Friday, November 1

Marketing Content: If You Write It, They Will Not Come

Art by Jenna Becker
Some people will likely tell me that my headline is all wrong. Maybe they're right. Why would anyone want to read an article about why content marketing doesn't work? And if they did want to read an article about that, then why wouldn't they pick something pithier like "10 Common Reasons Why Content Marketing Isn’t Working for You?" These are two very good questions.

The truth is that content marketing does work. It works extremely well. And the dividends content marketing pays will likely benefit your business far longer than you'll enjoy contributing to it.

What won't work, outside of the ten tips Neil Patel points out, is producing content for nobody. Yet, that is what most content marketing campaign startups attempt to do. They provide content before anybody is listening and then step back and act surprised, especially if it's really great content.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, nobody cares. 

Most people have heard the philosophical thought experiment that raises questions regarding observation and perception. The problem, as posed by Scientific American, was: If a tree were to fall on an uninhabited island, would there be any sound? The exercise usually leads people to speculate that sound is reliant on something's ability to pick up its vibrations.

In other words, if a speaker delivers an amazing speech ten times to an empty room, no one will know what they spoke about. And while we wouldn't expect any measurable results from an audience that doesn't exist, that wouldn't make the speech any less amazing. It simply means the ratio of ten speeches over zero listens is still zero responses.

If both of the above sentiments are true, then it stands to reason that content marking works the same way. If nobody is around to consume the content or even knows you produce content or even knows who you are, then chances are even the best content will go nowhere because nobody cares. Or, more precisely, nobody is around to care.

The simple truth about content marketing is you need an audience. 

In the last decade or so, I've worked on hundreds of content marketing campaigns (including some that were covered by CNN and the New York Times) and I've come to the conclusion that having an audience in place (or not) is the number one reason content marketing campaigns succeed or fail. The problem most small business owners or startups have is that they don't want to invest in the objective to build an audience before the objective to have an audience read and respond to produced content.

It doesn't even matter what industry or market. An author hoping to market a self-published book, an entrepreneur who wanted to start a Kickstarter campaign, a Shark Tank startup that wanted to launch a new niche social network. All of them were advised to share short content and curate topic-related content, but all of them resisted because they don't believe building an audience leads to direct conversions. News flash. Producing content for no one doesn't lead to conversations either.

If you or your small business is hoping to have a successful content marketing campaign six months from now, the time to start building an audience or a community is right now. That way, in six months or three months or however long you have, there will be people waiting to respond to the content, listen to your speech, or hear a tree fall in the woods. Goodnight and good luck.

Saturday, October 19

Rekindling Creativity: Live, Learn, Leap

When automaton drives marketing, creativity can take a back seat. There is only one problem with it. A world run by algorithms is impossibly predictable. You look up product support, and you're subjected to a series of advertisements for a product you already own; only it’s broken. 

Predictably isn’t only inherent in computer programming. It becomes part of our daily routines. We wake up, get ready, exercise, have coffee, take breakfast, commute to work, check email, work on priorities, have a meeting, eat lunch, take another meeting, wrap up deadlines, transport kids, have dinner, watch television, go to bed, and then do the whole thing all over. 

Sure, everybody’s routine is probably a little different, but you get the point. You have a routine, and the better it goes, the more likely you feel content. The price you pay is not being present. 

The less your present, the more predictable our reactions when exposed to programming. The busier we are reacting to stimulus and situations or policies and politics, the less likely we are to take actions that move our lives forward. Sure, routines can be useful but they can also cause paralysis — in both marketing and our daily lives. The only problem is that some people grow so accustomed to contentment, they forget how to rewrite an increasingly scripted world.

Live. 

The first step toward rekindling creativity is to live with intention. Much like animals, people are hardwired to filter out unimportant details. Since we are bombarded by neural input, our brains tend to ignore the expected and notice the unexpected. This is the very reason even fitness trainers tell people to keep your fitness routine fresh

Life is exactly like that. You have to keep changing the stimulus so your brain doesn't slip in and become stuck in sameness. Make time for weekend retreats, walk somewhere new, drive a different route, skip your daily routine once a week (e.g. don't open email until noon or try a no-meeting Monday, have lunch with an old friend, perform a random act of kindness, or flip a coin to make some choices. You get the point. Do something different. 

