Content marketing is just two words.
But it has evolved to become a complex intersection and eco-system of art and science.
For many of us it is a confusing mess of different opinions and disciplines fighting for our attention.
We need to distill the clutter and noise of shiny new ideas and distractions into the essential elements you need to foster and develop for content marketing mastery.
These are the mindsets, habits and skill-sets you will need to develop to succeed as a content marketer in an age of machines.
And you need to hug the geeks, build the robots and nurture the creatives.
Here are my 10 laws for content marketing mastery.
#1. Be paranoid
Andy Grove in his book “Only the Paranoid Survive” fosters the idea of healthy paranoia in a world that keeps changing.
The internet used to be just a universe of websites. Today the smartphones rule the world.
It is a web of apps and platforms.
We order an Uber with an app.
We get our food delivered using our smartphone
But the reality is that the digital world will keep changing.
So you can never relax and settle.
We can no longer rely on one platform.
Facebook doesn’t care about you.
Neither does LinkedIn.
The battle of the algorithms
Algorithm changes affect everything.
Search, Facebook news feeds, the Twitter stream and even email have been disturbed.
The Gmail tabs of primary, social and promotions changed the email marketing game.
Even LinkedIn is not immune.
Long form articles were given priority but now it is the 1,300 character posts that are given prominence.
The only path is one of vigilance and monitoring the channels and results and adapting your tactics.
You can’t beat them so you have to work with the platforms.
The battle of the algorithms is your ongoing challenge.
Being slightly paranoid is required.
#2. Build your authority
It was meeting of PR professionals. The big end of town and the boutiques.
How do you become an influencer? An authority? A thought leader?
Get an article in big media, that prominent newspaper and you have arrived.
But in a world of clutter and noise, you have just started.
Authority is earned.
One piece of content at a time.
A tribe of loyal followers on Twitter built day at a time.
One email subscriber after the other.
Despite the flaky SEO companies promising the page one ranking next week or next month there is a bigger game. Search engine authority is a work of technical website design backed up by persistent content creation.
Earned authority is spread across multiple channels, search engines, email lists and your tribes on social media.
Thought leadership and influence in any discipline is not a one hit wonder but a journey of earned authority.
#3. Measure what matters
Jean-Claude Van Damme was the star of a TV advertisement that currently has over 88 million views on YouTube. It was all about a new breed of Volvo Trucks.
That is a lot of traffic. It won a Cannes Award. Created a ton of brand awareness.
But if that is all it achieves then it is just noise.
Vanity metrics are about ego, not results. It makes the CEO feel good. The CMO feel warm and fuzzy.
But if brand awareness is where you start and stop then you have a problem.
3 key metrics that matter in a digital world?
Traffic, leads, and sales.
The combinatorial optimizing between these three is the secret to digital world success.
Is your content just getting traffic?
#4. Embrace continuous learning
He was bullied so much at school that he was once thrown down a flight of stairs, then beaten until he was unconscious and hospitalized.
But despite the outsider tag he had a passion.
Born in a small town in South Africa and to the son of a dietitian he had a love of reading.
His brother revealed that he read up to two books a day on a wide range of topics. That means he read 60 times the number books that most of us read in a month.
He completed 2 bachelor degrees and was selected to start a PhD at Stanford University. After two days he quit to start his entrepreneurial career.
By his mid 40’s he had started and built four multi-billion dollar companies. These are in four diverse fields of software, energy, transportation and aerospace.
His name? Elon Musk.
College is just the start
University degrees are a discipline and a framework for learning that can be a ticket to that dream job.
The tragedy? That is where most people stop.
They have been seen as the ticket to corporate or academic nirvana. But in a world that is always evolving and changing that is not an option as you need to keep learning and never stop. The other choice is to calcify and become irrelevant. But some of us do have a dinosaur gene or a success death wish.
You need to embrace a content marketing success habit that today is the difference between average and awesome.
