Story Telling and Creativity

How to Perfect a Content Development Process That Really Works

how to perfect a content development process that really works

So you just published an awesome piece of content. That’s great! Now it’s on to the next big thing.

Whoa, easy there, cowboy. Is your content development process is as good as it possibly can be?

In our Better Blogger Survey at CoSchedule, you told us:

  • 22% of you say your biggest challenge is finding time to create content.
  • 20% find it most difficult to plan content ahead of time.
  • 16% say it’s super hard to create awesome content.

So let’s chalk that up to 58% of you who find it super difficult to plan and create awesome content.

What if I said you can work much more efficiently by learning from the success of what you just published to create even better content in the future? Well, you can.

And all it’ll take is a couple minutes of your time to make every piece of content you create even more effective.

How A Minimum Viable Content Development Process Will Change The Way You See “Small” Data

Do you know how CoSchedule figured out there was a need for a social media and content marketing editorial calendar? A minimum viable product.

We asked a few bloggers if an editorial calendar would help them publish more consistent content and save them time. How those few people responded helped us build the product we offer today.

When you apply a similar minimum viable content development process to marketing, you work with “small” data as opposed to “big” data. Essentially, that means the performance of every piece of content you publish influences the next piece you create.

definition of a minimum viable content development process

For CoSchedule, minimum viable data starts with social media shares. When those are high, traffic is high. When traffic is high, email subscribers are high. When email subscribers are high, product conversions are high, too. And that’s exactly why content marketing exists—to turn readers into paying customers.

So it’s OK—despite whatever else you’ve heard—to base big changes on small data like social media shares when you understand trends like this. That’s the whole idea of being agile—quick to change for the better based on the knowledge you have in front of you.

So before you move on to the next project too quickly without learning from your latest content, here’s exactly how you can implement a minimum viable content development process for your marketing team:

Start By Reviewing Every Element Of Your Already-Published Content

Don’t let that headline scare you into thinking, “Gee, this’ll take all day.” You’re just going to look at optimizing exactly what data and psychology tell us are super great ways to connect with your audience.

And because you’re doing this quickly, you can focus your effort on the few elements that will have the greatest impact on your content’s success.

Write Emotional Headlines That Promise Results

Question to ask yourself: Did your headlines draw on your readers’ pain points and promise a solution to your problems?

Metric to measure: Insert your content’s headline into CoSchedule’s headline analyzer and shoot for an A+ score of 70 or higher. If your last piece of content doesn’t hit the mark, your readers may have skimmed right past it.

Only 8 out of 10 people who see your headlines will actually read them, and of those folks, only 2 will click through. Here are a few things you can do to enhance your headlines during your content development process:

  1. Write 25 headlines using CoSchedule’s headline analyzer.
  2. A/B test the top two headlines on Twitter (main version at publish, alternative one hour later).
  3. C test the winning Twitter headline against a third alternative when you send an email announcement for your content.
  4. Change your headline to the version you think had the best results.

It’s not an exact science, and will take a lot of gut feeling to make it work. But it’s better than publishing and hoping for results when you can use small data to help you publish better content.

Efficiency gained: Writing great headlines makes all the time you spend creating great content worth the effort.

Include Relevant Visuals That Further The Understanding Of Your Message

Question to ask yourself: Could have the visuals I included in the content—or lack thereof—impacted its success?

Metric to measure:

  • Yes or no: Did your content have visuals?
  • Yes or no: Were those visuals there just to be there, or did they help further the message made in your content?
  • Yes or no: Were they custom graphics and videos (and not stock photography)?

If you answered no to even one of those, there’s opportunity there to improve.

It’s no secret our brains process images 60,000 times faster than text. You can even look at social shares of your content to understand if the visuals worked: Pages with pictures get 50% more shares than those without.

So here’s what you can do to enhance your content development process to include relevant visual content:

  • Include a header graphic for your content that includes your headline (that makes it easy for your readers to share your content).
  • Embed videos as examples that illustrate your points.
  • Use visuals like blog graphics and charts to tell the story better than text.

And when you want to design a bit better, just do this:

the non-designer's guide to creating blog graphics infographic

Efficiency gained: You’ll connect even better with the 67% of consumers who consider relevant visuals to carry more weight than customer reviews. Your readers will understand the big ideas from your content 60,000 times faster than your text alone. What’s not to love here?

Hook Your Readers With A Psychologically-Addicting Introduction

the introduction should be a core focus in your content development process

Question to ask yourself: Did my introduction begin really strong, or was it kind of pathetic? How long did it take to get to the meat of the content with actionable advice?

Metric to measure: Check out time on page, and take a look at heat maps to see how far down your readers scroll to understand the point at which they bounced or left your page.

The peak-end rule is a psychological phenomenon that basically says that people remember their experiences by the climax and an ending.

Most readers only see 18% of your content before bouncing (AKA, their “ending”). So if your headline did its job and your visuals drew them in, now it’s time to upgrade your introductions to maximize your understanding of the peak-end rule:

  1. Start with something interesting: A question, fact, hinting a solution you’ll teach them in the remainder of your content.
  2. Include links to your related content as soon as you can. If the majority of your readers are going to bounce 18% of the way into your content, you might as well help them find related content from you that they’d rather see rather than going somewhere else.
  3. Give away free content within your first 100 words. Think of blog giveaways like checklists, templates, and worksheets for the actionable advice you’re providing. Trade that content for email addresses.
  4. Help your readers share your content as soon as they find your content. It sounds odd, but the more social shares you receive, the more traffic you’ll get, which means more opportunities for new readers to discover your content. If some readers share your content without reading it entirely, that’s OK.

