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How To Stop Burying Your Content Signal In So Much Noise [Rose-Colored Glasses]

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How To Stop Burying Your Content Signal In So Much Noise [Rose-Colored Glasses]

The world is very noisy right now.

Sure, a lot’s going on politically, epidemiologically, and societally. But that’s not exactly (or not only) what I mean.

In 2022, organizations put even more importance on creating digital content and content-driven experiences. Consider the recent conversation I had with a new media company in the gaming space. They want to figure out how to ramp up their article production (using an artificial intelligence solution) from 25 to more than 500 per week, or 30,000 posts every year.

You read those numbers correctly: 30,000 posts per year.

No wonder creating a content marketing strategy feels like shouting into a hurricane these days.

Creating a #ContentMarketing strategy feels like shouting into a hurricane. But that’s nothing new, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

But here’s the thing. It’s always been this way.

Just after the invention of the printing press, the Dutch humanist Erasmus complained, “To what corner of the world do they not fly, these swarm of new books? … [T]he very multitude of them is hurting scholarship, because it creates a glut, and even in good things satiety is most harmful.”

Can you imagine what Erasmus would say about all the talking heads in media today?

Still, that doesn’t make figuring out your content marketing strategy any easier – especially if you face expectations like those another client shared with me. His boss rationalizes their content production frequency with this logic:

“We’ll never compete if we dive a mile deep into topics. Our competitors are publishing every day. They’re the ones getting the attention.”

My gaming contact and my client’s boss share the same philosophy: More content equates to more audiences, which equates to more value.

As Luke Skywalker once said, “Impressive. Every word in that sentence was wrong.”

Why more content doesn’t always mean more value

See, despite the advancements of AI, content creation hasn’t been democratized (yet). It’s as hard to create high-quality, differentiated content today as in Erasmus’s era.

Despite #AI advancements, it’s as hard to create quality, differentiated #Content today as it ever was, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Instead, the printing press and newer digital technology democratized only the publishing and distribution of content. In 2022, with the help of technology, people produce and distribute more content faster than at any other time in history.

Artificial intelligence will continue to ease the challenge of content production and distribution. It may even intrude into the content creation stage. Imagine a day when AI can produce an article like this one – and tens of thousands of alternative versions designed to increase its performance across diverse audiences at different times.

But all this content is both signal and noise. My noise drowns out someone else’s signal, and your signal quiets someone else’s noise.

It’s not surprising that content marketers rarely create truly unique content. Your thought leadership probably echoes broader trends that originated elsewhere. Your research likely uncovers evolving trends that others have already identified.

Content marketers probably won’t create the next great piece of literature or Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism (at least not as part of their day jobs).

This is by design. As a marketer, you’re in the business of popularity. You try to show up among the most common signals without becoming noise. You want to provide signals familiar enough to tap into audience affinities to associate your brand with the views popular among your desired audience.

Put simply: Most marketers can’t afford to be the lone voice for a particular topic or stance because they’re mostly measured by how many people engage with the message.

Your mission as content creators isn’t to avoid creating noise or focus only on creating signals. No. Your mission is to make the most “right people” (i.e., those in your desired audience) care. This is the art of creating signals among noise.

Your mission in #ContentMarketing is to make the people in your desired audience care about your #content, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Aim for different, not better

So, how can you separate signal and noise, differentiate your content, and make the right people care? Entertainment media companies provide a helpful model.

Look to these three media company-tested ideas:

1. Create ‘conscious’ content experiences

A “conscious” content experience involves creators who knowingly and purposely evolve the narrative as the needs of its audience change while sticking with the core story or values.

Media companies excel at this – telling the same story over and over again within changing pop-culture contexts or through the lens of different audiences. Look at all the ways they’ve told the story of Spiderman through different eras. The simple comic books of the 1960s and the multiverse movie adaptations featuring the teenage wallcrawler tell the same core story of an awkward teenager learning the great responsibility that comes with great power. Each retelling updates the story to resonate with current audiences.

You can take a similar approach with your blog, resource center, or other publication. You don’t have to lock yourself into a fixed editorial box that focuses only on thought leadership research or how-to articles. Great publications can change their editorial focus as their audience needs or context changes over time.

Software company SAP did this during the pandemic. During the early part of 2020, the content team shifted the editorial strategy for their Future of Customer Engagement and Experience site to feature helpful information regarding the Covid outbreak. This shift in focus helped them grow their traffic and, most importantly, build a more loyal audience.

2. Focus on different, not better

Media companies understand where they want to create differentiation with content and where they won’t. They also understand they don’t have to be the best in a category – they simply have to offer an alternative. Consider the hit television show The Office. In recreating the show for the US, the producers neither tried to copy nor improve upon the UK hit show. They made something different.

Many content marketers focus on producing better research, more provocative versions of thought leadership, or bigger influencers to tell the same story as their competitors. But one of my clients, a consulting firm in the financial services space, tried something different instead.