It’s never been easier
Many people sign up for degree and then progress to an MBA or even another qualification. Some never leave college. And that is what the typical pathway to business and corporate success has always been. Often it costs big bucks and you need to pre-qualify.
But the game is changing.
Education is now online and everywhere. The formal path is no longer your only option. Today there are no excuses to not be always learning.
What’s continuous learning look like?
Books are the distillation of the lessons of decades of life by the smartest people on the planet. And it is all packed into just a few pages. Between the covers you will discover what has worked and the key elements to their inspiration and success. But they are not the only means for insights and lessons.
We all have different learning modalities and preferences. Some like listening, others prefer watching and many of us love reading. So we all need to select our learning weapon(s) of choice.
Here are a few.
YouTube and video
My son is dyslexic and reading is tough. But when he looks up a video on how to play a guitar or mix music then he can learn. Online video lessons and “how to’s” have been a godsend for those of us who maybe don’t like reading or find it hard.
No longer do you need to get permission to be able to start a course, or achieve a certain grade to qualify. You can sign up for free and paid courses whenever you like.
Theses are the learning media of choice for many commuters, gym junkies and travellers. Want to learn faster? Crank up the pace and play at 2 times normal speed and it’s double the learning in the same amount of time.
Online publishing brings you the latest news and information without waiting for editors and the print copy to be distributed to your bookshop or store. So…….subscribe, read, curate, create and share.
We are transforming from a web world that is transitioning from an Internet of websites to an internet of apps. Some of these include Flipboard and Anders Pink. Technology and education have intersected.
Sometimes we need an information drip fed to our devices to facilitate education. Maybe we need a little inspiration reminder. Subscriptions to educational blog posts and websites can help.
Hanging with the smartest people in your industry for a couple of days can accelerate learning and transformation. These can cost but can tip you from ideas into action.
Some of us are using all of these.
This is where the magic happens
Absorbing the insights, lessons and the learning is one thing but making sense and structure is another. You need to take the fogginess of information and complexity and give it structure and clarity.
This means absorbing the avalanche of information.
So…..writing it down and sharing it with the world is the next step. Powerful supercharged learning (and success) comes from creating and acting.
Elon Musk decided that a PhD was a luxury that was stopping him doing and implementing what he had learned.
A university degree is just a ticket for entry.
Then you start learning as you “do”.
Content marketing mastery needs you to keep learning.
#5. Use AI to be more human
The robots are taking our jobs.
They are…..but is that a good thing or a bad thing?
The fear that surrounds the rise of “AI” is like the rioting Luddites that went and smashed machines during the rise of the industrial age.
Machines are meant to be our servants and not our masters.
Extensions of who we are.
Artificial intelligence offers the same promise.
How can “AI” make our marketing more human?
Using AI in marketing can be applied to but not limited to the following:
- Improve customer satisfaction
- Increase engagement
- Build smart and personalised experiences
Artificial Intelligence can make your messages more human and personalised. Gain human insights that are lost in a million data points of noise and bits and bytes.
But there is a problem.
The noise and data challenge
It is estimated that in just the last five years we have created as much data as the entire history of mankind. The scale of the data, its management and complexity requires an enhancement to our human limitations.
We need to use the power of AI to gain insights and create modelling that enables us to make better decisions.
Additionally, customers are starting to expect it as part of service. Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon all have AI powered assistants that are evolving quickly. Consumers will increasingly use digital personal assistants to interact with consumer services in the connected home.
A case study
In one example, the US Bank (the 5th largest bank in the USA) used “AI” to perform lead scoring of 4.5 million leads, which were analysed in just two hours.
The insights from applying artificial intelligence also revealed that a mortgage owner is more likely to increase assets under management if they had a credit card. Human intelligence on its own would not have seen or even have discovered this link.
This insight provided a 230% lift in lead conversion with the financial advisers at US bank.
AI is here and it can make us more human.
This journey is just starting.
