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Why Content Marketing Is Not Working for Your Company

Nov 17, 2019

It's better to start this post with a disclaimer: I'm a software consultant, not a marketer. I've never been in charge of a marketing budget. During my university studies, I did one course in marketing and I barely got a C in it. When it comes to marketing, I'm still very much a novice – a curious novice, but a novice nonetheless.

Because of this, my views on content marketing might be naive and overly optimistic. Maybe professional work as a marketer would make me fall into cynicism and start treating content marketing as another predatory marketing mechanism. Maybe I'm just a sweet summer child unaware of the hardships of winter.

But here's the thing: I think content marketing is pretty awesome and it's a shame that more companies aren't creating valuable content for their audiences.

What's so great about content marketing? It generates trust, authority, and attention. It puts your focus on the long-term. It creates a system where the more you share your knowledge and effort, the more you get back from the community.

I think it's difficult to find a company that wouldn't agree on the benefits of content marketing. It's also probably not an easy task to find a business with marketing personnel that don't have a content calendar in use. People not only understand the opportunity of content marketing but also include content marketing in their marketing strategy.

And yet we often end up with neglected company blogs and content that doesn't seem to move anyone.

What makes a business struggle with content marketing? Here are three problems that you might be dealing with:

1. You focus on ROI

Digital platforms enable much more accurate data collecting methods compared to offline channels. Companies can tell if you bought something from them or scheduled a meeting with them after you clicked a paid ad on Google. This is still not possible with things like TV or magazine ads.

Because we can measure, we measure and we calculate ROIs for digital marketing the way we would never try to calculate ROIs for offline marketing. This means that content marketing can get easily pitted against online ads that are much more optimized towards short-term goals. Meanwhile, offline marketing still doesn't have to justify its spending because you can't measure it.

It takes time for content marketing to start producing results for your company. If you want your blog to help your SEO and be a valuable asset for your brand today, you should have started blogging in a consistent way a year ago. Because of this, you should be careful when setting short-term goals for content marketing. Otherwise you won't give your content marketing the runaway it needs to grow.

If after producing content for a year, you allow yourself to look at the metrics and see results that are extremely disappointing, should you establish content marketing as a channel that just doesn't work for your company?

Maybe. But before you make up your mind, consider the following:

2. You have a quality/quantity problem

Here is the second problem in a nutshell: your content is not that great.

In order to discuss how to avoid this problem, we have to first define what does quality content look like.

Content marketing is about brand and authority, but also about improving your SEO and lead generation. However, I'm willing to argue that these are different goals. Or that they at least require different measurements for quality.

If your main goal is to improve your SEO, good content is something that people are already googling for and content that people want to link back to. There is also a technical dimension in SEO-friendly content: you have to make sure things like metadata and sitemaps are managed properly.

If your main goal is to build up authority, you care much more about who is consuming your content and what are their impressions. Is your content interesting or does it make people yawn? Is your content brave and meaningful or is it safe and conventional?

Even though you can tell the difference between a low-value and a high-value content piece, this doesn't mean that you are now able to generate high-value content. You still need quantity.

Quantity leads to quality, or in other words "practice makes perfect." Keep pushing out content consistently and frequently, and the content creators inside your company start to become better content creators. What's the number one advice on becoming a better writer? Write more. Why wouldn't this same advice apply to content creation?

3. You don't have content creators

Of course you can't keep pushing out content if you don't have the required resources. Companies don't struggle with content marketing because they don't have enough ideas. Your company is full of people with stories, ideas, and knowledge that are waiting to be shared with the world. What your company doesn't have is people who are excited about content creation.

Why aren't people excited about the idea of content creation? Unfortunately school has taught some of us to avoid writing and other creative endeavours. We can still associate writing to the feeling we had when it was a Sunday night, we were supposed to write an essay about a topic we had no interest in, we had a word count that we had to hit, there was barely a full paragraph written down on our paper, and the thing was due next morning. You can never underline enough the opportunities, the learning, and the fun you can have producing content. If you make content creation sound like homework, people will treat it like homework.

But more importantly, content creation is time away from something else. That something else might be things like project work, billable work, or personal development time. Why should your coworker write a blog post instead of making progress with their project? Where does content creation rank in terms of the priorities of your organization?

Who sets the example of content creation inside your company? Is it you or are you trying to find someone else to do the work for you?

Content marketing is not the only way you can build up authority and presence. Maybe content marketing is simply not for your company. And if it's not, let it go. Free up your resources. Discover the marketing channel that works better.

Problem with Software Metaphors

Nov 10, 2019

Sometimes it's difficult to explain software to "non-software" people. Luckily there are metaphors. We can compare software development to things like construction, gardening, or writing to help others understand what we do.

Metaphors can also help your own learning. The way I learned the difference between a class and a class instance was imagining classes as architectural drawings and class instances as different houses built following those drawings.

However, metaphors have their limits. And when stretched to their limits, metaphors start to break down. You can also hinder your own thinking if you rely too much on metaphors.

Let's talk about analogies and analogical arguments and reasoning. Analogies are comparisons between different entities. A metaphor is one way to communicate an analogy.

When you make an argument from analogy, you start with perceived similarities and then continue to infer further similarities that have not yet been observed. Here is the more general form of analogical argumentation:

  1. S is similar to T in a, b, and c.
  2. S is perceived to have feature z.
  3. Therefore, T also has the feature z.

We use analogies constantly as the basis of our reasoning. There's nothing wrong with it (you can find examples of analogical arguments used successfully in science here https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/reasoning-analogy/).

