Category: Content Ignition Strategy

Winning the War for Attention: My talk at #SMMW20

winning the war for attention

Winning the War for Attention

I’ve been a speaker at all eight Social Media Marketing World events and it is always an annual highlight for me. It’s like coming home to family — so many wonderful friends to see! If you’ve never attended, you should give it a try and discover the fun.

winning the war for attention andy crestodina, rich brooks, brooke sellas mark schaefer, jay baer, dana malstaff, ian cleary, mike alton, mike kim

In the early days of SMMW, I spoke on Twitter and blogging, then I evolved into content and strategy. In 2016 I was asked to be the closing keynote speaker and I did it again in 2019. What a thrill to speak in front of 5,000 frenzied social media friends!

I think a key to my success at this event is that I always push boundaries with fresh, exciting content. My philosophy is that a great speech delivers insights, not just information. Information … you can get that in a blog post. But you’ll have a unique experience coming to one of my talks!

I pushed the boundaries again this year by doing something different. I spoke from my heart about the biggest problem facing social media marketers today — winning the war for attention.

I see that social media marketers simply try to keep up by copying others or following directions from their favorite gurus. This simply cannot work. Winning a war for attention means we can’t be conformists.

So let’s dig into the heart of the speech …

Winning the War for Attention

I started my speech with a funny story from the early days of television to illustrate a pattern that happens in every content channel.

When TV started in the 1950s, the programs were filled with local talent — singers, cooks, and anybody who could fill some time on the air. Almost anybody could get on the air and almost any business could buy advertising time.

Over the years, the channel “filled up,” and the content became more expensive and sophisticated. Local advertisers dropped out and network (and then cable) TV took over.

Today, what does it take to get your attention on TV? Game of Thrones. At $10 million per episode for a show like that, the content has never been better but if you’re trying to compete on the basis of content, bring your checkbook!

As I told this story, I asked my audience to think of the similarity of what is happening in their own favorite social media space. The same pattern will happen over time. The space fills up with content and it becomes more expensive and difficult to compete, an idea I first introduced in 2014 with an idea called Content Shock.

Now, what do we do about it?

I proposed that answering five questions can lead you to a strategy that helps you win the war for attention. Here they are.

1. Only we …

I asked the audience a simple question. Can you finish this sentence: “Only we …”?

This is a very important question because if you can’t finish that sentence, you don’t have a marketing strategy and if you don’t have a marketing strategy, you can’t have a social media strategy. You’re being set up to fail.

It may take you weeks or even months to figure this out. But you simply must find these special points of differentiation. If you’re stuck, go out and ask your customers what they think. You’ll almost always find the answer there.

2. Company culture

In my Marketing Rebellion book, I go deep into this idea of how company culture really determines how successful you’ll be with your social media marketing.

The company culture both enables your narrative and constrains your ability to win the war for attention. If you have a culture that is open, nurturing and fun … that will be your social media presence. If you’re uptight and controlling, you probably won’t get very far in winning the war for attention.

This can be frustrating because no amount of energy and talent can overcome a dismal company culture. Sometimes, an effective social media strategy has to start with executive education.

I made the point that sometimes social media success must start with executive education.

3. Are you a conversational brand?

I said that the business case for all social media is this: “Come Waste Time With Me.”

Nobody has to be on social media. So to succeed, you have to earn a place that makes people want to waste time with you. Why would they want to do that?

Not all products and industries have an equal chance to win the war for attention.

If you work for a university, a sports team, a pop star, or a professional athlete, you will naturally have a high level of attention and organic reach.

If you work for a bank, the electric company, or a company that makes appliances … well, these just are not going to make it to dinnertime conversations. You’re not that conversational and it will be much, much harder for you to win the war for attention.

You have to make yourself conversational. This does not necessarily have to be difficult or expensive, but you do have to stand out in some unique way.

I provided an example of a hand tool company in Lithuania that went viral over its videos that explored how the tools were hand-crafted.

4. How can you maneuver?

I explained to the audience that this was the most important part of the talk. My concern is that everybody leaves a conference like Social Media Marketing World and follows whatever the gurus tell them to do. I see this year after year.

If it is the year of Snapchat, everybody piles on to Snapchat.

If it is the year of video on LinkedIn, then that is what everybody does.

Marketers flock to whatever is popular until they ruin it.

And that’s no strategy. Winning the war for attention depends on non-conformity, not conformity.

I used an example of TikTok, which was a big piece of the conversation at SMMW20. There seems to be a frenzy to get every business on to TikTok. Research shows that indeed, there is a growing older audience there. But let’s take a closer look:

winning the war for attention tiktok

Did you know that about 94 percent of the content created on TikTok is by teenagers? This implies we have a lot of older people stalking TikTok (as they first did with Snapchat before dropping out). So do you really need to be building an audience of 12-year-olds for your business? Maybe.

I’m not against TikTok, I’m just saying, “THINK” and don’t spend budget on activities because some guru told you to do it (This part of my talk received applause!)

To be effective today, you cannot be guru-led and fall in line with a crowd. You have to zig when everybody else is zagging.

To illustrate this, I provided examples from three very saturated industries — real estate, food, and entrepreneurial content — and showed that a little simple creativity helped businesses stand out and create great success.

5. Human-centered content

In this part of my speech, I noted that every great social media success story has a human anchor providing some unique value. (I cover this in detail here: A simple theory of social media success).

I showed how many companies are missing out on opportunities to show real human smiles, personalities, and passion because they act like grape lollipops, which say they are grape but are not really grape at all!