#6. Create content of consequence
The battle for attention is never-ending. And creating content sometimes seems a fruitless round of activities like a mouse on a wheel.
So we all want content that cuts through.
This is why viral content is often seen as the holy grail of advertisers. Creating Snapchat and Instagram fun images are easy to do. A quick live Facebook video is a content snack. A tweet to you followers keeps people tempted and builds brand awareness.
But there is a type of content that keeps giving is maybe seen as a bit boring.
And it matters.
Its content of consequence.
As time poor entrepreneurs, knowledge experts, marketers and executives taking the time to create content of consequence is not something that should be ignored.
Work and content that makes a difference
In his book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”, Cal Newport dives into the difference between deep work and shallow work. Any of us that are trapped in the never-ending cycles of responding to emails and attending meetings know the feeling.
At the end of the day you are asking “that” question.
“What have I done or created today that is of any consequence.”
But there is a solution to that nagging question. It doesn’t matter if you are a knowledge worker within the corporate machine, an entrepreneur or a creative.
According to Cal Newport there are several options to doing “Deep Work”. It is not one size fits all. It depends on how you like working and living and also depends on your particular life circumstance.
Monastic Approach: Cutting yourself off from the world to focus and remove distraction.
Bi-Modal Approach: This is where you may work and perform the day-to-day work in one location and do your deep work at another. You then dive in and out of each space.
Journalist Approach: This is an approach where you seize the opportunity to perform “Deep Work” at random as time and your schedule allows.
Rhythmic Approach: This where you set1 apart a certain time of day to create and block it out every day and commit to that ritual.
These are not the only ways to create “Deep Work” but they provide some ideas for a habit that could change your life.
In 2009 I started my online publishing portal and my approach was more like a journalist. I often created late at night but also on weekends. But as the journey continued the ritual changed to a rhythmic habit.
I rose early at 4.30am for 5 days a week and turned off all email, social networks and other distractions. The ritual included making a coffee, a mug of lemon and ginger tea and sitting down and strapping myself in.
I researched, wrote and published. The last step was pushing that content out to the waiting world.
When you do that one day at a time for 4 years then things start to happen. A passion project became a serious business. Done part time before most people were awake.
That habit was an investment in me. But when I started I didn’t understand its far reaching consequences.
The power of validation
In 1998 a journalist David Isay decided to capture the stories of ordinary people. He visited the flop houses of New York and sat down with men that had been living and surviving for decades in run down buildings.
After publishing their interviews he went back and showed them their one page stories in print. One man on seeing his name in black and white, seized the book out of David’s hand and ran down the corridor and shouted “I exist…..I exist……I exist!”
These men had to wait for someone else to discover them……to share their story with the world. The visibility had also provided a validation. It is something we as humans crave.
To be acknowledged is a powerful thing.
Choose to be discovered
But on today’s social and mobile web we don’t have to wait for discovery or for permission.
We can create, publish and showcase our own existence without waiting for permission or to be “discovered”
We can choose to start something of consequence. We can choose to create. When you start sharing that with the planet, the magic of that distillation of your thoughts and genius is a place to grow and to be validated.
The social web with its platforms and networks is a feedback loop that will give you the feedback you need to evolve and grow.
I pose a new mantra. “I create, I publish, I exist”
Block out your time for “your” creation
So plan your day for making sure you have focused creative space. Block out time for “deep work”. Don’t make success an accident. Design your life, share your expertise, experience and passion.
We all have the opportunity to be craftsmen. To be creators and producers of content and media that belongs to you and not the corporation.
The habit of doing the “deep work” is not just about productivity. It goes much deeper than that.
It is a place where your learning goes to a new level one day at a time. Blocking out some hours for you. For your work. But……don’t keep your creation hidden from the world. Share it. That is where the magic happens.
It will fill the hole that gnaws at you every day if that opportunity to create in concentration is ignored.
You will feel a sense of accomplishment as a work that started as raw and rough becomes a piece of art that is yours. It will feed your soul.
