Content marketers don’t build credibility by relying on home runs. Even great hitters strike out more often than they hit homers. In content marketing, meeting customer and prospect informational needs in consistent and meaningful (but often small) ways is key. Achieving that level of consistency and relevance takes discipline, the essential but unsung virtue of content marketing.
Granted, there’s not much that’s sexy about being disciplined. Creativity and the ability to generate viral content grab a lot more attention. And discipline is hard to recognize; it is after all, a hidden virtue. But ignore it at your peril. Discipline manifests itself in the professional habits and traits that make our work perform better. These traits and habits, like strong muscles, can be exercised and developed, ultimately nurturing and improving the result of any content marketing initiative.
Let’s take a deeper look at three traits and how discipline fortifies them.
The Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs ran an in-depth survey on the state of content marketing last year. It asked marketers if their content marketing efforts were effective. Then it asked if they had a documented content strategy. You can guess that the ones who found their efforts more effective were also the ones who took the time to pragmatically lay out their strategy and plans (60%), rather than taking a verbal approach (32%).
Red Bull and GoPro, two marketers that rely on the adrenaline rush of extreme human activities to fuel their content initiatives, are, ironically, great examples of pragmatism. Red Bull has events scheduled far in advance (just think of the planning involved in Felix Baumgartner’s parachute jump from the edge of space). And their content initiatives—from articles, short videos, documentaries, infographics and more—are equally well planned to leverage the promotional benefits of these events. My mind boggles at how complex Red Bull’s editorial calendar must be.
Relatedly, GoPro’s videos have a sense of spontaneity about them. But you know they don’t just happen, particularly when you consider the range of activities and diversity of locales their videos capture. It takes planning. (By the way, eConsultancy wrote a great case study comparison of the content strategy employed by Red Bull and GoPro that’s well worth the read.)
As the old maxim goes: you need to plan the work and then work the plan. It takes discipline (and a lot of hard thinking) to get your content strategy onto paper. It’s worth it.
Discipline enables us to plan better. And it also helps us avoid flinching when things don’t go according to plan. Instead, it encourages savvy marketers to adapt. If people aren’t responding to content, it’s an opportunity to find out why they aren’t responding and, more importantly, to find out what they will respond to.
One of our clients, already a smart content marketer, asked us to help them with a marketing automation campaign. They had engaging, credible content assets to share with prospects. They had a well-planned campaign. Despite this, the first two emails in the campaign garnered poor open rates and poor click-to-open ratios. Rather than abandon the effort, they had confidence in their content and decided to cull their email list, eliminating anyone who hadn’t shown some interest in the initial assets. The third email went out to the trimmed mailing list. The recipients responded with above-average open rates and, more importantly, exceedingly high click-to-open ratios. Lesson learned: our client didn’t get the number of prospects they expected, but the ones they did get were more engaged than they had anticipated. In this case, it took steely-eyed discipline to discover that lesson.
My colleague Nicole Strong wrote a great Fresh Ideas post about a psychological phenomenon called false-consensus bias. In short, it’s the seemingly inherent desire by humans to think that other people are just like them. It manifests when we lack insight into others and we fill in the gaps in our knowledge by presuming that others behave or think just like us.
Lacking customer personas or other forms of customer insight, we can avoid the false-consensus bias by seizing the opportunity to experiment using A/B testing. (In fact, even when we have personas, A/B testing is a good idea.) As we’ve found here at Quarry, something as simple as changing a subject line or a slight tweak in the tone of an email can substantially change the level of engagement that a piece generates.
Perhaps it’s because we’re constantly trying to do our best work that we imbue too much of ourselves in the finished product. We need self-awareness to recognize what we don’t know and the discipline to shake things up and search for a better way.
Discipline is essential if we’re going to focus on the long game, not just the quick wins. I’m not saying that creativity and ingenuity, the better-known virtues of marketers, aren’t important. They’re pillars that form the foundation of good content marketing and leadership. But without discipline, we’re really just creating a two-legged stool.