How to Differentiate Your Content

Image by Ksenia Krneychuk

After my speech two weeks ago on blogging, a TribeUp NYC attendee asked me how to differentiate content.

I’m sure other strategists have their methods, but here’s how I do it.

There’s one critical precursor to success: You must possess substantial knowledge about your topic area, and keep abreast of current trends, not only in the mainstream but on the edge of your sector. Become a subject matter expert.

If you don’t, it will be difficult for you to compete. You need this knowledge to determine the trends you should cover.

Start with Irreverence

Offa's Dyke Walk 3 / black sheep
Image by ndrwfgg

Most people have a blogger/content producer or thirty they call the A-List and admire as modern Internet celebrities. You can’t do that and compete successfully.

You must take people (that’s what they are) off pedestals, and think you can beat them. And you can, if you possess a healthy dose of irreverence.

Irreverent by definition means disrespectful. To be clear, be gracious to these people, but not their position. Simply put yourself on the same competitive level as them. You want to be where they are, and every leader has weaknesses you can position yourself against…

Put this list of current leaders in a group in your reader, and analyze their headlines en masse.

Leaders usually talk about the same general group of topics, and miss trends that affect the industry. Look for a bigger picture story, a new wrinkle about a current meme, or a breaking trend that’s changing the sector.

Also make sure to look at content formats. Is it text heavy? Are pictures, white papers, video, graphics, and podcasts in play, or is it pretty much straight forward blog posts? What about tone and style?

Look for systematic weaknesses in your sector’s thought leadership, and then write them down.

Rules, proper ways, finger-wagging towards wrongs, etc. espoused by top content producers don’t mean much, unless you want to become another version of said person (or business). There’s nothing wrong with emulating those you admire, but know it will be hard to surpass them with their own signature tactics.

If you want to lead your market, then you need to go beyond “me, too” thinking to beat them out.

Outside of obvious advice like don’t spam, absolutes should be considered carefully by each person developing their own unique approach to content, and broken whenever it feels right.

If you start sounding like or become associated with one or a group of these leaders, intentionally stop reading them for a period of time. You need a break so that your individual voice and view returns. Remember, act with grace.

The Wide Net

Fishing nets, Bermagui
Image by Bermagui

The next step is to examine the general marketplace and as many of its voices as you can. Again use a reader to begin your analysis by looking at headlines.

What are the common topics content producers talk about widely, but the A-List is not?

These topics are rarely new. Instead they are over-discussed and will weigh you down in your effort to differentiate. Avoid them, and cross them off the list.

The exception to this approach is when you cut against the grain, and provide a significantly new wrinkle to the topic.

For example, my post yesterday on Facebook on its current decline and loss of vision is much different from what I am seeing in the reader about how to market on Facebook, and why Facebook still rocks. This is a prime example of where the social media marketing blogosphere let a vested interest blind it from covering a story with the journalistic precision.

Look at the remaining topics on your list. Are there any sites or bloggers covering these topics? Read them religiously.

Why are they not discussed? What are the weaknesses? Are they too complicated, antisocial (mean), not commenting, just publishing and not interacting online, failing to use visuals, inconsistent in output, etc.?

Try to understand what they could do to make their ideas more palatable to the larger market.

Once you understand 1) topical areas that can be mined, and 2) why the market has not accepted these areas yet, you have the iron to forge your editorial mission.

Editorial Mission

The News Room
Image by Karen Meyere

Based on our remaining list of content areas, build topic beats that you will cover. Do those beats match your company’s value proposition and brand offering(s)? Will your customers and stakeholders find value in this content?

If so, you’ve turned iron into steel. Own those beats and deliver on them consistently.

Build an editorial mission and calendar so you can stay on course. Follow it closely, and use analytics to validate or tweak it.

To successfully compete against individual bloggers you have to post at least three times a week. I’ve tried less unsuccessfully.

Stylize Your Content

Rediscovered Books

Consider presentation. Can you build in visual content that will augment your approach? Is there a style you need to adapt?

Will you go completely popular with lists, question-oriented and how to posts, or will you cut against the grain and try to present your information in a distinct manner, or will you be sensational with your headlines (x is dead!)?

There are those who hate popular methods of socializing content like how-to and list posts, etc. Like market leaders rules weigh this criticism very carefully.

How many of these critics are top bloggers? I guarantee you only a few of these detractors compete successfully. Do what you think is right.

No matter how you write/film/design, unbridled or measured in tone, popular or completely against the grain you will always have detractors. You should always listen to them, but know you’re not going to please everyone.

Franky, I mix it. Since my editorial strategies intentionally cut against common topical grains most of the time, I try to make those topics more palatable with really great headlines that pose questions, challenge readers with active verbs, or provide how to advice.

While I can have a flair for the sensational I do generally avoid list titles, though I use lists in my posts to help make the content more accessible. Call it a compromise.

Now you’ve got a very simple method to differentiate yourself from other content creators. You can augment this of course with deeper research, community based approaches and more, but this method has served me well over the years.

What would you add?


  • Geoff, thanks for linking to my bloggy-blog!

    I read this post with avid enthusiasm, as I’m still learning the ropes in content differentiation. Of most interest to me was the bit about creating an editorial mission. Is this somewhat in line with Lena’s instructions to “Stay in your lane” and “Get ahead of your content”? It’s still something I struggle with, so I particularly appreciate your links in that section!

    Useful info – thanks! :)

    • Yes, that’s exactly it. It’s a stated mission that guides you on topic and frequency. It’s meant to keep writers on track and serve readers.

      For example, I wrote about the environment a while back and pulled the post because it was off topic. Does that make sense?

  • “keep abreast of current trends, not only in the mainstream but on the edge of your sector.”

    This is so critical, and so often overlooked. I see blogs that essentially spin information in press releases, but I see very few people looking to find the new edge of their sector every day and share what it means, why you should care or what you might do about it. Our landscape is changing fast, simple being at that edge with a perspective is valuable and differentiated content on its own. Layer on top the rest of your recommendations and I’ll sign up to be a life-long reader.

    • It’s hard to be on the top for long if you don’t know what’s happening next, right? I think it’s hard to maintain that hunger once you get on top. It brings a whole new set of distractions. But you have to keep doing what made you!!!

  • Hi Geoff,

    You are asking people to think and that is going to be problematic for some people. I am not trying to be adversarial, offensive or insouciant.

    Some people just don’t want to be forced to work harder and they opt to be part of the same school of fish as everyone else.

    My guess is some of this comes from a fear of standing out from the herd and the sense that if they don’t start running on the same hamster wheel they’ll fall behind.

    Your suggestion to build an editorial calendar and to create a mission is spot on. It makes it much easier to determine if you are on target and to figure out where you are headed.

  • To your final question? Absolutely nothing, except to say I shall be irreverently differentiating:) Cheers! Kaarina

  • I learned this lesson too late. I just started speaking my mind on the topic of Search until now. I have a very different voice and was afraid of criticism. I think that is the other lesson, don’t be afraid of your own voice.

    • I agree. Like I know my recent blogging has pushed some of my peers away, per say, mostly because it’s different thinking than theirs, but I just can’t write about the same things in the same way and expect to be anything other than yet another social media expert.

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