Tag Archive | "Think"

Tactics and Strategies that Help You Look (and Think) Like a Pro

This week, we’ve got a bunch of tips, tactics, and strategies to help you get more out of the work…

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Why You Should Think Twice about Writing How-To Posts

“Write what you know.” It’s an old adage you’ve probably heard before. And many bloggers and content writers have taken…

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Why Stress Might Be More Useful than You Think: December’s Selection for the Copyblogger Book Club

It’s book club time again! Over in Copyblogger’s Killers and Poets Facebook Group, we like to get together and discuss…

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How Wrenches Changed the Way I Think about Digital Tools

About a year and a half ago, I made up my mind to rebuild a motorcycle. I had no mechanical…

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Why You’re Missing Crucial Opportunities if You Think You’re ‘Not Creative’

I can’t stand hearing people say they’re “not creative.” That happened to me recently, after I sliced a finger and wound up in Urgent Care. When the doctor heard that my fiancé is a graphic designer, he launched into a well-rehearsed monologue: “Oh, my mom is a graphic designer; she’s so creative! I do some
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Do Content Writers Really Need to Think about SEO?

In my experience, creative writing pros have an endless appetite for writing advice. How to add more color and texture to your writing, storytelling techniques, endless discussions about the serial comma and finer points of usage. Elements like copywriting and conversion strategy? That tends to start to divide people up. Some writers want to pick
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Why Informative Content Will Make You Think Content Marketing Doesn’t Work

You might want to take an extra sip of coffee before you read the next paragraph … We’re going to start with a brief geometry lesson today, but I promise it will be gentle.

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7 Real-World Ways to Think Like an Artist for Better Content Marketing

"We make good sentences by starting with awful sentences." – Sonia Simone

Earlier this year, I wrote that I believe art plays a critical role in content marketing.

But what does that actually mean? When you think about it, what does that word “art” really mean?

“I’ll know it when I see it.”

– Random critic

For the purposes of this conversation, I’ll define art as an expression that can’t be made by an algorithm. It’s the creative spark, the unusual choice, the flare of personality, the moment of real human empathy and connection.

I believe it’s a serious mistake to think that marketing and art are somehow separate.

As Brian Clark has said for years:

“People who think art is sacred and marketing is dirty tend to be terrible marketers and marginal artists.

People who think art is irrelevant and marketing is about tricking people into buying shit they don’t need tend to be terrible marketers and worse human beings.”

– Brian Clark, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ and the Art of Phony Marketing

While I’m defining art, let me go ahead and define marketing: It’s what we communicate that allows us to work with others. Advertising, social strategy, SEO, funnels, automation — they all need to serve that function.

Somewhere along the line, we got the idea that marketing was another word for lies. Don’t buy it.

Smart marketers don’t accept the excuse of “It’s just marketing” to hide the truth or produce crummy work that benefits no one.

Wise marketers embrace art as integral to what they do, as much as strategy and execution are.

Here are some observations I’ve made over the years about how artists work and how anyone can adopt a more artistic mindset.

1. Artists geek out over craft

“Creativity occurs in action: It is not a trait; it is something you do.”

– Bert Dodson

Get a group of writers together and you’ll hear a whole lot of geeky talk about structure, language, word choice, metaphor, and the serial comma.

Art is about your unique and personal expression of the world you see around you. But you can’t express what you see and feel until you master your chosen craft.

As a content marketer, you make a living with words. Dive into the disciplines that will teach you how to stitch words together in ways you haven’t tried before.

Study poetry. Study screenwriting. Study short stories. If you’re a podcaster, take an acting class or voice lessons.

The reason an artist’s life is so interesting and rewarding is that you never stop learning. When you master your craft at one level, new levels reveal themselves. The game gets ever more complex and interesting.

Any study of creative writing will benefit you as a content marketer. You’ll learn how to show, not tell. You’ll think more carefully about word choice. And you’ll learn the nuances that make for superb storytelling.

A writing workshop can be a great start, but there are also lots of wonderful books on writing well. Here are just a couple of suggestions — this is far from a complete list.

Resources:

2. Artists protect their productive time

If you pick up a book about the work habits of creative people (I’m a bit obsessed with this topic), you’ll notice something striking.

Nearly all great writers, musicians, painters, and other artists tend to work in well-defined work cycles.

They nearly always have specific times of day set aside for creative work. They protect this time with a ferocity that can border on cruelty.

Often, this time is strictly reserved for what writers call “draft” — the messy, sometimes ugly part of the creative process where we take new ideas and work through them with as much craft as we can manage.

You need to be a bit brutal about protecting this time. That’s more important than it ever was, thanks to the seductive call of so many distractions.

Because, to be honest, a lot of days, this isn’t the fun part. This is the moment when all of those lovely dreams and ideas get turned into unsatisfying reality — on the page, the canvas, or the screen.

It’s where you face the dreaded, “The words on the screen don’t sound like they did in my head.”

The only way most of us ever manage to get anything done is simply to be rather robotic about getting to work. Uninterrupted creative time needs to get blocked into your calendar. You need to defend it — against your own resistance as much as anything else.

