10 Principles of Good Content

In a recent educational session at The Running Event 2014, Sarah Van Elzen, Director of Social Media & Senior Digital Strategist at Hanson Dodge Creative, explored the key steps toward executing an effective digital strategy, with a focus on content.

The session discussed the landscape of digital and social, looking toward the customer journey. Mediums and platforms continue to rise and fall, leaving marketers to question what the real value of each channel is.

At the center of Sarah’s presentation were the “10 Principles of Good Content” — factors that every brand and marketer needs at the core of their digital execution. The idea always rules and the execution follows.

Download the full "10 Principles of Good Content" infographic below.

10 Principles of Good Content

Below, Sarah recaps her “10 Principles of Good Content.” As long as your execution applies the following principles, you’ll be able to capture, cultivate and engage your audience.

1. INFORMATIVE: Provide facts or details. Be educational.

Consider and the multitude of data that Kleenex has gathered over the years to track cold and flu trends. They’ve taken this information and packaged it into a consumer facing platform to track local trends of illness. A user visits the site, enters his or her zip code and states whether someone is currently sick in his or her house and then is served a results page showing the flu forecast for the next 21 days. Oh, and how conveniently, they offer coupons to prepare your family for the upcoming cold and flu season. Subtle product placement and a great user experience makes their use of informative content a win.

Use Informative Content

2. EMOTIONAL: Inspirational, joyful, heartwarming.

Eliciting an emotive response from your audience is the best way make a lasting impression. Dove, for example, is committed to building positive self-esteem and inspiring women. Their Real Beauty Sketches campaign draws out authentic, eye-opening reactions to the way society has trained women to think about themselves. According to their study, only 4% of women consider themselves beautiful. Dove has set out to change that perspective, and that mission definitely shows in their social and digital strategies.

Dove Example of Emotion

3. TRANSPARENT: Honest and open, easy to understand.

McDonald’s is under constant scrutiny about the ingredients in their products. A bold move, and a smart one, by McDonald’s is changing consumer perspective and providing transparent, straightforward answers to consumer questions. Their Our Food, Your Questions microsite has drawn more than 2 million visits, over 20,000 consumer-submitted questions, and enough traction to launch this campaign in the US. McDonald’s has taken the bull by the horns and publically answers, what I would consider to be, some of the most challenging questions a publicist could imagine. It’s just like your mom said — honesty always wins.

McDonalds Transparency

4. USEFUL: Designed for a practical purpose, solves problems, productive.

This principle is my favorite and it’s one that is opening the eyes of marketers - and consumers - everywhere. Brands are beginning to adopt this notion of providing content that does more than just sell product - it educates their customer base and provides true utility. For example, the Lowe’s Fix in Six Tumblr account publishes Vine videos a that show customers how to fix things around their house, often using common household items to solve the problem. As you know, Lowe’s sells products that fix household problems. This form of marketing builds trust and creates relationships, which also puts Lowe’s top of mind when the next big DIY project comes around. They created a foundation of followers through valuable, useful content and as of recently have been using Vine to test product promotions and offers such as their Black Friday sale.

Lowe's Useful How-to Content

5. AMUSING: Causes laughter, happiness, enjoyment.

We’ve all experienced amusement in advertising. But did you know that 50% of people talk with their friends after watching a video (according to Think with Google). Creating amusing content can create lasting memories. Take Sketchers, for example; their 2012 Superbowl ad will surely make you smile.

Does your brand have a funny story or a joke to tell? Go for it.

 Use of Humor

6. TRANSACTIONAL: Leads to a business deal, conversion or sale.

Ah-ha...transactions, the favorite of business owners and CFOs everywhere. Yet, in all seriousness, the bottom line that drives every marketing program is ROI. How can a brand create content that is transactional without being too salesy? Leave it to retail to pave the way. This summer during the US Golf Open, Nike posted collections on its Facebook page that linked directly to Tiger Woods’ and Rory McIlroy’s entire Nike wardrobe. The timeliness of these posts were ideal. However, it was the simplicity of the content, leading straight to an e-commerce conversion that took home the trophy.

Nike Golf Gear

7. OPTIMIZED: Searchable, targeted, provides expected outcome.

One of the most overlooked principles of content is SEO. Unfortunately in content marketing, if you build it, they will not just come. In addition to marketing your content, optimization is key. Since your content (hopefully) is focused on at least one of the principles in this list, your next challenge is to get people to pay attention. Take REI for example; they sell stand up paddleboards. Strategically, they’re following Principle #4 (useful) and have created informational (Principle #1) content that teaches newbies how to stand up paddleboard. If this newbie / potential customer goes online to research their new found sport and they type in “how to stand up paddleboard” in Google, voilà, REI turns up as the first search result.

REI Paddle board Optimization


This is no mistake, ladies and gentlemen; some serious SEO thought went into this piece of content. If you look at the page, the URL, breadcrumbs, title, subtitle, anchor text and copy all use a synonym of the search phrase “how to stand up paddleboard.” So, do you think they’ve sold more paddleboards because they followed this principle? I do.

8. RELEVANT: Relates to the audience, specific, personal.

The Coca-Cola “Share A Coke” campaign couldn’t be more grounded in relevancy. Coca-Cola uncovered the insight that in Australia, only 15% of teens had tasted a Coke. This insight led to a 155-word brief that launched a multi-year advertising campaign. The idea was to replace the iconic Coke name on the bottle with the top names of Australians and distribute the bottles across the nation. The campaign was so successful, it’s now been launched in 70 countries with millions of personalized bottles distributed. It all started with a simple idea to be as relevant as calling someone by name. Bravo, Coke.

Coca Cola Example of Relevancy


9. AGILE: Smart, clever, able to move quickly.

Agile marketing has been a hot topic since Oreo’s home run with their “dunk in the dark” tweet during the 2013 Super Bowl power outage. This tweet was no mistake by the Oreo social media and branding teams. They were prepared with a social media strategy and, no small feat, Super Bowl ad. During the game there were members of the branding, creative, social, and agency teams logged into a command center to track the social conversations - this included involvement from the VP of marketing for approvals. Once Oreo set the stage, many brands followed.

Oreo Dunk in the Dark Tweet

“Newsjacking” is now a common term in marketing and social media managers everywhere are sitting at the edge of their seats watching for the next opportunity to jump in.

10. BRAND-DRIVEN: Upholds brand position, values and voice.

Brand is the absolute life source of any piece of content. If your content idea isn’t rooted in brand, in your truth, it should never get past an initial brainstorm meeting. A great example of this is Cheerios. Their truth is centered on families and the idea that “breakfast is more than just a meal.” They exemplify this in all of their marketing: from their Super Bowl commercial to their Family Breakfast Project. A very strong integration of this belief wraps their website and their social channels. It’s just who they are and they stick to it. Cheerio, Cheerios!

Cheerios Family Breakfast Project

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