“Everything the light touches is content”, Ann Handley professed at the Ignite Video Marketing Summit.

And what’s at the heart of 99% of content? Good writing. And good words. But words can be complex and combining them into a marketing masterpiece that engages your audience, compels them to share, and maybe even buy is no easy feat. … ammiright or ammiright?

In fact, the top challenge for B2B marketers in the last 5 years was creating engaging content.

But wait – bring that heart rate back down here! There’s no need to fear writing because Ann Handley is here! (or there … at the Ignite Video Marketing summit. But we’ve summarized her best tips here.)

Ann believes that everyone can be a compelling storyteller, a crafty wordsmith, and most importantly, a marketing writer. So much so, that she wrote an entire book to make great writing more approachable for everyone, fittingly named “Everybody Writes”. And while she adds the disclaimer that no, not everyone can be Charles Dickens or Ernest Hemingway, we know that phenomenal literature isn’t what we’re after here. Here, it’s all about copy that’s useful, empathic, and inspired.

The Formula for Great Content

Ann Handley believes that there are 3 components to great content, each one as important as the other:

  1. Great content is useful: Aim to be a resource forComponents of Great Content your audience. Use “you” and “us” instead of “our customers” and “the organization”.
  2. Great content has empathy: Focus on showing your customers that you understand them and their pain points.
  3. Great content is inspired: Go beyond your product and company. Tell the bigger story about why you exist and what you do for customers in an inspired way.

These three components work together to create great content (see the formula to the right). And this formula is actually mathematically accurate, too. As Ann explains, “that multiplication sign, by the way, is key. If the value of any one of those things is zero … I don’t think the content is great.”

5 Steps to Creating Great Content

You’re now armed and ready with what the end result of great content looks like – but how do you get there? Ann lays out 5 steps to creating useful, empathic, and inspired content.

Step 1: Follow a Content GPS

Content GPSAnn reminds us that it’s crucial to have an idea of where you want to go before you start heading there. All pieces, like literally every single word that comes from your desk, yes even that email summarizing your blog post, should have a goal.

And she’s not talking about a strategic business goal here (although “driving more traffic” or “converting more leads” are equally as important). In this particular case, you’ll want to look at the goal in the eyes of the consumer. What benefit will this content offer them? Why should they care?

This type of goal can be harder to uncover, but Ann has a great trick to getting there: ask yourself “so what?” from the perspective of your customer and reply with “because ___________” until you run out of legitimate answers. Keep going until you get to questions that are better answered by philosophers or a because statement which truly identifies the root of your customers’ pain. (Psst … Ann shared a hilarious example in her talk. Check it out in the video at the end of this post!)

Learn more about creating a content GPS in Ann’s post here.

Step 2: Have a Strong, Unforgettable Voice

In order to stand out in the copious amounts of crafty content, you’ll need to be comfortable taking a little bit of risk. Steven Pressfield, American Author, parallels writing to downhill racing: “Writing is not the same as downhill racing. You don’t break your legs, you don’t snap your spine. But you need the same kind of recklessness plunging down that expanse of white.”.

All of a sudden, I feel like an extreme athlete. Sweet.

You also need some consistency in your risk. You’ll need to define your out-of-the-ordinary voice and stick to it through every single word ever written and seen by the public eye. Because, remember:

Ann Handley Content Quote

… and it’s impacting your customers’ impression of your brand.

Step 3: Look to Analogy Instead of Example

Many marketers have trouble coming up with unique, innovative ideas all on their own. (We hear ya!) But Ann points out that often, innovation isn’t a revolutionary thought just out-of-the-blue.

Seth Godin Innovation Quote

Ann recommends borrowing from other aspects of our lives or other industries and introducing them to our own companies.

M+R did exactly that in their promo video for their annual non-profit benchmarking study. They took a page from the Hollywood film industry’s handbook and created a blockbuster-style trailer (for something that typically wouldn’t have this kind of video!). Take a look below.


Step 4: Focus on Stories Worth Sharing

Tell a story that’s offbeat and a little bit different. That’s how you’ll stand out. Take an angle that travels down a path that people won’t expect, or add in emotion. Just remember: people like stories way more than they like product pitches.

Step 5: Give Customers Gifts

Lastly, Ann reminds us to ‘wow’ our customers. There’s not much that has as big of an impact as surprising and delighting your customers. Just think of WestJet’s Christmas video … or TD’s Automated Thanking Machine.

The impact of these acts went well beyond those specific customers who were impacted in the filming of these videos to millions of people watching at home.

But delighting your customers doesn’t have to be this extravagant. Ann asks: “what if the gift that we gave customers was really just delighting them in those everyday spaces?”. Like how Crowdrise offers fun copy to keep their visitors entertained while waiting for photos to upload.

Think of ways to surprise and delight prospects and customers in small ways every day.


It’s possible that there’s a great writer in all of us. And if we have a goal, are unique, and focus on our customers, we can all create great content that’s “useful, reader-centric, and centred on empathic thinking”.

Now get writing, you writer, you! (Or, get more inspiration from Ann Handley first with the full version of her Ignite keynote below).

Kimbe MacMaster