Defining your content’s goals, with bread

One of the toughest things about “content” is defining and implementing goals for individual pieces.

Today, I wanted to elaborate on a bit of advice that I was first told about from Pamela Vaughn of HubSpot. She and her team get all credit for the terms I’m about to use.

Thinking about content in a wheat vs. white context can change the way you write. It has helped me focus on what the secondary goal of a piece of content should have, other than “be good.”

Below I’ll explain the difference between the two types, and how you can put each into practice.

Creating white bread content

I’m not here to start a health debate, so let’s just make the assumption wheat bread is better for you than white bread (Paleo fans, stay outta this).

In this sense, white bread isn’t “junk food” (crap content), but it is a bit more “snackable” than wheat bread content. It’s easier to consume, easier to share, and the purpose of creating it is to simply get it in as many hands as possible.

Isn’t that the goal of every piece of content?

Not exactly, and that’s why this divide is often important to keep in mind.

The best way to create white bread content is to find topics that consistently stir up some sort of conversation in your industry. For Help Scout, that tends to be stories about surprisingly delightful customer service.

Though the customer service space in general can be a little slower than “marketing” or “lifehacking,” a viral customer service story regularly makes the rounds on the big news sites and can easily go viral; it’s obviously a popular sub-topic in our industry.

That’s why we recently decided to create an book full of examples:

(Above, our 10 Customer Service Stories book, pure white bread content that’s meant to be shared and passed on.)

Just like an infographic or a listicle, the goal of this piece is to get in front of many people as possible. Takeaways are important, but they remain secondary to creating something fun that has a lot of social currency and is a no-brainer to share and pass on to a friend.

Creating wheat bread content

Wheat bread content can be harder to create, depending on the topic. It may even be a little harder for your readers to digest it at first (ok, no more food references).

Ideally, wheat bread content will do one of the following things:

  1. Creates a repeatable process that solves a tough problem.
  2. Takes a “deep dive” look at a complex topic.
  3. Addresses an important topic in your industry (with a fresh perspective).

Picture a great system that people could regularly use to solve a problem; every time someone uses your solution, they will think of you.

As an example, Derek Halpern wrote an article in the past that told bloggers to ask a question similar to What Are You Struggling With? whenever someone signed up for their newsletter (the question would go out as an auto-responder).

This is great advice because it gets subscribers to respond with an issue within your topic that is bugging them most, giving you ideas and a great gauge on what sort of information they would pay to read.

As “wheat bread” content, Derek’s advice in that post did well, even if it didn’t get as many social shares as his other posts, because people actually listened to his advice, implemented his technique, and even talked about it, much like I’m doing right now.

That’s the real reason for creating wheat bread content—you forgo “listicles” in favor of mindshare. If someone implements your advice, they can’t help but form a connection with you.

The post you are currently reading could be considered wheat bread. If you listen to this advice and apply it to your content strategy, you’ll think of that guy who told you to think about “bread” while you were writing.

That’s worth a lot more than a few extra social shares.

Striking a balance

When finding a balance between the two, I don’t think there is really any formula (i.e., 1 “wheat bread” for every 3 “white breads”).

The trick is simply keeping these two styles in mind when you are writing something, making sure to focus on the intended outcome of one or the other.

That will help you create pieces of content with clear objectives, and will allow you to better gauge results; just because a post didn’t get your usual amount of tweets doesn’t mean it failed.

About the author: Gregory Ciotti is a marketer and (embarrassingly infrequent) writer. Previously, he led content marketing on Shopify’s growth team and was executive editor on the communications team.