During the weeks leading up to Content Marketing World, I saw dozens of posts capitalizing on the event. From how to connect with influencers at the event to the top ten things someone was looking forward to doing in Cleveland, there was a deluge of content produced around this single event.
And those are just the ones that I saw. Surely there were many more that didn’t make it into my inbox or social streams.
It turns out, this is the rule rather than the exception, because over 2 million blog posts are written every day.
Producing content was once enough to distinguish a brand. Now frequent, consistent publication is table stakes.
If you want to reach the next level of content marketing magic, that promised land of engagement and ROI, you’ve got to get something that very few departments have: amazing content creators.
“Amazing” Content Creators Defined
In his Content Marketing World keynote, Jay Acunzo refers to what these people do as “unthinkable.” In his words, they “do what others wouldn’t dare.”
By using their own intuition, creativity, and insight, these content creators produce world-class work.
And then they do it again, and again, and again.
They do things that often seem outrageous or outlandish, but ultimately prove to be groundbreak and disruptive (in the best possible way).
An Unthinkable Example: Death to Lead Gen Forms
Jay told the story of David Cancel, Co-founder and CEO of Drift, a customer service software company whose content team was following the standard content marketing playbook:
- Create good content.
- Hide it behind a lead generation form.
- Collect people’s email addresses, names, shoe sizes, etc. so you can market and sell to them.
As they have for countless other brands, these tactics were working just fine. But David’s gut told him it was time to try something new. So he called up his content marketing manager and ordered the immediate termination of all lead gen forms.
Turns out, David’s gut had it right. After the forms came down they saw a 150% increase in subscribers and a 35% increase in users.
Not only that, David’s blog post about the decision was picked up by dozens of other sites, who happily shared Drift’s story with their audiences. They spread brand awareness like wildfire, and drove tangible business results, all by following an impulse that seemed counterintuitive.
3 Characteristics of the Best Content Marketers
I want to offer a caveat here, however: you shouldn’t just run around implementing everybody’s cockamamie ideas in the name of innovation.
Unthinkable marketers have a sixth sense about what might work, and it’s often grounded in years of lessons from the school of hard knocks. (That’s a nice way of saying they’ve probably failed a lot before they’ve worked out how to succeed.)
If you want to scout them out in the wild (or move yourself further along the unthinkable path), seek out and/or cultivate these characteristics:
Let’s talk about each of these in a little more detail.
Intrinsically Motivated to Make
These moderately crazy marketers create because they can’t not.
They have an internal drive that makes them committed to quality.
Putting out sub-part content just to hit a publication deadline kills their soul just a little bit.
For organizations looking to differentiate themselves with content, this trait is a gold mine. It means that you’ve got someone who’s passionate about the content they’re producing.
Passion always finds its way into the content, and that makes it just a little bit better than something produced by a well-trained creator who’s just trying to hit a word count.
Don’t believe me? Go see Jay speak in person, and compare his commitment to this idea to other speakers who just want to sell a book. That should settle the argument.
Ship a Lot of Content
One of my favorite lines from this talk was this one:
Content marketing is a creative profession, but four days spent mind mapping and brainstorming aren’t going to drive traffic, build an audience, or sell a product.
In the end, it’s our job to create content.
We learn the most by doing, and we learn even more by getting feedback from our audience. The only way to do that is to create something and share it with real people.
I’ll admit that I’ve never been overly sympathetic to hand-wringing sentiments about the time-consuming nature of creativity. If you can’t be creative on a deadline, then maybe content marketing isn’t for you.
Which brings us to the last of the three characteristics of unthinkable content creators (which I’ve split it into two parts).
Thrive Under Constraints…
One of Jay’s case studies was about Mikael Cho, who started Unsplash.com, an online resource for free hi-resolution photos, with $19 and four hours as a last-ditch effort to drive business for his startup Crew.co.
These limitations forced Mikael to make something quickly and get it out into the world. Once he was done he shared the URL on Hacker News with a relatively bland description:
“Free hi-resolution photos for your website. 10 new photos every 10 days (unsplash.com).”
Ten minutes later, he had gotten 50,000 visitors, many of which had already turned into customers for Crew.co.
Now Unsplash gets over 1 billion photo views every month, and Apple uses its images in its product ads.
This was certainly not a traditional marketing idea. It was the rapid creation and release of a useful, audience-centric resource. And it worked wonders.
… and Launch Side Projects
For marketers who want to become more unthinkable but don’t have the creative freedom to try these kinds of experiments on the job, side hustles are the way to go.
Just don’t give yourself too much room to roam.
Put some limits on yourself — like Mikael’s 4 hours and $19 — and learn to innovate inside them.
Unthinkable Content Creators Make the Difference
In a world that’s being constantly inundated with new content, it’s only these kinds of ideas that will break through the noise.
Following the same best practices that everyone else is using is a recipe for obscurity. We’ve all got access to the internet, to writers, to graphic designers, and to listicles of shortcuts for getting content out the door.
What sets the best content creators apart is their unique experience, the ideas that form the core of everything they produce. What sets the best organizations apart is their willingness to turn these unthinkable people loose.
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