This was the funniest part of my speech and I got the biggest laugh I think I have ever received as I covered a few big social media fails!

winning the war for attention

The point is, the most human company wins — it just does. I believe that with every fiber in my body. And you won’t be winning the war for attention with some fake and inauthentic presence.

Putting it into action

These are the types of guidelines I use with my clients, and they work. They’re not that hard. But they do take a bold willingness to not follow the crowd.

I ended my talk encouraging the crowd to:

  • Be a non-conformist.
  • Maneuver.
  • Be more human.

It seems simple, doesn’t it? How are you being a non-conformist in your industry?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

The post Winning the War for Attention: My talk at #SMMW20 appeared first on Schaefer Marketing Solutions: We Help Businesses {grow}.

Is your content marketing strategy vulnerable to summary bots?

summary bots

By Kiki Schirr, {grow} Contributing Columnist

To marketers, Reddit is a bit like a genie’s lamp. It’s a powerful tool and can drive huge waves of readers to a website. On the other hand, if your intentions in using Reddit aren’t pure, punishment can rain upon you in the form of user censure.

Whether you love Reddit or fear it, no marketer can ignore it.

From 2018, the ranking of Internet traffic has dropped the site from third in the United States to sixth. However, in this time adoption of Reddit’s mobile app has grown like wildfire. Reddit’s blog boasted 30% YoY growth in 2019 — bringing them to 430 million monthly active users. For reference, that’s about 100 million more visitors per month than Twitter.

If you’ve used Reddit before, you probably have seen their slang term: tl;dr. Tl;dr is an acronym for “too long; didn’t read,” that originated when users (known as the original poster or OP) started proceeding long explanations with a 1 sentence summary. Tl;drs helped Redditors decide if a post was worth the effort to read.

But, in the 15 years of Reddit’s tenure, technical innovation was bound to occur—and sure enough, intrepid Reddit users are creating summary bots to make tl;dr automatic.

The most ubiquitous bot, the one that runs through every link post by default, is called AutoTDLR. It runs on the SMMRY algorithm. SMMRY is a 7-step program to summarize and prioritize important sentences within text in order to shorten the overall piece.

By calling SMMRY’s API, AutoTLDR feeds the content of every link posted to Reddit through SMMRY to see if it deserves to be shortened. When the algorithm can shorten the article or post by 70%, the bot posts the result to the comments section of the OP’s link.

Should content strategists fear the uprising of summary bots?

First, just to clear all that jargon up: when someone shares your content on Reddit now, it is automatically summarized. Whether you like it or not, without any human action, the bones of your text will be posted to their page.

While this might seem bad to a marketer because it decreases traffic to a site by providing its content without a page view, this is actually a wonderful innovation for Reddit.

Redditors had always suspected that a large percentage of users were reading comments or otherwise interacting with articles without reading them. But in 2017, Reddit was shocked and dismayed when Notre Dame extrapolated that 73% of posts on Reddit have been upvoted or downvoted by users who never opened the content.

AutoTDLR bot improves Reddit by lowering the amount of users who never read beyond the headline of an article. So while you might miss the page visit, if your post is run through summary bots, the message might very well reach a larger audience than if it hadn’t.

How should content strategists respond to summary bots?

The first step to being responsive to AutoTDLR is to run your content through summary bots before publishing, every time. You can copy-paste the text into and see how it would be summarized as 6 sentences, 7, 8, or more. I’d guess 6 would be the median number of sentences AutoTDLR generates on Reddit, so keep that in mind.

The first thing I noticed when I started running my past {grow} posts through SMMRY was that my obsessive habit of using 3 examples to support my statements was hurting me. The last of SMMRY’s five stated goals is to “remove excessive examples,” and it seems that I was repeatedly offending the algorithm with my writing style.

But experienced copywriters will adjust quickly. SMMRY prioritizes sentences by the number and variety of topic-related keywords prior to the ending punctuation. Marketers who are already used to writing with discreet keyword usage won’t have trouble taking the algorithm in stride.

Writing for Robots 101

If a particular important point hasn’t made the 6 chosen sentences of AutoTDLR’s summary, you can probably force it in with good editing.

First reread the piece to determine which single sentence is the most vital. Then reduce unnecessary words within that sentence. Transitions and stop words will hurt your sentence’s importance. Finally, try to make sure that there are a variety of keywords within that sentence.

Here’s a cheat code, though. You can sneak additional ideas into SMMRY’s concept of a single sentence by using punctuation other than a period. For example:

Why would you use punctuation other than a period? Gaming SMMRY’s algorithm! Because SMMRY has only been programmed to recognize the period as the end of a thought, this entire paragraph would be counted as only one sentence.

There are a few other best practices. Don’t have any information only represented within images or hyperlinks. Pictures are never included and links are not a priority. Also be aware of your use of lists as they can trigger SMMRY’s shears, too.

What are the greater implications of AI in content strategy?

AutoTDLR’s function is currently limited to Reddit. Therefore it is only a minor consideration for most marketers today. After all, Reddit’s 400 million monthly active users are only a fraction of Facebook’s 1.5 billion MAU. Unless your target audience uses Reddit, like tech users or fitness buffs do, you might have other sites prioritized.

However, you don’t need to be Michio Kaku or Ray Kurzweil to see the writing on the wall. Marketing AI in general and in particular auto summarization will become more common over time.

How will your marketing strategy respond?

