Let me be clear, this is NOT a personal attack on anyone. In fact, if a person’s name is mentioned here in this post, it means I respect them greatly. Frankly, I don’t spend time online dropping names of people I don’t like.
For some reason though, some folks in this industry feel it’s not kosher to openly disagree with other bloggers and experts —like it’s a sign of disrespect or something. To me, that’s just crapola. If we never disagree amongst ourselves how in the heck are we going to make progress?
So for those of you that appreciate diversity, read on…
Nodding and Cringing at Content Marketing Advice
Christopher Penn is smart. Really smart. I have followed him for a long time and very much enjoy his work. But I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever loved and hated a post as much as the one he recently wrote entitled: How to Fix the Sad State of Content Marketing
First, let’s talk about what I loved.
In the post, as Christopher was talking about how to produce more and better content, he offered up the following suggestion:
Get smarter. Get more creative. How? First and foremost, if you’re a content creator for business, you absolutely must be out in the world talking to customers on a regular, frequent basis. Your best ideas will almost always come from seeing people at work with your products or services and observing the challenges they face. You can do that by going to conferences, visiting customers, helping out with customer service, and being a customer yourself of your company.
Any of you that have ever read anything that I’ve written know how obsessed I am with the principle that great blogging comes down to the 4 essential words I feel are the golden rule of Content Marketing—They Ask, You Answer.
In other words, unless someone is listening to their customers, clients, and prospects—they’ll run out of content fast. But if they listen well, a constant flow of ideas will come their way—just waiting for someone to tackle the question or subject online in a way that’s easy to understand for consumers. This point, along with his suggestion to utilize the talents of more than one person in the organization to produce content, were GREAT in my opinion.
But this also brings me to the 3 elements of this post (and a few others I’ll mention here) that I feel are potentially bad advice to the many businesses across the world that are simply trying to get their arms wrapped around this marketing “stuff” we all yap about day in and day out.
1. The “Sad State of Content Marketing”
Is it accurate to say content marketing is in a sad state? I’d venture to say content marketing is pretty much in the same state it has been since…well…papyrus and cave carvings.
Fact is, some people are good at communicating, and some stink.
Some people are great teachers, and others stink.
Some people (and companies) look for cheap shortcuts in everything they do, while others do not.
But this isn’t specific to content marketing. This is the case with every single industry in the history of the world. It’s Pareto’s Law.
So just because a few companies are a content marketing train wreck doesn’t mean we should let the bad eggs represent the efforts of the masses.
2. Looking down on the concept of editorial calendars and frequent blogging:
Citing the “garbage content” that we often see online, Penn stated in his post:
…The aforementioned Tom Webster correctly cites the issue of content production schedules as being the primary cause for this – if you commit to blogging a certain number of times per week, personally or organizationally, then you have to find content to fill those commitments. The easiest choice, as Tom points out in a recent blog post, is to abolish the content production schedule entirely and only share content when you have really great ideas to share, but for many businesses, that’s not a step that’s viewed as realistic.
Again, I strongly agreed and disagreed with both Penn’s thoughts and those of my wonderfully insightful friend Tom Webster referencing the negatives of producing too much content and the necessity to only write GREAT stuff. But before I explain why, let me show one other email that really bothered me last week from another person who I respect and admire that has done amazing things online—Jon Morrow.
In an email he sent out to his list last week with the subject line, “Are You Listening to these Old Farts? Tell me it ain’t so” Morrow stated:
Despite their mantels of authority, the majority of popular bloggers are just old farts masquerading as experts. Most of them started blogging five years ago or more, which may not seem like a long, but on the Internet, that makes them freaking ancient…And it also means a lot of their advice is outdated…For example, writing daily blog posts might’ve been a smart move five years ago, but it’s an outright waste of time now. Just ask any up-and-coming blogger who’s experimented with it, and they’ll tell you it’s true. So why are a lot of popular bloggers still pushing the whole “publish daily” strategy? They didn’t see the shift. In some ways, their own success prevents them from seeing it, kind of like a grandparent who retired after 30 years working for a big company advising you to do the same thing.”