Efficiency gained: You’ll have more opportunities to keep readers interested, get more social media shares, gain email subscribers, and help new readers discover your content.

Share Your Content Where Your Readers Want It

Question to ask yourself: How did the promotion for this content make or break its success?

Metric to measure: Look into social media shares, email clickthrough rates, and referrers to understand what promotion is driving the biggest results.

Your audience may primarily want to receive their content via email. Or RSS. Or social media. Or forums. The point is, you can throw the best party in the world, but if you don’t send out the invitations, no one’s going to come.

Content distribution may very well be the most important part of content marketing. So here’s what to look for in your content development process:

  1. Optimize your content for search engines. Help real people find your content through search engines by strategically choosing your keywords.
  2. Offer social sharing buttons at the beginning (like I just mentioned in your introductions), throughout your posts, and at the end. You can give Click To Tweet a try to help people share awesome takeaways throughout your posts.
  3. Share your content with social media (and I’ll add—find the ones your audience uses).
  4. Share it with your email subscribers.
  5. Reach out to any bloggers and blogs you mention in your posts to thank them for contributing (even if they didn’t know it!).
  6. Explore new content distribution methods once you’ve mastered these (like content syndication, forums, communities, and more).

Efficiency gained: You make all the work you put into creating awesome content worth it because you make damn sure your readers see what you created for them.

Turn What You Learned Into Action

Now you know the bare minimum things you can look into to enhance your content development process. You probably noticed that I didn’t mention workflow or team members whatsoever.

Well, at least not yet.

Since you’re focusing on the bare minimum to enhance your content development process, look into who is responsible for each of these things:

  1. Planning
  2. Writing
  3. Designing
  4. Editing
  5. Promoting

Chances are, this boils down to:

  1. Someone who plans your content who triples as your editor responsible for SEO, headlines, visuals, body text, publishing, and distribution.
  2. A writer who is an expert on the topic.
  3. A designer who works with your editor to complement the text with helpful visuals.

That means you could do all of this with as few as three people.

And that means you can eliminate extensive content approval processes to work faster and more efficiently. No higher ups. No managers telling you to change a word or a sentence. No designers telling other designers what to do.

The success of your minimum viable content development process revolves around trusting your team.

If your content development team isn’t empowered to produce and publish quickly, this minimum viable content development process gives you the ammunition you need to change your existing workflow and help your entire team work more efficiently.

Now Iterate Again. And Again.

…and again.

Every piece of content you publish offers data you can use to enhance your future content. As long as you’re never satisfied with status quo, you can definitely start with these few things and improve from here.

Now it’s on to the next big project.

Day 4 of #DF14: What you can’t miss today at Dreamforce

It is Day 4 of Dreamforce 2014  – the last hours of an action-packed week of product releases and inspiring speakers. Here’s your must attend list for the day and the newscaps from yesterday to catch you up. (All times are local time, San Francisco).

3 Things You Don’t Want to Miss Today

1. Arianna Huffington and Eckhart Tolle

10:00 AM – 1:00 PM Moscone South

Also part of the Reimagine Everything keynote, Arianna Huffington and author Eckhart Tolle will join forces to talk about what it means to truly thrive as human beings. This keynote is sure to inspire and leave attendees acutely aware of their own personal power.


2. Al Gore and Neil Young

10:00 AM – 1:00 PM Moscone South

As part of the Reimagine Everything keynote, Al Gore and Neil Young will form a visionary pair working to transform the world. Young will showcase his newest venture: Pono Music, which gives listeners access to the highest quality sound that has ever been created, just as the artist intended it. Gore will discuss the critical need to develop greater awareness of our global ecosystem.


3. Marc and Parker Q&A

2:00 PM – 3:00 PM Moscone West

Chairman and CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff, joins his co-founder, Parker Harris, at a town hall session. Bring your thoughtful questions and get them answered first-hand by these two visionary founders.

Highlights from Day 3: The new wrist wearable that isn’t a watch

Yesterday featured an exciting and highly anticipated launch from, but before the singer took on the wearable tech scene, we were treated to a sit down chat with one of the most renown VC investors on the planet, Marc Andreessen.

The investor – who was one of the first to back Twitter – gave some startling insights into the world of the venture capitalist. He talked about the low rate of success when you place a bet, but how important is to be really, really right on the bets that do pan out (this is what they call looking for at least the 10x pay out). He also touched on women’s issues, clamorouing for fairer pay and disparaging the low numbers of female workers in the STEM areas.

But his primary message of the night was about innovation. Apple is losing its edge. And all tech companies will inevitably become obsolete, he said. You better start truly innovating, or fade away. Period.

Great content aside, the true gem yesterday was something you wear on your wrist and does a lot of the things the Apple Watch will do. But don’t call it a watch. It’s really more of a fashionable, standalone super-cuff, and its founder, unveiled the gizmo for the first time on stage last night.

The PULS is highly focused on bringing fashion into the tech industry – something the singer claimed is often neglected. Which it doesn’t boast the same health monitors that Apple’s does, it makes up for the shortfall with some unique features: you don’t need a phone to send texts or call for example. With Neil Young showing his Pono player off later today, the world of tech seems to be getting enmeshed ever tighter with the world of music.

Next Year

Kinda like advertising for Christmas on Boxing Day, it’s confirmed that the speakers will announce some early details about next year’s confab as the #DF14 ceremonial closing winds down. Get your calendars out.

