Ten years is a long time. Ten years of blogging? Well, that seemed unfathomable back in 2006, yet, here we are. This week marks my tenth full year of blogging.
Things have changed so much since I began. Back then it was edgy, then it become profitable. Now, it seems passé and marginalized.
In 2006, writing something new and cool excited me. In the 2008-9 range, blogging was majestic, an exhilarating experience that brought attention, notoriety and opportunity. By 2011, it became a grind. Feeding the beast to stay relevant forced me into a daily blogging discipline.
Then after a series of private disappointing events related to my last business book something happened. I stopped giving a damn what other people thought of my blog. Relevancy, topic, edgy, not edgy. It just didn’t matter to me anymore.
Perhaps I realized what a fool I had been.
The Joy of Blogging Returns
I still blogged once a week for a couple of years just to maintain presence, but when this year began I gave myself a gift. The weekly blog, a post I would write so often on Sunday night just to get it published, was an act of drudgery more often than not. There was little business value to it anymore, either.
So I decided to stop, and let myself off the blogging hook. No longer would I write on a schedule for my personal blog. Instead, I write now when the muse strikes me, and time permits. And that seems to be every two to three weeks.
What a relief. Freedom to write when I want to, what I want to.
When I press publish, I smile. The joy of blogging returns.
Forgotten Maybe, But Not Dead Yet
I may be forgotten as a consequence of blogging less, but I’m not dead yet.
Now I still blog elsewhere for other people several times a week. They’re not blogs anymore, not really. I guess because saying what you think is not really marketing. Blogs have to be polished, relevant to target audiences, geared toward the larger customer experienced ecosystem. No, we call them articles now. It’s not the same thing.
Here, when it’s said, it’s meant. It’s a hell of lot less frequent, but there is a genuine authenticity to the blogs that you won’t find on a corporate “brand journal.”
Getting there again was a process. Ten years teaches you if you’re still blogging, it’s because it resolves some sort of creative angst within you. It’s old school. It’s a bonafide antiquated blog, said when it wants to be said.
Have you read any recent content marketing articles? Today’s articles feature shiny objects to distribute content through (hi, Snapchat and Periscope) and platitudes about impact. Largely trend pieces with statistics, they fail to help marketers grow and become better. Worse, the new account-based marketing trend — which is just hyper-targeted data-driven content marketing — focuses on precision provided by analytics, but not the technique used to create niche content.
To be clear, a marketer’s job is to connect with and compel people; usually, but not always, their customers. To do that, content needs to tell a good story.
In many ways, trends like social media tools and data analysis provide new powers for marketing, much like an electric drill works better than a hand crank. So we have a bunch of marketers walking around with power tools drilling holes in a wall hoping they hit the right spot. Even though they have data and the latest networks, they miss the mark more often than not. They don’t understand the wall and its dimensions. As a result, marketers destroy the wall.
What we have is a data problem. Too much focus on data and trends, not enough on creating compelling content.
To be crystal clear with this post: Data and trends in content marketing are nice. They inform creativity. They do not replace creativity.
Impact Requires a Story
Results in communications are contingent on compelling stakeholder groups — by groups of ten, by the thousands, or entire market segments. Regardless of where the content lies in a company’s user experience, it needs to impact someone’s journey. That is true of the consumer, that is true of the business stakeholder.
Why else would someone act? Buying is an emotional decision. If your content doesn’t create positive emotion for someone — even if it is just allaying fears — then you have a problem.
I love media and how it empowers us to communicate with each other. What I find most interesting is how people use those media forms to connect, and the outcomes these connections create. Why was that Periscope video successful? How did that article help someone come decide to engage with the “build your own” tool on your site? Why did that series of personal case studies increased conversions of your software product?
Stories. Content must tell stories or help people envision their own narrative. The media changes, the methods allow for more precision, there are more distractions now, but once you get someone to try your content, it has to compel them.
How Data Helps Storytelling, But Doesn’t Replace It
Let’s use another analogy: Just because Google Maps can tell you the fastest route, doesn’t mean it can teach you how to drive. Your trip is not guaranteed to be timely, much less safe.
In my mind, data is beautiful. It provides a great deal of research to inform creativity. It points out who the customer is (demographics), what they like, and which media they use. In some cases, it provides insights into their behavior, concerns and interests with a particular brand. What more could a creative want? This information provides the means to create content that moves the stakeholder.
