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In our modern, hyper-connected, round-the-clock digital culture, it’s nearly impossible to avoid egocentric content that’s mainly out there to serve number one—the person who wrote it.

From Facebook updates and email blasts to flyers from school and Sunday edition inserts, an incessant blitz of self-serving information bombards us.

To stay sane amidst neediness overload, audiences try to tune out the news bits, ads and offers that push an agenda without addressing the actual needs and concerns of consumers—but it’s tough. Much like trying to avoid the blowhard at your neighbor’s party who just wants to talk about his paving business all night, avoiding content that’s irrelevant, pushy or flat-out pointless can feel like a full-time job.

If you’re not sure where your content stands on the vanity or value spectrum, here are three gut-check questions to ask.

1. Who matters?

If most of your sentences begin with “I” or “Our,” then you’re basically saying, “Let me tell you more about me … me, me.” You’re not the important one here. Content developed to promote yourself, push an idea or sell a product is an indulgence that offers no real value to audiences.

To ensure that you know who you’re talking to, analyze your audience before putting pen to paper or stepping up to the podium. Use the following AUDIENCE acronym or find your own method. Just be sure to tune in.

Analysis: Who is the audience?

Understanding: What does the audience already know about the topic?

Demographics: What’s the typical age, gender, education level of people in the audience group?

Interest: Why are these individuals reading, watching or otherwise engaging with your content?

Environment: Where are people finding, absorbing the content?

Needs: What audience needs can be met by the content?

Customization: What specific angles can you address to boost the value to specific audiences?

Expectations: What does the audience expect to find or learn in the content?

Staying focused on the individuals you’re hoping to reach with your content means using “your” more than “my” and falling back on examples and anecdotes that reflect the experiences your audience is likely to face — instead of long-winded glory stories intended to boost your self-appeal.

2. What are you talking about?

Interesting conversation means something different to various types of people. But this is true across the board: Not too many people are going to be wildly interested in content that’s developed to make you famous or sell stuff. And if it doesn’t matter to your audience, then it really just doesn’t matter.

When a speaker or writer is too thoughtless or clueless to accommodate the tastes, desires, opinions and cultural biases of the audience they’re addressing, it shows. So take the time to understand what aspect of your topic most interests or confounds your audience and what they’re expecting to learn — and then deliver.

3. Where’s the action?

Does the content offer practical, real-world solutions or a new way to manage a difficulty? If not, then the potential value to an audience is limited. People tend to be hard pressed for time and therefore have difficulty sticking with an article, video or other content that drones on and on about problems without offering any practical advice about how to manage, address or solve them.

Sounds easy enough, but businesses tend to become so familiar and so in love with their own offerings that they make the mistake of assuming the outside world cares about the product, too, and understands ins and outs of industry news and jargon. In most cases, they don’t. It’s up to you to spell it out and help people become educated consumers.

Find out what they know and what they want to know, and provide solutions and novel approaches to help your target consumers address prevalent problems. What action or next step do you want them to take? How can they begin making headway against the problem?

Content marketing has been around for a very long time, but few companies are doing it well — mainly because it’s hard for individuals and businesses to see beyond their own needs and develop truly altruistic materials. To stand out and make a positive impression in a loud and egocentric marketplace, go old school and practice basic social etiquette. That is, take the time to know your audience and focus on their interests. Provide relevant information and tools that forge valuable working relationships with your most profitable consumers.

Image credit: Dan Ox

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