The Pillars Of Killer Content

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Brands (and individuals) often struggle with how to create killer content.

Since the mid-eighties, I have been looking at all types of content from a professional perspective. Beyond being salacious (more on that here: The Secret To Getting Attention) and using headlines to bait the reader into your world, the core of the content has to resonate with your audience. Talent is a huge component of being able to create and publish killer content. Along with a deep passion for the content you are creating and a knack for getting it done, some of the best content creators out there also focus a lot of time and energy on both their relevancy and consistency.

There is a whole lot more to making great content.

Beneath all of that must lie a certain type of persona. In fact, there are three core personas that really bring out the best content. The good news is that you don’t have to have all of them running at one hundred percent to get quality results (that being said, the ones that do are, typically, the ones who can constantly and consistently release best-selling content). For the sake of this Blog post, we’ll be focusing on writing, but these types of personas can also apply to content created in images, audio and video.

The 3 Core Personas For Killer Content:

  1. Journalism. Usually, the best writers think like a Journalist. They tend to have a "nose for news." They’re able to see and define trends and turn that into some kind of story. They enjoy the process of research, interviewing subjects and proofing their theories. The story is like a big puzzle and it’s up to them to piece it together and turn it into something memorable for the reader. Prototypes include people like Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point, Blink, etc…), Dan Ariely (Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality), Clay Shirky (Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus) and Charlene Li (Groundswell and Open Leadership).
  2. Experience. The people who have been able to live to tell the tale. They’ve done it. They’ve mastered it. They’re able to walk people through their thinking – both the strategic and the creative. They’re interesting people who have done interesting things and have the ability to explain it. Prototypes include people like Sir Richard Branson (Virgin, Business Stripped Bare, Screw It, Let’s Do It), Tony Hsieh (Delivering Happiness), Donald Trump (Trump: The Art of the Deal, Never Give Up) and Michael Eisner (Working Together, Work In Progress).
  3. Opinion. There are countless people with countless great opinions and ideas. They may not have actually done everything they talk about, but their insights are spot-on, intelligent, well thought-out and they add a different perspective to everything. Prototypes include people like Seth Godin (Purple Cow, Tribes, Linchpin), Tom Peters (Re-Imagine) and Joseph Jaffe (Life After The 30-Second Spot).

There are also a myriad of combinations.

Someone with amazing opinions may also have experience and some journalism qualities. The same can be said about someone with tremendous experience and additional opinions. The idea here is that you need to have one of these three personas, or you have to have some type of combination. As an example, there are countless great pieces of content out in the world by people who have tremendous experience, but they are paired with a writer so that the quality of the final product does wander into the "killer content" zone. In the end, great content tells an amazing story with the facts to back it up. It is then augmented by a unique opinion and perspective.

A great exercise is to look at your content and the people creating it, and figure out how these personas play into it… and if there are ways to improve on that.


  1. What I find killer, you may find banal. What you find killer, I may find boring and stuffy. Perhaps if we stopped worrying about rankings and numbers and subscribers and prospects, we would write less often but write more killer content. Maybe I shall heed my own advice. Another great one, Mr. Joel.

  2. Excellent post Mitch, and I enjoyed how you finished stating “The idea here is that you need to have one of these three personas, or you have to have some type of combination. As an example, there are countless great pieces of content out in the world by people who have tremendous experience, but they are paired with a writer so that the quality of the final product does wander into the “killer content” zone”
    This is extremely true, as I put on my Experience hat
    Personally, I enjoy the great pleasure of spending a great deal of time experiencing different things to do with business and marketing. Things that work extremely well, and others that don’t. However, I’m not the best story tell when it comes to the written word (in-person, watch out). So I’ve partnered with a great writer, and with her help have seen significant improvement within my own materials.
    Now, a question to you – Will you be producing killer content over the holidays? And what are your thoughts on the importance of doing said action? (alright two questions)
    Thanks for the post,
    Josh Muirhead