Yet when I am called into situations to analyze why a marketing or communications program isn’t working, I find that the tactics may beed tweaking, the data analysis needs improvement, but generally they are heading in the right direction. No, the problems come down to two primary groups of issues:
1) Lame content: Corporate messages instead of stories, dry style (e.g. it’s safe and uncompelling), antiquated style (for example long text with no rich media), no personal story or connection, no style, etc.
2) Poor distribution: Including lack of email, lack of native ad-spend, non-engaging social media, using the wrong channels, etc.
Poor distribution has always been an issue, and it is becoming an increasingly difficult one. I highly recommend you read Mark Schaefer’s Content Code if this is concerning you.
On the first issue, the actual content continues to be a problem. Style counts for a lot more than you would think. Data can always be used to better steer a communications effort, but the effort must be made. Data alone cannot deliver compelling media.
Storytelling Must Return
Whether you call it creative, design, writing, PR or marketing, we build narratives with customers. There are many, many useful methods of telling stories that have been discussed, and as many ideas out there (this one 2014 post features 200+ blog article approaches) as there are distribution methods:
Some use an advertising approach, using imagery to tell, and words to compel (Think General Electric).
Consider the traditional social media approach of first person experiential tales (Gary Vaynerchuk has to be the best at this in our business).
There’s third person journalistic storytelling (Adobe does this well across all properties).
These brands use available data to inform their storytelling approach and build something compelling to people. It’s not enough to create targeted brochureware for what they believe people need to hear.
Content really needs to interest and then resolve the stakeholder’s raison d’etre. This is French for reason of being. Why are they investing time? The content better fulfill that reason or the brand will lose the prospective customer. This ethos is at the heart of the current user experience trend driving branding and digital design.
Trends come and go, but corporate and marketing communications [oops, content marketing ;)] always lives and dies based on stakeholder response. Response is the ultimate metric that every manager ultimately judges a communications program by. No response means changes are in store, from the micro to the macro.
That is why it is so necessary to build a compelling story that creates response. This is true regardless of purpose: Launch or customer experience, micro account-based level comms or social network-wide (organic and paid). Marketers better tell a good story that the audience relates with instead of highly targeted noise.
Without creativity we cannot differentiate and excel, and yet sharing creative ideas inevitably leads to a mockery at times.
The worst thing we can do is simply call a creative spirit a failure. It’s amazingly hard to remain creative if you listen to outside voices. This is particularly true in a world where declaring fail with a pic and a hashtag seems to generate lots of laughs and comments.
Creativity requires a resilience in the face of “fail,” “that sucks” and firm “nos.” It’s not that the every creative idea deserves to be praised. Truthfully, many inspirations make you want to run for the woods.
To successfully create you need to produce a consistent flow of ideas that fail because it’s part of the process. Success requires failure. At the same time, you also need to know how to optimize creativity, and also when to stop creating, and simply work through and polish concepts off.
When an entire profession of creative people, writers and business networkers have had technologies thrust upon them thanks to the incredible Internet successes of the past decade. That creates the major challenge facing modern marketing software companies… Making technological functionality intuitive and easy.
The movement towards data-driven marketing makes creativity the most important asset they can offer.
Specifically, great marketers will engage in creative destruction of data driven norms and disrupt market standards to stand out.
It’s not that they will ignore their customers and their feedback, the fruits of marketing automation’s analysis of big data. Rather, they break the established marketing norms of their peers and competitors built around those tools.
Schumpeter’s economic theory of creative destruction means more now as we seek to apply norms and rules to all that is social and the way we interact. For those unfamiliar with Schumpeter, a watered down version of the theory is that economic development arises out of the destruction of prior order.
Mad Men has to be my favorite TV show of the past decade, paying homing to the ad agency business in its formative years. It highlights the importance of great creative, ideas and writing that speak to customers while giving us stories about these neurotic chaps on Madison Avenue. Great well communicated ideas speak simply and drive home their point.
Hugh McLeod agreed to do a Gaping Void cartoon interpretation of Marketing in the Round. Here’s what he drew. It’s so strong, I couldn’t write a 500 word blog post to it. The creative spoke for itself. But in the spirit of Mad Men I did riff on it and wrote some brief ad copy.
An uncoordinated marketing campaign launch wastes valuable resources. Communicators must integrate across silos to develop strategic multichannel marketing programs. That’s why we wrote Marketing in the Round. Learn more today.
What do you think of Hugh’s Marketing in the Round cartoon?