The Tony Robbins Effect at Dreamforce: AKA Day 1’s Mind Explosion

Dreamforce 14 has kicked off with a bang. CEO of Salesforce Marc Benioff welcomed over 130,000 attendees, with over 3 million people following the action online, via stream. Tony Robbins had the room literally dance their minds out and shaking it off like the pros. PayPal Mafia trio talked all things money, from early days of PayPal to Bitcoin. And Tony Prophet spoke about giving back, the value of philanthropy and empathy as key to success in life.

“As a leader you have to be ready for inevitability of change and keep the beginner’s mind” - Marc Benioff of Salesforce.

Focus on Giving Back

Focus on creating more value than you capture, and give back. Marc Benioff asked everyone at Dreamforce to bring canned food, to deliver millions of meals to fight hunger. And in the spirit of giving back, who was the speaker to kick off the Dreamforce experience? Tony Prophet, VP of Microsoft who spoke about community service and philanthropy. Prophet is focused and passionate about improving health care for children and HIV positive women, and helping teens get college education. “No one should be treated unfairly, just because they’re different. We all have the same rights. Having impact beyond the bottom line. That’s what I’m most proud of,” Prophet said. Can an intense focus on empathy be a key to success?

PayPal Trio on Data, Hiring People Who Failed and eBay

The firechat with the PayPal Mafia trio – Max Levchin of Affirm, Jeremy Stoppelman of Yelp, and Reid Hoffman, an entrepreneur and investor – took everyone back to the early days of Silicon Valley, when PayPal was just a crazy idea of a bunch of people who wanted to “disrupt money.” Levchin shared thoughts on the recent split between PayPal and eBay: “It’s great they’re splitting, because, being part of eBay there’s lots of things we never touched on, like small business lending. We’ve been huge and steady for so long. Pulling PayPal out into the wild is a good idea. PayPal makes more sense as an independent company.” Key to PayPal success? Hiring passionate entrepreneurial people during tough times. “The company became composed of the bunch of smart, entrepreneurial and driven folks. Half of the people we recruited was from the companies that failed,” said Levchin. Then the conversation moved on to the value of data as the driving force for innovation. The panel was in agreement: Data is the new overlord, and our collective future depends on it.

Tony Robbins set Dreamforce on Fire

Tony Robbins took Dreamforce by storm and yes, this is how the room looked like. That’s when you know Dreamforce is not your average conference.

Tony Robbins pulled off an epic talk, covering lots of ground from how your decisions and focus in life affect your emotions and success, to engagement to money and giving it all away. Bonus: most people in the room got their workout in for the day, because Robbins is just that intense. “What are you going to focus on? Whatever you’re focused on you are going to feel. Focus equals feeling and when you start to control your focus, you start taking control of your life. The meanings we give to things control your life.” said Tony Robbins.


Don’t leave Dreamforce without attending these 4 sessions

With only days now until Dreamforce 2014 is finally here, it’s about time to start nailing down your schedule. There are hundreds of events and sessions, across a wide spectrum of industries, trends and business goals. But as with any event of this size, finding the right sessions to spend your limited time in can be like searching for the needle in the haystack.
We’ve done the hard work and come up with this list of four sessions we think you must attend this year at Dreamforce to get the most insight as marketers.

1. The Dawn of Wearable in Business


It was the most anticipated Apple event in recent memory, with CEO Tim Cook uttering his own “One More Thing” to unveil the Apple Watch.  Now, only a few weeks later, has started to answer the questions: how will Apple’s foray into the wearable revolution affect Sales and Marketing? How will we start using it to profit more, and connect better with customers?
With the announcement of their developer kit aimed at bringing functionality and customer insight right onto the wrists of your sales team, as well as opening up their platform to partners to come up with new ideas, seems to be on the cutting edge of wearables in business. During Dreamforce this year, you can catch up and see where the future will lead in this promising talk: “Salesforce Wear Keynote: The Dawn of Wearables in Business”
From smart watches to head-mounted displays, this is the year of wearable technology. Perpetually connected wearables will enable workers, partners, and customers to experience new levels of immediacy, simplicity, and context in their mobile computing experiences. Join us to learn how Salesforce Wear — the industry’s first initiative for wearable computing in the enterprise — is enabling you to use wearables to connect with customers in new ways.
2. Boring is never Better
This week, GE took over social media channels with a new ad directed by the ever-weird comedy duo Tim and Eric. It starred a hairy-chested, overly suave, hammed-up Jeff Goldblum. It was incredibly messed up. But it sure caught a lot of eyeballs – and I have to admit, made me want to go out and buy a new lightbulb or two.
When brands like GE are making spots like this, it’s clear the rule book has completely changed in how brands are connecting with customers. Today we are entertainers, informers, publishers. Which means everything about the way we speak, and the stuff we talk about, has got to get more interesting.
And the secret to success might just be how weird you can be. Which is why you should attend this session at Dreamforce, titled: “The Science of Weir: Why Weirdo Outperform Normals.” 
Join us to hear Salesforce executive and Buddy Media founder Michael Lazerow share his journey as he makes an argument for why we should strive not to fit in, but to stick out. Join Mike as he celebrates all that is weird and outlines a five-step process to embrace weird to reach new personal and professional heights.

3. A Community is Key

Customers are also expecting unprecedented levels of satisfaction and service. Businesses can no longer get away with delivering bad experiences because the internet has given every unhappy customer a megahorn, and the potential to cause serious negative feelings about a brand to go viral.
Dreamforce this year will offer an in-depth look at how their Community Cloud platform is making it easy for brands to offer incredible mobile experiences and customer service. This keynote will offer best practices and useful advice for any company hoping to improve the relationships they foster among customers, employees and partners. The Community Cloud Keynote is a must attend.
Today’s customers expect a new level of engagement from the companies they do business with. To achieve this, customer companies of all sizes are creating communities to connect employees, partners, and customers like never before. Join Nasi Jazayeri, Community Cloud GM & EVP, and top executives from industry-leading companies to hear how they are unlocking hidden innovation, engaging with customers on a whole new level, and creating extraordinary mobile experiences using the Community Cloud.

