The world of online content has been poisoned. Banner ads punch you in the face at every site you visit, autoplay video ads blast through your speakers when you least expect it, and salesy junk mail clutters your inbox and leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

And what do most of these poisoned content pieces have in common? They're blatantly promotional.

In my experience, being overly promotional is one of the biggest mistakes you can make in content marketing. Don't get me wrong -- there is definitely a time and a place for promotion. Being promotional is just a fact of life in public relations, and paying to promote your published content is necessary in your content distribution efforts.

You can't completely avoid all aspects of promotion in content, but you can create guidelines around the ways you communicate and the content you distribute to make sure you're providing value.

In my efforts to commit to effective content marketing, I've come up with a simple term that I think is helpful to keep in mind any time you create content: IDEA communication.

The IDEA method highlights four key areas that should guide your content and the way you communicate. If your content follows these four points, you can bet it will keep your audience engaged -- especially in this time of overpromotion.

1. Industry-Leading

Your content is industry-leading when it's something that no one else is communicating and when your voice brings new and innovative ideas to the conversation. Before you psych yourself out, remember that this is the rarest of the four categories; it's extremely hard to consistently create content that's truly unique and new. So when you do have the chance to lead your industry through your communication, you have to take it.

Perhaps the perspective and expertise you're able to share revolve around a disruptive new technology, industry trends you've noticed, or even a little-known tactic that's making a difference in your own efforts. Whatever it is, share it in a way that only you can, and lead your industry.

2. Data-Driven

Any content strategy that drives results should rely on facts and data, and that usually means your actual content is data-driven, too. We live in a digital world of trust barriers where audiences sometimes don't know what to believe, which outlets to trust, or which contributors can give them the most accurate information -- facts to back up your claims are more important now than ever.

You might think you don't have the kind of data you need to make an impact, but you'd be dead wrong. If you're tracking your company's performance and actually working with partners and clients, you have internal data. And if you're just getting started, you can rely on trusted industry leaders to give yourself a jumping-off point.

For example, when we were just getting started with content at my company, we used data from Content Marketing Institute. We're a content marketing agency, so we relied on a leader in our space for some research to keep our communication data-driven. Now that we've grown, we're able to survey clients, partners, and managing editors at publications in our network for reports like "The State of Contributed Content."

3. Educational

Most of the content you create will fall into this category, and for obvious reasons: Educational content is typically the most valuable to audiences and customers, and it's the most scalable. Creating content that's valuable requires you to dive into each of your audience segments -- your potential customers, current clients, partners, investors, future recruits, etc. -- to determine what they find valuable.

When you know what they find valuable, you can offer them more education about those topics through your content, as well as custom drip campaigns. You can help them become better at what they do and give them a better understanding of your space. This gives you the opportunity to become a resource for them and keep them engaged.

4. Amusing

Simply put, this step is about making sure your content is entertaining. When your audience members read it, will they enjoy it? Will they like it? Whether it's the coolest new listicle on BuzzFeed or a detailed blog post, you should know what your audience will enjoy consuming and find amusing.

This category of content gives you more room for storytelling or any little thing you can include to put a smile on your readers' faces. However you decide to make your content amusing, the goal is to keep readers engaged. Not only does an entertaining, engaging style make it easier to digest your content, but your audience will also enjoy and retain the message.

Do what you can to keep these four points top of mind as you communicate with your audiences. Remember, no one wants to be spammed with overly promotional content; we're all just looking for something valuable. Creating your content around these four points will get you far and help you build an engaged audience.

Published on: Feb 12, 2017