How to create successful hero content

The key to producing good content and getting a return on your investment should come from two objectives: giving the reader a good experience and making sure that your content gets seen in all of the right places.

The former is important to building your reputation, credibility and influencing conversion. We’ve all been tempted by click-bait, that tantalising scrap of information or image that begs to be clicked on,  and we’ve all felt disappointed and a bit silly when the actual story turns out to be a let-down.

This is what hero content producers and marketers must avoid. Writing a good, useful piece of content is an investment worth making and a starting point for a whole campaign that maximises the time and resource that you spend creating it.

But content alone isn’t enough, it needs to be coupled with a solid strategy to ensure that it gets used in the right way and in a way that will meet your overall business objectives. And objective setting is something that often gets missed – what do you want to achieve? From lead generation, to an enhanced profile, to media coverage and social engagement; there is so much that your hero content can do. So think carefully and set out some goals early on in your process.

Identifying a Worthy Hero Topic

Your objectives should help you to determine your hero content topic. For example you may want to target a particular sector, or (subtly) point to an area of your own expertise. But be careful – there needs to be something in it for your reader. This is where some research into what your audience wants to read about and will find useful will pay off. 

Ten Tips to Finding Your Hero Content

What do you/your team get asked about – what problems do customers encounter and what are their pain points?

What has worked in the past in terms of getting engagement on your blog or social channels?

Do you have any data, reports or exclusive information?

Are there any myths or givens that can be debunked or challenged?

Can you make any future predictions and offer advice on opportunities and how to capitalise on these?

Past trends are also a good starting point for coming up with ideas, what has happened in your sector and what were the drivers for change?

Is there a customer story that you can use as the basis for a wider narrative?

Look at what other companies in your sector have done and best practice from other similar businesses.

Don’t just stick to your company – using opinion and tips from a wider pool of customers, industry commentators and suppliers adds credibility and advocates of your hero content

What are the big news topics in your industry and can you offer advice or opinion?

Once you have an identified topic or list of topics then test them out – don’t launch into writing straightaway as you are liable to struggle with the structure. Get a team together to talk through the subject and then give it a dry run by putting together a basic outline to test if it makes sense, has enough to it, flows and is interesting. If you have a tame customer then ask their opinion and use the feedback.

Creating the Hero Content

Hero content can take many forms and your topic will help influence your choice of medium. The most commonly used types of hero content are case study, white paper, survey/report, guide and ebook.

Type of Hero Content Description Super Power
Case Study Uses one or more real life user stories as an example, or to illustrate a wider message. Testimony sells and adds credibility
White Paper An extended piece of writing to help readers understand an issue or solve a problem. Make it a downloadable and authoritative resource for lead generation. Great for being re-used and re-cut
Survey & Report Survey or data findings presented in a report format with useful insights and recommendations. People love credible data with punchy stats, infographics and findings.
Guide or Ebook Instructive guide on a useful topic, often presented in ebook format. Helps to solve a problem in a practical and accessible way
Video A well-produced, structured and presented video on a specific topic More easily digested, likely to be shared and an alternative option to the written word

Regardless of which format you choose to present your hero content in, you should consider the tone, length and language that you are going to use, all of which should be appropriate to your target audience. For example, a technical white paper aimed at a group of engineers can be written to a high level and use language and terminology appropriate to the reader’s occupation and experience (it should still be interesting and compelling). Alternatively a more general guide for managers taking the first steps into making social media work for their team should be accessible, clear and full of helpful and easy to remember tips and instructions.

One thing that we are often asked about is how long should a piece of content be. This is a difficult one and continues to cause a fair amount of debate with most studies, for example this study from Eccolo on white papers suggesting around 6 pages. As a guide, and in our experience, people will have to be very committed to read anything over 2,500 words. When it comes to video content, we recommend keeping the length as short as possible. Yoav Hornung of Veed.me has some good insights on this subject, but the headline is that shorter videos have more engagement – keep it under 3 minutes if you can.

However, remember that your hero content is just the beginning and can be sliced, diced and adjusted to different lengths and formats. We’ll look at this in more detail later.

 Getting the Look Right

You’ve got the structure, the words and your hero content is compelling and engaging. That’s just half of the story. Everyone knows that having a good look plays a massive part in hero identity.

Adding a logo to your word doc and saving it as a pdf won’t cut the mustard. A professional design adds to your credibility and helps to re-enforce your brand as the author and owner of your hero content.

