Being a content marketer isn’t easy. And it won’t get any easier in the years to come.
But doing the hard work brings great rewards – having a genuine impact on the lives of your brand, your team, your audiences, and even yourself.
Here’s the good news: Achieving these great rewards doesn’t require big dreams and over-the-top projects. The rewards don’t come from being grandiose or controversial for the sake of controversy. They come from being more interesting, more helpful, and more truthful.
That theme bubbled up during Content Marketing World last week as I listened to the presenters and chatted with the #CMWorld community on our digital and social platforms.
If you’re concerned that being more requires doing more, you’ll be glad to hear that it doesn’t.
Being more starts with a shift in mindset.
And that shift starts now.
Be more provocative
Andrew Davis says the world doesn’t need another expert. It does need visionaries. “The key to making the leap from expert to visionary is to do one simple thing: Ask a question that Google cannot answer,” he says.
Well, I’m not sure that’s “simple,” but it’s a smart approach. “Experts build lists. Visionaries build legacies,” Andrew says.
So how do you build a legacy? “You must be willing to kill what doesn’t work in favor of things that resonate and stick with your audience,” Andrew says. “You must be able to work and rework your idea until it sticks.”
And if you’re not in a position to be the visionary at your organization, you’re not off the hook. Your job is to be the provocateur. In that role, Andrew says, “Your job is to purposely stir up the pot to provoke a discussion. Your job is to get people talking and thinking.”
Be more truthful
Luvvie Ajayi Jones says we have another job – being truth tellers. Luvvie sees the truth as a muscle – a muscle, she says, we need to exercise to be successful in a world crying for authenticity.
Whether you’re in a room with a supervisor, clients, or your community, consider the impact of using that muscle: “The truth can change the world. The truth told over time – multiple times in different rooms to different people – can change the world.”
And don’t look to someone else to carry the truth-telling burden, Luvvie says. “We’re constantly looking for superman when we also have these capes.”
Before you put on your cape, follow Luvvie’s three-question test to making tough decisions about what to say:Do I mean it? Can I defend it? Can I say it thoughtfully or with love?
“If the answer is yes to all three questions, then I say it and I let the chips fall,” Luvvie says.
Telling the truth takes courage. And courage just happens to be a key ingredient in the most successful content, according to Jay Baer.
It takes courage to do something differently, to eschew best practices, to rip up your content marketing playbook.
Courageous content is more important than ever, Jay says, for one very important reason. “The audience is the new algorithm. (Ask) ‘How can I make content that my audience will talk about?’”
Jay’s insight pairs well with Robert Rose’s advice for content marketers: “(W)e need to reach … the ‘zone of action,’ which is getting (audiences) to be advocates early. In other words, creating audiences that are fans.”
Without courageous content, you’ll have a hard time creating that fandom.
Be more memorable
Sure, content that’s different gets attention. But that’s only part of the goal. How can you keep that attention once you’ve earned it?
Tamsen Webster has a one-word answer: relevance.
It’s so important that she made it the first question in her content pressure test:Is it relevant? Is it resilient? Is it remarkable? Is it repeatable?
If your ideas pass the pressure test, Tamsen says you’ll have a better chance of getting your audience to remember the important parts: “People don’t remember content, they remember ideas.”
You may think challenging the status quo requires doing something big, but that’s not true (or realistic). Adapt within the parameters of the challenges you face – internal resistance, reduced budgets, and pressure for immediate ROI, Alex Cheeseman says.
Surprisingly, you can achieve more when you go slower. As he explains: “(You) don’t need to publish every day. If you do, you are going to drop something and lose a certain amount of magic.”
And that’s why, he says, “It’s time for us to slow down, take more care, put the artistry back in what we do, and start to create things we feel are going to be valuable, useful, and differentiated for our customers.”
Be more creative
Melanie Deziel says constraints – like coping with fewer resources – help you tap into the one renewable resource at your disposal – creativity.
“Stop thinking you aren’t creative. The data shows that we are all born with an innate creative instinct but that we’ve been conditioned to ignore, suppress, or discount it,” she says.
And yes, you can be creative and still meet deadlines. In fact, Melanie says, creativity only works well when you have a system to access it consistently and reliably.
For example, create parameters around your content brainstorm sessions to limit the conversation and let the group focus on what really matters. Her favorite constraints? Focus on just two of the classic journalism questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how.
Go into the session knowing who and why, then use the brainstorm session to focus on what and how.
Be more purposeful
Your company cares about something – what is it?
“You don’t have to save the world to have purpose or to make change. There is a lot of need for good,” says Folayo Lasaki. “Audiences care whether you care.”
If your company doesn’t care about anything, look deeper, Folayo says. “You do need to care about something more than the bottom line because the bottom line suffers if you don’t care anything beyond it,” Folayo says.
Research from Microsoft Advertising reflects what Folayo and others are saying. In its recently released Marketing with Purpose Playbook, 72% say they will support a brand that has authentic advertising.
“Purpose-driven buyers will choose, switch, avoid, boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues,” says MJ DePalma, head of multicultural and inclusive marketing at Microsoft Advertising.
MJ’s colleague, Christi Olson, head of global media, Microsoft Advertising, says: “This isn’t just a moment in time. This is a shift that we think marketers should be taking.”
Be more inclusive
Show up for the people you say you want to serve.
That requires really putting your customer first. If you don’t, the results could be disastrous, unintentionally biased content. And that, Sydni Craig-Hart explains, can cause divisions, reinforce negative stereotypes, and builds walls and barriers.
“We as a content marketing community have a really amazing opportunity to be advocates for diversity every single day – to really show up for the people we claim we want to serve. This is not a color issue. This is not an age issue, a gender issue. It’s a people issue,” Sydni says.
“If you really want to embrace customer centricity, if you really want to invite diverse perspectives to the table, make sure you are creating those spaces.”
Be more like sourdough
Ann Handley shared the “code of sourdough” – a concept she created after watching all the attention around sourdough starters early in the pandemic.
No, sourdough didn’t have any magical powers against COVID. But the uncertainty of the world got communities talking about the hard-to-make comfort food, connecting online (and even through flyers posted to telephone poles) to share the “starters” and talk about bread.
“Uncertainty nourishes community,” Ann says.
How do you feed your community? “One great way to deepen those (existing) relationships is through content,” Ann says.
Be the story
And content that meets the need for human connection nourishes best of all, says A. Lee Judge.
There’s so much spin today, audiences need to be able to interpret the authenticity of the content they consume. That’s why Lee says you (and others in your organization) need to be the content that your audiences consume.
You have to be “not just willing to tell the story, but to be the story.”
Lee explains: “(Consumers) want to see you walk the walk. They want to see someone that can convey a message that is not an endorsement but a first-hand, unsolicited experience. This brings us closer to authenticity.”
That advice applies to thought leader programs too. “As a leader, you can say, ‘This is the way to go.’ But (your audience) wants to see you actually going there,” he says.
And don’t worry about telling a perfect story or telling your story perfectly. “Imperfection reveals authenticity,” Lee says.
W. Kamau Bell agrees on that point. That’s why he forgoes the standard interview format on his podcast.
“It’s better when it is a free-flowing conversation … The best podcasts are the ones where we surprise each other and also we get off track and have to be pulled back in…People show up for that.”
Be more uncomfortable
Most, if not all of these ideas require you to change what you’ve been doing. They require you to think differently, to do differently.
Yes, change is hard. But, you know what? You’re a content marketer. You have the superpower (and your cape) to turn hard work into great things for your brand, your team, your audience, and you.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute