Demystifying Epic Content: How to Actually Create It (Not Just Jabber About How Important It Is)

Demystifying Epic Content: How to Actually Create It (Not Just Jabber About How Important It Is)

You’ve heard it many times before.

The key to getting tons of attention, a boatload of subscribers, and a massive audience of raving fans is to write epic content.

Create content that rocks your readers’ worlds and you’ll live happily ever after.

It’s almost a blogging mantra, but you might just strangle the next person who says it.

Because while everybody tells you how great your content must be, almost nobody tells you how to do it.

Which makes the advice next to useless.

The “how” of epic content stays a secret known only to a few popular bloggers. And they’re keeping it to themselves.

That’s about to change…

Why Epic Content Is Like Pornography

In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court had to decide if the movie The Lovers was hard-core pornography.

In his commentary on the ruling, Justice Potter Stewart famously said:

I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.

Likewise, you may not be able to describe epic content, but you’ll know it when you see it.

For some, it’s long. For some, it’s short. And for others, it induces tears, or compels them to move mountains.

But at its core, what makes content epic is the impact it has on the reader.

Demian Farnworth, Chief Copywriter at Copyblogger, describes the impact this way:

The content takes you over… The advice inflames you to try more and try harder. The story puts you in a spell.

BBT’s own Glen Long says of epic posts:

They change the reader… It might not be a big change. Or even a permanent change. (Although truly great posts achieve both types.) But the simple act of reading the post changes the reader in some meaningful way.

So, you can set your sights on epicness, but only your readers can tell you if you succeeded.

The Rich Rewards That Await Creators of Epic Content

When you crank out crackerjack content, you can expect handsome rewards.

Epic Content Gets Attention

Almost 10,000 Facebook likes. More than 3,000 tweets. Oodles upon oodles of comments.

Those are some of the results this blog post achieved.

When you put great content in front of the right audience, people take notice.

Attention leads to shares, comments and backlinks – the building blocks of a popular blog.

Epic Content Breeds Loyalty

When you create epic content, people become bonded to you. And they often feel compelled to tell you.

Then instead of the sound of crickets (or its close cousin “nice post”) when you hit publish, you’ll get responses like these:

blog-comment-example-1
blog-comment-example-2

Responses like those are clues you’re attracting true fans.

And according to Kevin Kelly, you only need about a thousand to make a living from your blog. He describes them this way:

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing… They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.

Epic Content Builds Authority

Jon Morrow has no shortage of epic posts under his belt. These have helped to establish him as an authority on how to build a popular blog.

That’s why tens of thousands of new and experienced bloggers turn to Jon and his blog week after week for guidance.

Authority gives you credibility and influence. It means people trust what you say and will follow your lead.

When you’ve earned authority with your content, people want to interview you, include you in their round-up posts, and even ask you to speak at their events.

Because when you have authority, opportunity knocks on your door instead of you having to chase after it.

The Common Characteristics of Epic Content

Even though the concept of “epic” can be slippery to define, content that scores big with readers tends to exhibit certain characteristics.

So if you want a shot at epicness, you’d be wise to understand the qualities that set such content apart from the rest.

1) It’s Crazy, Stupid Useful

Ever printed a post so you could refer to it again and again? Most online content is disposable, so anything that demands repeat reading stands out.

Likewise for content that leads readers to achieve a specific desirable result that had been eluding them. Or shows them how to accelerate their progress toward a goal.

Epic content often feels invaluable. Readers should wonder what on earth they would have done if they hadn’t found it. In weeks and months time, they should look back on reading it and identify it as a turning point.

Crucially, epically useful content is extremely action-oriented. It translates knowledge into steps readers can use to improve immediately. It makes the required action so clear that ignoring it is the tougher option. Readers would have to be crazy not to implement the advice, like the tips in this post.

2) It’s Mindblowingly Detailed

The devil, they say, is in the detail, and epic content is often rich with authentic detail.

Details provide context. They paint a vivid picture. They draw you in and get you invested in the writer’s point of view.

Details add weight to your arguments and make your content feel authoritative, even definitive.

Ultimate guides covering every aspect of a topic, tutorials packed with in-depth examples, and monster list-posts all use heightened levels of detail to push content further along the epic scale.

When readers are hungry to solve a problem, they want content that’s so detailed, it gives them a seven-course meal. Instead of the usual light appetizer.

This post is loaded with detail. And readers loaded it with love.

3) It’s a “Purple Cow”

Bloggers now have so much competition in the fight for readers’ attention that even highly useful, detail-rich content may not be enough to break through.

