We live in an age where in order to be successful with your startup (or with anything at all actually), the first thing you have to do is not sell, but to create engaging content.

This is by no means a recent revelation, but in recent years the idea of engaging content has become more of a popular buzzword for VP’s of marketing or CMO’s to demand from their teams. But, the truth is, it is much more than that. Creating engaging content is what good storytelling is all about. A subject we recently focused on for startups in our post let’s talk about storytelling for startups.

Storytelling should be a central part of your content strategy by the way. And it’s something I’ll come to a bit later. For now, back to engaging content, and here’s an interesting fun fact. According to HubSpot, effective, engaging content marketing can generate three times as many leads as paid search advertising can. Interesting eh? Read on…

What is engaging content?

Firstly, let’s have a look at what actually is engaging content these days? It can be a bit of a shapeshifter to be honest. It also depends on which medium you want to reach, as what is engaging for social media differs depending on the platform, never mind between different mediums. This is a sign of the times in the continuously and rapidly changing digital environment. Still, there are some general definitions which are still relevant. A particular favorite one of mine comes from the Content Marketing Institute, which goes like this:

Engaging content offers something new: a new perspective, an unexpected laugh, bits of knowledge, or something helpful, inspiring, or entertaining. Engaging content gives your reader a peek at something he or she hasn’t seen before*, but can relate to in some way.

From our side, we would also add into this definition that you can give your reader a new perspective on something they have seen or read before, by giving your unique take on it.

Apart from the above, for startups and fledgling businesses, engagement also means something more tangible. Like getting some results (and profits – yes, those!), such as the below:

  • more traffic to your website
  • more clicks
  • opt-ins and subscriptions to newsletters
  • conversions
  • sales
  • comments
  • likes
  • shares
  • mentions

Where can you learn about engaging content?

Apart from this blog, there are also these really useful things called books. Surprisingly enough, searching for inspiration, ideas and indeed practical advice via this “old-fashioned” (not in our book, pun intended) medium. It’s one of the many reasons why entrepreneurs need to read books.

Anyway, not to move off topic, before we have a look at some key types of engaging content and how you can use them to boost your startup or fledgling business, let’s double-check some first steps.

First, fine-tune your content strategy

I’ll presume that you have already created some kind of content strategy. If not, this is the first thing you need to do. Your content strategy will define the planning, management, creation, and execution of your engaging content marketing plan. The depth you go into will depend largely on the scale and scope of your startup and the industry you’re in. Oh yes, and whether you are in a B2B or B2C market.

There are some key aspects that it will help you with, like these:

  1. Define on your aims and intended audiences
  2. Dictate the type of content you want to create or curate
  3. Determine the main roles and content workflow 

What are the key parts that make up a content strategy then? 

  1. Define your goals
  2. Define your audience(s)
  3. And define your KPI’s
  4. Define your value proposition, or key USP (unique selling point)
  5. Decide on your main content types – Some popular type are blog posts, vlog posts, podcasts, video, infographics, ebooks, whitepapers
  6. Define your publication schedule and workflow (and stick to it)

The engaging content checklist

Right then, you’ve got your content strategy sorted and you’re ready to start creating engaging content. Where do you start? Well, you could do a lot worse than listen to Neil Patel, one of the more authentically insightful of the marketing gurus out there in Internetland.
Patel suggests this checklist:

First define‘engaging’

There could be many definitions, depending on what the aims of your specific piece of engaging content are. Maybe you want loads of shares on social, or comments. Maybe you want it to prompt customers to purchase. In general though, you won’t go wrong if you follow Patel’s definition, being “In order to qualify [as engaging content], the content has to trigger a measurable response in people as it relates to your content.” Basically to make an impact in some way. 

Create with intent

You’ve heard of the phrase ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’, right? Before publishing anything, be clear about the intent of it. For example, is it designed to prompt a purchase, for entertainment purposes? Or for education? With each piece of content you prepare, you have to be clear about its goals, from raising brand awareness and educating a potential customer for example, to increasing conversions and creating advocates for your brand.

Make the content too valuable

How do you do this? Make it personal. Sharing personal experience is the best way to convey a message, since nobody has experienced them the way you have. And be as authentic as possible. Of course, you can still write a blog about a topic that’s already been previously discussed. Just write it in a different way. Your way! Also, try to include valuable links to further reading and references to add value to your content. What else? Newsletters and free e-books, white papers and reports are some of the simplest and best ways that a startup can leverage to offer value.

Stay creative

This is an important one. There are many ways to get your point across, but in order to have engaging content, you need to lighten the load and tone. Yes, on the one hand you have to produce data-driven content that’s analytical. And yes, you should create efficiently-written content, with a methodical approach to structure and SEO. But, as a startup – depending on your market – you should ditch any corporate overtones. There’s a lot of ways to get your point across, and being human, conversational and adding some subtle humor and creativity will help your content’s cause in leaps and bounds.  

Lean into your strengths and passions

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but it can’t be emphasized enough. Talk about the things that matter to you, and the things that matter to your customers related to their lives and how your product and the problems it solves and benefits it brings relates to them. 

Create action-oriented content

Engaging content is all about connecting with your audience – and prompting them to act. So at the end of any piece of contact, there should always be an action point. It could be sending them to another page to purchase something, or directing them to another similar piece of related content they may be interested in, or even simply asking them to give their feedback. 

From our side we would add more to this checklist. Tell a story. No matter how short or long. Telling a story allows you to relate to you audience on a much deeper and fundamental level. For example, let’s say your business is a fitness and nutrition consulting service. If you tell a story that happened during your personal certification training, or during an event you competed in, your audience will understand quickly that you’re the real deal. Or in other words, that you’re qualified and knowledgeable on the topic.

Go forth and engage

To sum up, if there’s one thing that we can say about engaging content is that it certainly isn’t easy. It takes work. So if you think you can stumble into the content marketing side of things and succeed, you will be disappointed.

Not only that, you’ll be lost in a veritable ocean of content that’s out there – regardless of how niche you may think your startup market is. Creating engaging content is one of the most challenging aspects of marketing campaigns.

However, there’s no need for that to scare you, or put you off. You just need to prepare properly with a detailed content strategy, and get yourself a content specialist on board. Then, with some extra effort, you will work out the ways which suit you to create engaging content.

The bottom line is to tell your stories and have specific objectives for those stories. Be authentic and original, so you can stand out from the crowd.
Start engaging today.

P.S. Anything you think we missed off our engaging content checklists? We’d love to hear your thoughts and some examples of engaging content that have helped your startup or fledgling business flourish.

Graham Wood Graham Wood

The Starttech Ventures Storyteller. Studied Journalism with Business at the University of Central Lancashire. Has worked in various product marketing management positions for the likes of Nokia, Samsung and Vodafone, as well as in several journalism and media roles since 2000.