Almost Timely News, 25 September 2022: Non-Obvious Content Creation

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Almost Timely News, 25 September 2022: Non-Obvious Content Creation

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What’s On My Mind: Non Obvious Content Creation

One of the things I hear people complain about, especially in social media content, is that “lessons learned from x” posts or “what you can learn from x” posts are both trite and not especially helpful. Why is this the case?

Very often, these pieces of content don’t offer any insight because their conclusions are very surface, very obvious. For example, there was a piece floating around on LinkedIn back in April about the sinking of the Titanic and lessons businesses could learn.

For folks who have been around for a while, what could we have gotten from that piece? What conclusions might we have reached that are not obvious? And how do we get to those conclusions, those insights?

The answer to this, to building content that’s a little more interesting, is to understand what’s wrong in the first place. Most of these content pieces simply describe what’s observable, and that’s why they’re so trite. Want to get a sense of what’s already obvious? Use one of the many writing AIs and ask it to generate a piece. Because they’ve been trained on the most common content – and the most common content is obvious – you’ll get a sense for what’s been done already. Here’s an example:

I gave the prompt, “Write six paragraphs about lessons marketers could learn from the sinking of the Titanic:”

Here’s what one of the machines came up with.

1. Always have a backup plan: The Titanic was sunk by an iceberg, but if the ship had had a backup plan (like a second set of engines), it might have been able to avoid the iceberg altogether.

2. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: The Titanic was designed to be unsinkable, but of course, it sank. Marketers should never put all their eggs in one basket and should always have a contingency plan.

3. Things can go wrong even when you’re prepared: The Titanic was as prepared as possible for sinking, but things still went wrong. Marketers should always be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.

4. Don’t underestimate your competition: The Titanic was the biggest and best ship of its time, but it still lost to an iceberg. Marketers should never underestimate their competition, no matter how big or small they may be.

5. Always test your products: The Titanic was tested extensively before it set sail, but it still sunk. Marketers should always test their products thoroughly before releasing them to the public.

6. Don’t get complacent: The Titanic was the pinnacle of maritime technology, but it still failed. Marketers should always be on the lookout for new and innovative ways to stay ahead of the competition.

Obvious, right? This content reads like pretty much every common piece you’ve read in blogs and online.

So what’s the remedy to this? There’s a three step process I use to try finding stuff that people haven’t already covered, or at least covered less frequently: frame, parallel, oppose. (unfortunately, I haven’t come up with a catchy acronym just yet)

How does this work? Let’s start with frame. What’s the underlying framework of a series of events or something you’re trying to explain? Suppose you’re looking at something like Chernobyl or Titanic. The underlying framework is a series of compounding errors that people made which caused or worsened the natural disasters. Once you distill down a seemingly random collection of facts to a coherent framework, you’re ready to start finding the non-obvious. This, by the way, is usually the point that most content stops at.

The second step is to parallel. What other frameworks do you know that operate in parallel with the framework you’re working with? For example, let’s take the Titanic framework – a series of poor decisions and mistakes that compounded the problem, like poor/broken communication, bad decisions, and lack of situation awareness. Next, let’s select a parallel framework, like hacking into a company’s systems. Penetration testing has a clear set of operational standards – project scoping, reconnaissance, identification of weaknesses, determining vectors of exploitation, performing the exploits, reporting the findings, and remediating the weaknesses.

How do you apply a penetration testing framework to the timeline and decisions of the Titanic? Suppose instead of the Titanic accidentally sinking, you wanted to sink it on purpose. What steps from the penetration testing framework would you apply to the Titanic framework of events? Reconnaissance and weakness identification would be your keys to making it happen – from the arrogance of the builders to the crew to the guests themselves. From the perspective of a hacker, everything that went wrong with Titanic is something you could engineer into pretty much any major project, but the root cause of it all is human arrogance. That’s the real, not as obvious theme that weaves through the entire narrative of the Titanic.

The third step in the framework is to oppose. Flip the script now – knowing the root cause of the Titanic’s sinking was arrogance (“unsinkable!”), where are the vulnerabilities in your company’s marketing operations? What are the arrogant blind spots that a competitor could engineer in your operations? What are the system safeties that could fail to work correctly?

For example, in your sales scripts, how self-centered are they, knowing that selfish messaging is a symptom of arrogance?

In your C-Suite, what decisions are your executives making that run contrary to literally every known piece of data available to you?

In your marketing automation system, how many safeties are built in? For example, GDPR compliance requires that audiences opt-in for the use of their data and you face substantial civil and even criminal penalties for violations of it. Yet there’s an increasing threat of bots and spammers leveraging real people’s data in click farms – how prepared are you to counter that threat? Were you even aware that was a threat?

By taking a parallel framework and changing our thinking to how we might make an accident like the Titanic happen on purpose, we reveal more to the story that’s useful from a content perspective and create content that isn’t blatantly obvious (and therefore adds little to no value). This meta-framework – frame, parallel, oppose – will help you unlock more value for the content you want to create.

Here’s an exercise. Go onto Twitter and search for “what marketers can learn from”. Choose any one of the many pieces that pop up and ask yourself – or do as an exercise with your colleagues – how you’d reframe the piece to be much more useful using frame, parallel, and oppose.

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ICYMI: In Case You Missed it

Besides the new Google Analytics 4 course I’m relentlessly promoting (sorry not sorry), I would recommend the piece on diversity and AI. It’s important.

Skill Up With Classes

These are just a few of the classes I have available over at the Trust Insights website that you can take.



Get Back to Work!

Folks who post jobs in the free Analytics for Marketers Slack community may have those jobs shared here, too. If you’re looking for work, check out these five most recent open positions, and check out the Slack group for the comprehensive list.

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What I’m Reading: Your Stuff

Let’s look at the most interesting content from around the web on topics you care about, some of which you might have even written.

Social Media Marketing

Media and Content

SEO, Google, and Paid Media

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Events I’ll Be At

Here’s where I’m speaking and attending. Say hi if you’re at an event also:

  • MarketingProfs B2B Forum, October 2022, Boston
  • Heapcon, November 2022, Belgrade, Serbia

Events marked with a physical location may become virtual if conditions and safety warrant it.

If you’re an event organizer, let me help your event shine. Visit my speaking page for more details.

Can’t be at an event? Stop by my private Slack group instead, Analytics for Marketers.

How to Stay in Touch

Let’s make sure we’re connected in the places it suits you best. Here’s where you can find different content:

Required Disclosures

Events with links have purchased sponsorships in this newsletter and as a result, I receive direct financial compensation for promoting them.

Advertisements in this newsletter have paid to be promoted, and as a result, I receive direct financial compensation for promoting them.

My company, Trust Insights, maintains business partnerships with companies including, but not limited to, IBM, Cisco Systems, Amazon, Talkwalker, MarketingProfs, MarketMuse, Agorapulse, Hubspot, Informa, Demandbase, The Marketing AI Institute, and others. While links shared from partners are not explicit endorsements, nor do they directly financially benefit Trust Insights, a commercial relationship exists for which Trust Insights may receive indirect financial benefit, and thus I may receive indirect financial benefit from them as well.

Thank You!

Thanks for subscribing and reading this far. I appreciate it. As always, thank you for your support, your attention, and your kindness.

See you next week,

Christopher S. Penn

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