That’s why epic content is often strikingly different. The posts that get noticed are those that stand out like a pair of red patent-leather pumps in a room full of black loafers.

In his best-selling book, Purple Cow, Seth Godin explains why:

Something remarkable is worth talking about. Worth noticing. Exceptional. New. Interesting. It’s a Purple Cow. Boring stuff is invisible. It’s a brown cow.

Remarkable content solves your audiences’ problems in a unique way. It takes fresh points of view. It presents common ideas in an uncommon way.  It breaks the pattern readers have come to expect.

Like this pep talk from a Robert Frost quoting kid.

4) It’s Dripping with Emotion

Can you remember the last post that made you cry? Or made you mad? Or literally laugh out loud?

Moving readers beyond indifference to make them feel something is tough. But content that taps into readers’ emotions creates a connection and inspires them to take action.

Emotion consumes readers, making them forget their present circumstances. It can allow the writer to step into the reader’s world, or invite the reader to step into theirs.

Of all the characteristics of epic content, emotion is the one that makes your content post unforgettable. Like this masterpiece.

5) It’s Visually Stunning

Visual content has an unfair advantage over text. According to Marcel Just, Director of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University, our minds are hardwired to be drawn to images.

Processing print isn’t something the human brain was built for. The printed word is a human artifact. It’s very convenient and it’s worked very well for us for 5,000 years, but it’s an invention of human beings. By contrast Mother Nature has built into our brain our ability to see the visual world and interpret it.

Visually beautiful content speaks to us in a universal language. Videos, photos, diagrams, infographics – they all communicate in a way words alone can’t.

And they are better at getting and holding our attention too. A Skyward study showed total views for articles with relevant images increased by 94% vs. those without.

Attractive visuals are not just better at engaging; they’re better at explaining too, making it easier for readers to grasp tricky subjects.

How to Engineer Content Your Readers Will Crown “Epic”

The problem with “epic” is that it’s daunting. When an epic journey lies ahead, that first step can seem almost impossible to take. The odds of success are too slim, and to start is to fail.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. When you have a clear route to your destination, the journey loses its mystery, and that first step becomes far less formidable.

Use one or more of the following tactics the next time you sit down to create. They’ll smooth the journey from empty page to epic post.

1) Research The Crap Out of Your Topic

Many bloggers feel they don’t have enough knowledge or experience to create epic content, but thorough research is the cure for that anxious condition.

Epic content writers are willing to research their topic to saturation point. They research the core of the topic and explore the periphery too. In fact, the less traveled avenues of enquiry are often where the real treasure lies.

And remember, anybody can conduct research, from a newbie blogger to a seasoned vet. You just have to be willing to do the work. Most people aren’t willing, so that’s your chance to seize an advantage.

Why research leads to epic content

Research is what provides the fuel for your detail-rich content. When you can draw upon a wealth of little-known facts, fascinating details, and relevant quotes, your blank page is suddenly less intimidating.

Readers love it because it makes their lives easier – you’ve already done all the legwork to find answers for their problem. When all the data is presented in one handy-dandy resource, they don’t have to piece the information together for it to make sense.

Well-researched content is also deeply reassuring. Yours won’t be the only content on the topic, and readers want to make sure they’re spending time on the most definitive resource.

How to be a lean-mean-researching machine

Become obsessive

Get fanatical about your topic. Consume everything you can get your hands on: books, blog posts, interviews, and presentations. Make it your mission to find the materials others have missed. And don’t be afraid to venture offline.

Make a master list of all the points that posts on the same topic have included. Then write down questions that haven’t been properly addressed, and go in search of answers.

Best-selling author Ryan Holiday talks of how he gains expertise on a subject:

In every book I read, I try to find my next one in its footnotes or bibliography. This is how you build a knowledge base in a subject – it’s how you trace a subject back to its core.

But be careful not to get stuck in a never-ending cycle of research. Start with an objective in mind of what you want to cover. Then use that objective to focus the scope of your research.

For instance, your goal might be to create a post that is at least twice as comprehensive as the best post already published on your topic.

So if someone has written “37 Best Places to Dance Tango in Buenos Aires,” you could raise the bar with “Tango Nights: The Ultimate Guide to 97 Buenos Aires Hot Spots.”

In other words, let the gap between what others have published and what your epic content must cover guide your research.

Don’t trust the Internet

Sadly, just because you read a statistic online doesn’t mean it’s true (gasp!). And one spurious “fact” could undermine the credibility of the entire piece.