Learn. 

I have always been a lifelong learner. I read books. I go to events. I listen to speakers. I take online courses. My lists for inspiration are endless. You don't have to start with any of them. But I did want to share that it was through one of the venues that I discovered the genius of David Lynch. 


He ties living and learning together perfectly. His concepts of capturing ideas literarily changed my life. The two-and-a-half minutes I'm sharing here will introduce you to a sliver of his understanding of consciousness. I'm calling out the time for a reason. Most people tell me that time famine is the number one reason to avoid learning. You have to find the time. I listen to audiobooks when I drive anywhere. Most Ted talks are only 18 minutes long. The very notion that you cannot afford to invest five or 20 minutes to improve yourself should be an indication that you probably need to more than anyone. 

Leap. 

Creativity isn't only about input. It's about output. In fact, the root meaning of the word “creativity” is “to grow.” To truly benefit from creativity, you have to turn new and imaginative ideas into reality. The idea doesn't only apply to arts or marketing. It applies to education. It applies to science. It applies to IT. It applies to business. It applies to finding a sense of purpose in our lives. 

One of the recent changes I've made in my life is to finally set time aside to work on writing fiction. I originally set a goal of writing one short-short (a story of 50 to 1,500 words) once a week and a short story (3,500 words or more) once a month. The leap to do so came from author Joyce Carol Oats whose class reminded me that feedback helps fuel writers. Right now, I share these stories at byRichBecker on Facebook. 

More importantly, the infusion of creativity in my life has awakened a passion to produce great things. While I've always enjoyed being on the leading edge in my field, writing fiction has elevated my work in advertising and marketing. It's made me more open in observations and making connections within the world. It's increased my sense of purpose and added excitement in everything I do.

And the reason I want to share this has very little to do with me and everything to do with providing some evidence for you. If you really are looking to rekindle your creativity, start by turning off those distractions and making small changes in your life, learning more about those things that interest you, and then transforming the ideas that start to come your way into action. Give a try. Try it for two weeks (or a month). And if you wouldn't mind, drop me a note and tell me how it worked out for you. I'd really love to know.

Saturday, August 17

Sharing Shorts: Screen Door


Squirrel Lake


Screen Door
by Richard Becker

Every summer we migrated north with the birds, flocking to a family lake cottage deep in the woods. My Grandfather built most of it: thick logs fashioned into a home and painted green; big bay windows on the west side to catch the reflection of the sun off the waves; a screen door on the east with a squeak that said welcome home.

It was a retreat where family members gathered to remember some things and forget others, caught up in all the charm and challenge of living the moment. Who would win at penny-ante poker? Who would pull in the biggest fish? Who was old enough to claim their right of passage by plunging into the water and swimming a mile to the other side of the lake? Who would lose their marshmallows in the bonfire made from an old boat that had outlived its purpose?

It was a place with backwood rules. Flush for two but not for one. Flip the bail closed on the spinning reel before the lure touches the water. Never buy bait because it’s easy enough to dig up nightcrawlers in the morning or net minnows in the early afternoon. Expect to clean what you catch unless it’s a Muskie. Never let a screen door slam, and expect someone to call after you if you do. “Don’t let the screen door slam.”

The last time I shut it quietly behind me, my Grandfather was half the man I remembered. Lymphoma had stolen most of him. We didn’t take the boat out or pick wild berries or climb the watchtower. There were no accidents on my uncle’s radio to run to or trails to mark or gardens to tend. We settled on telling each other a few good stories before he lifted a broom above his head for exercise.

It was the last time I ever saw him, and the last time I ever walked through the front door again. The cottage was sold by his second wife a few years later, compounding everyone’s sense of loss with reoccurring emptiness that comes around every summer. Looking back, I should have slammed it.

***

Screen Door was not so much a short as it was a scrap — the first draft of a story that eventually made it into 50 States. For more first look shorts, scraps, and classes, follow my page byRichardBecker on Facebook or, better yet, subscribe to my quarterly newsletter. Goodnight and good luck.