4. Chart the path

Good marketers know that, in a way, they are all just map makers. They know where the customer starts. They know what leads her to point B. And they know how to get her to treasure below X, and beyond. Optimizing the steps your customer takes from discovery to purchase to repeat business can make all the difference.
ExactTarget is known for its focus on this kind of path building success, offering great insight and tools along the way to make the customer journey as painless, informed and effective as possible. Which is why the Exact Target Marketing Cloud Keynote is bound to offer any business some useful insight on how we can start doing a better job of guiding our customers to the sale.
Your customers are on a journey. At every turn, they have choices–choices to engage with, buy from, or walk away from your brand. And the stakes are high. If you don’t lead your customers through this journey, delivering what they need, when they need it, and how they want to receive it, they’ll find someone who does. Join Scott McCorkle, ExactTarget Marketing Cloud CEO, and leaders from the world’s most powerful brands to hear how they’re building 1:1 customer journeys across email, mobile, social, web, and more.

Have your own must attend tips for Dreamforce? Share on Twitter with #RoadToDF


One thing every marketer should do for Dreamforce

conversation image


If you don’t do this at Dreamforce, you’re leaving money on the table

The countdown is on for Dreamforce 2014, one of the most spectacular marketing events of the year. Aside from a saliva-worthy roster of keynotes, break-out sessions, tech displays and parties, there’s one reason companies get excited for attending: the prospect of reaching your next customer.

Over 130,000 attendees live, and nearly a quarter million watching online, guarantees an active, enormous and like-minded audience, just ready to hear your message and perhaps do business with you.

But with all that traffic, comes noise. You certainly will be just one of hundreds of other companies, many of them with similar value props, vying to turn Dreamforce attendees into their next set of leads.

While there are endless tactics available to catch their limited attention and make the sale, there is one approach in particular that every company should think of before hopping on the plane to San Francisco:

“Own a conversation that your customers care about”

What is Owning a Conversation?

In the age of content marketing and brand publishing, Dreamforce attendees (most of whom are marketing and technology pros) no longer want to be advertised “at”. They want and expect to be engaged by brands, intellectually, and to be given valuable information. This is nothing new, of course. But the concept of “Owning a conversation” is an important key to keep in mind as you prep your marketing and sales strategy for the event, which is only a few weeks away.

Surely, your brand has a topic, conversation or timely event that is both relevant to your target customers, and unique enough to stand out from the crowd. In particular at Dreamforce, you may want to dig deep into how you tie into or any of the major marketing automation platforms like Hubspot. Think of what Dreamforcers care most about, about the kinds of content they are already consuming and then pick your angle.

Why is this so important?

There are a number of reasons laying claim to a theme is so crucial to events such as Dreamforce.

  • You are sharing already: as a modern day organization, you likely already have teams of social and content sharing and pumping out some content. However, if you haven’t though through your conversation, how can you expect your readers to connect to or care about what you are saying?
  • Your readers want more than just your POV: a crucial aspect of conversations is that they have multiple points of view. Of course, you can take a stand, but as a curator, you’re job is also to bring on broader, perhaps conflicting elements and angles.
  • You want to convert that traffic: Owning is end to end. It means you own the experience, too, not just the message. It’s not enough to share across fragmented social channels and platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. You’re just sending your prospects to another company’s site. What you should be doing is upstreaming that conversation by actually owning the real estate, not just the message.


  • Pick an angle: Pick a polarizing, authentic stance that your company believes in. There is far too much unbiased slop out there, your customers won’t have any time for that.
  • Discovery tools: One of the hardest parts is finding enough great content to fill the channel. There are hundreds of powerful tools. Find a few you like. To see what we use, read this.
  • Curation and Publishing tools: This is what demands your smarts and most of your time. How will you collect, present and share that content in a meaningful and business-driving way? Tools such as Pressly are designed exactly for that.

Want help? We’ve got you covered

If you’re planning on attending Dreamforce, we’re offering a limited time promotion to get you using Pressly’s end to end content curation service. In just a matter of minutes, you can be up and running with your very own branded content hub, which will look great across devices and platforms.

See the details of the promotion here:


Not another Content Curation list


Or: A Day in the Life of a Content Curator


The idea for this post started out as a list for all the great content tools out there to help you find the stuff that you – a content curator – should be curating.

It started that way. But in a matter of minutes, I’d already dug up a list about 100 long. It was obvious this list wasn’t going to actually ever be read by anyone.

Many people claiming to be a curator, seem to think of their job as simply throwing huge lists your way. Big, unmanageable, indigestible lists… But since the whole point of content curation is to actually make people’s lives easier, to make some sense out of all the noise out there, these lists sometimes defeat the purpose, when done badly. They are simply laziness.

What I decided would be more useful is to highlight how I actually find the stuff I curate, and share that very specific, limited process with you. As a result, hopefully I’d give something tangible to chew on.

1. You do need tools, but you don’t need all the tools

As I continue this journey to figure out the best practices of content curation, I’ve stumbled across dozens of useful tools to dig up material seemingly relevant to my readers. I am sure a lot of them are great, and just as many are terrible. Unfortunately, the day is only 24 hours long, and I can’t simply spend it clicking tabs and bookmarks to all these services, hoping they’ll serve me something new.

