Journalists often make the best marketers.
That’s because journalists are trained to focus on the human element of a story—and good marketers understand that content should prioritize human connection.
According to Chelsea Castle, former journalist and Director of Content at Chili Piper, the best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing.
She talked to us about how to keep the human on the other end in mind when creating content, and shared her top do’s and don’ts for engaging your audience.
Create content with tangible takeaways
Chelsea said that content marketers can create human connections by producing content that is valuable to their audience and solves their problems, not just content that hits a certain metric.
“As a marketing team, as a content team especially, our mission at the end of the day is to create helpful, high-quality content that serves our audience,” Chelsea said.
That’s true whether it’s someone who is a customer already, a community member, a prospect, or someone who’s just interested in what you’re writing about.
“Our goal is just to serve them with content that’s helpful, that’s valuable, that actually gives them tangible takeaways, that’s not fluff,” she said. “So that when they do have a problem that we can solve, they know to come to us.”
This type of content is what can build an affinity for your brand, even if the person reading it is not a user of your product yet.
“That’s how we think about everything that we do, whether it’s an email, whether it’s an ad,” she said. “I always think about the human on the other end of it.”
Balance analytics with other measures
Marketers can become too focused on data and analytics while ignoring other signs of what content is actually working for their audience.
“We over-index on measuring traditionally as marketers, and you are just so focused on over measuring and then you’re under-serving your audience and under-delivering,” Chelsea said.
It’s a balance. Spreadsheets and tech stacks are great, but you can’t limit yourself to just what pulls high page views. You have to pay attention to what your audience finds useful.
“There’s a lot of qualitative data that we see in the marketplace that gives us indicators of what’s working and what’s not,” she said.
“So if something has a million page views, but no one is really responding to it on a social post, or we’re just not seeing any resonance in qualitative data, then those page views don’t mean a whole lot to me.”
Consider the data, but also look at what is resonating with your audience, what’s causing them to respond in one way or another.
Cultivate content from the whole company
If you want to create content that really speaks to the people you’re targeting, start by seeing what kind of content people within your company can inspire.
At Chili Piper, they started a program called Centers of Excellence. It’s the idea that every department should learn from other people and organizations that are excelling and couple that with their own expertise to improve.
By working together and sourcing expertise from within and outside the company, Chelsea has been able to generate a lot of content ideas.
“I got to work with department heads who are our own target personas, sales and marketers are our personas,” Chelsea said.
“So working with on-target personas to write content that would be valuable to our audience, to write about what they’re doing, how Chili Piper uses Chili Piper, et cetera.”
Sometimes the type of person you are writing content for is right within your company and even if they aren’t, other departments have ideas about what problems users have and what they need to learn.
Rethink gated content and the traditional SaaS funnel
There are two things that Chelsea has strong opinions on. One is gated content and the other is the way SaaS companies try to fit website visitors into a traditional funnel.
“In general, I don’t believe in gated content,” Chelsea said. “I don’t believe that’s how people buy. I don’t believe that’s how people should be consuming your content or is the most effective way to offer up your content.”
Sometimes as part of gated content marketers also want to push people into the sales funnel. But just because someone goes to your website and downloads content or clicks on an ad doesn’t mean they’re a qualified prospect.
Chelsea said the idea of people being at a certain stage of intent when they’re interacting with you is real, but the order of steps that marketers take aren’t reflective of how people buy things.
“That’s not how we buy,” she said. “It’s like a spiderweb or it could be an A to B.”
People learn about your brand and decide to buy in ways that aren’t always attributable.
Forcing someone to join your email list to access content or sending them a case study right after they visit shouldn’t be the automatic process. It can actually give people a bad impression of your brand.
“It goes back to what I was saying about the human element,” she said. “If I want someone’s content, I want the content. That doesn’t mean that I’m a lead.”
Use passive CTAs
Chelsea said the better way to engage your audience without those tactics is to make it their choice.
Use CTAs that give them a way to follow up or get more information, but don’t assume they’re a lead.
A lot of how you use CTAs should depend on the point of entry and the intent that the user probably has when viewing that content.
“We have a lot of CTAs that are, I guess you could call them passive CTAs,” Chelsea said.
“So while you’re engaging with content and you like it, it’s like, hey, if you enjoyed this content, follow our newsletter, just keep in touch.”
Let your audience explore the content as much as they want, in whatever way they prefer.
On content that’s more bottom of the funnel, like a piece that compares your product to an alternative product, you’d want your CTAs to be more product-driven. Invite them to chat or to check out your offerings.
“It should always be their choice,” Chelsea said.
If you consistently keep the person on the other end in mind, you’ll create content that engages them and builds trust so that they’ll come to you when they do need a product like yours.