  3. Kneale, you are correct – in fact, it’s scary how right that statement is.
    So often, we get focused on numbers, and how BIG they are (you know, bigger must be better). But that is often not the case at all.
    However, I would do feel that numbers to indicate an area to reflect in. Using an example in Mitch’s post – Seth Godin has more subscribers than all of us combined I would image. Why? Because his content is Killer. If his content was just ok, than Mitch could easily take him down.
    I agree, don’t focus on the number to much, but at some point, they do tell a story…

  4. Joel…great post. Quality is key and just sifting through clutter is becoming painful by the day. That is why I have rock stars like you in my blog roll. I remember Seth Godin in one of your interviews saying that writing to him comes easy, he just writes the way he speaks. I like that. People like me water down the thoughts by trying to make the content look perfect. Enjoy your posts & podcasts…and the book! Enjoy the festivities.

  5. I will and I always do keep at my content. I do this for consistency. I do this because I have a lot of things I still want to say. I do this because it’s more play than work (it’s a break!). I do this because I have more time to think while I break, and that usually stirs my creative writing juices.
    I also do this knowing full well that most people won’t be reading then.

  6. That is an excellent comment – Thanks for answering Mitch –
    And don’t worry, I’ll read them…even if I’m a few days late. (but really after breakfast, there is not much to do)
    Happy Holidays
    Josh Muirhead

  7. I completely agree that we need to stop worrying about numbers when we are creating content and yet numbers give us feedback if we are heading in the right direction.
    However, looking at absolute numbers without putting them into context can be misleading and disheartening. For example, When Mitch says,”Great content does rise to the top,” what does top mean here? If I try to compare my blog, which I started last year, with the likes of Mitch’s blog, will mine rise to the top? I don’t think so. And yet, in my community my blog is making a difference, and can be considered to be rising to the top, albeit the absolute numbers are not very big. My website has more hits since I started blogging and my brand as a mindful marketer is gaining a sound foundation.
    It is important for new bloggers to not get disillusioned with their content if they are not rising to the top of top blogs as it takes many years and/or resources in addition to quality content to compete with others who have both.

  8. Wonderful post, Mitch. Been down the three-pronged road myself and watched you walk the lines as well. Opinion and experience are great to have, but if you can’t tell the story and–more importantly–sell the story, you are the proverbial tree falling in the you-know-where.

  9. As an opinionated former journalist I found your tripartite content split gratifying and encouraging. But I’d add that there are an awful lot of experienced marketers out there who seem to have adopted a penchant for droning on and on about experience. It’s VERY easy these days to find a blog by someone fairly well-known in which he or she whines defensively about the ‘Wii generation’ of marketers who weren’t doing it back in Nam and know little about actual marketing. Yes, experience is important and, yes, it can’t be learnt or bought. But it’s not as important as being good at what you do.

  10. I slightly ashamed to say that I started to read your article with the intention of finding holes in it (I know!) … but didn’t succeed.
    Nice one!
    I worked with the top saleswomen in Chicago for selling cars (no mean feat) who kept a photo of her ‘customers’ next to her phone. Helped her remember that she was dealing with a real person. And did it work? Very well.

  11. Mitch, Excellent post there.
    Must say that overall I am really impressed with this blog. It is easy to see that you are passionate about your writing. How I wish I belong to even just one of the three.

  12. Right on. Very timely post as I’m just getting into blogging myself. As a 26 year old with little experience to be a master and lacking the journalist skill set I’m relying mainly on the opinion prong. Would you say then it’s better to really get good at sharing my opinion and engaging in discussions or should I try to pick up a bit of the other two? Cover up weaknesses or play to strenghts? (you can’t say both)

  13. When I think about passion I think about DNA. Also I think about how our life on earth is no accident. We are here to solve a problem. The gift is embedded in our DNA it is not going anywhere it is a matter of discovery. And when we put our gifts to work then everything we say will flow like water and the content will resonate with readers. @live_alpharetta

  14. I like this. Good thinking. And I agree with Johnny that the best mix it up. Would probably add one more — entertainer. I think this is going to be increasingly important as the social web get more crowded. “Entertainment value” has to be on the table as a discussion point — even with buttoned-up companies.
    Great post Mitch.

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