How to Apply Hemingway’s “Iceberg Theory” to Content Marketing

I’m not a huge fan of Hemingway. I know a lot of my fellow literary dorks would call this blasphemous, but his brutal themes and taciturn characters have always sort of rubbed me the wrong way. Like, I get it guy! I don’t need to read another story about hunting or fishing or bullfighting.

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But even haters like me have to admit that Hemingway’s writing style is pretty impressive. What puts it so far above the work of his contemporaries, however, is his ability to say so much by saying so little. Hemingway’s “Iceberg Theory” basically suggests that the tip of the iceberg (i.e., what’s written on the page) is only a fraction of the larger, underlying themes (i.e., what’s not written on the page).

But what in the heck does this have to do with content marketing? How can marketers use the Iceberg Theory to create higher-quality content that will attract, engage, and retain their audience?

What Lies Beneath

Picture an iceberg (or just look at the one above, yo!): What do you notice? Among other things (such as how massive and, frankly, terrifying the thing is), what’s most starting is the fact that almost all of it is under water.

For content marketers, this means that what’s going on underneath the surface is just as important (if not more so) as what’s being stated outright. So, while research shows the majority of marketers (70%) are creating more content than they did a year ago, simply creating the content is not enough. The key is to produce compelling content that will demonstrate an organization’s deeper content marketing strategy and goals.

Identify Customer Need

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Some of the biggest questions to ask when setting up a content marketing program include: What are my customers’ needs?  What are they looking for when they land on my site? How can my content initiatives address customer pain points and provide valuable, actionable insight that will point them in the direction they need to be going?

The graphic to the left showcases some of underlying goals of a content marketing program, with identifying customer needs at the top of that list. At KoMarketing, we develop buyer personas to better understand our target audience, unlocking specific SEO-related insights that can lead to more informed keyword research, competitive review, and link building/social media exploration.  We also have our clients fill out client discovery questionnaires to help us better understand their goals, priorities, and expectations.

Collect (and Apply) Customer Feedback

Today’s customers want what they want when they want it. And, with customer experience increasingly becoming a priority in a competitive, multi-channel digital world, it’s up to marketers to meet (and hopefully even exceed) customer expectations.

One way for companies to demonstrate to customers and prospects that they’re committed to providing a positive customer experience is for them to collect customer feedback in the form of surveys, email, social media engagement, etc. KoMarketing’s B2B Website Usability Survey, for example, seeks to uncover the role vendor websites play in the B2B buying process, information that can help marketers focus on what matters most to their customers.

Show Value of Products and Services

Let’s face it: We’re all busy. Research indicates that the average reader spends a measly 15 seconds reading a post, so it’s up to companies to maximize that time with compelling content that will make customers want to stick around for longer.

So what does this mean? With so little time to waste, it’s critical for marketers to not only create the type of content their readers are looking for, but also the type of content that showcases the value of a company’s products and/or services.

For one of our clients in the call center industry, we regularly blog about relevant issues/areas of concern for their target audience (i.e., multichannel customer support, workforce optimization, etc.). To demonstrate how their suite of speech analytics technology can help solve each of those issues, we always include a section highlighting a particular product and linking to the application solutions page. This approach lets readers know that our client is current on issues facing the industry and is committed to providing product offerings that address those issues.

Provide Answers to Questions

In addition to (and in conjunction with) solving customer problems, it’s also important for a company’s content to be able to provide answers to specific questions.

For example, we work with a number of different clients in the manufacturing industry, so we know that the manufacturing skills gap is a very real and pressing concern for the industry as whole. To showcase this depth of understanding, we’ve created a series of blog posts discussing the shrinking labor pool and the ways in which newer technologies such as automation can help overcome the talent crisis.

By acknowledging the specific questions manufacturers are asking (i.e., “What can we do to train younger workers as the older generation retires?” or  “How can we staff in cost effective ways?”), our clients position themselves as thought leaders in the space and experts who have their finger on the pulse of the current manufacturing climate.

Final Thoughts

This isn’t 1912.  And we’re not on the Titanic! If you’re a content marketer, why not try thinking about icebergs as your friends?

The above list represents just a few of the ways KoMarketing is using Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory to drive relevant, useful, compelling content on behalf of our and our clients’ audiences. In what ways is your organization driving content that hits below the surface?

©iStockphoto.com/jgroup; ryccio

  • RL

    I enjoyed reading while learning! Really like the perspective you see things and the way you write.

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