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Why Typewriter-Like Linear Thinking Works Better Than Tools for Content Creation

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Why Typewriter-Like Linear Thinking Works Better Than Tools for Content Creation

Marketers routinely discuss content production in terms of tools, tech, and processes. Use that app or this device, and we’ll produce better content.

We want to know which tools other marketers or content creators are using as if they might reveal the secrets to their success.

I’m not criticizing – I’m just as guilty.

It’s incredibly tempting to imagine a new tool could be the path to stress-free and frictionless creative brilliance. You know, like in all those movies where the great author sits at the typewriter and bashes out a classic novel, only pausing to load each new sheet of paper.

Why can’t I write like that? Perhaps I could if I used the same tools and adopted the same practices.

That’s a more comforting thought than the truth: Creativity is hard.

But treating creativity as the product of tools is like discussing the art of the novel by analyzing the brand of typewriter George Orwell used.

Would 1984 or Animal Farm have turned out different if Orwell wrote with pen and ink instead of his Remington Home Portable? Probably not. And if I bought a Remington Home Portable typewriter, would I be more likely to write a classic novel than I was before? Definitely not.

Sure, without a camera, you can’t make a video. Without a mic, you can’t make a podcast. The right tools can enable different kinds of creativity. But don’t mistake the tool for the task.

The right tools can enable different kinds of creativity in #ContentMarketing. But don’t mistake the tool for the task, says @kimota via @CMIcontent Click To Tweet

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: You Can Write Faster With This Guide

A solution in search of a problem

Tools are helpful (if not essential) for getting work done. But tools aren’t solutions – no matter what the clichéd website copy says.

The word “solution” is a personal bête noire that I’m forever discouraging clients from using in their copy. It’s lazy, vague, and usually obscures what the product or service does.

Worse, referring to tools as solutions reinforces the idea that tools have the answers – even if we’re not sure of the question. It’s like holding a shovel and calling it a hole.

A shovel doesn’t tell you where to dig. Or how deep. Or what to do about that massive tree root you come across that threatens to scuttle your planting plans. (Yes, I’ve been working a lot in the garden lately. Why do you ask?)

I’m talking specifically about content creation tools here. Tools for distribution, analytics, asset management, and so on offer different benefits and may provide some guidance for where to dig, figuratively speaking.

But those are different tasks – more functional than creative. Tools are functional by definition. But in the creative process, too much functionality may be a bad thing.

Linear creativity: gone but not forgotten

Have you ever marveled at the handwritten manuscript of a famous novel?

Charles Dickens’ handwriting looks virtually impenetrable to modern eyes, and his manuscripts look like they must have been difficult to decipher even for his Victorian publishers.

Image showing a page from the handwritten manuscript of They Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Charles Dickens.

Image source

Creating like this is unavoidably linear. With each word indelibly applied to the page, there’s no going back – only forward. Mistakes would have to be serious to warrant tossing a page in the trash and rewriting a section.

Dickens produced only one manuscript of A Christmas Carol. No second manuscript. No V2.1, V2.2, and definitely no V4.6_Final_Final_FINAL. Rewriting the text to create a second draft would have been time-consuming. Minor mistakes were no reason to step out of the creative moment. Perfectionism just wasn’t viable.

Typewriters solved the problem of legibility – and were faster, too. But writers could still only compose in one direction. However, the typewriter era introduced the concept of cut-and-paste.

A typewritten manuscript is more uniform in spacing, making it easier to cut out and rearrange paragraphs before pasting them onto a fresh sheet. Stationers would sell long-bladed editing scissors, capable of cutting across a sheet of paper in a single snip. (You see them today in the icons that represent the cut feature in many apps).

Cut-and-paste was still a retrospective activity. Not anymore.

Word processors have dramatically changed how we write

Word processors gave us that instant ability to delete, revise, cut, paste, check spelling, format, add styles, and otherwise tinker with the words on the page – going far beyond anything that could be achieved with a typewriter.

The line between writing and editing blurred to become almost non-existent. Creativity is no longer linear.

If you spot a mistake higher up the screen, you face the urge to move the cursor and correct it instead of typing the next sentence. And if your writing flow stutters for just a moment – perhaps as you ponder your next point or the right word – the temptation to find easier problems to fix elsewhere in the draft is hard to resist. Suddenly, you’re revising, polishing, and rearranging previous paragraphs to feel productive instead of being genuinely productive by completing the draft.

Tools that let you revise, polish, and rearrange paragraphs make you feel productive but can get in the way of completing drafts, says @kimota via @CMIcontent #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

Or is that just me?

Tinkering with styles and fiddling with layouts may result in a good-looking document, but at this point, it’s still an unfinished, good-looking document.

