Whatever industry you're in, you probably have an eye on the competition. And when you see some of the content your competitors are producing, it's hard not to strive to do the exact same thing. "They wrote a blog post on the biggest mistakes content marketers make? We should write a blog post on the biggest mistakes content marketers make".
But as they say, good artists copy; great artists steal. Not in the sense of stealing the Mona Lisa from the Louvre, of course. More like taking inspiration from your competitors - but doing it so well that everyone assumes you did it first.
Surely you don't want to settle for being just good, you want to be great, so the question is, what can you learn from your competitors, then improve upon?
Here are six things to think about when you examine your competitors - and what you can take away from their content marketing efforts.
1. What are they doing to show their company's personality?
B2B content marketing is typically educational in nature - but that doesn't mean it has to be boring. Just take this blog post from HubSpot for example: 22 Writing GIFs All Content Marketers Will Understand.
These guys are willing to break up their educational content with the occasional humorous post that illustrates the company's lighthearted personality. Now, your audience may not appreciate GIFs specifically, but you can still appreciate the takeaway: What kind of personality (if any) comes through in your content? And what can you do to change that?
You don't have to think about this in terms of being funny. Your company could, for instance, choose to show its philanthropic side by using social media channels to showcase community service efforts or recognize employees who volunteer. Whether your company is innovative or opinionated or funny or whatever, that's what should come through in your content.
2. How much content are they putting out - and how?
Some companies seem like content machines. They crank out blog post after blog post, supplementing those articles with eBooks, webinars, videos, quizzes, and every other kind of content you can imagine. And it's hard not to wonder how they do it.
Take a look again, and focus on where some of those posts are coming from. Do they use guest bloggers? Do they curate lists of things that could be interesting to their readers (e.g., a collection of industry influencers to follow on Twitter)? Do they syndicate blog posts or infographics from other companies (with permission of course), adding in a paragraph of commentary at the top?
Seeing how your competitors are fueling their content creation can provide inspiration for your own.
What new things can you do (or what content can you curate) to keep your content machine running?
3. What level of content are they delivering?
Creating relevant content for your audience doesn't always mean you have to write something that's never been written before in the history of your industry. Just the other day, I came across a blog post titled, "What is a Bounce Rate? (And How Can I Fix Mine?)" Super simple, right? But for someone who's new to marketing analytics, it's probably a useful post.
The key was, this blog post didn't stand alone, it was just one of dozens of posts that spanned a range of content levels - some in-depth, some broad, some fundamental, and some expert-level. And that's what makes this website a go-to source for information.
What can you add to your content lineup to appeal to a wider range of readers?
4. Are they capitalizing on new or different content types or being innovative with old ones?
Most of your competitors probably create at least some kind of content - like blog posts, some case studies, possibly a webinar. But are any of your competitors doing something truly unique in your industry, something that makes them stand out?
If your competitors are using video, look at how they are using it. Are they producing 90-second videos with talking heads, or do they have a whole series of 10-second whiteboard how-to videos that make you want to jump right to the next one?
Are any of those companies creating interactive content? Are they getting more information about their prospects and customers by using assessment, quizzes, and interactive infographics and eBooks? How can you take something you already have and do something more creative with it to make your company's content stand out?
5. What's making me click on their content?
One minute you're on your competitor's home page to do some quick reconnaissance, and the next, you're seven articles deep and about to download your second eBook - and wondering why their content is so much more engaging than yours.
You really want to figure that out? Take a step back and think about what specifically is drawing you into their content. Are they doing something unique with their headlines that make them irresistible to click? Is it that their approach to overall subject of the piece of content is super interesting, turned around in a way you never thought to do? Are they talking about some kind of recent newsworthy event or new research and lending a controversial opinion? Maybe it's that they have beautiful design and images that draw you in.
Whatever it is, don't settle for just admiring what they do - ask yourself why you find it so compelling and what you can do to incorporate those same kinds of elements.
6. What are they doing to engage people further?
Engaging readers isn't always about providing them with educational content directly related to your service or product or industry. Is your competition consistently providing some type of unique content that seems somehow unrelated to their service offering? Wondering why they would bother with that?
Cleveland Clinic publishes a blog that centers on - you guessed it - healthcare. But among the posts about colds in toddlers and living with diabetes, they also regularly post recipes. And while those recipes probably won't directly drive people to Cleveland Clinic for doctor visits, they provide value to readers and promote higher engagement.
Several years ago, Lowe's home improvement stores launched a series of Vine videos called "Fix in Six" that became more popular than the retailer ever expected. And while the pieces were certainly about home improvement, they also showed users how to do things like make a watering can out of a milk jug or line a paint tray with tin foil - all tips that could save you a trip to Lowe's, not drive you into the store. Lowe's was just helping - engaging - its audience.
What creative tips do you have to offer that might just be helpful to your audience - and make them think your site is that much more useful?
Of course, this is only the beginning. It's not enough to simply copy what your competitors are doing - you should take what they've done as inspiration, then figure out how your company can add to and improve upon those ideas. That's what will make you, as a content marketing "artist," great.