You could provide a quick summary paragraph at the beginning of longer posts yourself. This executive summary would help establish the salient points in when readers were only skimming. One added benefit is that summaries will increase the frequency of your most important keywords.

Another strategy would be to use the inverted pyramid structure of newspaper journalists. First load the most important content at the top. Then be sure to sprinkle keywords throughout the rest of the piece.

To fight the robots, you must talk to humans

However, the most important thing to do when facing any rapid innovation is to talk with your customers directly.

You might already be surprised how your readers are engaging with your content. Some readers might only quickly skim through on mobile, others might autogenerate compilations of articles into e-reader files to ingest and annotate during commutes.

Summary bots and marketing AI are still fluid technologies. You will need to keep a thumb on your reader’s pulse to stay on top of trends.

Approach people that you see liking, commenting on, or sharing your articles, and before asking any personal questions be sure to thank them for their support. If they respond positively, that’s when it would be appropriate to ask if they would mind explaining how they are most likely to consume your content. Be sure to thank them again after they share their insight.

KikiSchirrKiki Schirr is a freelance marketer who enjoys absorbing new trends within the tech scene. Her favorite subreddit is r/ICanDrawThat, but she thinks new Redditors should also check out r/ShowerThoughts and r/AnimalsBeingDerps. She is most easily reached via Twitter.

Illustration courtesy

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Why “resonance” is the future of SEO

future of seo

One of the problems in the digital marketing world today is that leaders are using an outdated playbook — especially when it comes to Search Engine Optimization. I think the future of SEO is taking some pretty wild and unexpected turns right now so let’s explore that today.

Content as SEO fuel

The major innovation with SEO over the past few years is that it has largely become a content strategy. Beginning with the “inbound marketing” concept introduced by Hubspot in 2005 and growing into very sophisticated AI-driven techniques today, creating content that can auto-magically bring qualified leads to your site has been a reliable strategy.

But there are a few trends that are changing that and content certainly does not work for SEO like it used to. The future of SEO is moving in a dramatic new direction.

The changing search landscape

Let’s look at the future of SEO and content as it is unveiling itself through three significant trends.

First — voice search. When you search Alexa or Google home by verbalizing a question, you don’t get a list of content sugestions like blog posts or videos. You get an answer. So content has a much-diminished impact in the world of voice search.

It’s impossible to tell exactly how much of the total search pie is going to voice queries, but let’s be ultra-conservative and say 20 percent.

future of seo

When you ask Alexa or Siri to do something for you, you normally don’t get a list of blog posts or podcast episodes in the results. So the implication is that your content is potentially impacting much less of the search market than it did in the pre-voice days five years ago. But wait, it gets worse.

Trend number two — Last month, something very significant happened in the search world. For the first time, more than half (51 percent) of the search inquiries on Google were kept by Google. This means, Google kept the SEO “answers” away from businesses and content creators and directed them to their own knowledge panels, internal properties, and paid partnerships.

Will this continue to grow in the Google direction? The government will have some say over this. Google’s increasing dominance in this space is a subject of a Department of Justice probe. The company owns the dominant tool at every link in the complex chain between online publishers and advertisers, giving it unique power over the monetization of digital content.

So now we have a truer picture of the emerging search world. In the past five years, the majority of organic search traffic that was available to be attracted by your content has been in steady decline.

future of seo content in decline

The main idea here is, the available search inquiries that can be served by your SEO-oriented content has been evaporating over the past five years.

And when we look at the future of SEO … it gets even worse.

Trend three — While the piece of the pie available to organic search inquiries has been in rapid decline, the amount of content competing for that shrinking pie has literally exploded.

When you have more and more content competing for the same search traffic, eventually content marketing is not a sustainable strategy for some businesses. This is an idea I proposed some years ago called Content Shock.

future of seo content shock

This graph from WordPress shows the number of blog posts published each month since the beginning of the content marketing era. You don’t have to be a statistician to realize it’s harder to compete for attention in a world of 80 million blog posts every month compared to one million a month 10 years ago. In fact, your competition has increased by 8,000 percent in a few years. A tough world for an inbound marketer!

Of course, the same thing is happening on podcasts, visual content, and video (there are 300 hours of new video uploaded to YouTube every minute of the day!).

To break through in this environment, you need to either spend more money on quality to win the content arms race or spend more to promote your content. Either way, traditional content marketing becomes more expensive and less accessible for many businesses in this environment.

So is this the end of content marketing?


We just need to think about content and its benefits in an entirely different way.

SEO and the junkyard dogs

I was recently hired by a company in Seattle to conduct a personal branding workshop based on my book KNOWN.

When you think about it, this was an extremely unlikely pairing. If you search for “personal branding consultant,” there are 40 million results. Even if you search for “personal branding consultant Seattle” there are 2.1 million results.

I am not in those top search results. Not even close.

This is not an unusual situation for a small business. I am NEVER going to be in the top search results. Really, the only thing that matters is the top three slots. The top three slots will be won by the biggest, meanest, richest SEO junkyard dogs.

It’s an expensive and never-ending battle that I will never win for terms like “digital marketing consultant,” “marketing strategy, “keynote speaker,” or any of the other jobs that I do.

Chances are, unless you’re the junkyard dog in your industry, you won’t win your SEO battle either. And yet, every company I know is pouring money into content trying to win the SEO battle!

This just makes no sense.

But here I was in Seattle, conducting an awesome workshop. How did my client find me in all this hopeless SEO mess? Through my content. But not through search.

