We asked Spin Sucks’ Gini Dietrich the all-important question: What is the biggest mistake content marketers make? Her answer revolved around creating unique content, and we detail five rules to help small marketing departments make it happen.
Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a digital marketing communications firm in Chicago, and is author of Spin Sucks, a professional development blog for marketing and PR pros.
A few months back, I met Gini at Orbit Media’s Wine & Web, a monthly get-together where Orbit’s head honcho Andy Crestodina spouts insights and parades guest speakers, the likes of which include Gini.
I didn’t know what to expect when we asked Gini the question; it’s one of the ridiculously vague questions that can be answered a thousand different ways. But Gini didn’t hesitate.
Q: What is the biggest mistake content marketers make?
A: Don’t imitate anyone.
How can content marketers (or their clients) be themselves — and do small marketing departments have time to worry about it?
To explain herself, Gini pointed to the host, Andy Crestodina. His posts are loaded with tactics, insights and a dash of humor. But they also manage to couch the fragmentary aspects of content marketing within a cosmic whole. Andy gets the big picture, and he communicates it well.
Gini is no slouch herself. Her blog reaches (gulp) over 48,000 fans, blending tactics and strategy with personal anecdotes that make her posts helpful and authentic.
If you’re running a small marketing department, you’re probably not all that worried about imitating Gini or Andy. You’re more concerned with just creating content in the first place. It’s hard enough to put together a piece of content and get it published, much less thinking about carving out your own unique space.
Fear not — follow these five rules, and you (and your company) can do both: publish content regularly and avoid the imitation game.
Rule #1 – Know your stuff
People like Gini and Andy are much admired not just because of their style and delivery, but also because there is such a deep knowledge base behind their approach. To illustrate this point, let’s veer away from marketing to my beloved sport of basketball.
Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time, known for his high-flying dunks and breathtaking drives to the hoop. He redefined the game in his own, high-flying image.
But people don’t realize he was schooled in the fundamentals at North Carolina. Once he learned the basics of the game under coach Dean Smith, he could operate on instinct, and his unique, individual style emerged.
When Gini referred to Andy Crestodina’s style during her talk, it was because Andy’s style — strategy meshed with tactics — is built upon a foundation of truly understanding how search engines, social media, and content marketing as a whole really works.
If you know the content matter you’re writing about, then the creativity emerges. And that’s also when you create a unique experience for your reader.
Small marketing departments usually exist in mid-sized companies. You have plenty of experts within arm’s length to really help you understand your product or service, and how it impacts your target market. Learn as much as you can.
Rule #2 – Don’t let your writing get in the way of the message
To stand out, do you need clever prose? A sense of humor? Really funky fonts?
Nah. In fact, I’d recommend you avoid all that. I’ll use the writer Anthony Doerr, author of All the Light We Cannot See, as an example.
I love to read Doerr simply because the writing is of the highest caliber. All the Light We Cannot See is an amazing book about occupied France in World War II. However, Doerr could be writing about lawn mowers, and I’d read it.
Why? Because his prose is so exceptional.
Why? Because he doesn’t let the language get in the way of the message.
Here’s an excerpt, written through the point of view of a blind girl:
They step into a narrow entry. Marie-Laure hears the gate clang shut, then the woman latching the door behind them. Two dead bolts, one chain. They are led into a room that smells of herbs and rising dough: a kitchen. Her father unbuttons her coat, helps her sit. “We are very grateful, I understand how late it is,” he is saying, and the old woman – Madame Manec – is brisk, efficient, evidently overcoming her initial amazement; she brushes off their thank-yous; she scoots Marie-Laure’s chair toward a tabletop. A match is struck; water fills a pot; an icebox clicks open and shut. There is the hum of gas and the tick-tick of heating metal. In another moment, a warm towel is on Marie-Laure’s face. A jar of cool, sweet water in front of her. Each sip is a blessing.
If there is one word I could use to describe his writing, it would be “accurate.” He nails every description, every verb, every dialogue tag, with remarkable precision. Yet he doesn’t interject himself into it. He is simply describing the scene, the events.
He is writing, but he is also listening.
Do the same. Listen for the “tick-tick” of heating metal, or the sound of the water filling the pot, or the scoot of a chair. Include these details in your content — let them do the talking — er, writing — for you.
That harkens back to Rule #1. The more you fully understand the nuances of your product and service, the more these rich details will emerge.
Rule #3 – Let keywords (and quality) define your content
Andy Crestodina has a saying that’s become a favorite of mine: “If you’re going to create content, make it the best page on the Internet.” By creating an in-depth post, you reveal how much you know, and the uniqueness of your approach.
How do you develop an authoritative post? You can take a more editorial approach (interview, research, and report), which I’m doing here. And/or you can use keyword research. Here’s a sample process:
1. Define your topic: Example – “How to make lemonade.”
2. Brainstorm (with your team) all the questions you can think of around “How to make lemonade.”
3. Google search the topic, and scroll to the bottom of the page. There you will find all the related search questions around that topic.
4. Use a tool like UberSuggest to find long-tail phrases around the topic.
5. List all that research on a page, then organize your post around answering all the questions and addressing all the search phrases.
This approach leads to a quality post because you’ve covered all the aspects regarding the topic. And you’ll likely wind up with a longer post, which is good. Longer blog posts tend to be read more, and shared more (see Andy’s blogger study for more details on that).
But I caution against cramming in whatever you can to hit that 1,250 – 2,000 word count.
Certain bloggers, in the quest to create the most authoritative page on the Internet, cram every conceivable related topic into a single post, the likes of which you scroll through until the end of eternity.
You’re not writing to meet a word count — you’re writing to answer a question. Longer posts are favored in the eyes of Google not because they’re long, but because people find the answers contained within the post to be useful.
Rule # 4 – Remember who you’re writing for
Stephen King talks a lot about how much a writer owes his reader. After all, you’re taking time out of your day to read a post or consume a piece of content (and these days, that’s asking a lot).
So think about all the potential questions the people you are writing for might ask, and then answer them. Make their agenda your agenda.
In writing this post, I had to remember that we’re writing for people who lead small marketing teams, who are struggling to find the time and the resources to create content.
These are the people who don’t want to make a mistake when it comes to content marketing, and when they read Gini’s words, “Don’t imitate anyone,” they may think, “Oh great, now I have to be unique on top of everything else.”
So I went back through the post, and I made sure every aspect of it spoke to small marketing teams like the folks I work with everyday. I thought about this audience’s struggles, and I’ve tried to provide them with strategic takeaways to help get that content out at the end of the day.
Rule #5 – Publish
DO NOT fall into the trap of paralysis by analysis.
A certain magic occurs when you shut down the email, turn off the phone, and just write. Or shoot video. Or record a podcast.
When you create something, your fingerprints magically appear on it. Unless you’re blatantly copying and pasting, your content will become unique through the sheer process of creating something new. So just DO IT.
Your small marketing department can become an emerging giant
When we work with marketing teams, the idea of starting a content marketing program seems so overwhelming at the outset.
But then you start, and post by post, the insurmountable suddenly not only seems attainable, it becomes a reality. You begin making connections with your target audiences by helping them answer questions and solve problems. Your site traffic and search rankings improve.
You won’t be an Andy or Gini overnight. Heck, you’ll probably never reach their level. But you can be yourself, and wasn’t that Gini’s advice in the first place?
Find out how your content and conversion ranks with our interactive version of the Content Scorecard you can fill in yourself – no email required for download.