Although both of these aforementioned paragraphs have legitimate points and can be seen as great advice, I’d submit the following:
1. Your industry has never-ending content: Yep, it’s true, especially if it (your blog) is based on consumer questions and answers. I’ve written hundreds of blogs about swimming pools as well as social media and haven’t even covered 1% of the content I could potentially discuss. In fact, I’d challenge anyone to show me any blog that is a true Wiki of that industry and covers more than even 50% of potential consumer questions regarding that product/service/field/etc.
2. If you’re answering questions (content marketing the right way), success will parallel frequency: Currently, I have clients that are lawyers, software developers, government contractors, manufacturers, consultants, etc., etc. The group is incredibly diverse, but one principle remains true for every single one of them—
The biggest factor that leads to blogging and content marketing success (leads, sales, brand awareness, blah, blah, and blah) is their ability to POST OFTEN.
But then again, I don’t talk to my clients about being “awesome” or “epic” with the content they produce. To me, those are relative terms that change with every brain determining their qualification. Rather, my clients follow the golden rule approach and are simply looking to apply the kindergarten teacher methodology and distill basic truths in a very basic language. To me, this is the essence of the “awesome content” that should be the focus of blogging and social media experts within their teachings.
But for Morrow to say that writing every day is an “outright waste of time”—although possibly applicable to some people who write about social media (many of which attained success early on and now don’t need the frequency), it clearly doesn’t apply to the majority of industries in this world (outside the “blog-o-sphere”) that have way more demand (consumer questions) than supply (answers). And with the deep web analytics I have from clients, my studies show just the opposite is true.
3. Like anything, blogging and content marketing are a discipline: Sure, one can easily argue that editorial calendars suck the life out of “epic content” and “pillar posts” but I can tell you that a huge majority of every small and large organization out there that has achieved content marketing success uses some type of calendaring and accountability system.
Without a calendaring system, especially at first, it’s EXTREMELY difficult to get better at this thing we call blogging and content marketing. Why? Because it never become a culture. Just as payroll is a culture in an organization that happens on a set schedule, so should blogging be for the majority of businesses looking to make a run at a successful digital marketing campaign.
Frankly, I really don’t think calendars are the problem at all when it comes to good or bad content. Rather, most companies still don’t understand what they should even be blogging, talking, and teaching about in the first place.
3. The Unrealistic Expectation of Great Content
My final disagreement, and the strongest one of the three, comes with the closing statement Penn made in his post. He says:
Like a restaurant, you only need to serve up one plate of garbage instead of a good meal to lose someone forever.
Do you know the biggest reason why companies large and small don’t embrace great content, communication, and teaching on their websites?
Because if they can’t do it GREAT, and be AWESOME, they elect not to do it at all.
In other words, FEAR wins.
Instead of Godin’s “Just Ship It,” it becomes a motto of “Just sit on it and over-analyze the stupid thing.”
Businesses are so scared to death of not doing everything just right that they never do anything at all.
This isn’t NASA folks. Content marketing is not a space shuttle. Perfect is not a requirement, nor is it even attainable.
Plus, we can’t be afraid to lose readers and turn people off. In fact, just the opposite is true.
And speaking of “serving garbage on a plate,” just look at the first blog articles on my swimming pool site—River Pools. Without question, I served up garbage almost 3 times a week for the first few months of blogging.
I was a bad writer.
I was a bad blogger.
I was a poor communicator.
And nothing was “epic.”
But somehow, some way, the “little website that could” is now the most trafficked website in the world for inground swimming pool construction.
The Sales Lion is no different. I cringe when I go back and read those initial posts on this blog. It’s almost like they were written by a different person.
But at the same time, each post was a victory. Each post was a learning experience. And each post was a small rung on the ladder that got me to where I am today (wherever that may be).
Write More Crap
So I say go write some crap. Seriously. Accept your imperfections while giving your best. Allow yourself to learn, screw up often and grow without comparing yourself to the content demands so many experts online are espousing.
Will there be bumps along the way?
Yep, absolutely, but assuming you have the right intentions, no word produced by your hand for the world to see will ever be a waste of your time. I sincerely mean that.
So that’s my take folks. That’s where I stand. And I welcome your diverse opinions below.