing things that are completely unexpected.

If you think that’s all very well for Coke but not so easy in tech or b2b, take some inspiration from what Cisco did on Valentine’s Day, which created massive buzz online. Maybe this is the year for you to take a creative risk too?