Content Rules

“The inherent tension in marketing is that companies always want to talk about themselves and what their products or services can do. Everyone else, meanwhile, wants to know only what those products or services can do for them.”

– Content Rules, page xxiii

Over the last few years, every business with a website has been hearing that they need to improve their online presence. The experts tell us that consumers want interactive and value-added experiences online. More and more businesses have been turning to content marketing as a strategy to engage their current and potential clients online. Content Rules by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman is a practical guide to all things content marketing for the business that never guessed they would be a content creator.

Handley and Chapman provide readers with a comprehensive overview of what content is, why it’s the cornerstone of your marketing strategy, the basic rules of great content and tactical how-tos for creating different kinds of content. This book is perfect for small businesses or sole-proprietors who are interested in content marketing but don’t know where to start and are unable to hire someone to do it for them. Content Rules closes with a section of case studies that look at how different businesses are using content marketing and the lessons to learn from their efforts.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Everyone is a Media Outlet/Publisher

"…creating and delivering relevant, valuable information to people will drive new business to you. Figuring out what your prospective customers are interested in, creating stuff that meets those needs and delivering it to them is what you need to do."
- Content Rules, page xviii

Not so long ago, if a business wanted to tell people about their services they would put together glossy brochures and send people flyers in the mail. Producing materials like this was a marketing and advertising standard. But times of have changed and communication with potential clients has become much more robust. In fact, the internet makes the barriers to entry to being a media outlet or publisher virtually non-existent. With that, however, has come the unspoken expectation that business offer value-added content to their audience.

Although this is extra work for the business, the benefits of being a content producer are many. In producing content businesses can become the go-to experts in their field while developing know, like and trust with their audience. These days business is about more than just the monetary transaction and Handley and Chapman urge businesses to embrace the change.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

You Always Have Something To Say About Something

"Every piece of content you create doesn’t have to be perfectly crafted, nicely argued or well said."
- Content Rules, page 80

For people who are new to content marketing and content creation, one of the most overwhelming prospects can be just figuring out what to say in all that content. The fear is that you won’t be able to be a wellspring of ideas for ever. What happens when the well runs dry? Does business come to a screeching halt? These are the kinds of thoughts that can start to crop up if you’re not careful!

Handley and Chapman suggest a twofold approach to figuring out what to say. Start by creating a core message. This will be the engine for all of your content. It’s that one thing that you want to continuously convey to your audience. It might be similar to your traditional marketing message, or it might be something else entirely. Decide what it will be, write it on a post-it note and keep it handy whenever you are working on content creation. Once you have determined that message, Handley and Chapman suggest many approaches to creating relevant content. This includes: talking with your customers, interviewing luminaries, monitoring search keywords, create how-to content and invite guest posts.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Listen and Learn

"In addition to creating content, you are also building a community of fans and customers around you. It’s crucial to take care of your community by listening and responding to them when appropriate."
- Content Rules, page 115

One of the great things about social media is that is allows businesses to directly interact with their community of fans and customers. But that also means that you have to be listening and interacting – not just being a PR message broadcasting machine. Handley and Chapman emphasize the importance of great online listening many times in Content Rules because in addition to interacting with your online audience, you can also learn a lot from the conversations and in turn can create better content. They suggest setting up a “listening dashboard” to track conversations and coordinate your efforts.

Your listening dashboard should be comprised of:

  • An RSS reader to keep up with relevant blogs
  • Google Alerts so that you can track when and where conversations about your business are happening
  • to get a quick snapshot of conversations on Twitter


Content Rules is a great handbook for any business to add to their library. Whether you’re new to the world of content creation or looking to hone your strategy, you’ll be sure to find a few new ideas in this book.

Does your business have a content marketing strategy? Do you think it’s been a valuable asset for your business?

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Vanessa Chase

ABOUT Vanessa Chase

I am a fundraising strategist and copywriter, and run the non-profit resource website, Philanthropy For All. Through my work, my goal is to help passionate non-profit folks better articulate their non-profit’s impact and work is a way that translates to engaged philanthropic communities...
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