My job after all is not just about re-sharing links. It’s about putting them together meaningfully. So even though there’s a million ways to find content and even more actual good pieces of content out there, it’s meaningless unless I actually carve out some time to make sense of it all, like I am doing right now.

So, what I suggest is you find a few services that seem to do the job, and stick with those. If they aren’t working for you, switch it up, tweak the settings, keep at it. But I highly doubt you’ll have any issues finding content. The tools are all very similar, many of them free, and they’ll all do an admirable job of what they’re supposed to do.

Personally, I rely on a few things for discovery. I have TweetDeck set up with curated twitter lists of the influencers in any given topic, for instance, this list of CMO’s for out CMOhub. And I have narrowed that one down even further by filtering for engagement – I only want to see the stuff getting retweeted.
I also have the same filters set up on key hastags, like #iOT for our hub all about marketing in the age of the internet of things, as well as this hub, our content curation best practices collection.

Finally, I’ve landed on a few good aggregation services that I have been going back to regularly. These are free and easy and serve up tons of stuff I am not finding on TweetDeck: BuzzSumo, Feedly, ContentGems. I haven’t yet picked the winner, and eventually I might pick another service. But these are great, for now.

2. Be a journalist, not just a news reader

Part of your job is reading all these articles. But an even more important aspect is to dig deeper, follow hunches, write down angles, and keep track of all these little magical thoughts that bubble up while you’re consuming the primary sources.

I use Evernote for this. Whenever an idea for a story pops up, I’ll give it a tag and start saving those pieces to Evernote. This might be a list of the people in the article, and eventually I’ll interview them to generate some new, fresh content, that you can’t find anywhere else. Or it might be a list of the companies that keep popping up in all the news articles – what are the main players in IOT? And what can I learn by following them directly, that I’d otherwise miss if I was just reading what surfaced on Mashable?

However you choose to order this, the point is to let your mind freely associate new story ideas as you’re exploring the content mountains. It’s this creativity that will inherently bring value to your readers, and it’s exactly what we need to see more of in our content curators. I think it’s probably the only way the pros ever think up something more original than mere list bait.

3. Present it meaningfully, and beautifully

It’s funny, but a majority of the focus of curation tips seems to be about where to find what you are sharing, and very little thought is spent on how to present it in a way that will be more useful to your audience. I think if you’re simply re-tweeting, or rounding up stuff on your WordPress, you’re doing your readers a disservice. Formal elements, and the way content is consumed is equally as important as what is being served up.

The reason is pretty simple, and it goes directly back to the allusion of the art curator. What would be the point of picking the very best paintings and works of art, if your gallery was impossible to walk through, or if the lights were turned off? Similarly, if you’re doing the hard work of curating content, you better make sure you provide your readers an enjoyable, cross-platform, engaging experience. This serves their enjoyment but it also leads to better conversion and higher returns on your efforts, as a marketer. Curation, after all, is often being done by brands and businesses, so it would be a shame to do all that hard work, for it not to pay off.

Obviously, I use Pressly to curate content in beautiful and engaging way. And so do many other major brands and publishers. Once I’ve rounded up my list of good articles to share, I use the boomarklet and then it’s sent right to the hub I want. From there I can customize, feature and edit that article to be even more useful and engaging on my hub.

Final say

I hope this snapshot of the day to day life of a curator helped you out. If you have any amazing services that you can’t live without, or any extra pro tips from your experience, please share in the comments.




The Best Stock Photo Sources for Marketers With Small Budgets


We all know the power of visual storytelling – content that contains visuals is more likely to be opened and viewed than content without visuals. As a marketer I’ve been using more visuals over the last 2-3 years in everything from blog posts to SlideShare presentations to my Pressly cover pages.

Once in a while I will purchase photos but unfortunately, I don’t have a huge budget to do this every time I need a visual. While Flickr is still the gold standard for free photos (requiring attribution), it isn’t the only option. Dustin Senos, a product designer at Medium, put together a great list of stock photo sites and I added some others to create a handy resource for marketers who don’t have big budgets.

Little Visuals
Death to the Stock Photo
New Old Stock
Superfamous (requires attribution)
The Pattern Library
IM Free (requires attribution)
Photo Everywhere

I’ll update this list as I find others. If you have any favourites to add please share in the comments.

Image source.

10 Storytelling Lessons from Google Creative Lab

If you’ve been exposed to Google Creative Lab’s powerful stories, you probably won’t be forgetting them anytime soon. One of their more recent ones, entitled “Reunion”, is so powerful that it brings viewers to tears. Google does more than simply push emotional buttons, though; their stories are not only moving, but also inform viewers about Google products.


Despite primarily focusing on digital content, Google Creative Lab won a print ad award for one of its stories. If you’re looking to tell better stories, have a seat by the fire and get cozy: here are 10 lessons from Google Creative Lab and its leaders.

1. Educational Campaigns: Chrome Shorts

Your product’s benefits over the competition matter little if your customers don’t understand their value. Often, the first step to demonstrating your solution’s value is to inform the customer. As former Google Creative Lab Creative Director Ji Lee said in an interview with Design Taxi:

Most people buy a computer and they simply click the icon that says “internet” to get online. They don’t really see the need of changing that, or downloading a new, better browser because the current way to get online works fine for them.

To spread awareness of the browser and explain Chrome’s benefits, Google explained the alien concept of the browser using a series of videos called Chrome Browser Shorts. These explanatory clips are presented friendly ways: one clip entitled, “You and Your Browser,” humorously illustrates a browser’s functions through the cat’s actions.