Rather than focusing on developing deeper thought leadership or more timely advice to its financial advisor audiences, they developed a book club. The company created a community and online content resource to help financial advisors discover the best new books to read. It wasn’t better than their competition. It was different.

3. Remember that quality wins in the long run

Some argue that if you produce enough content, some of it is bound to rank high, go viral, or succeed in another way. Mathematically, this argument is probably correct.

But I find that most content teams that focus on spending more time on fewer pieces do better than those that focus on pumping out as much content as possible.

Some media companies simply spew out content as a commodity, hoping it might be a surprise hit. Others recognize that hits are exceedingly rare. Putting care and feeding into each production lets them play the same game in a different way.

Financial Services company Capital Group offers a great example. As a global organization focused on just about every topical economic issue imaginable, the content team could compete with news organizations and report on every new interest rate hike, international banking change, or a new trend in the stock market. But they don’t. Instead, they focus on producing deep, thoughtful pieces weeks or months after a particular news item has broken. Why? They imbue every piece of content with deep research and analysis so that their audience learns to pay attention to and appreciate every piece of content they produce. This philosophy built a vast and loyal following among financial advisors.

Be the right signal to the right audience

The lesson for my client and the gaming company is the same. It may make mathematical sense to use technology to pump as much commodity content as possible. But that won’t solve the signal-versus-noise challenge.

Hiding their best signals in so much of their own noise makes it harder – not easier – to attract the audience that will care about their content. A glut of even good content distracts people from extraordinary content.

Create content because you have something to offer your desired audience. To those who care, you’re the signal. To those who don’t, you’re the noise.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Get Robert’s take on content marketing industry news in about three minutes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries
 

Subscribe to workday or weekly CMI emails to get Rose-Colored Glasses in your inbox each week.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute




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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

Did you follow the Apple iPad Pro content debacle?

Here’s a quick recap. A recent online ad for the new iPad Pro showed a large hydraulic press slowly crushing various symbols of creativity. A metronome, a piano, a record player, a video game, paints, books, and other creative tools splinter and smash as the Sonny and Cher song All I Ever Need Is You plays.

The ad’s title? “Crush!”

The point of the commercial — I think — is to show that Apple managed to smush (that’s the technical term) all this heretofore analog creativity into its new, very thin iPad Pro.  

To say the ad received bad reviews is underselling the response. Judgment was swift and unrelenting. The creative world freaked out.

On X, actor Hugh Grant shared Tim Cook’s post featuring the ad and added this comment: “The destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley.”

When fellow actor Justine Bateman shared the Tim Cook post, she simply wrote, “Truly, what is wrong with you?” Other critiques ranged from tone-challenged to wasteful to many worse things.

Actor Justine Bateman shared Tim Cook’s post on X, which featured the ad, and added this comment: "Truly, what is wrong with you?".

A couple of days later, Apple apologized and canceled plans to air the ad on television.

How not-so-great content ideas come to life

The level of anger surprises me. Look, the ad does show the eyeballs on an emoji-faced squishy ball popping under the plates’ pressure, but still. Calling the ad “actually psychotic” might be a skosh over the top.

Yes, the ad missed the mark. And the company’s subsequent decision to apologize makes sense.

But anyone who’s participated in creating a content misfire knows this truth: Mistakes look much more obvious in hindsight.

On paper, I bet this concept sounded great. The brainstorming meeting probably started with something like this: “We want to show how the iPad Pro metaphorically contains this huge mass of creative tools in a thin and cool package.”

Maybe someone suggested representing that exact thing with CGI (maybe a colorful tornado rising from the screen). Then someone else suggested showing the actual physical objects getting condensed would be more powerful.

Here’s my imagined version of the conversation that might have happened after someone pointed out the popular internet meme of things getting crushed in a hydraulic press.

“People love that!”

“If we add buckets of paint, it will be super colorful and cool.”

“It’ll be a cooler version of that LG ad that ran in 2008.”

“Exactly!”

“It’ll be just like that ad where a bus driver kidnaps and subsequently crushes all the cute little Pokémon characters in a bus!” (Believe it or not, that was actually a thing.)

The resulting commercial suffers from the perfect creative storm: A not-great (copycat) idea at the absolutely wrong time.

None of us know what constraints Apple’s creative team worked under. How much time did they have to come up with a concept? Did they have time to test it with audiences? Maybe crushing physical objects fit into the budget better than CGI. All these factors affect the creative process and options (even at a giant company like Apple).

That’s not an excuse — it’s just reality.

Content failure or content mistake?

Many ad campaigns provoke a “What the hell were they thinking?” response (think Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad or those cringy brand tributes that follow celebrity deaths).

Does that mean they’re failures? Or are they mistakes? And what’s the difference?

As I wrote after Peloton’s holiday ad debacle (remember that?), people learn to fear mistakes early on. Most of us hear cautionary messages almost from day one.

