Sonia Simone of Copyblogger.
Creativity Marketing Transformation

Two Leading Content Marketers Challenge Creators to Push the Envelope


Sometimes, we get too close to our own business or marketing goals. We forget about the steps we took to get from little leaguer to major league stud, especially in the enterprise content marketing space. But while walking the halls of The Curtis hotel in Denver, CO, for Copyblogger’s Authority Intensive conference, I got the chance to speak with a lot of self-starting entrepreneurs, freelance writers, consultants, speakers, and our great partner, Idea Grove, which was a sponsor at the event.

In a speech, Sonia Simone, Copyblogger’s chief content offer, spoke a lot about what some of us have already learned in business but forget to pass on to those we mentor. Simone focused her talk on becoming a better person, but a lot of her points can also help content creators—enterprise or small business—improve how they approach their craft. Her advice can refine a strategy to identify and amplify what really matters to a business or a business’ audience.

She didn’t frame her advice around what defines quality content, but she created a nice Authority Intensive resource to refer to in the future.

Simone compared the way many entrepreneurs start off to how ducklings imprint themselves on the first animal they encounter. Many business owners—I would argue even some savvy content marketers—hold onto ideas that don’t serve them well.

“The way human brains work, we tell ourselves stories in order to live. When we find a story that works pretty well, we imprint on that story and its beliefs,” she said.

Unfortunately, sometimes we imprint and follow around an ideology that does not serve us as well as it could, or as well as a better idea would. How do we get past those obstacles in content creation, in business, and in our personal lives? Simone challenged attendees to stop grabbing onto the first idea they have, to deal with delusions, and to focus on what really matters.

How can you focus on what really matters and identify the processes that aren’t helping in the long term? Look at every business practice with a critical eye and wonder whether it’s being executed as well as possible. In content creation, ask yourself whether the right message is being created at the right time, for the right audience, and on the right channel.

It’s Time for a Reset

Ann Handley of MarketingProfs followed up Simone’s presentation with a session focused on remaking content strategy around what works. She polled the room to see who was creating original content, and nearly every hand shot up. Sourcing some of MarketingProfs original data in partnership with the Content Marketing Institute, Handley said it is an awesome time to be in this industry because of such growth—but that growth brings a lot of anxiety and competition as well.

Ann Handley, Copyblogger eventTo stand out in a saturated marketplace, content creators cannot continue to strive for big home-run stunts like those of Oreo or Red Bull. It’s just not always necessary, and it is foolish to try to replicate what has already been done. Moreover, only 42 percent of content teams say their efforts are effective, according to Handley’s research. That leaves room for improvement, even among experts, as content strategy can be bolted onto the rest of a marketing department or organization across industries.

Handley offered a solution to creating great content: Useful x Empathy x Inspired = Great Content

She noted that this formula, while helpful, requires a lot of work. If you lose one component, the whole process crumbles to the ground.

While Handley stressed that it’s not enough for content creators to emulate publishers—like some of today’s biggest brands do—she offered six best practices that brands can steal from the traditional publishing model:

  1. Publishers always have a mission: They understand who their audience is, and they strive to continually deliver great content to sustain that audience.
  2. Have pathological empathy for the reader: Remember when journalists were the crusaders? Citizen journalism was built by the people, for the people, which has always led to quality writing.
  3. Tell stories about people: This point echoed Simone’s earlier message about how powerful storytelling can be for content marketers. If you can tell great stories about people, you can own the room.
  4. Subscriber model: Know how to create a community by building a subscriber model and engaging that audience across channels.
  5. Have a team in place: Whether you have six members or four, have a team in place to help manage the entire creation process. One person cann’t scale a program alone.
  6. Tell the truth: Words are currency, Handley said. Words are your proxy; don’t squander them.

Handley also offered five ways for content creators to go beyond the publishing model:

  1. Think experience, not just narrative.
  2. Use “you” to create empathy and personalization in your content.
  3. Place a lot of small wagers, and don’t be afraid to experiment.
  4. Have a can-do, DIY attitude—you don’t get anywhere in life by standing on the sidelines.
  5. Act in real time, but not in the way that everyone else is doing it. Find places where you can stand out.

What really impressed me about Handley’s and Simone’s speeches was how much they truly cared about what they were doing. They looked out at the crowd of people in Denver, all of whom were searching for some type of marketing or business help, and both saw opportunity to challenge marketers (big or small) to push the envelope with their creative work. Handley asked for a content marketing makeover, and after seeing how motivated attendees were, she may just get what she asked for.

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