The Nashville-based content marketing agency iostudio, which has created content for the likes of the Army National Guard, the Marines Corps Forces Special Operations Command, Department of the Interior and UPS (among many others), has produced a free guide to functional content marketing; at the root of it is iostudio’s Gene Bedell and Keith Kawasaki’s collective methods they’ve employed in their practice over the years. “We made sure that the essence of what we included has been translated in some way, shape, or form from the work that we’ve been doing,” said Gene. The pair also wanted it to be useful, because as Keith said: “There are a lot of PowerPoints, white papers, webinars, and conferences that have little direct impact on the work that you’re doing, with the audience that you’re working with,” said Keith. So, they wrote the field guide to be functional, informative and packed with advice that can elevate the practice of content marketing. Here’s what they had to say:
Content: You’ve created a print and digital guide. What was the rationale for doing two formats?
Gene: Going back to the notion of functional content, we wanted to be able to meet our audiences where they want to be met and how they want to be met. We have audiences that still relish the print and they like flipping through a product. Then we also have folks that prefer things in a more digital format.
Keith: The print version is a great conversation piece, especially when meeting people face to face. Whether it’s another colleague, or client, or potential client, to hand over this fun little field guide creates a different type of engagement. It’s not a big, bulky capabilities book. It’s literally a field guide that’s useful.
Content: What is functional content?
Gene: Functional content is content that has a purpose, it allows an audience to take action or provides that audience with the tools, knowledge, and information to be able to take the next step in their journey, whether that’s the customer journey, or a life-decision journey. In order to do that, you have to give people information that they can actually use. It’s not just content for the sake of content, but it’s actually content that they can engage with that ultimately gets them to perform some action.
At the crux of it, functional content really has a purpose, it also creates an experience that people want to come back to because they see value in it.
Content: Can you give me some examples of functional content?
Keith: We’ve created the National Guard’s recruiting website, on it we have a prompt to explore the basic training which all new recruits have to go through. We know the mystery surrounding basic training is often an obstacle for people signing up. They think it’s scary, or that they’ll never get through it. So, on the site we’ve created a downloadable basic training guide, which walks the potential recruits through what they can expect, so they can see what it’s actually going to be like. In addition, we have created a ‘career timeline’, with a very simple, intuitive interface, that users can walk through with their parents, and understand what the journey ahead is going to look like.
One of the most common things that kids get asked, whether they’re pursuing a career in the military or not, is, “What’s your five-year plan?” So on ‘nationalguard.com’ users can not only map out their next five years, but they can get a look at an entire 20-year military career and what they can go on to do when they become a civilian again.
The content includes videos, insights into career skills, and it has been designed to empower potential recruits to take that next step.
Content: How important is it to understand and know your audience?
Gene: In order to properly market to any audience you really have to know everything about them. You have to immerse yourself in their world and learn how to meet them where they want to be met, in the manner in which they want to be met, and how they want to be met. In order to do this, you have to design for the habit. When we talk about that, the habit is finding out about where your audience hangs out, how they digest information, how they absorb content, whether that’s in a mobile environment, whether that’s connected TV, whether that’s print. Whatever that is, you need to be able to hone in on that to deliver your message.
Content: How can marketers do that?
Keith: It’s not rocket science, nor does it take a massive cost investment. You have to get out of your own office. To understand a target audience, you not only have to spend time with that type of person, you also have to find out who influences that person, whether it’s family or employers, and get to know them as well. Then you can tie-in your learnings with how they like to engage with media and their habits, and create content that can add value to their life.
Content: In your field guide, you say that every piece of content should contain a message. How explicit should that message be?
Gene: The attention span and the timeframe in order to get a message across is so short. You have to be bold. You have to be authentic, and you have to be right up front with what it is that you’re trying to convey.
Don’t bury your message in the fluff. Give it to people quickly and without flaw. If the message has purpose and it fulfils the audience’s needs, they see value in it, they will continue to engage with your brand and with your product.
Keith: You don’t need to be heavy-handed, for example it’s all in your phrasing and how you position it. Leaning on the military example, and recruitment, we’re not saying, “Join now.” It’s more; “How can joining impact your life?”
By understanding our audience, and understanding what their needs are and their habits, we’re able to shape a message that actually means something for them and touches them in a contextual way.
Content: Finally, you’re strong advocates of using video as a storytelling medium. How realistic is it for every brand to adopt a video strategy?
Keith: It doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. There are great things being done with just iPhones out in the field, but what it comes down to again is understanding your audience. Before you’re going to put someone on camera, you need to understand who they are, how they’re going to engage, and how you can make them comfortable. They need to understand what your goal is and what you’re trying to accomplish.
Gene: It is very realistic for every brand, and that’s simply because video is no longer relegated to a major production. For example, you can now use tools such as Facebook Live or Instagram Stories relatively easily.