That’s your life, your work and your creation.
You will look back in a year and wonder why you didn’t start the habit earlier.
But you must commit to making it happen and to investing in yourself. Responding to other people’s emails and attending meetings is not investing in your work.
It is just busyness.
One of the biggest challenges in life can be the habits that trap us in mediocrity or stop us growing and moving forward8.
But what does content of consequence look like?
Blog posts are just the start of the story. There are many other types media that sit in the content of consequence bucket.
Pillar content that is designed for “Search Engine Authority” (long form blog posts ), ebooks and even training videos
Another type of substantial content that has been used effectively are the industry defining surveys.
Two online publishers that do this well are:
- Content Marketing Institute with its annual “Content Marketing Budgets, Benchmarks and Trends” report
- Social Media Examiners yearly survey titled “Social Media Marketing Industry Report“.
If you really want to put a stake in the ground a hard copy industry changing book works well.
For an insight on that the book by Gary Keller “The One Thing” will convince you of the importance of content of consequence.
The digital business benefits
So what are the benefits?
In a digital world content defines you.
And it has never been easier to publish and promote your insights, experience and expertise.
- It builds inbound links to grow your search engine authority.
- It grows relationships, credibility and authority.
And if you don’t need attention but need to generate revenue then you need to start today.
Gary Keller’s book transformed his business and an industry.
#7. Play the long game
I walked into the shop and there they were. Lining up. Handing over the coupon.
Their expectant faces were hopeful.
Maybe this was the moment.
Most were sure this was “the” day.
But they all left disappointed. Back to reality.
The chances for success were low. A professional betting man wouldn’t bother paying the price. Despite that they keep hoping for that pay day when their numbers came up.
Winning the lottery is “that” big dream for many.
That quick fix.
A solution to their financial desperation. But it rarely is.
The long game
According to Bill Gates “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”7
Playing the long game is a trait that many can’t sustain. But it is the secret to success.4
Having the patience to hang in there and keep strapping yourself in and doing the work. Winning at business and life requires patience. That overnight success is rare. Normally it is decades in the making.
Building life transforming habits grow from patient perseverance.
Patience is boring
Success is a game of patience and whether you are a digital marketer, professional or entrepreneur there are some key activities that are worth investing in.
But they take time.
Social media offered a seeming magical solution to our marketing problems and it sometimes can. But the free lunch is turning into a mandatory paid strategy.
The quick fix of instant traffic can be intoxicating but you need money for that. And many small businesses don’t have that spare cash floating around.
But earning traffic, leads and sales can be done. Winning at business is not a lottery. Designing and building a life worth living and celebrating is not found in a coupon.2
The secret to success isn’t a quick fix.
It requires patience. There is no other way. It is essential and often boring.
Here are some skills that you need to earn and persevere with to succeed in a digital world.
Earning authority on search engines
Google doesn’t give your organic search traffic for free.
It comes after months and years of creating great content and making sure it gets discovered. Playing the long game in SEO is essential.
Build a following on social networks
Growing you networks and tribes on social media takes time.
It means you have to engage in continuous marketing. The social networks don’t tolerate silence. Grinding out a big loyal tribe is years in the making.
Grow your email list
An email list isn’t as sexy as SnapChat but it is still one of the best ways to turn your passion into profit.
It means taking the time and the perseverance to learn how to convert traffic and attention into an email list. It means working out how optimise landing pages, create premium content like ebooks, videos and podcasts.
And……. keep going.
Develop your writing expertise
Learning the art of writing is something that many of us can do but not many of us are prepared to pay the price. Steven King still invests in writing 1,000 words a day, 7 days a week.
The investment means reading books on writing, just reading (a lot) and exercising at the keyboard.
Nurturing your communication competence
Some people make standing on stage look easy.
But I can guarantee you that almost all of them have hired multiple coaches, practised often and long and spoken for free until they could command a fee. It is not just bullet points on a PowerPoint.
