I am a Harry Potter fan, and I own two wands - one that "picked me" at Olivander's (Universal Studios) and the one that belonged to Professor Snape. Most days, they sit on little wand stands in my office.
However, sometimes, I wish I could use them in my marketing work.
Specifically, I wish I could use it to remove some of the thoughts and memories about marketing that hinder many of today's businesses and marketing departments.
For the last several years, I've been talking to companies about avoiding the failures of forcing old-school marketing strategies into the digital marketplace.
Most of that advice is rooted in "traditional" or outdated thinking that is corrupting marketing departments today. That corruption is usually present for one of two reasons:
However, the internet wasn't created yesterday. In fact, it's been around long enough that some of the common digital marketing strategies we've heard over the years are becoming "old school" as well. So much so, that it's time to remove them from our memories and re-think our approach.
We Need to Write Blogs
I'm not saying get the idea of blogging out of your head. I am saying get the idea of blogging out of your head if:
Remove the thought that this is a promotional tool
When I look at many of the company blogs today, I find myself asking, "Why would someone read this, and what would it inspire them to do?"
Like social media, companies can take a very one-sided approach to their content and focus on how it will benefit them. Here's the problem:
You might be asking, "What kind of proof would validate their skepticism?"
Two of the top reasons would be:
What are some of the new thoughts and ideas that will serve you better today? Let's answer that by removing another old thought.
We Need SEO
When marketers started to really dissect what would help them in the digital marketing world, SEO was front and center. It was all about keywords and infusing them into your content.
However, people attempted to game the system, and quality started to suffer. Suddenly, thought leaders were telling marketers to quit over-stuffing their content with keywords. For one thing, some people were getting so bad at it, that it became obvious when someone was aiming for more keyword benefit than consumer value.
Over time, algorithms and consumer behaviors changed, making harder for keyword stuffing strategies to work.
Now, several years have passed, and there are 600 million blogs on the internet. Plus, it is estimated that 7.5 million blogs are published per day.
Remove thoughts that view SEO as THE strategy
If you're in a crowded industry where every company uses the same keywords, you could drive yourself crazy trying to win that battle.
For example - How often does the healthcare industry use the word "care," or does the university system use the word "student-centric" in their content?
However, that's not the only reason you can't think of SEO as a standalone "strategy" today.
Eli Schwartz, author of Product-Led SEO says, “If content is the product of a website, and the goal of the website is for readers to consume that content, … words for the sake of a word count or keyword goal is an utter waste of time. Product-Led SEO requires thinking of the reader and why they should spend their precious time enjoying the content.”
In other words, when we have to consider everything from consumer attention spans and skepticism, finding the content isn't enough.
Why are they going to read the content? What's getting them to take action or convert?
Instead of making it all about keywords and risk duplicating generic content that is all over the internet, consider focusing on customer questions or "spiky" content.
We Need to Obsess Over the Competition
If you're in a crowded space, you might find it way more beneficial to spend less time, energy, money and energy trying to outrank a competitor.
Instead, find ways to fill the gaps in your space. Think about what we've gone over in this blog, and then look at your competition.
You can gain a lot more impactful ground by filling those gaps through:
Remove thoughts about your competition as nothing more than a threat
Marcus once created a blog that featured his competition in a "top pool businesses in the area" style blog when he was in the swimming pool business.
Some would think that was crazy, but the competition shared his blog.
Also, if your competition wrote or produced an insightful piece of content that adds value to something you're creating...add it! If it's a link, make sure it opens in a new window so the consumer doesn't leave your site.
It's about value. If you're so invested in providing value that you would link your competition in your content - that doesn't go unnoticed (assuming the consumer even knows or cares that it's from a competitor).
If you can remove these and other fading, old-school thoughts from your marketing mind, I think you'll find that it opens you to a whole new world of possibilities in the digital marketplace.
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Dumbledore shares advice about dwelling on the past in ways that can distract him from the present and future:
"It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live."
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Why do marketers continue to debate whether or not "short attention spans" matter? At times the debate sounds like an argument about whether or not the trend even exists. Most of the arguments against it don't resonate with me.
I saw one that said they don't matter when it comes to blogs or long-form content because Google still indexes long-form content.
Well, good for Google. Now, when someone clicks on the article, can you guarantee they will read the whole thing?
Another argument says if your content is good enough, they'll watch/read/listen to it all. That has some merit, but are we still talking about attention spans?
Let's consider video for a moment.
