For Trevor Merriden, content is an engine for business growth. Here’s how to produce and leverage it.

By Jim James, Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur. 

 

Trevor Merriden joined me all the way from St. Albans in the UK in the recent episode of the UnNoticed Entrepreneur. An expert in content strategy and thought leadership, he discussed how an entrepreneur should think about content in order to help them get noticed.

 

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The Proper Mindset for Content Creation

The main reason why people don't produce content is that they don't have time or they might not have the confidence to get it out themselves. And if they do get it out themselves, they think that it won't actually make a difference.

But for Trevor, you can move from this kind of a vicious circle — from having time-impacted confidence — to a place where you can see content in a different way.

You might not see content as something that you have to do in order to get noticed. But, actually, it's something that works in terms of the development of your business and in terms of getting feedback for what you're saying. Through content, you're gaining knowledge yourself even if you are an expert — and through it, you can also innovate.

This is his principal starting point: Content is an engine for growth. And it’s really about changing the mindset, from seeing content as a task to seeing it as an essential part of strategy development.

 

How You Can Use Your Content to Your Advantage

If you’re an entrepreneur, you want to increase your sales. As an example of how content can help with that, Trevor cited one of the businesses that he worked with, which is the London-based Green Park. He helped them develop a set of thought leadership papers around the DNA of the future retail Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

The business went and interviewed all the great and the good in retailing and their potential clients for their recruitment and interim recruitment business. And they started a big conversation about what the CEOs of the future need.

They were able to use that in order to leverage their view of the world, from which they also got feedback. And they were able to produce a report, which went out to the World Retail Congress and generated huge amounts of sales conversations that they otherwise wouldn't have.

In entrepreneurial language, you can see ways in which content actually impacts the feedback that you get, instructs the conversation, and helps sales.

 

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You can also use content to improve your own knowledge.

Trevor works with the Top Employers Institute, which is a certifying body for about 1,800 top organisations around the world. They have a big treasure trove of data, which, until a few years ago, they weren’t doing very much with. They have all this benchmarking data but they’re not particularly using it effectively.

Trevor and his team helped them develop their data to tell stories, which then increased their own knowledge of their current — and future — database. With that, they can appeal to organisations that they will certify by pointing out areas of strength and weakness. They can also improve the knowledge of their clients and their member organisations. This shows that you can use content as a knowledge enhancer both for yourself and your clients.

You can also leverage content for innovation and to help you break into new markets.

For instance, Trevor has worked with the British Council, which was trying to get more foothold in the higher education market in Southeast Asia. They were doing that because there was a big demand for higher education amongst the said population. And the idea was to introduce British universities into those sectors in Southeast Asia as an alternative way of gaining higher education.

What they did was to innovate in that market, setting up conferences and creating a whole load of thought leadership work around that topic. This is an example of an innovative approach to developing content with the aim of creating a new market.

 

Repackaging and Repurposing Content

Event- or conference-creating content is often a missed opportunity for companies and entrepreneurs. And this goes back to what Trevor was saying at the beginning of the podcast — that when people (particularly solopreneurs or people who have no particular marketing expertise) develop their content, they put it out there and wonder why not much result is happening.

 

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There’s so much that can be done in terms of the impact of what you have if you repackage and repurpose your content in other ways (Trevor cited how I’ve materials from my podcast and used those to come out with a book).

However, this is something that not a lot of people are good at. They don’t realise that once they get content out of themselves, that content could be used in all sorts of different ways. That book can turn into a conference; that conference can turn into a set of videos. It can be repackaged and repurposed all the way down those.

It can also be packaged up with your next idea. And there's no shame in that.

A lot of people seem to have this idea that when they produce something, they can't reuse it in some other way. It's almost like a psychological barrier, according to Trevor. But if it helps explain an evolving message that you have as a business, then why not?

 

Creating Multi-format Content

Many people think content creation is only about writing. But it’s much more than that.

For Trevor, there are two ways you can have multi-format content if you’re a business owner. First, you build from the ground upwards; the other is that you work downwards from a big idea or a big concept.

For example, it could be that you’re producing lots of micro-content. You have a set of opinions, blogs, videos, and podcasts. If you bring those together, you can see patterns and use that to start producing an overarching theme for a bigger idea — which could be a book, for instance.

The whole idea behind this is that a lot of your content is transferable. But you have to take care and make sure that the content you're producing suits the medium or is being repurposed in a way that makes sense. You would have to adapt things or put the messages in simpler ways. It also depends on the audience that you're trying to reach.

The way that Trevor tends to do it with his clients is that he particularly works around the area of thought leadership (he clarified, however, that there's no right or wrong way of doing it). He’s helping them by asking, “What are the two or three burning issues that your clients are facing?” Then he gets clients to talk about them in-depth — but not for the purposes of them producing a document that says, “This is what we think.” Rather, it should be saying, “This is an issue that we know our buyers are facing.”

This way, you're putting yourself in the shoes of the customer; you’re innovating by showing that you’re listening to your customers and that you have certainty in the content that you're producing. You’re certain that it has a big overarching issue that people are exercised about.

 

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From that content, you can break it down into lots of mini-content. You can say, “Actually this theme is divided into two or three sub-things.” And you can do some blogs out of that, you can do a video, you can work at it in other ways — producing more immediate content that will engage interest in a bite-sized kind of way.

He reiterated that it's possible to work from the ground or from the top down.

 

All That You Do Should Be Part of an Overall Strategy

Trevor tends to have a natural bias towards talking about print media because that’s his background. But doing infographics, for example, is also a fantastic way of getting attention and creating interest and leverage.