It is many moving parts and skills.
The skills required include movement, breathing, cadence and storytelling.
Earning entrepreneurial skills
Building a business is for most a journey of ecstasy, graft and pain.
Often is means making mistakes that don’t kill you and just plain hanging in there. Of going to the office or sitting down and doing the many ordinary things that lead to extraordinary.
It means paying the patience price.
Playing the long game.
#8. Optimize your content
Publishing used to be quite a simple game.
Write a compelling headline and tell your story.
In an online world and noisy web where the battle for attention is fierce the science of optimizing content at every stage is now the difference between success and failure.
The art of writing and publishing now needs science. Tech.
Creating content that attracts traffic and then converts is now a journey of optimization.
It starts with topics that your audience want to read, headlines that gets their attention right through to the landing pages that convert that attention into subscribers, leads and sales.
Content platforms like Contently are even using “AI” such as IBM’s Watson to provide insights into the words that you need to use to stir emotions.
And the data will tell you what is working and what isn’t.
How important is this?
If we just look at just one element the importance becomes clear.
Recently a big brand partnered with a large research agency. An in-depth ebook was created.
We were asked to help in promoting the book.
But there was a problem.
Their landing page converted at 2%. Only 2 in 100 people were handing over their email in exchange for the report.
In another project we partnered with a small company to promote a webinar.
All we were asking was for people to register for the webinar with their email address.
It converted at 50%.
The difference in results was 2500%.
Big brands often don’t measure what matters as they are often stuck in legacy marketing. They just relied on blunt force trauma of big budgets and mass media to win hearts and minds.
Small brands can win if they are smart about optimizing.
#9. Scale your humanity
Ten years ago the social media convention was that you did everything manually.
Social media was this brand new global playpen and we were able to have worldwide conversations.
It was fun and intoxicating.
The Wild West.
The convention and rules of behavior back then were that you didn’t use tools to tweet but you did it personally.
But there was a problem.
It didn’t scale and you didn’t want to spend your entire day tweeting.
We all had work to do.
The tools for automation were initially very rare and rudimentary
Today there are sophisticated social media marketing automation tools to tweet, run campaigns and promotions. And they are designed and optimized to work within the rules of tweeting as Twitter has written in the policy and user agreement.
Today we need to automate the marketing but not the conversation.
Social media has given us the platforms and the tech to have conversations of “one to many”
Social media offers us a human face to technology but it was a black hole for productivity and time.
It provided us free platforms to have global conversations but we have needed to move on.
So….scale your content distribution.
# 10. Don’t forget that you are human in an age of robots
I was in the middle of my presentation. Before me was a stadium full of people I barely knew. Then something happened.
It is what all speakers dread.
My slides disappeared from the big screen behind me.
And they never came back.
It was a moment that all speakers hope will never happen.
But it did.
Stories touch hearts
“People will forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel“.
In that quote (often attributed to Carl Buechner) is the truth about the art of storytelling.
Touching people’s hearts is at the centre of engagement.
When I started my online publishing venture it was all about the facts.
Information, data and stats.
When I commenced my speaking career my Powerpoint’s was all about bullet points. More information and more stuff.
When I began writing emails the facts were the main hero.
But if you want to move people, educate and transform you need more than that in your toolbox.
As marketers you need stories to be memorable.
In a digital age and a noisy world we need the art of storytelling more than ever.
Tell your story
In a world where the polished media roams we have also entered a realm of human stories enabled by technology.
The social web is the intersection of that technology and humanity.
It has amplified the evil and the good.
You have to choose which side your on.
Vulnerability is a place of power should you have the courage to reveal your truth, creation and story with the world.
You will change the world when you create, publish and share.
And the world will change you.
The two way conversation of the social web is now in real time.
But you need to create and share your stories. That is where the power of authentic and powerful content marketing really lies.
This article originally appeared in Jeffbullas’s Blog.