I recently sat in on a session about a successful YouTube formula and the importance of keeping someone engaged in your YouTube videos. Even as the presenter bragged about his stats - his analytics showed a 36-minute video that averaged 9 minutes of viewing time.
I don't know about you, but when I'm searching for something (like an answer), and I see a video that might give me what I need...the FIRST thing I check is the length of the video.
If it looks like it could take 12 minutes to answer one question - I may not even watch.
Or I might skip, skip and skip in hopes of landing on what I need.
The content might be awesome - maybe even worth watching the whole thing - but I just need my answer.
My attention span will not hold for that long if it takes 7+ minutes to get to the answer - even if the content makes me laugh and cry like an exaggerated reaction video.
Can those who argue against the attention span question say it's never mattered when they found content?
If they stopped watching something (or skipped ahead), skimmed a long blog or turned their attention someplace else, was it ALWAYS because the content wasn't good enough?
Did they ever stop reading something and then say, "Well, Google showed me this...so, I need to read the whole thing!"?
Could it be an issue of time, place, situation or other factors?
I think the bigger problem is we discuss this topic like it's a "Yes" or "No" question.
So what do we do?
In the video below, I share an article I found that dismisses the "people have shorter attention spans of goldfish" proclamation and takes a deeper look at the state of marketers and attention spans.
Do you find yourself struggling to develop topics for your company blog? You're not alone. Have you ever considered why it's so difficult to generate content? It could be any number of reasons:
The lack of time to write a blog
The product or industry doesn't "inspire" topics
The belief that blogs can't translate to sales
Well, the good news is there are solutions to all of these challenges. Here are some concepts to help you break these content creation barriers.
I have simple response to that blog.
Do you think I'll be fooled by that company again? Nope.
In today's content overloaded world, you should just assume you're audience won't fall for a clickbait-like tease. These days, people tend to already be cynical about what brands put in front of them. They already assume it's probably more self-serving than valuable. It's also why when they land on content filled with links that benefit the content creator, they're likely to bail out in a matter of seconds.
Ask yourself why someone would want to read your blog, and don't say it's because your content is awesome or your company is unique. As Joe Pulizzi says - “Your customers don’t care about you, your products, or your services. They care about themselves.”
Your customers can create blog topics
Focusing on customers and topics can address two common blog strategy barriers:
The time challenge
The company product/service topic issue
What if you just took the answers your customers ask and turn them into blog topics?
This is how Marcus Sheridan saved his swimming pool business - making the the question a blog title, and featuring the answer (even if it's short) is the body of the blog.
Now he makes a living teaching businesses how to create value by answering questions that customers are asking - often times via search. It's amazing that Marcus turned this into a content phenom, because on its surface it seems kind of an obvious idea.
This concept helps with the challenges of time, length and sales. It's a prime example of how blogs don't always have to be long, time-consuming epic reads.
And Marcus will tell you - his They Ask, You Answer strategy works for all businesses.
Beyond conducting internal research to find out what your customers and prospects are asking, there are online resources like AnswerThePublic, HubSpot’s blog topic generator and Buzzsumo that help generate blog topics.
Some People Don't Want to Read Blogs
When it comes to time, you shouldn't just consider how much time a blog will take to write. You should also consider how much your audience is willing to read.
Brand and digital content strategist Chris Brogan expanded his content strategies beyond the written word when he noticed trends pointing towards video and audio. In making his case for why watching and listening is the new reading, Chris pointed out that people only spend an average of 19 minutes a day reading - including their texts and emails.
How many minutes do you spend reading your emails or phone communications?
How much time is left to read a few articles and blogs?
Chris's point doesn't mean you should stop writing blogs. It's a reminder not to solely rely on content content that takes a lot of time to read. Limited time and skimming habits are reasons why more blogs offer a written and audio version to their audience.
If you choose to record a video, just share some insights. Make it fun and engaging. Talk to your audience and save them some time by recording something that can also be shared on your blog.
Simple Blog Ideas Can Still Provide Value
Once you realize you don't have to write an epically-long blog post, you may realize just how much content you can create. It's all about providing value, and there are a variety of ways to prove you have a lot to offer your customers and prospects.
When I first learned about this approach from a content marketing expert, they said something that has always stuck with me:
If you provide a lot of value through content, your audience starts to think, "If I get this kind of value for free - imagine what I'll get when I buy something from them."
So, take the time you might spend on an extremely long and complex blog and use these 60 ideas for bloggers, entrepreneurs, marketers and businesses to generate ideas.