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Content marketing. It was the darling of the marketing world in years past, but it’s fallen on hard times lately. Why? Mostly because marketers are struggling with it, and as a result generating terrible content, which in turn is making people unhappy:

Content marketing…

The problem that marketers are running into is one of resource constraints. Most of us have a certain number of really good ideas in us, a decent supply of pretty good ideas, and a metric ton of bad ideas. As we create content, we tend to use them up in that order – we begin creating content and knock it out of the park for a short while, keep people interested with pretty good stuff, and eventually, without replenishment, that well runs dry and we create garbage.

The aforementioned Tom Webster correctly cites the issue of content production schedules as being the primary cause for this – if you commit to blogging a certain number of times per week, personally or organizationally, then you have to find content to fill those commitments. The easiest choice, as Tom points out in a recent blog post, is to abolish the content production schedule entirely and only share content when you have really great ideas to share, but for many businesses, that’s not a step that’s viewed as realistic.

So how do you scale your content production to meet a rigorous schedule? First and foremost, you have to acknowledge that you as a content creator have limits. There is a nearly literal well of ideas in your head around your product, service, or industry. That well refills over time; the rate of replenishment depends on how immersed you are in other ideas and how differently you can think about your industry.

Down a big hole

How do you know when you’ve reached a point of depletion? When the ideas stop flowing. When you’re sitting in front of your keyboard wondering, “what the heck am I going to write today?” When the voice in your head says, “ah, just write anything, no one will care anyway”. When you reach those points, your well has run dry.

To meet a production schedule without losing quality, then, you have to do one of two things. You can either change the rate of replenishment or you can add content creators. Adding content creators is the most rational choice, especially for an organization, because it means instead of waiting for one well of great ideas to refill (and possibly creating garbage in the meantime), you have several that you can go to. The more content creators you add to your team (who have talent and intelligence), the better your content will be, because you’ll deplete your wells of good ideas at a slower rate and allow them to replenish more fully in between uses.

If you’re in a position where you’re blogging for yourself or in an organization where adding more content creators isn’t possible, then the other option is to change the rate of replenishment of ideas. Get smarter. Get more creative. How? First and foremost, if you’re a content creator for business, you absolutely must be out in the world talking to customers on a regular, frequent basis. Your best ideas will almost always come from seeing people at work with your products or services and observing the challenges they face. You can do that by going to conferences, visiting customers, helping out with customer service, and being a customer yourself of your company.

Dayton Quest Center Hombu Dojo

Second, you need to draw on multiple disciplines in order to get your well of ideas to replenish more quickly. If you’re a marketer, reading marketing books and blogs will provide only limited benefit, and the better you get as a marketer, the less helpful other marketing blogs will be. At some point, they’ll actually become a hindrance to you. Look to other disciplines for their assortment of best ideas, especially in the fields of the liberal arts. For example, I look to the many inspirations, ideas, strategies, and philosophies of the martial arts for many of my ideas. If you are experienced in the martial art I practice, there are some blog posts which are nearly literal translations of kata strategies, but applied to marketing.

If you study music, what ideas from music come to mind that inform your marketing? There are things like tempo, chord progressions, and harmony that can be translated into other forms of content with relative ease. If you study photography, what can you translate? There are ideas like contrast, lines, lighting, and bokeh that you can translate to your content.

Improving your rate of replenishment comes with a warning: there are rapidly diminishing returns on it that are dictated by time and your level of talent. At a certain point, you either have to throttle back on the schedule or add more human beings.

If the year behind us was about the power of content marketing, then the year ahead has to be about making content that doesn’t suck if we want content marketing to remain a viable method of reaching and acquiring new customers. Like a restaurant, you only need to serve up one plate of garbage instead of a good meal to lose someone forever.

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