In his opinion, although they are great in terms of generating interest, they can't be produced in isolation. They have to be produced in the context of a bigger content strategy.

There has to be a strategy around what you're doing and why you're producing those infographics. You need to do it from this point of view: How does this fit in with your overall strategy? Even if it's visually appealing, people should look at your infographics as part of a journey that you’re taking them on. And that journey should create an awareness in them that you as a company are a master of the issues that your infographics tackle.

While he’s more of an expert on the writing side of things (that’s simply his generation), he said that these days, there’s no doubt that there’s a growing and emerging trend towards more visual content, like video and infographics. And for him, these sorts of content should be exploited to a maximum.

But, again, his contention is that they have to be part of an overall strategy around content. There has to be a reason, a purpose. If you've got the right strategy, then the infographics and all other formats will come themselves.

Today, what often happens is that marketing departments or entrepreneurs who want to get noticed produce infographics or short video clips in isolation. But they don’t understand how those relate to the issues that their buyers are facing. They may be popular, they may get noticed for a short period of time, but they still need to be part of an overall content strategy.

 

How Then Do You Produce Engaging Content?

Trever stressed out that your content has to be engaging not from your point of view, but from the point of view of the audience that you're talking to.

When you produce content, you have to think about who you’re serving and who you’re trying to reach. For instance, if you're a slightly larger entrepreneur, think about 10 clients who you could imagine having a conversation with about a particular issue that you're addressing through your content.

He recommends identifying three issues that your clients have and focusing relentlessly on those areas of content. It's not about reflecting the new whizzy product that you've just produced, but about whether these are genuine issues or not. And you will know that if you are having regular conversations with your clients.

If you don't have any clients and you're just starting out, then you’re talking to your prospects. You have to listen very carefully to what they’re saying about the issues that they have.

 

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Knowing your audience’s issues is one thing. The second thing is about how you will say it.

You’ve got to have a medium where you can hang out, ask your clients or prospects, and observe what they’re saying. It could be LinkedIn or Facebook — but it depends on what your audience is likely to use. Also, think about how they receive your content best. Are they more likely to be perceptive to infographics rather than thought leadership papers?

The third thing is consistency. You should produce something that’s innovative and hits the spot in terms of the issues you're addressing. And then you combine that with consistency.

Different markets have different rhythms. But it's important that you do stick to some kind of rhythm. And that could be a combination of creating content or repurposed content or repackaged content. Your rhythm is something that you should have consistency in. You're not producing it in a flurry or blizzard of content over the course of a week or two, and then nothing for the next three months. It’s no good — you need a consistent flow in what you're doing.

 

On Determining the Ideal Frequency of Publishing Content

There’s no magic formula for the frequency of producing content for a business. There’s no set rule on this because it depends on what kind of market you're in. But very often, there is a little bit of trial and error involved in these things.

What Trevor would do, however, is a combination of a piece of creative content, a piece of curated content (where you're using somebody else's content), and engagement (where you’re initiating a conversation and asking questions about something and what people think about it). Personally, he recommends publishing no more than two or three times a week.

While it does vary across mediums and sectors, the more important thing for Trevor is consistency.

You will know if you're doing it too much because, after a while, you will find that there’s suddenly a little bit of a prairie wind or a wall of silence that starts to grow up around the content that you've produced. This will tell you that either the subject you've picked is not particularly interesting or in tune with what your audience is doing — or that you're just doing it too much.

 

On Outsourcing Content Creation

More entrepreneurs are busy or aren’t necessarily content creators. They're not writers, video producers, or graphics designers, and they don't want to have a Canva account where they're trying to match font styles. The question now is: How can people get content created for them?

 

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Trevor said that 80% of content creation is outsourced. And he spends a lot of his time educating entrepreneurs, encouraging them to produce their own content. He feels that it's not as difficult as you might think if you've got the right tactics.

But if you are in a situation where you think, “I know all that, but I still want to outsource it,” then you have to look for certain things from your content provider.

Whichever partner you work with on this, they need to show that they recognise the value of the nature of your content at the moment. And it divides into external and internal.

The world has changed quite a lot in terms of buying and selling. And there are also changes in the way thought leadership and content are created. Creating content is now much more about starting the debate in the market wherein you’re actually saying, “I don't know all the answers, none of us knows all the answers. But this is what we, the organisation, are thinking about the issues that are affecting you, the buyer.”

Trevor advises going for a content provider that really understands that the world is moving from “me” to” we.” In this sense, you want to portray yourself not just as somebody who has knowledge and expertise, but also as somebody who goes with a customer on a journey. That's the external element.

He also said that the best content providers are ones who are very collaborative. They'll be interested in working with you — with the grain of your business — and in really getting to know what are the issues surrounding that business. They’re also equally as curious about your business from the point of view of enhancing their knowledge and becoming mini-experts themselves. It’s almost like they’re getting the sense of your voice in what you're trying to communicate.

The best content providers are also those who help you provide and get clarity of mind or purpose around things. They can actually enhance your own knowledge — of what it is that you're trying to sell people — because they have a gift. If you're talking about wordsmiths, for example, they will help you express things in ways that you've been struggling with before. And this is the internal benefit there.

 

To find out more about Trevor and get the benefit of his content creation experience, you can check out his LinkedIn page. He’s also delighted to connect with you via email at trevor.merriden@merribornmedia.co.uk.

This article is based on a transcript from my podcast The UnNoticed Entrepreneur, you can listen here.

Cover image by 愚木混株 cdd20 on Unsplash

 

Trevor Merriden
Guest
Trevor Merriden
Founder and managing director