The business case for resonance

The night before my workshop, I had a wonderful seafood dinner with my client. I asked my friend … “Why did you hire me?”

“Your content resonates with me,” he said without hesitation.

Isn’t that an interesting word … resonates.

My content was not at the top of an SEO stack for personal branding. I’m certainly not going to make the Alexa hit parade.

But a person who hired me for this important work chose me because there was an emotional connection that resonated with him on a personal and professional level.

This reveals a more practical and realistic value of content in this competitive environment, and a value that is almost entirely overlooked by marketers today.

At this point, I would like to interrupt myself. Whenever I write a mega-trend blog post like this, I am pointing out an idea that is very broad … and it may not apply to everybody. There certainly is still room today for SEO-driven content, and there always will be as far out into the future as I can see. The numbers I’ve presented here are high level. The true search volume for your industry could result in mostly organic results, especially in smaller niche markets.

The answer to every marketing question is, “it depends,” and that is certainly true here.

But overall, SEO-driven content is probably working less well for most businesses and content that attracts customers due to its authority is becoming more important.

Content and authority

So there are really two basic content strategies you can use to win new business: Content meant to win SEO and content meant to earn authority (content that resonates with readers). And of course, you can have overlap between these strategies:

future of seo

I won the business in Seattle — against all SEO odds — because I ignored SEO. I write for my readers. If I do that well and consistently, I’ll earn subscribers. Eventually, these subscribers will grow to know me, trust me and hire me. I think that is the future of SEO, which is really not SEO at all!

It’s a different way to look at content strategy but for 90 percent of the businesses out there who will never win the SEO battle, content built on authority might be the best and only strategic option.

I’m not creating content to trick you into clicking a link. I am creating content that consistently connects with your hopes and dreams and business needs. I’m building a long-term connection that resonates.

Make sense?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy 

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Is there still a place for blogging?

I love blogging. It is certainly my favorite social media drug of choice. It has helped me build a career and a business and it makes me happy to connect to people in my {grow} blog space every week!
For years, I’ve been hearing predictions about an inevitable decline in blogging popularity. Could it be here?
This is a well-known chart put out by WordPress that shows the number of blog posts that have been written on its site since 2006:
place for blogging
There are three noticeable characteristics of this chart:
  • A decade of enormous growth
  • One month in 2019 that seems to defy all odds!
  • A leveling of posts that have been published in the last two or three years
Arguably blogging was the first “social media” of the internet era and a reliable communication form for both companies and creatives. But with the entry barriers being removed for anyone to produce high-quality videos, podcasts, and other communication forms, the death of blogging has been predicted for a long time.

Is there still a place for blogging?

Does this graph indicate a slide in blogging growth? And where does blogging stand today?
First I want to caution that this chart does not tell the whole picture about blogging. For example, it excludes blog posts being published on Medium, which have been exploding, as well as platforms like LinkedIn, which has become a popular place for original content in the past few years.
I think if you look at all the places written content is being created today, you would see a trend line that is still going up — dramatically. But with all this other competition for your attention, is blogging less important, less relevant today? What is the place for blogging in this information ecosystem?
I haven’t addressed this issue in a long time and I thought it would be a good discussion topic for the podcast. In the newest episode, Brooke Sellas and I examine the true story behind blogging in the content ecosystem and also discuss a new integrated marketing trend, the marketing ideas consumers love the most, and an outrageous (and exclusive!) new musical performance from Ian Anderson Gray!

Let the show begin! Just click here:

Click here to dive into Episode 182

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The happy marketing story of the big fat pig

happy marketing story

This is a happy marketing story. It’s short and sweet and I love it so much because it represents marketing the way it should be done for a small business in the heart of a marketing rebellion.

Let me talk about the photo at the top of this post.

That’s me with Jeff Corbin, the owner of The Tie-Dyed Pig a relatively new barbecue joint in Radford, VA. I was visiting this little college town to do a guest lecture there at the invitation of my longtime friend Dr. Gary Schirr. Gary knows I love BBQ — especially beef brisket — and he had a treat in store for me.

When we walked into the cozy restaurant, the first thing you see is this giant pig. A significant amount of floor space that could have been serving paying customers is devoted to the towering fiberglass swine.

“What is this?” I asked owner Jeff Corbin.

“That there is my marketing,” he said with a proud smile.

And so it is.

The visual prompt

Here is a truth about all human beings. We love posing with giant animals. Dinosaurs. Dogs. Even bears.

happy marketing story

But I digress.

Back to the pig.

Let’s look at a few core ideas from my book Marketing Rebellion —

  • In a world of streaming content and ad-blocking, consumers don’t see ads like they used to. And if they see them, they don’t believe them.
  • Two-thirds of our marketing is occurring without us. Consumers carry our stories forward through social media, word of mouth, and reviews. The customer is the marketer.
  • The job of the professional marketer in this environment is to help customers do their job. How do we help our customers carry our story forward?

Placing a big pig in the middle of your store is an invitation to share your story.

However …

You have to deliver the goods

A big pig is only going to work if you have an authentic, interesting and, relevant story to share.

Let me tell you about the rest of my experience at this restaurant.

  • Brisket is normally a dinner-only item, but Jeff made it available for lunch because I was coming in.
  • At the end of the meal, Jeff came around with a plate of beef and asked us if we wanted another helping. More meat? Yes, please. That stands out.
  • The food was delicious and plentiful. He had some unique menu items. The venue was clean and whimsically decorated in a tie-dye theme. There was free parking near the restaurant’s location at the business center of town.
  • Jeff’s personality filled the room. He approached a table of elderly women by saying “Hello you beautiful, wonderful women!” They blushed in appreciation.