Whenever possible, chase down the original sources of the information you want to use. The original source provides more context for the facts others have quoted, as well as a treasure trove of other juicy details you can file away for later use.

Create a system

Don’t make the mistake of trying to store everything in your head – that’s a recipe to forget more than you remember. Instead, create a system to organize what you discover from your research.

You could create notes in Evernote, or organize your learnings in a “commonplace book.”

All that matters is that you’re cataloguing those sexy tidbits so you can access them with ease when it’s time to craft your epic post.

Make the data the star

Showcase what you’ve uncovered in a way that brings the data to life – this is your opportunity to be visually stunning. Present dry information visually, or feature illustrative stories to provide vivid examples of the points you’re making.

Add credibility to the data by citing your sources. Strategically quoting or referencing the work of experts will add authority to your content.

Examples

2) Become a Play-by-Play Reporter

When people read “how to” content, one question at the forefront of their minds is “Will this really work?” That’s why evidence taken from the real world is so persuasive.

Drawing lessons from your own experiences or those of your clients or other contacts can result in a compelling case study, or a tutorial backed by real data.

SEO expert Brian Dean recommends this as the smartest approach for building a blog:

ONLY publish case studies… The fact is, unless you’re a huge name like Gary Vaynerchuk, no one cares what you think. But they DO care how you can help them. One of the best ways to show people that you can help them is to publish case studies.

If you’ve had success reaching a goal others crave, or have data from working with other people, this approach is an excellent route to epic content.

Why real-world data leads to epic content

Case studies and tutorials bridge the gap between the theory and practice of achieving a desirable goal. They act as a credible roadmap, with each step illustrated with real examples.

Readers love it because it offers a tried and tested approach instead of trial and error.

Conversion copywriting expert Joanna Weibe notes, “I’ve always thought it better to learn from someone else’s battle scars than to earn your own.

Content grounded in the real world also gives readers confidence that if they apply the same lessons, they’ll get the same results.

How to load your arsenal with relevant real-world data

Become a guinea pig

Set yourself a goal that others also want to achieve, and then track your progress in detail. Before starting, think carefully about the metrics you’ll track.

For instance, if your goal is to get 1,000 new subscribers from guest blogging, you would want to track the number of subscribers gained from each post and the time it took to write each one. This would allow you to refine your strategy and put in effort where it counts most.

Set a big goal, and be sure to catalog the failures and dead ends, as well as the successes. Even a failed experiment can make an interesting case study, like this one.

Document, document, document

When creating an in-depth tutorial based on your own experiences, thoroughly document every step. And beware the curse of knowledge – the person following your instructions will probably know less than you.

If you find it challenging to recall individual steps that have become automatic, consider taping yourself going through the process so you can review it in detail. Or enlist the help of a friend to watch you go through it and keep track of each step along the way.

When creating your tutorial, reinforce why your reader should take each step. This will keep your process in the context of the end result. It will also help readers resist the urge to skip steps when they apply the process for real.

And before you publish, ask some of your audience to step through the process and tell you where they struggled to follow the steps.

Reveal your clients’ secrets

Share results they got from working with you, either individually (with permission), or in aggregate.

Identify the specific problem your clients had, what you had them do to improve, and then highlight the results.

Not everyone will be happy to have their results laid bare for all to see, so create an incentive for clients to share the inner workings of their businesses.

For instance, to get the data for their conversion copywriting case studies, the Copyhackers team will often write copy, run tests, and report the results to clients within the case study, for free. Access to data is the payment for the team’s services.

It’s a win-win situation. The clients benefit from free consulting, and added exposure once the results are reported. And the Copyhackers team benefits from getting relevant real world data to use for their content.

Drown the reader in examples

Enhance your content with concrete examples taken from the real world, not pulled from thin air.

Use photos, scripts, and screen shots where possible to remove any uncertainty or ambiguity.

In your case studies, try using graphics to show the before and after states. They help readers understand the steps that were taken and make the content more visually appealing, one of our markers for epicness.

Examples

3) Break the Rules

To create truly remarkable content, bloggers must present their readers with ideas and solutions markedly different from those they will have encountered before.

Unique experiences and worldviews can connect existing ideas in new, fresh, and interesting ways for your audience.

This method is ideal for more free-spirited bloggers – those who already see and experience the world a little (well, maybe a lot) differently than others.

But more conventional types can use their knowledge of what’s expected to deliberately challenge existing assumptions and boundaries to break new ground.

Why unconventional views lead to epic content

It gives you a different lens through which to see familiar problems. That alternative frame of reference may reveal new approaches that yield stellar results.