When the “perfect” tools weaken your content

Tools (or the insistence on the perfect tool) can affect content creation beyond writing, too. I worked on podcasts for a major brand a few years ago. Each episode featured interviews with small business owners about their use of technology.

No problem. All we needed to do, I suggested, was send each guest a Snowball mic with a few instructions on how to ensure good sound quality. We would then record each interview over Skype. With a little planning, I suggested, we could produce each podcast quickly and easily with minimal post-production. The guests could keep their mics as a thank you for taking part.

But the company’s marketing team was skeptical of anything too simple or low budget. Instead, they insisted that we use the company’s high-tech recording studio. Each guest flew to Sydney and stayed the night in a hotel. Then they spent half a day in the recording studio with a presenter (who also flew in), a sound engineer, some of the client marketing team, and me.

In this studio environment, many interviewees became self-conscious about their responses – even though they felt fine talking about the same topics over the phone just a few days earlier.

Meanwhile, the marketing team continually pressed the intercom to interrupt with suggestions and feedback. And once the guests realized multiple takes were possible, they also stopped the recording whenever they wanted to repeat an answer. “Sorry, I stuttered a bit there. Can I try again?” It didn’t matter if no one else noticed or that the response sounded perfectly natural. Perfectionism reigned.

The takes and retakes – along with the post-production costs – added up.

The sound quality may have been as good as any major broadcaster, but the interview quality suffered. The conversations were drained of spontaneity and zest, edited together from a mess of second, third, or fourth takes – a couple of minutes here, a few seconds there.

Do your tools help or hinder?

Just because tools enable you to do something doesn’t mean you should do it. Sometimes, the result might be little or no better than if you’d used the most basic tools.

When selecting tools for content creation – for yourself or the team – try not to be tempted by shiny features and specs that supposedly give end users more flexibility, customization, and control. All that does is make those users responsible for more decisions that ultimately matter less than the creativity they supposedly enable.

Technology can help most with creativity when it stays out of the way.

Some apps offer a stripped-down writing experience akin to using a typewriter. The simple writing tool Draft, for example, supports basic markdown language. However, it also provides what they call Hemingway mode, which enforces that linear writing discipline. Delete is disabled along with just about everything else. You can only type and type and type, with no going back. You can’t even move the cursor to a different spot.

When it’s time to edit, your team can collaborate on and mark up Draft articles before publishing them directly to your CMS, social channels, and more. Simple and minimalist from beginning to end.

I recently discovered Descript for rich media, which makes editing audio or video as easy as editing a transcript. I don’t think Descript will make my other editing tools redundant just yet. But for a simple rough cut, editing from the transcript keeps me focused on the content – the words being spoken, for example – instead of working in an editing console so complex it could be mistaken for a flight simulator.

These tools won’t make you more creative, but they’ll make being creative a little easier. Your chosen tools should support a workflow as simple and uninterrupted as possible. Consider whether each tool adds distractions or removes them. Does it introduce more steps or eliminate existing ones? Does it create a new set of notifications that, like those Tamagotchi toys in the ’90s, continually beg for urgent attention? Or does it remove all but the most critical decisions from the creative process?

Tools for creating #ContentMarketing should support a simple and uninterrupted workflow. Do the one you use add distractions or remove them, asks @Kimota (via @CMIcontent Click To Tweet

Microsoft Word has over 700 fonts, whereas a typewriter has just one. I’m not saying you should equip your team with typewriters. I’m just saying that Orwell never lost a moment’s thought to whether Animal Farm might look better in 12-point Helvetica.

All tools mentioned in this article are identified by the author. If you’d like to suggest a tool, please add it in the comments.

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute




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45 Free Content Writing Tools to Love [for Writing, Editing & Content Creation]

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45 Free Content Writing Tools to Love [for Writing, Editing & Content Creation]

Creating content isn’t always a walk in the park. (In fact, it can sometimes feel more like trying to swim against the current.)

While other parts of business and marketing are becoming increasingly automated, content creation is still a very manual job. (more…)

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How data clean rooms might help keep the internet open

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How data clean rooms might help keep the internet open

Are data clean rooms the solution to what IAB CEO David Cohen has called the “slow-motion train wreck” of addressability? Voices at the IAB will tell you that they have a big role to play.

“The issue with addressability is that once cookies go away, and with the loss of identifiers, about 80% of the addressable market will become unknown audiences which is why there is a need for privacy-centric consent and a better consent-value exchange,” said Jeffrey Bustos, VP, measurement, addressability and data at the IAB.

“Everyone’s talking about first-party data, and it is very valuable,” he explained, “but most publishers who don’t have sign-on, they have about 3 to 10% of their readership’s first-party data.” First-party data, from the perspective of advertisers who want to reach relevant and audiences, and publishers who want to offer valuable inventory, just isn’t enough.

