Being King: Why Content Rules (Book Review)

August 29, 2011

Breaking news! Content is — wait for it — king. What’s that? You already knew that? You’ve heard the phrase ‘content is king’ everywhere and are wanting to know what it really means and, more importantly, what you do next? Have I got a book for you …

The Elevator Pitch

As it turns out, content is not only king but it rules as well. This is the two-pronged thesis of Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business (affiliate link) by MarketingProfs‘ Ann Handley and Digital Dads‘ C.C. Chapman. ‘Two pronged’ as it both asserts that content does in fact rule and provides you with concrete, actionable rules for creating your own killer content across a vast array of executions as the subtitle notes. While most would opt for creating a sterile and clinical guide, Handley and Chapman practice what they preach by delivering easily digestible chunks of info woven together with a light and engaging narrative.

The BIG Idea: Ideas You Can Steal

Two of the best things about Content Rules are the no BS tone and the plethora of take-aways. These two are best exemplified in the labeling of these resources throughout the book. While a more pedestrian guide would call these ‘real-world applications,’ Content Rules calls it like it is by referring to these as ‘Ideas You Can Steal.’ And there are a ton of them so have your looting sacks ready. Here are a few of my favorites.

Ann Handley, MarketingProfs

No More Business Speak — When creating content, Handley and Chapman assert early on that it’s critical to write like people talk rather than using Frankenstein-esque business speak which “obfuscates rather than illuminates.” Simply put, words matter. Establishing your brand’s voice also helps you stand out in an increasingly noisy marketplace.

It’s All Writing — I often say that writing is the most in-demand marketing skill today. This book illustrates that by reminding us that all forms of content — from blog posts to outlining a video story — are essentially writing tasks. Content Rules will make you dig out your copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style to become a more concise and effective brand journalist. They also remind us of the importance of establishing personas.

Great Content Takes Passion — “If you’re not having fun creating content, you’re doing it wrong,” Content Rules tells us. Many of the examples throughout the book reinforce the point of building great content by empowering passionate subject matter experts and writers inside your organization. Passion and expertise leads to killer content. But, as many of the success stories illustrate, passion can’t be faked.

Share or Solve; Don’t Shill — This mantra is repeated throughout the book and serves as a guiding principle as you create your content. We need to remember to ask — What questions does your audience have? What problems can you solve for them?

C.C. Chapman, DigitalDads

Create a Content Chop Shop — Create 10 content variations for each new piece you create. Turn that ebook into a series of blogposts, turn that webinar into a video, and so on to keep your content food chain cycling on.

Johnny Appleseed Had the Right Idea — To grow bigger fruits from your labor, content marketers need to focus on sharing more openly like Johnny Appleseed and less like hoarders who keep it all to themselves. Content Rules initiates a thoughtful discussion on when to ask for registration for content and when not to.

The How-To Section — After Part 1’s overview of the Content Rules, Part 2 delivers the main course. This robust how-to section gives you actionable plans for creating killer blogs, podcasts, videos, ebooks, webinars, and more with a chapter devoted to each. Especially insightful are the chapters you might not expect about case studies (write them like superhero stories), podcasts (repurpose your videos), and webinars (avoid making these ‘pitch-slaps’ — one of the best phrases in the book).

The Case Studies! Part 3 of the book is devoted entirely to case studies that describe content that ignites and ideas you can steal from a bevy of diverse B2B and B2C organizations ranging from the armed forces to issue advocacy to golf lessons.

You’ll also love the list of marketing buzzwords that you are implored not to use in your content (my favorites: ’email blast’ and ‘users’ — “drug dealers and online marketers are the only ones who call their customers ‘users'”) as well us other actionable tools like a ‘How to Hire Content Creators’ checklist and a blogging template for hesitant writers.

So, Should You Read It?

The best books know exactly what they are, while a majority of books — especially business books — wander and try to be everything to everyone. Content Rules is the former. Going out of the gate it thankfully makes the assumption that you already know why content is king (or queen as Ann would say) and doesn’t waste your time with a few chapters up front making this case. Rather it decides to be the book that no one has written — an engaging and actionable guide to creating content that will make your brand king.

Bottom line: There should be a copy of Content Rules somewhere in your office for all to share both for the engaging lessons and the actionable tips.

How awesome is this? Ann Handley autographed a copy of Content Rules for me this week at Dreamforce ’11. I thought it’d be timely to give that away to someone who comments on this review with the best case for why they need Content Rules now for their work. If you’re on the fence you won’t be when you see the cool autograph from Ann. Plus I’ll pick a runner up who can have my ‘gently used’ edition of the book. Simply enter via the comments below and I’ll announce the winner this coming Monday along with a new post.

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is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.