2. Build Prototypes

Although the movement of rapid prototyping has gained popularity in the technology space, Google Creative Lab’s Managing Director Ben Malbon and Executive Creative Director Iain Tait explains to Fast Company’s Co.Create that it’s also extremely useful in advertising:

Truth is, the advertising world has been prototyping forever: Sketches. Previsualizations. Storyboarding. Animatics. Treatments. They’ve all been used to bring ideas to life and give a hint of the emotions a fully formed “thing” might evoke–at least enough to convince a client to stump up the cash to go into production.

While storyboards and sketches still play an important part in the creative process, they’re not able to convey the richness of interactive experiences.

Malbon and Tait suggest three types of creation that help tell richer stories: making a video, staging a performance, mocking it up in Powerpoint or Keynote (my own addition: if it’s mobile, try Invision). Once you’re sure the idea is working, or when you need to refine the story further, build a working prototype.

3. Bake a Broccoli Cupcake

Google’s products aren’t inherently interesting. That’s why instead of giving people information about products, Google Creative Lab wraps an emotionally stimulating narrative around each solution. For example, Dear Sophie is a heartwarming story about a father creating a Gmail account for his daughter and storing her memories in the Inbox. Parisian Love is a romantic tale of an American traveller falling in love with a stranger.

While these emotional themes seem unrelated to Google, the videos are filmed in settings such as Gmail, Google Maps, Google Search, Google Translate, and various other Google tools. As the viewer follows the story, they also naturally discover how the tools are used. The emotional content is the cupcake, and the Google solution is the broccoli. As Executive Creative Director Robert Wong suggests in an interview with Communication Arts, put the education into the entertainment by baking a broccoli cupcake.

4. Know the User, Know the Magic, and Connect the Two

Google’s VP of Global Marketing, Lorraine Twohill, boils down Google’s recipe for storytelling in Advertising Age: “Know the user, know the magic, and connect the two.” They use their understanding of Google products to bake their product into their content. They test their content on the web before moving into mainstream media in order to gauge user reception. Then, they buy extra-long advertisement slots in primetime and iconic shows in order to connect the two.

Re-evaluate whether your content team, from the most high-level editor to the most inactive freelancer, truly understands the magic of your product’s technology. In case your content hasn’t been received well, you need to know the user better. If you haven’t been converting well, you need to understand the magic better.

5. Create a Story Pre-Product

Have you seen this first person perspective of Google Glass? Believe it or not, after viewing an early version of a heads-up display unit, Google Creative Lab imagined this product was finished and created video content for it. Because there were no working units, the team filmed the video through cameras on helmets. A design intern helped mockup the user interface. The story was straightforward; how this nonexistent product could fit in a regular person’s life.

This content helped drive product decisions for the future as the Google engineers viewed it. Google co-founder Larry Page even joked that the team should make a film every week, and Google should build products against these stories. As the video was released, this also gave Google an idea of what product demand was and could gauge users’ reactions to the Glass concept.

6. Get in Touch with the Community

One of Google’s most powerful stories started with a community attempting to empower the next generation. In order to prevent young members of the LGBT community from committing suicide because they were being bullied, Dan Savage and Terry Williams started a project in 2010 called It Gets Better. It was comprised of LGBT adults who uploaded videos on YouTube sharing the message that life gets better.

Google Creative Lab recognized this and decided to bring more exposure to this story. Tying in their products, YouTube and Chrome, they created a video documenting the movement’s success and bought advertising space on Monday Night Football to expose it to a wider audience. It paid off in tons of earned media exposure. It can be difficult to recognize initial ROI; instead, tap into the emotional core of consumers by standing up for what you and the community believe in.

7. Connect with Curators to Increase Reach

Google Creative Lab Creative Director Tom Uglow writes in Marketing Magazine that the world is creating more than it can consume. Instead of reaching our readers and consumers directly, we’re being drowned out by noise from all other sources trying to do the same. How can you ensure your story gets in front of users? Whereas previously consumers would only get their information from newspapers and other types of established media companies, the power has shifted online to a few different curators.

It’s now essential to connect with curators through techniques such as surfacing, getting into trusted guides, and building relationships with editors, stylists, and critics in your fields.

8. Be Your Own Case Study

Client case studies often make for great stories. They also show other prospects and consumers the results that you’ve produced. However, if you want to explore new potential benefits of your product or service, you will have to do this by using them in your own content marketing and campaigns before experimenting on clients.

Google Creative Lab demonstrated their live streaming and partnership opportunities with their YouTube Space Lab initiative. They then made a case study sharing the earned media results and the Google products and services used in this campaign. Similarly, you can incorporate this into your communications plan. It’s a relatively straightforward formula: share how you did it, share which products you used, and what the results were from the campaign.

9. Your Byproducts are Stories

Much like how logging companies sold firewood as their main product and profited immensely off byproducts like sawdust, today’s more intellectual byproducts are stories. Unfortunately, they’re often overlooked and discarded. This idea was published by Basecamp founder Jason Fried, who runs a software company and authored a book as a byproduct of the experience. As advertising pioneer Claude Hopkins writes in My Life in Advertising:

“But,” I replied, “others have never told this story. It amazes everyone who goes through your brewery. It will startle everyone in print.”

Google Creative Lab does a great job at this: during the process of creating their HTML5 game, Google Racer, they filmed a set of footage to show viewers what happened behind the scenes. In case you think this sounds obvious, it’s a technique advertisers overlook that companies have been using for years. Enter Hopkins again:

We told just the same story that any rival could have told, but all others thought the story was too commonplace.

Your story is more unique than you think. Share it with the world.