My point is, Jeff delivers the goods. If the place was dirty, if the food was cold, if you could not find a parking space, then the pig doesn’t matter. The pig only works as a reminder to tell people about the overall experience at the restaurant.

You have to deliver the goods, every time.

So I think Jeff is set up to succeed. He is surrounding his customers with authentic, interesting stories and offering the opportunity to pose with a big pig as an excuse to tell people what it is all about.

I think this is a happy marketing story indeed.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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The one (and only) key factor in monetizing a personal brand

monetizing a personal brand

Many years ago, I had an opportunity to hang out with The Black Keys and I learned the most important lesson of my life about monetizing a personal brand.

First of all, if you’re not familiar with The Black Keys, go check out this band. They are such a fun, raw and bluesy rock act … and one of my favorites!

monetizing a personal brand black keys

But back to the story.

When I got to meet The Black Keys, they were not playing stadiums and arenas like they are now. They were playing clubs that might hold 1,000 people. But they were definitely moving up. They seemed to have a tremendous amount of momentum and had just recorded a huge album with the famous producer Danger Mouse.

I asked Patrick Carney, the drummer for the group, what their pivot point had been. What was the one event or moment that seemed to boost their trajectory to the big time? This was a vital question for me as I was in the process of building my own personal brand. I was no rock band, and I’ve never had an intent to play arenas, but I was trying to be “known” in the digital marketing business.

His answer surprised me.

Slow and steady

“There was no singular event,” he said. “We just keep making steady progress. Each album does a little better than the last one. You just keep moving forward, building your audience one show at a time.”

If you look at the band’s career this certainly played out. The next time I saw the Black Keys, they were playing in front of 3,000 people at an amphitheater in Columbus and a few years later they were filling arenas like Madison Square Garden. Today they are one of the biggest rock acts in the world.

So what does this mean to you and me?

The myth of viral

As I look at the people who are making in the digital/social media space, there is not one person who was “an overnight success.” Social media pioneer Chris Brogan once famously said that it took him three years to get his first 100 blog readers. A few years later, he was the leading speaker in the business.

There is too much attention placed on the hope of “going viral.” I have had several articles go viral, achieving thousands of shares, likes, and comments. Here is how it helped my business: zip.

Here is a chart depicting the number of subscribers to my blog since 2013 (and I actually began blogging in 2009):


Slow and steady. Each year is a little better than the next. Just like The Black Keys.

The trendline for my podcast downloads looks the same way.

Whether you’re a band or a blogger, it’s highly unlikely you’re going to experience a “big boom” that puts you on a path of fame and fortune. You just establish your voice, create that content, and keep grinding it out, year after year.

By the way, my most “viral” article (Content Shock) was published in early January 2014. Look at the graph to see the impact it had on my subscribers — nothing! There is no substitute for determined, steady progress.

Eventually, if you work hard and stick with it, you can gain enough critical mass to monetize an audience.

I didn’t have a paying sponsor for my Marketing Companion podcast until year three. I didn’t make noticeable money on my books until my fifth publication, The Content Code, in year six of my “second career.” I struggled for three years before I was getting speaking gigs that paid meaningful money.

There is no quick shortcut to building a personal brand.

An audience that matters

Monetizing a personal brand depends on just one thing.

Are you ready for this?

You have to build a sizable audience that cares about you. An audience that matters. That just can’t happen overnight.

I do a lot of one-on-one coaching in this space and this issue is by far the biggest misconception people have about building a personal brand.

People who hire me often need money NOW and they want to know how to make money through their blogging or podcasting in a matter of weeks or months.

Can’t happen.

It takes years. In fact, you need to adopt a three-year mindset to achieve meaningful success with your personal brand.

In my popular book KNOWN: The handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age, I include a lot of research that backs up this idea of slow and steady. I plot out a four-step process to build your personal brand, but on average, it took about two and a half years for the successful people I profiled in the book to create a personal brand that “tips.”

In my interviews for KNOWN, I asked people successful in a wide range of industries what made them different. The words I heard were “tenacity,” “persistence,” and “resilience.”

Monetizing a personal brand

I don’t want to dissuade you or depress you, but I needed to provide a realistic view of your path to personal branding success.

Here are the facts about personal branding today:

  • In many cases, the personal brand IS the corporate brand.
  • A personal brand is transferrable between careers and can offer sustainable competitive advantage.
  • A meaningful personal brand can be a hedge against economic downturns.
  • Standing out as a personality may be the only thing that saves you in a world of automation.
  • Monetizing a personal brand can lead to deep fulfillment and a rewarding career.

So this is important! But you have to take that first step, and above all, you have to be patient about building that audience who loves you.

Make sense?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy Photo of Black Keys courtesy Flickr Creative Commons

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What is the current state of content distribution? The answer is “who”

content distribution

I was recently in a lively discussion about the state of content distribution and it reminded me that this is a topic I haven’t covered in a long time. This was a dominant theme for me when I was working on the 2015 book The Content Code and it’s time to take a fresh look at things. So let’s dig in.

Content shock is alive and well

We are approaching the fifth anniversary of the most popular blog post I’ve written — Content Shock. It went viral because it pricked at the pomposity of the content marketing gurus and proclaimed that the popular notion of inbound marketing just doesn’t work like it used to.

