Why Rules for Digital Content Types Are Made to Be Broken

When crafting a content strategy, it’s easy to get hung up on which types of digital content you need to create. But only one thing really matters: knowing your audience.

Remember high school English papers? (From your nightmares, perhaps?)

We were all taught that standard five-paragraph format.

Introduction/thesis, three paragraphs, conclusion … it made just about everyone groan.

Some because they weren’t writers and stressed about filling the page.

But others knew they could communicate so much better without all the $#@! rules.

Marketers tend to be in the latter category. But you know what? High school’s over.

Time to break some rules.

Our Internal English Teacher and Digital Content Types

I contend that the primary reason we get obsessed with rigidly defining digital content types in the digital marketing world is because of the damage done by English class. 

We still think our bodies of work have to be a certain length and follow a specific format … all to impress our internal English teacher. 

I’ve often heard the phrase “best practice” used not to describe thoughtful guidance, but rather as a euphemism for rules. 

And some rules may not be “best” for your specific objective, like stock answers to questions like:

  • When should we create a blog post vs. an ebook vs. a white paper? 
  • How long should each format be? 
  • What industries should be using which?

There are prescriptions all over the web. But in reality, the formats, word counts, and other decisions creative pros have made should never be considered universal.

No teacher here to decide for us whether our work is “right.”

Only one thing really matters: understanding your audience, which is (usually) not your English teacher.

Rules for Different Types of Digital Content

Okay, so what are the digital content types marketers sometimes get all “English-classy” about? Here are just a few to think about.

Open Access vs. Gated Content Rules

Digital content can either be open-access or “gated” – provided in exchange for information, i.e. contact info, or money.

Question: What are the “best practices” for when to provide content for free, and when to gate it? Or what kind of content?

Blog Rules

A blog is typically a freely-accessed dynamic web page that you add content to over time, and each addition, which could be called an “article,” is also referred to as a post.

Question: What are the “best practices” for how long blog posts should be, how often you should post, how many pictures or videos to include, etc.?

Downloadable Content Rules

White papers and ebooks are examples of content that’s usually more robust than a blog post, typically available for download, or perhaps sent to a prospect in response to an inquiry.

  • White paper – Typically a B2B (business-to-business) tool to demonstrate thought leadership within an industry, more formal, denser, and more text-driven
  • eBook – Either a B2B or B2C (business-to-consumer) tool to generate buzz about a topic, less formal, lighter on text, and heavier on images and graphics

Question: What are the “best practices” for which format is best to use in B2B marketing? Or for structuring ebooks for B2B vs. B2C marketing?

How to Break the Rules

There are answers aplenty to these questions.

They are numerous, and they often conflict.

So I propose we start asking different questions.

  • Open vs. Gated: What’s my top priority, lead generation or general awareness? How well do I believe my audience will tolerate gating at the point in the buyer’s journey the content is created for?
  • Business Blogging: How much content does my audience need in this post (or “article”) to get value out of it? How much do we have to say? How much value would images or video add? 
  • Downloadable Content: How does our audience typically consume this type of information? Also, if the audience does care how we classify it (white paper, ebook, other), why should we?

These audience-centric questions trump “best practices” all day long, because the actual best way to reach your audience is unique to your audience.

If the content helps you achieve your goals (which you’d better be tracking!), congratulations. You have established a new custom “best practice.”

And if it falls short, investigate why. Look at your data. Because the reason content doesn’t work can’t be found in anyone else’s data. 

Your audience is your only “teacher” now, so do what my mom always said …

Just find out what your teacher needs, and give it to them.

Need Help Making Your Own Rules?

That’s what we do!

As a boutique content strategy and content writing collective, we look at each client, each project, as unique.

A one-size-fits-all strategy can work for some.

But if you suspect there’s no mold out there that exactly fits you, you’re probably right.

Matthew C. Bloom Content Marketing can help you create your own.

Want to learn more? Let’s talk!