10. Empower Your Consumers

No matter how much creative talent your team has, sometimes the most unexpected stories come directly from consumers and users. Empower them to contribute, curate and aggregate their work, and package it into production quality content.

Google Creative Lab did this a few times: examples include Google Doodle and Androidify. A more powerful and engaging example is their entirely crowdsourced film, called Life in a Day, filmed by users around the world and debuted on YouTube.

Closing Thoughts

There’s the practical scientific solution, and there’s the fiction behind it. Stories often guide the way the world navigates; for example, Tesla and SpaceX co-founder Elon Musk recently built a technology solution he saw in Iron Man. (Coincidentally enough, Elon Musk influenced Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Iron Man protagonist Tony Stark.) Use some of Google’s principles to create and deliver better stories; even though you may not win a print award, you’ll still be potentially changing a client’s life.

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5 Content Experiments Marketers Should Pay Attention To

As content marketing becomes a more popular method of customer acquisition, it also grows increasingly competitive. Increasing content marketing budgets also means increasing expectations of ROI. Effective content marketing requires constant vigilance: keeping a consistent eye on storytellers around the world, and how the best are doing it.


These exciting experiments can be carried out by journalists, media companies, or other content marketers. If you want to stay competitive, have a look at these five experiments and their implications on content marketing:

1. Multimedia Content Marketing

Much like how traditional print publications are experimenting with all forms of media in order to evolve, content marketers will move from text-heavy content (e.g., blog posts, articles, and eBooks) and get into all types of media (e.g., video, slideshows, infographics).

To give you an idea of how this transition will take place, have a look at one of the most prominent publications to embrace responsive web technology, The Boston Globe. The Boston Globe has an entire team dedicated to creating multimedia content and exploring other avenues of communication. Media analyst Ken Doctor says in an interview with WBUR:

By 2015, 2016, these media companies that survive and prosper will all be multimedia. They may start out as newspapers or TV or radio — it doesn’t matter what the roots are. What readers or listeners or viewers want is what makes the most sense, it could be audio, video or words.

Even newspapers of record, such as The Globe and Mail and The New York Times, are introducing video clips into their content both in order to tell more immersive stories and to create new opportunities to engage readers with advertising. In the case of content marketing, this means more opportunities for various calls to action.

2. Long-form Advertising

A couple of years ago, The New York Times blew up the blogosphere and social media with a new story entitled, “Snow Fall”. The story was formatted like none other in mainstream media at the time; the text was completely integrated with video interviews, animated imagery, and embedded slideshows. It quickly got the attention of readers and journalists.

In response, magazines like Complex have embraced this type of format and explored it with cover stories (here’s one with artist and entrepreneur Pharrell Williams). Complex also took it one step further: they built an interactive long-form piece for their sponsor, shoe manufacturer Converse. They built a story around the shoes and have sections linking to the product page at sportswear retailer Champs, where readers can purchase the shoes.

This type of long-form piece could be the new landing page, or a precursor to a product landing page. Long-form content can tell stories in much more engaging ways, and have opt-in boxes or offers built into different sections of the page.

3. Hacking Charts

A chart can easily explain what passages of text can’t. With all the data out and about on the web, charts could also be an easy method of creating original content based on a source’s raw data. Digital publication Quartz decided to create a Chart Builder for its team’s individual writers and contributors to easily create charts on data they come across online. (Here’s an example of how one of its charts look.)

Quartz uploaded this tool online for all publishers to use. (Here’s The Atlantic using the plugin. Naturally, Quartzz decided to stamp their name on all images produced with the tool.) Now, all designers and writers have the option to use this simple tool to quickly create charts.

4. Adaptive Journalism

Content marketing changes according to the context the content is consumed. The Washington Post’s Cory Haik displays this with his own publication’s attempt at adaptive journalism. He likens this to how “day parting” advertising is done – the practise of displaying different types of advertisements for daytime TV and primetime: “content parting” means displaying different types of content during different times of day.

During the times you know the reader is likely on the commute to work, the story you launch should probably be shorter and snappier, with fewer graphics to prevent a long load time. It should also fit the mobile device screen comfortably. In order to drive this type of shift, Haik collaborated with designer Katie Park and producer Masuma Ahuja.

Much like how adaptive journalism will be how publications engage readers, adaptive content marketing provides new chances to draw readers in, but will also mean a change in the skillset of current content marketers.

5. Brands and Subbrands

Effective marketing requires tailoring your content to more narrow segments of different consumers. This is why microproperties are often more effective than just company blogs. Media companies are also distinguishing between brands and subbrands; for example, The Atlantic separates itself from its subbrand The Wire. Atlantic president M. Scott Havens says in an interview with Digiday, “From a business standpoint to take that next step forward to what we believe can be a definitive news platform, it needs to have its own identity.”

Different types of subbrands, or microproperties, enable companies to deliver different types of content in different types of packaging. While The Washington Post is an extremely credible publication, its young cousin Know More is able to display content that doesn’t exactly meet the editorial standards of the main site. The microproperty also mitigates any collateral damage this experiment could have on the main site.

Closing Thoughts

While firsthand experiments could result in the most lessons, secondhand learning is a much more cost-effective method of acquiring knowledge and understanding the reasons behind certain strategies of tactics. These content experiments being carried out in the world of journalism will be indicators into the future of content marketing, and staying on top will give you opportunities to act proactively and delight your readers and potential clients much more than your competitors could.

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How Behemoths like GE, Adobe, and SAP Tell Their Stories

SAP’s SVP of Marketing also serves as the company’s Chief Storyteller. This is just one of the many pieces of evidence indicating how crucial storytelling is to marketing and brand equity for large enterprises.

