Let's admit it: We all like talking about ourselves. No need to feel bad. You have good reason.

A 2012 Harvard University study found that the same portions of the brain that are activated by sex, drugs, money, and food are engaged when we talk about ourselves. 

The brand equivalent to a burst of dopamine is the quick sales leads that come when you create content that pushes your product.

The temptation for both parties is totally understandable. Unfortunately, there's a problem for brands and humans alike: It's a pretty miserable experience for the person on the receiving end. 

Imagine you're on a first date and the person is bragging about how smart they are, or how much money they make, or, even worse, telling you their deepest, darkest secret.

You're likely sitting there thinking, "Too soon, slow down, I don't even know you yet!"

First, you have to talk about the weather, then you chat about where you're both from, maybe ask each other a few questions.

If all goes well through dessert maybe then you can explain that you graduated from Yale as the class president, valedictorian, and captain of the basketball team - while launching a nonprofit that saves puppies. 

The same goes for brands building relationships with their audience. 

Content marketing requires patience, but when done correctly the long-term payoff potential is huge. That means sharing interesting and relevant information that relates to your brand values, not your product.

There are three easy-to-remember buckets of content that brands can tap into to accomplish this: 

1. Evergreen 

Evergreen content stays relevant no matter how old it is, and can be used time and time again.

You can plan it out weeks, even months, in advance. Evergreen content is often where brands can do really in-depth work - things like original research, infographics, and long-form features.

For example, Coca-Cola Journey published an article called "5 Ways Music Fuels a Better Workout."

At no point does the coverage mention Coca-Cola or even soda. And at no point will music stop being useful for a good workout.

But because Coke had sufficient time to work on the article, it's more than 1,000 words long, cites multiple studies, and includes an interview with an expert in the field. 

2. Seasonal 

Seasonal content is similar to evergreen in that you have plenty of planning time, but the stories are only relevant during specific times of the year. 

The key word is timely. By planning around events you know are coming, you can create great content that's extra-relevant to people during that time period.

For example, in late December, American Express OPEN Forum published "The One New Year's Resolution You Can Actually Keep."

It's a well-written article that provides relevant tips about how to run a small business at a time when people are likely thinking of what New Year's resolutions they should make.

It's lengthy, well researched, and never mentions the company's product. It simply provides useful tips that align with company values. 

3. Timely

When brands have something relevant to add to the conversation, they can produce super timely content - generally shorter blog posts, reaction pieces, or quick-hitting analysis.  

A great example is a recent article in Van Winkle's, the new publication by the mattress startup Casper.

When a new study was published about health and sleep, two of the publication's focus areas, the Van Winkle's team jumped on it and quickly published "Downside of a Sedentary Life Can be Seen As Early As 15."

It's a short post that mainly cites the study, but it's relevant to Van Winkle's values, and their audience will likely be interested in the information. 

Once you've consistently created a combination of these three types of content, it's okay for you to drop in a thing or two about your company - as long as the context is relevant to what interests your audience.

Contently's in-house magazine, The Content Strategist, publishes around 60 stories a month; only a couple of them ever make any reference to the work we do. More often than not, that's enough to earn us a second date. 

Sam Slaughter

Published 30 July, 2015 by Sam Slaughter

Sam is VP of Content at Contently. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (2)

Brian Hennessy

Brian Hennessy, Founder / Creative Director at Thread Creative, inc.

One of my favorite quotes of all time from Charles Bukowski: "God said, crossing his legs, I see where I’ve made plenty of poets, but not so very much poetry." The same could be said about content; so much writing on the internet, so few writers.

Thank you for this article. Anyone who has lived the struggle of actually trying to create useful, interesting content that helps the reader more than it helps the author, knows that the insights in this article are about as bombproof and evergreen as they get.

Junior writers, there are a lot of articles out there about content and storytelling. Most of it is written by people still don't quite have a handle on producing good content and storytelling themselves. This is not one of those articles. This is good content.

over 2 years ago

Amanda Rosenblatt

Amanda Rosenblatt, Media Relations at VA Home Loan Centers

This is great :) We tend to take the evergreen route a lot, but we also do timely content since we do a lot of work with the military in our office. We also have a blog focused on local culture, so we try to pump pieces out around specific local events.

over 2 years ago

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