Readers are drawn to rebels and rule-breakers because they shake things up. They disrupt the status quo and question accepted ways of thinking.

The prospect of being among the first to adopt a new approach is exciting. Incremental progress can result from existing ideas, but major leaps require completely different ways of thinking.

How to see the world with new eyes

Become a critic

Look for flaws in an accepted system or philosophy. Then make it your mission to find a better way.

For instance, if your peers are investing significant amounts of time building a Facebook following, ask yourself, “What would happen if Facebook suddenly disappeared?

Considering the realities of a worst-case scenario in advance will propel you to explore alternate options before others are forced to.

Be contrary

Following the path everyone else takes will lead you to the Sea of Sameness, along with a bunch of boring brown cows. Even if an existing approach works well, imagine it wasn’t an option, and dream up alternatives.

Eighteen-time best selling author Seth Godin discussed why it’s important to shake things up:

Conventionalism wants to do what it did yesterday ’cause it feels safer. And so there are endless rules of thumb about price points, and formats, and what a thing is supposed to look like and deliver. And if you want to change conversations, you have to break those expectations.

Being unconventional doesn’t mean starting from scratch. It just means you aren’t afraid to explore alternate trails to see where they take you.

For example, if everyone in your niche is writing blog posts that are 1,000 words long, find out what happens if you write one ten times that length.

And don’t be afraid to grab attention for your content with deliberately provocative headlines, like this one.

If you already have success stories for your bold, new approach, be sure to include them. People love to learn about unconventional tactics, but many will be nervous about becoming early adopters of your ideas.

Be a Monday-morning quarterback

Reflect on experiences you’ve had, and consider how specific decisions affected where you are today.

Consider what might have happened if you’d made a different – or even opposite – decision at key points.

To get your wheels turning, write a letter to your younger self at the point where you were just starting out in your field.  Describe the choices you made and the results that followed. Give the younger you a wake up call and then think how to do the same for your readers so they can jump in with eyes wide open.

Examples

4) Become a Mind Reader

How wonderful does it feel to find someone who truly understands you? Epic content demonstrates a deeper knowledge of the reader than they thought possible.

This type of content speaks to readers’ deepest thoughts. It shows them how to overcome concerns they’ve yet to voice. It gives them the answers before they’ve fully articulated the question.

So anyone who strives to create epic content must resolve to be a mind reader. The more you’re able to tap into your audiences’ thoughts, the easier it will be to use emotion to sweep them into action.

Why empathy leads to epic content

Famed copywriter Robert Collier advised:

Always enter the conversation already occurring inside the customer’s mind.

It’s great advice for bloggers too. Content that begins by picking up the conversation already happening in the reader’s head has a magical quality that nudges that content toward epic status.

When you seem to know your readers’ fears, struggles, dreams, what keeps them up at night, and what excites them, you can connect on a deeper level that makes your content truly memorable.

How to get to know your readers better than they know themselves

Open your eyes and ears

Watch what your readers say and do. Notice what they share, comment on, and the specific words they use.

Also gather insights from email conversations, comments on your blog, or interactions on social media. Become a dedicated gatherer of clues about the way your readers think.

Hang out in the comments section of blogs your readers frequent. Private forums, LinkedIn groups, or even Amazon reviews can be gold mines too.

For instance, if you were in the dating niche, you might check out what readers are saying about books on the subject. Here’s an Amazon review for the book It’s Complicated (But It Doesn’t Have to Be) by Paul Carrick Brunson:

amazon-review

The short review alone yields interesting insights about how a reader in this niche thinks: dating is like “maneuvering through turbulent water,” and advice about dating is a “life raft.”

Identify the emotional drivers

Use your reader research to identify your audience’s dreams, desires, fears, and frustrations.

In the Amazon review above, we can easily identify the following:

  • the desire to find love
  • the frustration of navigating the dating process

We might further infer:

  • the goal to no longer be single
  • the fear of taking dating advice from the wrong person

Dedicated mind readers will collect dozens or even hundreds of these emotional drivers for their audiences.

As Leanne Regalla noted in a recent BBT post, “The better you understand your audience, the more enthusiastically they’ll respond to everything you do.”

Have a two-way conversation

Quietly observing your audience will certainly help you engage them emotionally, but genuine interaction provides an extra layer of emotional intelligence.

So don’t just lurk; ask questions, and get to know some of your readers personally.

If you have an email list, ask your subscribers a simple question like “What’s causing you the most frustration right now?” Ask multiple questions by fielding a survey. You could even grab a coffee with a few of your ideal readers at a local meetup.