Using graphics to underline important points and trends will make your content easier to read and understand, these can also be re-used in other ways. The imagery that you use, such as photographs, should connect with your audience. If you don’t have a company image bank then it is worth investing in some tasteful, relevant stock imagery to really bring your content to life.

When it comes to video there are lots of inexpensive, but professional looking, ways to produce hero content. If you don’t have professionals in-house then ask for recommendations. However, be ready to brief any external supplier on your topic and proposed structure, they may have some advice as to the best way to present it.

Work It

You have your hero content and it’s looking good. The next stage of your plan should determine where it is going to sit and how it is going to first be used. Your choice will depend on your objectives, for example if your aim is to generate leads with contact information, then you may place your whitepaper on your website with a data capture form and start to encourage downloads. Alternatively, if you are intending to increase awareness of your business through a user case study then you could launch it by pitching the story out to some key titles and platforms and offer an exclusive.

The main point here is that your piece of hero content is just the beginning – there is lots that you can do to get the maximum value and output from your investment in good content. Your main piece of content should be reworked, recycled, reused and spread across a wide range of channels and platforms. One thing to understand is that it’s not dirty to pay to get your content out there. Promoted social posts and PPC can help you to get your message to your target audience. For example, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook will let you target posts according to factors such as location, industry type and job role and a PPC campaign with Google will get your content in front of people searching for that specific topic.

 

16 Ways to Work Your Hero Content
Articles Rework hero content in a series of articles that you can tailor to specific audiences, sectors or publications
Blogs Use sections of your content for blogs – either for your website or third party websites
Social Media Create a campaign/s around your hero topic. Use the main themes to engage your audience and don’t forget that imagery and video are great tools in being able to stand out
Events Consider having an event – a round table or customer event to debate the issues that you have explored, or to even launch your content to your audience
Infographics Infographics are great for getting key data across in a fast and impactful way and you can use them in a variety of ways including sending to third party platforms or publications, social media or direct comms to your clients
Press Releases If your hero content includes predictions, survey/research data, new thinking or customer stories then you can use this information as the basis of a press release. You can also take snippets of content and use them for reactive comments when related news stories crop up
Video/Webinar Produce a video, or a series of videos on the key themes, or do a series of live or pre-recorded webinars
Conferences Go for a speaker opportunity and present your hero topic at a relevant conference
Ebook Create a flick-able ebook that’s great for sharing
Letters Think about your target audience and what they read – research if the platform or publication has a letters page and send in a letter that refers to your theme. Try to keep it relevant and interesting
Press Interviews Make a pitch to relevant press on why you/company spokesperson would be good to interview on your hero topic
Slide Shares A quick, impactful deck can provide a good introduction to your hero topic
‘How to’ Guide Take the instructive parts of your content and produce a snappy ‘how to’ guide or graphic
Eshot/direct mail/newsletter Depending on your customer contact strategy, you can create a bespoke eshot or mailer to clients on your hero content topic. You can also include it as an item in your next newsletter
Website Your website should feature a landing page on your hero topic and somewhere where the full piece can be read or accessed
PPC Pay for your content landing page to rank for relevant key search terms

Don’t Forget the Call to Action!

Having a strong call to action (CTA) is really important. If people like what they have read and want to know more, then they need to know where to go. Keep your overall objectives in mind when you are determining your CTA – if you want to drive more web traffic then direct readers back to your website. Tools like CANDDi are great for beginning to identify website visitors and if you are emailing out to a list of contacts then you can include tracking that lets you build up your prospect profiles.

Set out some objectives up front and measure the impact of your hero content marketing. For example you may want to place articles in specific publications, increase Twitter followers/engagement by x% or generate a set number of content downloads with prospect data for your sales teams to follow up on.

Tools that will help include Google analytics, data from your social media platforms or consolidated dashboards such as Cyfe. Remember to start to measure well ahead of your content campaign so that you can track activity and how this changes – many platforms won’t give you historical data so get them set up well in advance.

The Immortality of Good Hero Content

Most hero content has a long shelf life and the multiple ways that it can be used means that it will give you an extended opportunity to share and promote it. Reworking your content to tailor it to each marketing opportunity across a wide range of platforms and channels will mean that your central piece of hero content can work in lots of different ways.

Do it right and the investment in producing interesting, engaging and good quality work will pay dividends.