Content marketing isn’t magic. Or quick. For too many, it’s not even effective.
That’s because too many small business owners struggle to view themselves as a media company. CEO’s and business owners will happily recite what they’ve repeatedly heard, “Act like a media company.” But they don’t know what that truly means. They think it means cranking out content. Any kind of content.
“I don’t have time to blog three times a week,” is a common refrain. Well, the three times weekly may not be the most common number. Mostly, I hear them say they can’t do it once a week!
I usually feel like a fishing instructor standing in front of people who just want to buy fish. “Can’t I just pay somebody?” Sure, but when you’re the owner of a $4 million dollar remodeling company, or a one man financial advisory business…you’re the expert. That magic you’re looking for in content marketing is in your head. You just have to start thinking and more importantly, acting like a successful media company.
My first exposure to TV Guide, other than seeing it in the check out line at the grocery store, was at my grandparents house. A copy could always be found on the side table next to my grandfather’s chair. At the time, there was nothing like it. The closest thing was the daily tv schedule in the daily newspaper, but in small town America that wasn’t often an option.
Scattered in each issue would be stories of your favorite TV stars like Lucille Ball. In fact, when the guide first went national in 1953 the birth of her son, Desi Arnaz, Jr. made the cover. Even these stories were unique at the time. This was long before People and other celebrity gossip magazines. There was always plenty of yellow journalism – those sensationalistic rags – but TV Guide had a legitimacy about it. A trust. And they approached stories of these stars with more of a true journalistic quality.
These were the days before technology afforded us the ability to time shift watching our favorite shows. No recorders. Everything in real time. If you missed your favorite show, you missed it. Your best hope was that during the summer they might run it again as a re-run. That made a guide even more important to people.
In retrospect you may think “that’s no so special.” You’d be wrong. It was a one-of-a-kind. Unique. Something only the TV Guide could do. Something only the TV Guide did. And in most cities and towns in America there was only 3 networks – ABC, CBS and NBC. Small towns would often switch between two networks on a single channel, bringing people the most popular shows of each one. Big cities had a separate channel for each network, plus they had a PBS station giving you a whopping four channels to watch.
Unlike the newspaper, TV Guide published in a digest format – slightly larger than pocket size. Super convenient. It was 15 cents. During the 1960’s it was the most widely read and circulated periodical in America. It’s value soared, surpassing the estimated value of ABC, CBS and NBC combined. An aggregator had grown to be worth more than the content creators it was compiling.
What’s the lesson for you?
Don’t just crank out content to crank out content. I know people tell you to blog, podcast, post articles at Linkedin, create videos for YouTube and a thousand other pieces of advice for morphing your enterprise into a media outlet. But they’re overlooking a bigger issue. A more important component, uniqueness.
Dive into any space you’d like. Pick one. Some space where you notice people are blogging or creating content. I don’t care what platform they’re using. YouTube, Linkedin, Medium, Tumblr, their own website…anywhere you’d like to look.
Big areas include money or wealth management. Another big one is entertainment. Pick either of those, or something else.
Now scan as much of that content as you can stand. Set a time limit. I don’t want you to dive too deeply down the rabbit hole where you’re unable to find your way back out. Scan a dozen or so and think about what you’re seeing.
Pick the space and mostly you’re going to see a lot of “me, too” content. One looks like the others. You might go through dozens before finding one – just 1 – that stands out. Why does it stand out? Because it’s not like the others. It’s unique. Different.
Notice I didn’t say better. Maybe it is better. Maybe not. But it’s unquestionably different. And that’s the lesson for you. That’s how you stop thinking like a media company – there are tons of media companies who struggle. Thinking like everybody else isn’t the path to high achievement. That’s how you start acting like a successful media company – a company that knows what they’re doing and is committed to rising above the noise floor.
Brace yourself for some tough love advice. Don’t create content if you can’t produce something different. Sure, it’s ideal if it can be different and better. That’s optimal, but not easy. In the war between different or unique and better – aim for unique. There’s two reasons for that. One, better is subjective. And it won’t get you noticed Two, unique is easier to spot for most people. Let me add a third reason…sometimes you’ll be able to make your unique content collide with better content. It may not happen all the time. Everybody strikes out every now again. You just want to get on base more often than not. Consistently unique is far easier than consistently better. It’s a big world with people who likely have more resources than you. If you’re a solopreneur operating out of your house…you won’t likely be able to produce better content than a staff of content creators who have graphics skills, copying writing skills, infographic skills and all the other talent found in today’s content creation world.
How am I different?
Yes, we’re all individual and in some respect we’re different. The question is how different are we? Not so much really.
It’s poor strategy to simply think that because it’s you saying something everybody is saying, then you’re special…worthy of attention. True, nobody can say it quite like you, but there are plenty of people close enough to make it hard to tell the difference. It’s why we commonly see people acting like lemmings. Many of us have been working all our lives to fit in, to be like everybody else. Watch any high school when they let classes out. You’ll have a hard time spotting unique because teens want to be like their classmates.
Now as adults, that innate desire is still very strong. Before we started school (hum, may be something negative to this) things were different. We were different. Unafraid of standing out, being unique. Not bashful to wear Alf underwear. Things change. Compliance kills creativity. Creativity kills boredom.
If your answer to, “How am I different?” is “I’m not,” then you have a much bigger problem than acting like a successful media company. I don’t mean you have to have a one-of-a-kind business model, or product or service. I do mean you need something that helps you stand out.
Your gas gauge is on E. That warning light just came on. You have 30 miles or so to find a gas station.
If you’re in town where there are gas stations on every corner, you make a decision based on convenience. Or maybe you make it based on a preferred brand because they have 93 octane, which you need, while everybody else only has 91 as their highest. Or you make a decision based on a station you know has diesel ’cause you need diesel. Or you don’t care what kind of gas you burn, you just want the lowest price. It’s all gasoline, but your selection is unique to you, not because you’re one-of-a-kind, but perhaps you have some special considerations.
Operators of gas stations — successful gas stations tend to rely on one fundamental differentiator, location. Put me on corner of the intersection based on ease of getting in and out and I’ll kick the competition on the opposite corner. It’ll be hard to ignore my competitive advantage.
Enter Quik Trip, my favorite place to get gas. They have great locations, good prices and drink bar to satisfy any liquid urge. They also have the details down, like windshield washer suds instead of empty containers with crusty devices that last cleaned a windshield 10 years ago. Stores are clean, staff is friendly and even if I don’t go in – which is most of the time – those details impress me enough to warrant me giving them my fuel up business. If the gas prices aren’t as low as surrounding stations, they lose my business though. Those differences are just the tie breaker, but the tie breaker means getting my money…or not getting it.
Such is the case in your space.
Be different. Be unique. Zig where everybody is using zag. Make that a top priority.
Then work on making your content better.
Give your prospects and customers something they can’t get elsewhere. Give them a reason to choose you. “Pick us, we’re just like everybody else,” isn’t a wise way to go. Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club have both disrupted an old, old industry ruled by mega powers. Casper and Leesa did the same thing in the mattress space. Under Armor did it in athletic wear. I’m not suggesting that you’re operating at such a high altitude of disruption, but disruption is just another term for being different. Sometimes VERY different. It gets attention. It gets lots of attention when that difference is dramatically better.
The same thing goes for your content.
Successful media companies, more often than not, are unique and better. They don’t always produce content you love, but they produce enough to grab your attention. AMC gave us Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Better Call Saul. Different, unique and better. They also gave us The Walking Dead and Humans (two shows I have no interest in, and have never seen). You’ll never get all the eyeballs and ears. You just need to get enough to grow your business and make it sustainable over the long haul.
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