As you’re conversing, you will discover stories and examples you can use to inspire your writing. The best of those could even make powerful case studies.

Let insights write your content

Use your new-found insights to drive your writing process.

Hook your readers with a headline based upon a dream, desire, fear, or frustration.

Build empathy in your introduction by expanding upon the headlines or by exploring a related emotional driver.

As you write the body, use the insights to keep your writing honest. Make sure the content is being led by the reader’s needs, not yours.

To increase the impact, include the actual phrases and terminology your audience uses. The more familiar the language, the easier it will be for your readers to connect with your content.

Here’s an example of an empathy-laced headline and introduction based on the Amazon book review above:

dating-example-introduction
Examples

5) Get Naked in Public

People can spot authenticity a mile off. Too many bloggers try to be someone else – usually some version of their blogging heroes – so when someone unapologetically expresses themselves through their work, it cuts through the noise.

People with their sights set on epic don’t try to fit in with cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approaches. They are fearless and create content with the only set of rules they find worthy of following: their own.

In his best-seller, The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth, Chris Brogan talks about why more people should embrace their weirdness:

Weirdos and misfits are now the world dominators. It used to be that all the crazy fringe interests of the world were absolutely underground. Now the underground has become the core of a thriving and somewhat hard-to-track new economy.

This approach is ideal for badass bloggers and those with big personalities. Anyone with an insatiable desire to leave their mark, their way.

Why fearless authenticity helps you create epic content

It’s a cliché, but a useful one: you’re the best in the world at being you.

Only by accentuating those qualities that are yours alone can you consistently stand apart from the crowd.

Authenticity also gives you the freedom to take risks because authenticity doesn’t demand success, just that you remain true to yourself.

And as you experiment with new ways to speak to your audience and explore more uncharted territory, the easier it will be to create the differentiated “purple cow” content readers seek.

How to be fearlessly authentic with your content

Get to know yourself

Get clear on your strengths, weaknesses, capabilities, and limitations. This way, as you’re blazing your trail, you can put your greatest assets on full display.

If you struggle to nail down what your strengths and capabilities are, ask your inner circle. Get them to share what they feel you’re best at and why they are drawn to you.

Once you identify those traits that attract others to you, lead with that in your work. If one of your strengths is your big, magnetic personality, video content may be your best route to epic.

Be on a mission

Have a long-term goal you are passionate about seeing accomplished. Something you pursue relentlessly.

When you have meaning and purpose behind your actions, boundaries, setbacks, or obstacles fade away.

When people see your content is part of a broader mission, it takes on a more epic scale.

These teachers create rap videos to teach math concepts like factoring and solving equations. Their commitment to helping students learn math shines through.

Lose yourself

Stop analyzing and agonizing over every step you take. The fear of looking dumb is the enemy of true authenticity.

Instead, get so fully immersed in a task that you forget about the outside world. Some call it working in flow. Others call it getting in the zone.

And if you find that you need an added dose of confidence to lose yourself in public, work out what it’ll take to make you feel less self-conscious.

Maybe it’s a thumbs up from your coach or your peer group. Or it could be taking a class to brush up on your skills.

You might even try getting started on a smaller scale and then working your way up to larger audiences as you get more comfortable.

Remember being told to dance like nobody’s watching? As a blogger, why not try writing like nobody’s reading? You might be surprised how epic things get.

Shake off the haters

When you’re doing something that’s radically different from the norm, you’ll have people who won’t like it. Ignore them. You’re not creating for them.

You’re creating for your audience. The people you’ve gotten to know intimately. The people who get, appreciate, and will be most affected by what you create.

Examples

It’s Time to Go Epic, or Go Home

Jon Morrow once told the story of getting an email from someone who decided against committing suicide after reading one of Jon’s posts.

His words saved someone’s life.

And your words have power too. Don’t take what you’re doing lightly. The work you do matters.

You don’t have to save a life to make a difference. You could save someone from a career they hate. Or from their inner critic. You could even save them from a boring afternoon.

But only if your words get read. That’s why too few eyeballs on your work is no bueno.

The only reliable way to get seen is to create something truly epic.

And now you know how. You just need commitment, followed by action.

It’s time to take a stand against mediocrity.

Because your audience deserves your best.

About the Author: Sonia Thompson is a marketer and business strategist that’s currently obsessed with dancing tango.  She’s on a mission to help entrepreneurs make their business dreams come true.  As a companion to this post, download the handy-dandy Epic Content Checklist, so you can rock your readers’ world with your content.