Some are necessary and helpful (“Don’t stick a knife in a live toaster” or “Look both ways before you cross the street.”) Some aren’t (“Make that essay perfect” or “Don’t miss that goal.”)

As a result, many people grow up afraid to take risks — and that hampers creativity. The problem arises from conflating failure and mistakes. It helps to know the difference.

I moved to Los Angeles in 1987 to become a rock ‘n’ roll musician. I failed. But it wasn’t a mistake. I wasn’t wrong to try. My attempt just didn’t work.

Labeling a failed attempt a “mistake” feeds the fears that keep people from attempting anything creative.

The conflation of failure and mistakes happens all too often in creative marketing. Sure, people create content pieces (and let’s not forget that there are always people behind those ideas) that genuinely count as mistakes.

They also create content that simply fails.

Don’t let extreme reactions make you fear failures

Here’s the thing about failed content. You can do all the work to research your audience and take the time to develop and polish your ideas — and the content still might fail. The story, the platform, or the format might not resonate, or the audience simply might not care for it. That doesn’t mean it’s a mistake.

Was the Apple ad a mistake? Maybe, but I don’t think so.

Was it a failure? The vitriolic response indicates yes.

Still, the commercial generated an impressive amount of awareness (53 million views of the Tim Cook post on X, per Variety.) And, despite the apology, the company hasn’t taken the ad down from its YouTube page where it’s earned more than 1 million views.

The fictional Captain Jean Luc Picard once said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not weakness. That is life.” The Apple ad turns that statement on its head — Apple made many mistakes and still won a tremendous amount of attention.

I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t criticize creative work. Constructive critiques help us learn from our own and others’ failures. You can even have a good laugh about content fails.

Just acknowledge, as the Roman philosopher Cicero once wrote, “Not every mistake is a foolish one.” 

Creative teams take risks. They try things outside their comfort zone. Sometimes they fail (sometimes spectacularly).

But don’t let others’ expressions of anger over failures inhibit your willingness to try creative things.

Wouldn’t you love to get the whole world talking about the content you create? To get there, you have to risk that level of failure.

And taking that risk isn’t a mistake.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Subscribe to workday or weekly CMI emails to get Rose-Colored Glasses in your inbox each week. 

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute 



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The Future of Content Success Is Social

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The Future of Content Success Is Social

Here’s a challenge: search “SEO RFP” on Google. Click on the results, and tell me how similar they are.

We did the same thing every other SEO does: We asked, “What words are thematically relevant?” Which themes have my competitors missed?” How can I put them in?” AND “How can I do everything just slightly better than they can?”

Then they do the same, and it becomes a cycle of beating mediocre content with slightly less mediocre content.

When I looked at our high-ranking content, I felt uncomfortable. Yes, it ranked, but it wasn’t overly helpful compared to everything else that ranked.

Ranking isn’t the job to be done; it is just a proxy.

Why would a high-ranking keyword make me feel uncomfortable? Isn’t that the whole freaking job to be done? Not for me. The job to be done is to help educate people, and ranking is a byproduct of doing that well.

I looked at our own content, and I put myself in the seat of a searcher, not an SEO; I looked at the top four rankings and decided that our content felt easy, almost ChatGPT-ish. It was predictable, it was repeatable, and it lacked hot takes and spicy punches.

So, I removed 80% of the content and replaced it with the 38 questions I would ask if I was hiring an SEO. I’m a 25-year SME, and I know what I would be looking for in these turbulent times. I wanted to write the questions that didn’t exist on anything ranking in the top ten. This was a risk, why? Because, semantically, I was going against what Google was likely expecting to see on this topic. This is when Mike King told me about information gain. Google will give you a boost in ranking signals if you bring it new info. Maybe breaking out of the sea of sameness + some social signals could be a key factor in improving rankings on top of doing the traditional SEO work.

What’s worth more?

Ten visits to my SEO RFP post from people to my content via a private procurement WhatsApp group or LinkedIn group?

One hundred people to the same content from search?

I had to make a call, and I was willing to lose rankings (that were getting low traffic but highly valued traffic) to write something that when people read it, they thought enough about it to share it in emails, groups, etc.

SME as the unlock to standout content?

I literally just asked myself, “Wil, what would you ask yourself if you were hiring an SEO company? Then I riffed for 6—8 hours and had tons of chats with ChatGPT. I was asking ChatGPT to get me thinking differently. Things like, “what would create the most value?” I never constrained myself to “what is the search volume,” I started with the riffs.

If I was going to lose my rankings, I had to socially promote it so people knew it existed. That was an unlock, too, if you go this route. It’s work, you are now going to rely on spikes from social, so having a reason to update it and put it back in social is very important.

Most of my “followers” aren’t looking for SEO services as they are digital marketers themselves. So I didn’t expect this post to take off HUGLEY, but given the content, I was shocked at how well it did and how much engagement it got from real actual people.

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

Writing a book is a gargantuan task, and reaching the finish line is a feat equal to summiting a mountain.

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