Embrace The “Never Know” In Content Marketing

Posted by

I have no idea what this article is about. Yet. 

I know it’s about ideas, creativity and bringing that all to market, but I don’t know how it’s going to flush out. Yet. This week, there are two (massive) events taking place for brands in North America. Boston will host another edition of Inbound (Hubspot’s 20,000+ guest event), and Cleveland (home of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) will host Content Marketing World. I’ll be attending both (if you’re here, please come by and say “hi!”). Like every other attendee, I look forward to listening, learning and hanging out with our peers. Nothing validates the work that we do more than events like this. Nothing brings newer, fresher and different ideas home for our businesses to bring to life. Still, what we take home is not the same as what we implement. And, as this plane taxis toward the runway aimed at Boston, the mystery of everything lies ahead. 

Content marketing planned is often not content marketing that works. 

That’s the dirty little secret. If you glance through the exhaustive agendas of Inbound and Content Marketing World, it’s obvious that the speakers want you (and your brand) on the drip. They want brands to formalize and build processes around the activities that encompass digital marketing and content marketing. Yes, everybody needs to know what their individual brand lighthouse is. Yes, everybody in the organization needs to be an active and willing participant in the success of it. No, each piece of content that works can’t be planned out… as much as we wish it to be so. 

Stephen King knows best. 

In his brilliant book on writing (literally called, On Writing), King writes exhaustively about planning the storyboard of his books. He hates it. He pushes back. He sees himself more a as a medium for his characters and the story. His role is to know the characters, have a rough story framework in his mind, then (as he starts to clank on the keyboard) the characters (and what they do) begins to unfold. They morph and tighten and form with each edit, but where they end up in the final print edition is as much of a mystery to him as it is to the reader. Some aren’t big fans of King’s work. Many are. Regardless of where you sit on the Stephen King spectrum of love, adoration and respect, his work ethic (and success) can’t be denied. 

If Stephen King doesn’t know where the best stories come from (or how they will evolve from the start), how can you?

It’s true. Brands have never been able to “call it” when it comes to making something go viral (uch… “go viral” – do we still say that?). Heck, brands hardly ever know if any of their content marketing initiatives will take off and fly with their audience. Ask any content creator about their most widely adopted pieces, and you will often hear a common response: The ones that work the best, are usually the ones that didn’t require a ton of effort, or were considered toss-always as they were published.They were a surprise. In short: if you do get to sit down and create content, don’t panic if you have no idea what, exactly, you’re going to create. Be it in text, images, audio and video. You can take multiple swings at it. You can edit it. You can delete it if there’s nothing there. You don’t have to know where it’s going when you start. 

Content marketing is a lot like music. 

There’s classical music: follow every single step on the sheet music that has been prepared and given to you. Play the exact notes. Don’t deviate. Just follow the plan. There’s rock n’ roll: you know the intro, verses, chorus and bridge in the song, but there will be jamming, there will be alternate versions and you can go where the wind blows. There’s jazz: it’s improv. We start together. We jam together. We get a groove going. It goes from there. In classical music, you know (for the most part) how it plays out. In rock n’ roll, things get a little dangerous. It could all go sideways. It’s more of a party. In jazz, you never (really) know what you’re going to get. It could be next level brilliant. It could flop. The results, between the three genres, can have similar results. How you get to that result is fundamentally different. You can create and play in all the genres. Embrace that! 

There’s no reason why your brand can’t be a little bit of classical, a little bit of jazz and a little bit of rock n’ roll in your content creation. 

I love creating content with the mindset of “you never know” what’s going to come out (and what you’re going to get). Perhaps the danger of it is what makes it so exciting to me. Perhaps the “never know” approach is what makes it interesting to the reader (without them knowing it?). Companies play it safe with their content. Too safe. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s also nothing wrong with empowering your team to just try stuff. To make it up. To not know where they’re going, when the screen is blank or when there’s no storyboard for the video shoot. Start something right now with the mindset of “you never know.”

The results may surprise you. Embrace the “never know” and see what happens…