3 Things You Can’t Learn from a Content Marketing How-To Article

4 minute read

Upland Admin

Image Credit: Germán Póo-Caamaño

There are hundreds of how-to articles about content marketing best practices on the web. When I picture them, I think of rows upon rows of neat digital shelves, filled with pieces that are organized by Google’s algorithm instead of the Dewey Decimal System.

I’m proud to admit that I’ve contributed a few of those articles, and have read many more than I’ve written. They come from the fantastic folks over at MarketingProfs, Content Marketing Institute, Marketo, Salesforce, LinkedIn, Moz, Sales Benchmark Index, Eloqua, SlideShare, Sales Lion…and the list goes on.

These how-to articles are some kind of wonderful, and they do a lot of marketers a lot of good. But as I’ve jumped into this topic and become a full believer that content is at the center of marketing, I’ve also learned that there are some things that a how-to article will never be able to teach me. These are lessons I needed to learn on my own, just as all of the content marketers with work lining the shelves of the vast digital library did. They’re important, and in the end, these three things can make us better colleagues and much better content marketers.

How To Write

For 18 years, I lived with one of the best writers and editors I know. Her name is Nancy Murphy. I call her Mom. From grade school through college, she marked up my book reports, stories, poems, theses, and essays. Under her guidance, I learned how to form a reasonably decipherable sentence and, eventually, coherent paragraphs. (I know!) At the time, I didn’t realize this would shape my career.

My mom taught me that good writing takes constant work. To stop is to stop improving. The writing you do today can be better tomorrow. Now, great editors can perform miracles, and you’ll definitely improve if you’re lucky enough to have one of those. But you’re the only person responsible for perfecting your craft, your attention to detail, and your style.

How To Be Interested

If you’re not interested in the topics you’re writing about, it won’t end well. You’ll get burned out and frustrated. You’ll stop caring. This, I firmly believe, will also happen if you don’t believe in the product or service behind your content marketing efforts. Who wants to market something that doesn’t provide real value?

At their core, both your company’s products and the content you’re producing should solve a problem. Both should fill a demand. And if the end goal doesn’t interest you, something—either your job or your perspective—should probably shift. 

Being interested also means caring about your industry, and wanting to understand what your buyers think and feel. It means consuming the content of your competitors, thought leaders, and customers. The hard part is making the time to do this part of your job, but, then again, being passionate about the subject should make it that much easier.

How To Let Go

Content marketing is a team effort. It takes any combination of ideas from across the company, topics or themes from the broader marketing team, great editing, awesome design, cross-channel distribution… That’s a lot of input from and dependence on a lot of different people.

And sometimes, that input is going to be hard to hear. 

But you can’t cling so tightly to every content asset you produce, because you might be missing out on valuable insights and opinions. For example, I worked really hard on an eBook. That eBook was 2 weeks from publication. Someone in the company took a look at it, and realized it wasn’t saying anything new. Was I mad? Sure. After all, this was MY eBook.

But thankfully, I learned to let go of my stronghold on this particular piece. Because it wasn’t really my eBook. It was the buyer’s eBook, and our buyers weren’t going to learn anything new from that asset. With a few tweaks and a revised outline, I rewrote the eBook and it’s been one of our most successful pieces of 2013. 

When it comes to how to build a better nurture track, how to get the most out of that blog post, how to map content to a particular sales stage, yes, listen to what the experts have to say. But don’t forget there are some things that need to be learned solo. And as content marketing evolves, the good news is that those things will stay with you for the rest of your career.

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