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Obsess to Perfect: Forward 2019 Keynote Speaker Ann Handley on the Value in Focusing on Less

By Patricia Travaline on May 6, 2019

Ann Handley, chief content officer at MarketingProfs, will be the closing keynote speaker at Forward 2019. To hear her perspective on how to survive and stand out in today's competitive world of modern marketing, register to attend this year's Forward on Thursday, June 6, in Boston.

Overwhelmed. How often have you used that word to describe how you feel about work? A lot? Well, you're not alone.

Ann Handley, one of the most respected figures in marketing today, connects with thousands of marketers every year and has come to this somewhat troubling conclusion: We are all trying to do too much. Handley is the chief content officer at MarketingProfs, a LinkedIn influencer, veteran keynote speaker, mother, and best-selling author. Juggling all that sounds pretty overwhelming. Yet, she says her new mantra is: "Do less, but obsess."

"My sense is that as marketers, we are all exhausted. Instead of trying to do it all, we need to do things with more intention. We need to focus on initiatives that actually matter to the business," says Handley. "It's not about checking the boxes of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, video, and every other channel and platform. It's about choosing the most valuable initiatives, and then doing them obsessively well."

With so much pressure to be everywhere our customers choose to be, and with channels and platforms proliferating almost daily, this is a challenge—but it makes complete sense. By trying to boil the ocean and be everything to everyone, we risk never being exceptionally good at anything.

Applying a one sport mentality to marketing

Photo by Eduardo Balderas on Unsplash

Applying the One Sport Rule

When my kids were growing up, we allowed them to only play one sport a season. We instituted this rule primarily to keep the sanity of myself and my husband intact. But the effect extended well beyond maintaining our mental health. For that season, my boys were obsessed with one sport. If it was basketball, they would spend hours in the driveway perfecting their jump shots, hooks, or left-handed layups. During baseball season, some of my most cherished conversations occurred while crouched down with a catcher's mitt and equipment as my kids endlessly practiced curves and sliders. With hours of practice, they eventually excelled. They stood out.

It occurred to me that as marketing leaders, we should institute this same rule with our teams. Identify the most important areas to focus on for specific periods of time, and then obsess over them. Get so good at doing this that you stand out. But how do you choose where to focus your energy? And what if you make the wrong bets?

According to Handley, "It starts with being super clear about who you are. And then being super clear about who your customer is. Obsessing over both will guide your decisions." In essence, you'll be able to map what they want to know with what you have to say.

Finding your brand voice

Photo by Liesl Leonard on Unsplash

Honing In on Your Brand Voice

Handley also stresses the importance of cultivating a specific voice. "The problem with being all things to all people is that everyone sounds the same. With most B2B tech companies, for example, if you were to line up their websites against their competitors and cover up their logo and visual identity, you wouldn't be able to tell them apart. They all sound the same. Your point of view and your voice can be huge differentiators and are super important."

Handley has taken her own advice to heart. She recently refocused efforts on her personal newsletter, obsessing over every detail, in an effort to get to better know—and serve—her audience. Take a look at the confirmation you receive when you subscribe. It calls on readers to reply and share more about themselves, and does it in a way that feels familiar to getting a letter from your best friend at camp. You'll want to pick up a pen and continue the correspondence, or, at the very least, click the button.

Newsletter signup thank you email

Fortune Favors the Bold—in Marketing, Too

Handley also emphasizes the importance of being bolder and braver. When marketers hear this, we tend to translate it as bigger and better. But you don't have to necessarily reinvent the wheel.

If you think about it, it's a bold move to kill your darlings and accept these methods just aren't working anymore. It's also brave to refocus efforts on what is working, while resisting the urge to try every new and shiny tactic. But honing in on these winning topics and content formats takes obsessing over the numbers. It also takes asking yourself a few key questions: What role is this initiative playing in our customers' lives? And is it delivering the value that we and consumers expect?

Just as my husband and I were able to maintain our sanity by instituting the one-sport-a-season rule, marketing leaders who hone their focus will gain more control over quality, stand to see better results, and will find themselves naturally less stressed and exhausted. And this strategy will give your team the opportunity to excel, because by obsessively focusing on what's important to your business and customers, marketers have a way better chance at giving consumers the content they really want and need.

Join Ann Handley and other thought leaders at Forward 2019 on June 6 in Boston to continue the conversation.


Patricia Travaline

Tricia Travaline is Chief Marketing Officer at Skyword. She loves reading, golf, Boston sports teams, and spending time with family and friends. Follow @travwin on Twitter, and Circle Patricia Travaline on Google+