Thursday, January 18

Reassessing Direction: Ask Yourself What’s Important

What’s important? It’s a question we have to periodically ask ourselves.

For the better part of 12 years, writing content that centered on communication was important to me. It made sense. Marketing, communication, public relations, and journalism was migrating to a digital landscape as people who didn’t necessarily have much experience in the field opened up new dialogues, discussions, and channels.

I knew something about marketing and communication and entering into discussion with content creators — professionals migrating to the digital space or people in the digital space who were learning communication and marketing skills — was an exhilarating experience. As an educator, it still is from time to time, even if many of those conversations have migrated to places like Facebook and LinkedIn (for now).

I’m glad I did. This blog houses a considerable amount of content that chronicles the evolution and growth of communication. The best of it, those posts that have a certain timeless quality, are still used in my classes today — both those at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and some private classes that I’ve taken to teaching from time to time. In fact, I do have a few new ideas I want to sketch out and share in this space in the near future too.

I may have done it by now, but somehow I was overwhelmed by attempting to reconcile what I know works online (writing niche subject matter expert content) and what’s important to me (which is a bit broader in scope). I’m not the first communication strategist to struggle with this idea and I am sure I won't be the last. Most of us know that toggling back and forth between personal interest and professional prowess isn’t the right formula to attract eyeballs, engagement, and reciprocal action.

Then again, what’s important? 

While the social media measurement models we establish for business make sense (aside from the over emphasis on eyeballs perhaps), there is always that other side of the coin. The best posts are those that tap into what’s important to you as a person — because the spark is more important than whatever formula or standard you set. 

Right now, there are a number of topics that are important to me. After seeing some shake ups happen at the City of North Las Vegas and City of Henderson, I am considerably more attuned to what is happening not only in my community, but also the communities around me. When you combine these stories with continued reports that our education system is still broken, it becomes clear that communication alone, or lack thereof, is not the answer.

We need solutions, ones where communicators in those government entities can support them by serving their organizations and the public and not whatever agenda has been drawn up behind closed doors. Reputation management, after all, is not about hiding what has happened. It's about making it right.

Along with my community, the work where most of my time is invested is important. In addition to my own firm, I am assisting the Council of Multiple Listing Services in support of its mission to build a better marketplace and developing content for an integrative oncology site to help people cope and better care for themselves before, during, and after cancer treatment, among other things.

I’ve also considered drawing more attention to where my interest in youth sports intersects with personal fitness, and the psychology behind it. And then there are those short stories I write from time to time, and my desire to develop courses beyond the university setting. I plan to launch one online pilot class this year.

So, at the core of it, I have been spending more time feeding my passion to work only with those who serve people, aspire to make the world a better place, and/or seek to advance humankind. And, in answering my own question, that is what is important. It seems to me that these are the words, concepts, and strategies I should explore more often. How do we do things better?

Maybe all we have to do is kick a few hurdles out of the way. Maybe all we have to do is ask what's important. Good night and good luck.

Friday, July 14

Writing Across Communication: Writing For Tomorrow

The writing you read today won't be the communication you need tomorrow. In a world where content can appear on any surface or no surface at all, providing consumers with real time intuitive assistance to find the right product, improve performance, or manufacture reality will require a different kind of thinking, planning, and promoting. The boundaries and barriers are gone.

Content will need to be versatile, portable, multimodal, and improve the consumer experience. Storytelling alone won't be good enough. Many stories will have to be told by the consumer, drawing upon a non-linear array of data capable of delivering visual, aural, written, kinesthetic content based on the platform they are using and their preference for learning, experiencing, and making purchases.

Logical or emotional, solitary or social, the words we write tomorrow will be blueprints that appreciate no one person is really the same — even if there are a few things that never change.

A sneak peek into the future with a predictive deck. 

When I needed a new deck to wrap up my final Writing Across Communication class last spring, I set an objective to help my writing students to appreciate the future as well as a few constants in that have always been part of human communication. It made for a worthwhile exercise in bringing consumer psychology and strategic communication together. They really do belong together.