The problem is that sometimes we might end up with arguments that aren't actually valid if we base our reasoning solely on analogies. Here is an example of that: Writing software can be like construction. Should we therefore avoid writing code during winter months?

We can easily spot the problem with the previous example (software isn't built on top of actual ground and therefore we don't need to care if the ground is frozen or not). But could the following argument slip past you in a meeting when you haven't had your first cup of coffee: "Imagine starting to build your house without blueprints! We can't start this project until we have a detailed plan for our software architecture."

How about the effect metaphors and analogies can have on your own thinking and reasoning? Instead of figuring out what is actually true, analogical reasoning can be the easy way out when you're faced with a difficult question. Pattern matching comes naturally to us. But this doesn't mean that we shouldn't make the extra effort to every now and then start our reasoning from fundamental truths or first principles.

For a second, stop imagining how software development is like building a house. Instead, look at the people in your project and study what they do. Observe how the code actually evolves inside a codebase. Focus on reality and allow it to teach you.

Making Time for Admin Work

Nov 3, 2019

We can easily turn personal productivity into a question of how do we collect our to-dos, how do we categorize them, and how do we prioritize them. What often gets forgotten is to make time to actually get our to-dos done. This is bad because when we don't carve out time from our schedules for our to-dos, we will likely focus only on the urgent and forget the non-urgent but important tasks. We can also feel extremely overwhelmed as more and more to-dos pile up on top of our existing tasks.

The solution can be as simple as making sure you have 1-2 hours of admin work marked in your weekly schedule.

This is different from setting up reminders for your to-dos. Reminders are great for making sure that the bills get paid in time and we don't forget our deadlines. However, does your reminder app know the best time to remind you? If you get notified by your reminder app in the middle of focused and valuable work, is it good use of your time to interrupt your thinking and flow in order to take care of a chore?

Reserved time slots are different because you can plan around them. They don't interrupt your work. In addition, the act of marking time on your calendar for your to-dos can help you to mentally commit to them.

Reserving time for admin work can still feel a little wrong: it's often not work that creates value or work that's especially meaningful. However, most of our to-dos still need to get done and individual tasks like setting up an investment plan can create a lot of benefits in the long term.

If something is not on your calendar, it's not on your schedule and it's not going to get done.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Oct 26, 2019

A former freelancer got his team, used to writing everything with Java, to start their new projects with Kotlin. It's never easy to get a team to adopt a new programming language or a technology. It's even harder to do it as a freelancer who is often seen as an outsider compared to the full-time employees.

How did this freelancer sell the idea of a new programming language to his team? By repeating himself over and over again. He kept bringing up Kotlin despite rejection and the team's perceived disinterest towards the language. He had to offer Kotlin as a solution for different tasks 10 to 15 times before even a single line of Kotlin got written inside the team.

Was the freelancer's arguments for Kotlin any different on the 10th time than on the 1st time? I don't know but I'm assuming not. Too often we assume that the people around us are rational decision makers. However, if we were rational, we wouldn't have to listen for the same arguments ten times before we take action. We would need to receive the required information once in order to make our decision.

Do you own an activity tracker? If you do, did you go buy it the first time you heard about activity trackers? Do you use a password manager? If you do, did you set it up the first time someone told you that you shouldn't reuse passwords? How many times did you have to hear people talking about oat milk, yoga, or meditation before you gave those things a try?

You might feel like people aren't listening to you or that you have to repeat things ad nauseam every time to want to make any kind of change. In reality, people are probably listening. It's just that without repetition, messages and ideas are rarely understood and adopted.

There's at least two professions where repetition is an obvious part of the process: marketers and teachers. In a world of infinite choices and short attention spans, marketers do not only focus on the content of their messages but also on the frequency. People have to hear the message multiple times before they take any action. Teachers on the other hand don't keep introducing new ideas and concepts to their students every minute of every class. Instead, they make time for revision. Students need repetition to allow the content to sink in.

Change doesn't happen simply by crafting your message. You also need to repeat your message over and over again. If you talk about an idea only once, people might listen but they won't act.

Keep a List of Feedback

Oct 20, 2019

It's really easy to miss an opportunity to share positive feedback with your teammates. It might be that you don't have a habit of pointing out great work and therefore struggle to identify those opportunities in the first place. It might be that you are able to identify moments of excellence but you forget to bring them up the next time you interact with your teammates.

Positive feedback makes us learn faster. Positive feedback helps us be more open to ideas that challenge our thinking. Positive feedback can elevate your team in a way that negative criticism can't (if you are skeptical about the value of positive feedback, consider reading Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall's article The Feedback Fallacy).

Making sure that positive feedback gets shared inside your team doesn't have to be solely your team leader's responsibility. You can also make it your job to highlight excellence.

Start keeping a list of the great outcomes you see in your colleague's work. Point out those outcomes to your colleague in the next retrospective or at the end of the week. Keep collecting items on that list and keep going through the items regularly. You'll start helping others with their professional growth and you'll probably start experiencing a positive change in how you view the work of others.

When I worked at Kisko Labs we used to share "thank you" messages to our colleagues every Friday. It was an opportunity to thank each other for the help we received during the week, great moments we got to share with each other, and any efforts from our colleagues to make the work environment better.

Since this was a company-wide practice and there were email reminders sent out to people to share their thanks, those messages of gratitude got written. The environment supported and nudged us to keep finding reasons to thank each other. I found myself writing to-dos for my thank you messages throughout the week so I wouldn't forget them on Friday.

You and I might not be nudged to share positive feedback in such a systematic way. Therefore, it's our responsibility to build those habits for ourselves. Ideally you would be able to highlight great work as soon as you see it. But if this is something you're not used to, you might find supporting tools helpful. Consider the list.

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