Why we care. Two years ago, who was talking about data clean rooms? The surge of interest is recent and significant, according to the IAB. DCRs have the potential, at least, to keep brands in touch with their audiences on the open internet; to maintain viability for publishers’ inventories; and to provide sophisticated measurement capabilities.

How data clean rooms can help. DCRs are a type of privacy-enhancing technology that allows data owners (including brands and publishers) to share customer first-party data in a privacy-compliant way. Clean rooms are secure spaces where first-party data from a number of sources can be resolved to the same customer’s profile while that profile remains anonymized.

In other words, a DCR is a kind of Switzerland — a space where a truce is called on competition while first-party data is enriched without compromising privacy.

“The value of a data clean room is that a publisher is able to collaborate with a brand across both their data sources and the brand is able to understand audience behavior,” said Bestos. For example, a brand selling eye-glasses might know nothing about their customers except basic transactional data — and that they wear glasses. Matching profiles with a publisher’s behavioral data provides enrichment.

“If you’re able to understand behavioral context, you’re able to understand what your customers are reading, what they’re interested in, what their hobbies are,” said Bustos. Armed with those insights, a brand has a better idea of what kind of content they want to advertise against.

The publisher does need to have a certain level of first-party data for the matching to take place, even if it doesn’t have a universal requirement for sign-ins like The New York Times. A publisher may be able to match only a small percentage of the eye-glass vendor’s customers, but if they like reading the sports and arts sections, at least that gives some directional guidance as to what audience the vendor should target.

Dig deeper: Why we care about data clean rooms

What counts as good matching? In its “State of Data 2023” report, which focuses almost exclusively on data clean rooms, concern is expressed that DCR efficacy might be threatened by poor match rates. Average match rates hover around 50% (less for some types of DCR).

Bustos is keen to put this into context. “When you are matching data from a cookie perspective, match rates are usually about 70-ish percent,” he said, so 50% isn’t terrible, although there’s room for improvement.

One obstacle is a persistent lack of interoperability between identity solutions — although it does exist; LiveRamp’s RampID is interoperable, for example, with The Trade Desk’s UID2.

Nevertheless, said Bustos, “it’s incredibly difficult for publishers. They have a bunch of identity pixels firing for all these different things. You don’t know which identity provider to use. Definitely a long road ahead to make sure there’s interoperability.”

Maintaining an open internet. If DCRs can contribute to solving the addressability problem they will also contribute to the challenge of keeping the internet open. Walled gardens like Facebook do have rich troves of first-party and behavioral data; brands can access those audiences, but with very limited visibility into them.

“The reason CTV is a really valuable proposition for advertisers is that you are able to identify the user 1:1 which is really powerful,” Bustos said. “Your standard news or editorial publisher doesn’t have that. I mean, the New York Times has moved to that and it’s been incredibly successful for them.” In order to compete with the walled gardens and streaming services, publishers need to offer some degree of addressability — and without relying on cookies.

But DCRs are a heavy lift. Data maturity is an important qualification for getting the most out of a DCR. The IAB report shows that, of the brands evaluating or using DCRs, over 70% have other data-related technologies like CDPs and DMPs.

“If you want a data clean room,” Bustos explained, “there are a lot of other technological solutions you have to have in place before. You need to make sure you have strong data assets.” He also recommends starting out by asking what you want to achieve, not what technology would be nice to have. “The first question is, what do you want to accomplish? You may not need a DCR. ‘I want to do this,’ then see what tools would get you to that.”

Understand also that implementation is going to require talent. “It is a demanding project in terms of the set-up,” said Bustos, “and there’s been significant growth in consulting companies and agencies helping set up these data clean rooms. You do need a lot of people, so it’s more efficient to hire outside help for the set up, and then just have a maintenance crew in-house.”

Underuse of measurement capabilities. One key finding in the IAB’s research is that DCR users are exploiting the audience matching capabilities much more than realizing the potential for measurement and attribution. “You need very strong data scientists and engineers to build advanced models,” Bustos said.

“A lot of brands that look into this say, ‘I want to be able to do a predictive analysis of my high lifetime value customers that are going to buy in the next 90 days.’ Or ‘I want to be able to measure which channels are driving the most incremental lift.’ It’s very complex analyses they want to do; but they don’t really have a reason as to why. What is the point? Understand your outcome and develop a sequential data strategy.”

Trying to understand incremental lift from your marketing can take a long time, he warned. “But you can easily do a reach and frequency and overlap analysis.” That will identify wasted investment in channels and as a by-product suggest where incremental lift is occurring. “There’s a need for companies to know what they want, identify what the outcome is, and then there are steps that are going to get you there. That’s also going to help to prove out ROI.”