While many writers spin their wheels trying to find the right way to spin their story, relatively few remember that most communication aims to motivate people. So if you don't know what motivates them, you are only operating with one-half of a two-part equation between the sender and receiver.

Three primary drivers for motivation. 

• Intensity of need or desire
• Perceived value of goal or reward
• Expectations of individual or peers

In order to start reconciling these drivers, it's generally a good idea to remember that humans are the only creatures on the planet that form perceptions based on objective and conceptual realities. We're also the only creatures who possess a capacity for cooperation that is both flexible and scalable.

As technology continues to blur the lines between these two realities, people will likely become increasingly responsive to conceptual influences, making the communication of tomorrow especially potent if the message is sent across multiple delivery methods, repeated across a multimodal spectrum, and delivered as non-linear content that allows the user to self-select the experience.

When done right, it will provide even more opportunities to change behavior, change perception, and change attitudes toward just about anything that doesn't oppose individual or cultural core values. Although even those are subject to change when communication is created from precise objectives.

Writing Across Communication will be available again at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas this fall. The class includes eight sessions from Sept. 21 through Nov. 9. I am currently developing an online version of the course for people outside Southern Nevada, independent of the university.

Thursday, June 1

Considering Education: More Choices Mean More Chances

The next couple weeks are a whirlwind. My daughter is graduating from elementary school this week. My son is graduating from high school next week.

Next year, he will be headed to the University of Nevada, Reno while she looks forward to starting her middle school years at Legacy Traditional School in Las Vegas. We’re grateful she was accepted by a charter school, as it seems like it will provide a suitable transition from the private school she has attended for the past six years. We never had to consider such a transition for my son. He attended public school from kindergarten through high school.

She might have attended private school from kindergarten through high school too, but school choice, a.k.a. Educational Saving Accounts (ESAs), continue to stall in Nevada. So while I helped campaign for ESAs, writing columns and comments, we also toured and applied to several charter schools where selection is determined by lotteries and waiting lists.

After she was accepted at Legacy, some people wondered why I continued to donate my time in support of ESAs even though my family would no longer benefit. My answer was simple enough. My support of ESAs isn’t about just about my family. It's about all families because I know school choice works. An early version of it changed my education experience and my life.

Affording more parents school choice will course correct more kids.

As one of those students who was mislabeled by the public system in first grade, I had already been ushered off to the school’s portable classrooms, dubbed the “barracks.” Out there, away from the other students, education was optional. Most kids so assigned would bide their time, failing forward.

My grandmother wanted more for me so she intervened. At the end of third grade, she pulled me from the public school system and enrolled in me a private secular school to repeat. While we were too poor to afford it, she somehow managed to secure a hardship grant. I’m grateful.

The new school reassessed the public school system’s perception that I wouldn’t amount to anything and discovered something different. I was only struggling with most subjects because I couldn’t read. They also determined I was gifted in math and art and provided advanced placement curriculum so I wouldn’t become bored with the standard lessons.

The change in classwork changed my outlook. Within the course of one year, I rose from the bottom percentile to one of the top in my class. And as my performance improved, my sometimes unruly behavior — the by-product of being teased in public school for being raised by grandparents and having a visible handicap — dissipated. School choice gave me a chance.

After that school year, my grandparents were no longer able to raise me so I was returned to public school in a different state. The foundation that the private school provided me, despite not being ‘held accountable’ by the state, placed me well ahead of my peers. This never changed.

Sure, I had some ups and downs across the entirety of my educational experience, but my love for learning always persisted. Not only have I become I a lifelong learner, but I also share my passion for education as a part-time continuing education instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas — an outcome that would have been an impossibility had some version of school choice not existed for me.

At the end of the day, no matter what political arguments people raise, ESAs come down to one thing. Different students excel in different learning environments. Knowing this, we should be doing everything we can to make it easier for them to be enrolled in the right environment and without any of the pervasive socio-economic and faith-based labels on students or the bureaucratic requirements that frequently restrain public schools from better performance. More choices mean more chances.
 

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