We all love stories. We are raised with stories from a young age, and many of these narratives become the pillars of our lives. Companies have recognized the power of storytelling for decades, and are now using storytelling to change how potential clients and stakeholders perceive them.

GE Adobe SAP

Here are how leading enterprises such as General Electric, Adobe, and SAP share their stories:

General Electric and the Image of Invention

Conglomerate giant General Electric faces a challenge that many larger, mature, companies inevitably have to deal with: How is it possible for the company to maintain a consistent image when they provide services for such a wide variety of customers in so many different industries? From appliances to jet engines to financial products, General Electric serves a series of drastically different niches and stakeholders.

As such, their story has to accommodate different types of audiences; conversely, their various content niches and microproperties also need a congruent overarching theme for effective branding. How can they do this while maintaining the interest of all parties with their content marketing initiatives?

Linda Boff, executive director of global digital marketing at General Electric, said in an interview with Digiday: “We are GE, a large primarily industrial company. We manufacture things in both traditional and advanced ways. We are fascinated by technology, innovation, discovery and invention. We have a clear compass as to what it is we find interesting and what our voice is in our space. We have a curious, passionate and optimistic voice.”

They embed these themes of technology, innovation, discovery, and invention not only their own content, but in their social media strategy as well. How can you make these vague themes interesting to the mainstream masses?

General Electric uses its own science-centric visuals, such as graphics from its laboratories, to entertain consumers. For example, their Pinterest board features various photos of interesting 3D printing, installations at GE-sponsored events, or progress on one of their latest projects. They created a mobile game for iOS, called Patient Shuffle, that tells the story of a hospital and helps the user understand the importance of logistics and what General Electric’s products are used for.

General Electric leverages visuals on YouTube: it features content such as visuals of their factory and quirky or unusual science-centric video shorts on blooming social network Vine. By sprinkling the themes of technology, innovation, discovery, and invention in the many types of content they share, General Electric maintains a cohesive theme while still tailoring their content to their many types of audiences.

Adobe and Cutting the Marketing BS

Reminiscent of how 7UP was positioned as the UNCOLA in order to stand out in a saturated market, computer software company Adobe created an unusual campaign to target CMOs and digital marketers for their digital marketing solution.

As Forbes columnist Steve Olenski shares in this article, Adobe’s story for this campaign started with their discovery that global advertising is not effective on marketers. Instead of simply explaining their product features in detail, which is exactly what their competitors were doing, Adobe told a different story in order to cut through the noise. They decided to take the brutally honest approach to appealing to marketers and created a campaign called, “Marketing is BS.” Adobe’s solution to platitude-filled meetings is their product, which helps marketers make sense of data. (For example, have a look at their video titled BS Detector.)

The campaign resonated extremely well with marketers, and the “brutally honest” approach to telling this story paid off. Adobe’s CMO Ann Lewnes said in this article with The New York Times: “‘I think Adobe is not known for being provocative or bold,’ Ms. Lewnes said. ‘We’re ‘a nice software company.’ But in this crowded space, with a lot of competition, the intent is to break through, jolt the market,’ she added.”

Essentially, their campaign was about eating their own dogfood when it came to the advice they were preaching: “The frankness of the campaign also signals that Adobe Systems (and their agency) realized that ‘if we were flowery, overly clever, jargony, the more it would feel like we were doing the same thing we were saying people don’t need to do anymore,’ Goodby, Silverstein’s Keith Anderson also added in The New York Times article. (Note: Goodby, Silverstein was Adobe’s agency for this campaign.)

SAP Powers Sentimentality

Operations and logistics software giant SAP faces an extremely difficult challenge in their marketing. While their solution is extremely essential, and effective, and crucial in their clients’ day-to-day activities, their product is also a background service doesn’t make for the most interesting or remarkable topic. How can SAP make Enterprise Resource Management and streamlining processes more understandable and interesting to potential key decision makers and stakeholders? First and foremost, SAP leverages sites like Forbes to host and distribute their content. On their sponsored column, SAPVoice, marketer Todd Wilms demonstrates the potential power behind the story of SAP. Wilms frames SAP as a service that helps their customers deliver:

  • 72% of the world’s chocolate,
  • 70% of the world’s beer,
  • 82% of the world’s athletic footwear. 

SAP follows the 22nd rule of Pixar’s rules of storytelling: “What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.” At its core, SAP is the service that enables companies in all industries to bring joy to its customers and stakeholders. As such, it’s able to tailor its story to different types of customers by simply explaining its different niches.

“For example, at the New York Fashion Week, we are going to capture people talking about fashion and how it impacts their lives,” said Julie Roehm, SAP’s SVP Marketing and Chief Storyteller in a Campaign India interview. “A world ‘run better’ for them might be their clothes fit them every day and they don’t have to worry about their appearance constantly. What does that has [sic.] to do with SAP? Well, we created technology for Levi’s that helps them to image a person and suggest which Levi’s jean is going to be best for them to put on. So, when people put the right one on without going through the hassle of going through multiple pairs of jeans, they feel good about themselves.”

In order to take their storytelling to the next level, SAP created a mobile app that would share the stories of their various customer journeys. While the primary purpose of this mobile app is likely to assist SAP sales teams during presentations, it doubles as a presentable collection of stories and case studies for any potential clients that are interested in SAP.

Closing Thoughts

With decades of experience in branding and marketing, these companies are industry-leaders in the art of storytelling and how storytelling techniques can be used to increase brand awareness and sales. As General Electric, Adobe, and SAP demonstrate, the greatest stories can be told through content marketing by using imaginative themes, speaking frankly with your customers, and connecting with the sentimentality of your product.