Dig deeper: Failure to get the most out of data clean rooms is costing marketers money


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Ascend | DigitalMarketer

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Ascend | DigitalMarketer

At this stage, your goal is to generate repeat buys and real profits. While your entry-point offer was designed for conversions, your ascension offers should be geared for profits—because if you’re serving your customers well, they’ll want to buy again and again.

Ascension offers may be simple upsells made after that initial purchase… bigger, better solutions… or “done for you” add-ons.

So now we must ask ourselves, what is our core flagship offer and how do we continue to deliver value after the first sale is made? What is the thing that we are selling? 

How we continue to deliver value after the first sale is really important, because having upsells and cross sales gives you the ability to sell to customers you already have. It will give you higher Average Customer values, which is going to give you higher margins. Which means you can spend more to acquire new customers. 

Why does this matter? It matters because of this universal law of marketing and customer acquisition, he or she who is able and willing to spend the most to acquire a customer wins.

Very often the business with the best product messaging very often is the business that can throw the most into customer acquisition. Now there are two ways to do that.

The first way is to just raise a lot of money. The problem is if you have a lot of money, that doesn’t last forever. At some point you need economics. 

The second way, and the most timeless and predictable approach, is to simply have the highest value customers of anyone in your market. If your customers are worth more to you than they are to your competitors, you can spend more to acquire them at the same margin. 

If a customer is worth twice as much to you than it is to your competitor, you can spend twice as much trying to acquire them to make the same margin. You can invest in your customer acquisition, because your customers are investing in your business. You can invest in your customer experiences, and when we invest more into the customer we build brands that have greater value. Meaning, people are more likely to choose you over someone else, which can actually lower acquisition costs. 

Happy customers refer others to us, which is called zero dollar customer acquisition, and generally just ensures you’re making a bigger impact. You can invest more in the customer experience and customer acquisition process if you don’t have high margins. 

If you deliver a preview experience, you can utilize revenue maximizers like up sells, cross sales, and bundles. These are things that would follow up the initial sale or are combined with the initial sale to increase the Average Customer Value.

The best example of an immediate upsell is the classic McDonalds, “would you like fries with that?” You got just a burger, do you also want fries with that? 

What distinguishes an upsell from other types of follow up offers is the upsell promise, the same end result for a bigger and better end result. 

What’s your desired result when you go to McDonalds? It’s not to eat healthy food, and it’s not even to eat a small amount of food. When you go to McDonalds your job is to have a tasty, greasy, predictable inexpensive meal. No one is going there because it’s healthy, you’re going there because you want to eat good. 

It’s predictable. It’s not going to break the bank for a hamburger, neither will adding fries or a Coke. It’s the same experience, but it’s BIGGER and BETTER. 

Amazon does this all of the time with their “Customers Who Bought This Also Bought …” But this one is algorithmic. The point of a cross sell is that it is relevant to the consumer, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be aligned with the original purchase. What you don’t want to do is start someone down one path and confuse them.

You can make this process easy with Bundles and Kits. With a bundle or a kit you’re essentially saying to someone, “you can buy just one piece, or you can get this bundle that does all of these other things for a little bit more. And it’s a higher value.”

The idea behind bundles and kits is that we are adding to the primary offer, not offering them something different. We’re simply promising to get them this desired result in higher definition. 

The Elements of High-Converting Revenue Maximizers (like our bundles and kits) are:

  1. Speed

If you’re an e-Commerce business, selling a physical product, this can look like: offering free shipping for orders $X or more. We’re looking to get your customers the same desired result, but with less work for them.

  1. Automation

If you’re a furniture business, and you want to add a Revenue Maximizer, this can look like: Right now for an extra $X our highly trained employees will come and put this together for you. 

  1. Access 

People will pay for speed, they’ll pay for less work, but they will also pay for a look behind the curtain. Think about the people who pay for Backstage Passes. Your customers will pay for a VIP experience just so they can kind of see how everything works. 

Remember, the ascension stage doesn’t have to stop. Once you have a customer, you should do your best to make them a customer for life. You should continue serving them. Continue asking them, “what needs are we still not meeting” and seek to meet those needs. 

It is your job as a marketer to seek out to discover these needs, to bring these back to the product team, because that’s what’s going to enable you to fully maximize the average customer value. Which is going to enable you to have a whole lot more to spend to acquire those customers and make your job a whole lot easier. 

Now that you understand the importance of the ascend stage, let’s apply it to our examples.

Hazel & Hem could have free priority shipping over $150, a “Boutique Points” reward program with exclusive “double point” days to encourage spending, and an exclusive “Stylist Package” that includes a full outfit custom selected for the customer. 

Cyrus & Clark can retain current clients by offering an annual strategic plan, “Done for You” Marketing services that execute on the strategic plan, and the top tier would allow customers to be the exclusive company that Cyrus & Clark services in specific geographical territories.



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