And … it doesn’t.

There’s no denying that my prediction came true. As niches swelled with meaningful, helpful content, it became more difficult and expensive to compete. Social sharing and page views declined and our collective ability to stand out was muted by this hurricane of content competitors.

This suggested that content alone could no longer be the answer to the marketer’s dilemma. Creating more content just added to the problem. We needed our content to move. It had to be seen, it had to be shared. It had to be ignited.

Content ignition — that is the true source of content marketing value! There is no economic value to publishing content unless that content is seen and shared.

So how do we ignite our content? Let’s look at the state of the nation.

First — A caveat. There is no cookie-cutter solution or idea in the marketing world. Every industry, business, and product is complex. So, there are lots of exceptions. Today I am presenting high-level ideas, not specific solutions.

Search engine optimization

For nearly three decades, SEO has been the go-to strategy for content distribution. There is no more intoxicating marketing idea than having high potential customers auto-magically find our content organically through that little search box.

That is the heart of the idea behind inbound marketing, a concept that is much less relevant today than it was five years ago.

SEO is important, and it always will be, but my view it is far less important to most businesses than they think, for a simple reason. To win at SEO, you have to own one of the top search results. So in this never-ending battle for SEO supremacy, there can only be one or two winners in an entire product category.

In essence, SEO is like two big, mean junkyard dogs fighting over the same bone, week after week, year after year. Unless you’re one of those top dogs, SEO can be an expensive way to achieve endless frustration. Another option for content ignition — and probably a better option for most businesses — is to develop content that builds authority.

Authority-based content is produced for the customer, not a search engine, and wins the distribution war if it is good enough to earn customer subscriptions and organic advocacy.

If you want to dive into this idea more deeply, here are resources that can help. In another blog post, I explain the junkyard dog idea and in a second post I break down the two most likely content marketing strategies, including authority.

Promotions and advertising

If we can’t organically earn our way into the attention span of our customers, can we buy our way in through ads that boost our content? That is also getting more difficult.

Here’s a sign of the advertising apocalypse before us. One of the themes at the last Cannes Lions Festival was the desperate push from agencies to get Netflix to show ads. This sad and ridiculous strategy is coming about because of a couple of megatrends.

First, at an increasing rate, content being consumed today does not feature ads. Netflix. Amazon Prime. Spotify. Audiobooks. None of them show ads. Why? Consumers hate ads and consumers always win. Traditional advertising as we know it is dying.

Second, the only place where advertising is growing — digital — is filling up. As the ad inventory declines, the prices rise, making digital ads less accessible for some businesses, or products with slim margins.

Advertising is still a relevant content distribution strategy in some places of course, but it is also a victim of Content Shock — as the competition to standout increases, the cost to compete and distribute that content rises until some businesses will simply have to drop out.

The importance of WHO

So in this weird and noisy world, how do we get our message through? I think the future of content marketing and distribution is found in the word WHO.

Content distribution is a real mess compared to a few years ago. It’s harder to get our content seen and shared and even when we boost it with an ad, people probably still don’t see it or believe it. In fact, trust in businesses, brands, and ads have declined 10 years in a row, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Who do people trust? Each other! We trust people like …

  • Friends and neighbors
  • Business leaders
  • Technical experts
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Influencers and celebrities

I believe completely that this simple fact will dictate the future of content marketing and content distribution.

The key idea is that yes, the WHAT of our story is important, but perhaps even more important is the WHO — WHO IS TELLING THE STORY?

If your company is telling the story through your content, it’s less likely that it will be seen, believed, and shared. But if people I trust are telling me this story, the content becomes internalized and actionable. The content ignites in the very best way — from people we trust.

Content ignition through trusted audiences is the true state of the art in content distribution. If you want to dive into this a little more, in another post I describe how this is an ongoing process of being invited on to the customer “islands.”

The future of content distribution

Marketing success in this new environment means adopting an entirely new mindset. We do not control the message, the pipeline, or the customer journey. The customer is the marketer. How do we help them do the job?

This is a scary and unfamiliar concept. It’s going to be hard to explain to a boss who is still entrenched in 2013. Content marketing success is going to be harder to measure. It’s going to take some bold leadership to accomplish.

But in this world of rapid change and uncertainty, this is one thing I know: We don’t have a choice but to keep moving ahead. We have to pivot and accept these new marketing realities.

The future of content distribution will rely on us creating stories and experiences that are so unmissable and conversational that the customers become the marketing department.

The key to our future success isn’t necessarily the story. It’s who is telling it.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy

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Why you need to climb aboard Medium, the magical home of the written word


Medium has become my biggest source of personal inspiration … and a new revenue stream. Today I want to lay out the business case for why you should get involved in Medium, too.

I’m surprised by how many people are overlooking this important and delightful publishing platform. So many give me blank stares when I rave about it! Medium is growing, it’s an important step toward cleaning up the web, and it’s for everybody who loves the power of written word.

I don’t think I have ever made a public recommendation for an idea or platform ever before, so this post represents a notable break from my normal position.

To be clear, I am not any kind of sponsored spokesperson for Medium. I’m not paid for the endorsement. I just really believe in what they’re doing and I want you to be aware of the opportunity, too.

Medium, the rabbit hole

Medium is an online publishing platform developed by Ev Williams (founder of both Blogger and Twitter) and launched in August 2012. The platform is an outlet for social journalism and opinion, featuring a hybrid collection of amateur and professional writers covering every subject imaginable.

mediumYou can subscribe to more than 140 different topics — curated newsletters for startups, tech, health, or marketing, for example.

