All the tools and technology in the world can’t help with one of the most common problems in content marketing.
Content marketing is a marathon, and marathons are painful (so I’ve heard). A great team, a robust plan and an editorial calendar can still fall prey to a creeping sense that maybe it’s all for naught, that the ideas are starting to dry up, or that even when you score a success, it’s short-lived or overlooked. When these feelings arise, how do you combat them?
Tip #1: Keep Reading
Stephen King famously said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or talent) to write.” Stephen King is an accomplished novelist, so we’ll take him at his word.
When the creative well runs dry, I find it helpful to turn to other sources for inspiration — and not necessarily marketing resources, though those can be helpful, too.
Everyone has a different muse, but I find reading about the creative process of figures I respect helpful.
Recently, I read this collection of essays about the creation of Mad Men, it’s cultural touchstones, and the impact it’s had on pop culture. The parts I found most compelling were about the diverse array of references Mad Men drew inspiration from, how Matt Weiner plotted a long-term storyline that was malleable enough for his team of writers and actors to explore possibilities as they arrived, and ultimately how the show was marketed and distributed. It might as well have been a book about content marketing.
Another book I just finished is “By Invitation Only,” from Gilt Groupe founders Alexis Mayback and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson. From its inception to its peak, few companies executed guerilla marketing as well as they did, and it’s interesting to see how such a small team navigated what was brand new territory in online retail at the time.
Those are just some offline examples.
Online publications I recommend include Adage, FastCompany and Medium, to name a few, that provide access to innovators and risk-takers in digital.
Tip #2 Schedule Time to Think
Getting swept up in the minutia of the work week can leave surprisingly little time to think, which is why I recommend designating time on a regular basis to do just that. Go for a walk around the block. Take a coffee break. Find a nice quiet corner of the office. Leave yourself a little extra time in the morning before you leave for work. Whatever you do, try to get 15-20 minutes to yourself during the day to give your eyes a rest and pump yourself up.
Tip #3 Ask Your Friends
In the process of writing this post, I asked our Senior Marketing Manager Natalie Chan what she does when inspiration runs dry and she volunteered three of her havens for ideas:
2) The work of creative agencies via AdAge, Campaign Brief Asia, Ad News and Best ADs on TV
3) Other startups and the growth hacking tactics they’re taking to engage their audience
The last point brings me to the next bit of advice:
Tip #4 Check Out the Competition
Think of the great rivalries in sports: Bird vs. Magic, McEnroe vs. Borg, Ruth vs. Gehrig. These individuals pushed each other to greater heights due out of sheer competitive will (bordering on paranoia and megalomania). And when those rivalries dissipated, so did their individual accomplishments.
Competition makes you better. Envy is a powerful motivator.
Of course, in the age of digital marketing, every content producer is a competitor; no need to obsess over just the companies in your competitive set (though you should certainly keep tabs on what they’re doing). The blogger down the street with a fraction of the budget but twice the following is who you should really worry about. Make note of the hacks they’re using to grow their influence and test a few yourself.
Tip #5 Be Patient
I almost feel bad typing that because I’m one of the least patient people I know. But there is evidence — anecdotal and quantitative — that the creative process can’t be rushed. It simply can’t.
Here’s an amusing tidbit from a recent Medium post on Finding Your Hidden Creative Genius that I highly recommend. Basically, some of the greatest thinkers and contributors to society endured decades of failures or mild successes before arriving at “the answer.”
OK, maybe the stakes aren’t quite as high in marketing, but still… your best work as an epic storyteller are almost certainly still ahead of you. That’s what long-term patience looks like.
Day-to-day patience is harder. You may not be able to rush ideas, but you can prepare yourself to receive ideas at any moment.
First comes recognition of an idea when you have one, which isn’t all that straightforward. A stray thought, a tagline, or less-developed still, even a word recurring at the edges of your mind could be significant. Which is why, whatever you do, write down these stray thoughts on the nearest available surface. Pen and paper. Pen and palm-of-hand. Evernote. Onenote. There are apps for these crises.
And don’t forget to look at your notes later to see if they still make sense (I always forget to do this).
Tip #6 Make an “Have-Done” List
If you’re feeling really impatient, though, than the “have-done” list is a great way to light the proverbial fire, depending on how much self-loathing you can take. In the era of performance marketing, this is the most basic form of measurement. “Did I accomplish what I set out to accomplish today? This week? This month?” Better yet: “Did I accomplish anything of value for my brand today?” Only you can judge if the length of your “have-done” list equates to success, but we both know it could always be longer…