The content is assembled with the help of actual human beings, so you’re really seeing the best of the best in your daily emails.

Without question, posts on Medium have become my biggest source of business ideas and inspiration.  Sometimes I actually hesitate opening the email from Medium each day because I know I will go down a rabbit hole of interesting new people and ideas. You can spend a lot of time there!

Through Medium, I’ve discovered emerging thought leaders, diverse points of view, new resources, and exceptional insights. And its not just bloggers … some of the best writers in the world contribute to Medium.

Here is the most important innovation from Medium: Last year, Ev Williams decided to end the advertising model for the site. He realized that advertising can’t co-exist in a world of quality content because eventually the content starts to drive ad sales, not delight subscribers. And that’s a bad thing.

So Medium depends on subscriptions to survive, but that’s the only option if the platform is to maintain its focus and investment in quality. No ads. No spam. No hate. No fake news. Diverse perspectives. This is what we need in the world right now.

It also is one of the few places around these days that actually rewards writers for their best work … which brings us to:

The revenue source

For about two years I’ve been posting my content on Medium. I am primarily doing this as a vote of support for the platform because I believe in it, but it’s also starting to pay off financially (a little).

mediumMedium attracts well over 220 million monthly users — putting it in the ranks of Spotify and Pinterest. To best serve its readers and writers, Medium invented the Medium Partner Program, the company’s method for paying writers for creating high quality work.

Medium is extremely transparent about their revenue model and metrics. They base their payouts on the actual reading time of subscribing members. So if subscribers are reading your stuff, you get paid.

This drives the right behavior for contributing writers because a) there is no way to “game” the system and b) you are being rewarded for high-quality, long-form content.

Everybody wins.

Chances are, you won’t get rich by being a Medium writer, at least not yet. Medium reports that in the last month:

  • 59 percent of writers who wrote at least one story in a month earned money.
  • 9 percent of active writers earned over $100 in a month.
  • $24,439 was the most earned by a writer in a month, and $6,783 was the most earned for a single story.

It’s significant that somebody out there earned more than $24,000 in a single month from their freelance writing. I’ve seen months where the leading writer made more than $30,000. That is awesome.

By the way, that person was not me. I’m only earning about $50 a month, but I haven’t had a serious focus on Medium as a revenue stream. It’s just not a priority right now so I only post a couple times a month — the big earners concentrate their efforts and may post every day.

Truth is, only a very small percentage of submissions will rocket through the ranks and catch the Medium editorial team’s eyes so they will “feature” it. Featured Stories receive a professional copy edit, custom artwork, and prominent placement across Medium’s platform and social networks. Those are the posts that can bring in the big bucks and drive massive awareness for your work.

The opportunity

So … Medium can make you smart and it can even make you money, but there is a more important reason to support the platform. Medium is what we’ve all been waiting for — It’s what the media world needs.

There is no barrage of “targeted ads.” Nobody is tracking you. There is no cesspool of fake news. Writers own their content and they are being paid for their good work!

But long term, this idea is only going to work if the company acquires more subscribers and more active writers.

Medium has a free version and a very low cost monthly subscription  — just $5 (or $50 for a year). I’ve been a subscriber since the first week they eliminated advertising and I hope you’ll subscribe too. It’s a chance for all of us to take one small step to make the web a better, more ethical, and smarter place.

Again, this is not any kind of affiliate situation. I will not receive a dime from this post. I simply want Medium to succeed because the world needs quality content on the web to thrive.

The internet is such a mean and ugly place that it makes my heart hurt sometimes. Medium shows the world there is hope for something better.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Images are from the Medium website.

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Two powerful ideas to help you become the signal instead of the noise

powerful ideas

By Keith Reynold Jennings {grow} Contributing Columnist

My entire career has been dependent on an ability to get people to try, buy or donate to things that might seem unnecessary or inconvenient. Selling powerful ideas is hard work that demands head and heart. And I’ve failed much more than I’ve succeeded. (I’m betting you have too.)

Whether you’re in marketing, sales, fundraising, recruitment, volunteerism, leadership, or even a parent, your success depends on your ability to get others to take action, whether that’s trying, buying, changing, donating, or doing something new.

The problem is that it is becoming almost impossible to connect to people in the moment when there are so many fun distractions in this digital world — especially when you’re trying to tell them or sell them.

But there is a way to overcome this.

Two powerful ideas

When I think of professionals “out there” who, week-after-week, are on the line for getting people to do something they don’t want to do, I can’t help but think of preachers and direct marketing copywriters.

Every time they do what they do, they know instantly whether it worked. Did someone give their life to God? Did someone try or buy?

I look for authorities and models who have sustained success over at least a decade or two. I’m not interested in one-hit-wonders or those who were at the right place at the right time when a platform or trend took off.

Over the years, when it comes to crafting messages that compel action, I’m inspired by the work of Mark Ford and Andy Stanley. We’ll discover simple patterns these masters use to sell their ideas.

Step 1: Focus Your Message on the “Power of One”

Co-founder of American Writers & Artists, Inc., Mark Ford enjoyed a very successful career as a direct marketing copywriter, author, publisher and real estate investor (among other things). He has mentored many A-list advertising copywriters.

Years ago, Ford had an “aha moment.” As he evaluated articles he had published within the year to see which ones readers rated the highest, he discovered that those with the highest scores focused on a single idea.

Those that didn’t perform as well took a more kitchen sink approach — “Here’s everything-you-need-know about this topic.”

This made him wonder if the same phenomenon existed with advertising copy. It did.

The more Ford looked into this, the more he uncovered the power of a single idea everywhere he looked. He came to call this the “Power of One.” Here are the five necessary elements, according to Ford:

  • One big idea — What’s the one thing prospects need to know?
  • One driving emotion — How will this affect how they feel?
  • One captivating story — Who is an authority on or beneficiary of this idea?
  • One desired benefit — What can this idea help them achieve?
  • One inevitable response — What should they do right now?

If you start with these five elements, it will force you to focus in a way you can leverage the Power of One. Each time I start with this, I discover that my ideas are all over the place, because I want to share as much as possible.

The beauty of the Power of One is that it challenges you to hone-in on a single, compelling idea your audience can immediately grasp.

And now that you’ve focused in on your one big idea, it’s time to frame that idea into a narrative that drives action.

Step 2: Frame Your Narrative Using “Me-We-They-You-Us”

Andy Stanley is the founder and senior pastor of North Point Ministries, which has seven church campuses around Atlanta and 90 network churches worldwide. North Point is the second largest church in the U.S., as far as I can tell, and touches around 185,000 people weekly.

Stanley has developed a sermon structure that consistently and effectively plants simple, actionable ideas into congregants’ heads. So as they face challenges in their daily lives, they are able to quickly recall and apply God‘s teaching. Stanley calls the structure “Me-We-God-You-Us.” Here’s how it works for Stanley:

  1. Me: Let me tell you something about me
  2. We: I’ll bet this is something we all have in common
  3. God: Here is what God says about it
  4. You: This is what you need to do about it
  5. Us: Wouldn’t it be great if we all did this?

Of course, you and I aren’t preaching the Gospel. So we can frame our business narratives using Me-We-They-You-Us:

  1. Me: Let me tell you about a problem I’ve had
  2. We: I’ll bet you’ve experience this problem too
  3. They: Here’s what authorities on this topic have to say
  4. You: Here are some steps you can take to address the problem
  5. Us: Imagine how much better things would be if we all addressed this problem

How to Focus and Frame Your Next Message

One of the things I hate about so many articles I read is that you rarely get to see someone apply what they’re teaching. So let’s fix that!

My current problem: I need to re-focus the presentation I give to our new company associates during their full-day orientation. The presentation I’ve been giving is good — it has consistently received strong scores — but it’s not great. The reason it’s not great is that people have connected emotionally with what I’ve presented, but they’ve not consistently taken action afterward.

My metric is activation, not satisfaction. I want the majority of new hires to take action and get involved serving in their community.

The problem I have is there’s so much I could share on how serving others drives job success, personal health and happiness, etc.! Where to start? What to focus on?

Here’s how I used Mark Ford’s “power of one” to focus my message:

  • One big idea: The highest performing employees across companies and industries focus on helping others before helping themselves.
  • One driving emotion: Work/life fulfillment
  • One captivating story: According to Dr. Morten Hansen, research reveals that high performance is directly correlated with contribution, not satisfaction.
  • One desired benefit: You can achieve success AND significance in your career
  • One inevitable response: Choose one service activity to do in the next 30 days

Now let’s frame it.

  1. Me: I want to be successful in my work. But I want that success to mean something and matter to others.
  2. We: I’ll bet you wrestle with the same tension.
  3. They: The latest research reveals that serving others in and beyond your job impacts your success, happiness and sense of purpose.
  4. You: Here are some steps you can take today to start serving others.
  5. Us: Imagine if every associate in our company put others first and actively contributed to the well-being of others.

That’s a pretty powerful message! But it took a lot of work to get it to this place.

I’m happy to share that I gave this presentation at this month’s new hire orientation. It’s still too soon to say whether it was a success, but I received emails from some of the new hires within 24 hours of my presentation saying they had already taken action.

Normally, this would be the right point to bring this article to a conclusion.

But Wait! There’s More!

Here’s how I used Mark Ford’s “power of one” to bring focus to this article:

  • One big idea: The “power of one” plus “me-we-they-you-us” are a powerful and proven way to influence action.
  • One driving emotion: Success
  • One captivating story: Lessons from a direct marketer and a pastor.
  • One desired benefit: A lift in the number of people taking action.
  • One inevitable response: Try using these techniques to focus and frame your next speech, article, email, team meeting, etc.

Then I applied Andy Stanley’s sermon structure to frame this article:

  1. Me: I’m continually in search of proven ways to influence people to take action.
  2. We: I’ll bet you deal with this too.
  3. They: Here’s how a direct marketer and pastor have successfully focused and framed their messages for decades.
  4. You: Here’s how you can apply these techniques to strengthen your messages.
  5. Us: (Keep reading below…)

Imagine how much more effective our marketing would be if marketers, salespeople, fundraisers, recruiters and leaders applied these powerful ideas before vomiting on us with their “messaging.”

I truly hope this has given you some inspiration to test drive these powerful ideas on your next speech, piece of content or sales pitch. Share this with your team and those you mentor to help them get to the next level in their work.

I’m curious, what technique or framework has consistently worked for you? What continues to help you influence others to take action? Please share your learnings with us in the comments. We’re in this together!

Keith Reynold Jennings is an executive and writer who serves as vice president of community impact for Jackson Healthcare. He’s also an advisor to goBeyondProfit. Connect with Keith on Twitter and Linkedin.

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