Resources:

There are lots of excellent apps that help you defend your productive time. I like the Freedom app to protect me from my own worst habits.

Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work is a fascinating look at how different artists have used their time.

3. Artists embrace bad art

If we’re spending time every day creating something that doesn’t match our creative vision, how do we push ourselves to keep showing up?

Artists know that the way to create good art — maybe some day even great art — is to make a whole lot of bad art.

We’re looking for what painters call “brush mileage.” You’ll never be able to paint well until you pull a paintbrush through a certain amount of paint and onto a certain volume of canvas or paper.

We make good sentences by starting with awful sentences.

Writers, in my opinion, have it lucky. We can keep working on a piece until it doesn’t suck. Try that with a watercolor; you won’t be happy.

If we keep working on material that’s appropriately challenging, we’ll keep getting better. At first, your pieces may need a lot of editing time. As you mature creatively, your rewrites might get faster, but you’ll still find that genuinely good work needs the discipline of multiple rewrites.

Resources:

In my experience, there’s no substitute for a thoughtful critique of your writing. Critique groups can be helpful, if (big if) the right people are in them. A well-qualified writing teacher or freelance editor is probably the gold standard.

If that’s not in the budget for now, find a friend or fellow content creator whose writing you admire and barter in-depth critiques for a task you’re terrific at.

4. Artists seek flow

Most of us have heard of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow, even if we need to refer to Google any time we have to spell his name.

It’s all about that “creative state” — the mental point where time stops and we feel pure creative focus.

For us to find flow, whether it’s in rock climbing, flower arranging, or writing, we have to keep ourselves balanced on the edge between “too hard” and “too easy.”

When it’s too hard, we’re frustrated all the time and our thoughts get cramped. It’s hard to create anything new when you’re just angry with yourself.

When it’s too easy, we either become hacks, cranking out the same tired crap, or we get bored and start to become self-destructive.

The life of an artist is about constantly looking for that edge, and climbing back onto it again and again.

Resource:

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

(By the way, my best sources for how to pronounce his name say “Me-high Cheek-SENT-me-high.”)

5. Artists ask a lot of questions

Craft is about how skillfully you can express an idea. Art adds interesting questions to that expression.

Craft makes the work pretty. Art makes it meaningful.

Is that the best way? Are there other options we could explore?

It truly doesn’t matter what your topic is. If you ask questions — lots of them — you’ll start to come up with interesting answers.

Questions lead us to new places. They build cathedrals and pyramids and space stations.

Resources:

Some of the most powerful questions you’ll ever answer will come from your audience. You’ll never outgrow the need to listen closely to your audience’s questions.

But in addition to those, consider these:

  • Why does the world look the way it does today?
  • What haven’t we thought of yet?
  • What’s standing so fully in our way that we can’t even see it?

6. Artists value pragmatism

“Creativity is a lot like happiness. It shows up when you’re thinking of something else.”

– Bert Dodson

In my experience, the stereotype of the “flaky artist” who’s out of touch with reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

If your vacuum cleaner breaks? Don’t throw it into the landfill; call your artist friend. She’ll know how to rewire it, she can resolder the piece that broke off, and she’ll tweak the switch so it’s easier to use.

Of course, she may also paint it deep red with a filigree pattern of pale yellow and silver polka dots, and add a sound system.

Art presents endless opportunities for recycling, rethinking, and pragmatic problem solving.

Lots of us quit the formal practice of problem solving when we stopped doing word problems in math class. Artists solve new problems every time they sit down to work.

Artists understand that it’s not enough to have some grand idea. We have to figure out how to translate that into something other people can see or hear or touch.

Resources:

Our monthly content challenges are designed to give you pragmatic exercises to improve your craft and your creative output. You still have time to complete our creative challenge for January here:

January’s Content Excellence Challenge Prompts

And look for February’s challenges on the blog next week.

7. Artists actively seek an audience

Art begins in self-expression. But at a certain point, we have a deep desire to find an audience for our creative work.

There’s nothing wrong with making art to please yourself. It’s a satisfying way to spend your time.

But when we “go pro” — when we seek an audience — we begin to walk the tightrope between what we intend and what we actually communicate. Between our expression and how the audience sees that expression.

It’s a bit of a zen paradox.

Art is not about you. Also, art is about you.

Some art works well for a small number of people. Some art works well for millions. It’s your job as a creative professional to find the ones who get your message, then find some more people like that.

That’s why it doesn’t make you a “hack” to want to build the audience for your work. When you tell great stories, your stories become your audience’s stories. If a story is powerful enough, it picks up and walks on without you.

Resources:

Helping you find a bigger audience is one of the reasons we’re here. You can snag a juicy library of free content marketing training here, including lots of resources to help you grow your audience and community:

The Copyblogger free content marketing library

And for the rest of this month, we’ll be talking a lot about how art (and craft) will serve your work. February will be a rich month of tutorials, techniques, and inspiration to elevate your content. We’re all looking forward to seeing you in the coming weeks!

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5 Dang Good Reasons Why Writers Should Think of Themselves as Content Marketers

content marketing's bright future

Perhaps you are a journalist by trade, dreaming of working in a big, bustling city like Seattle or a cozy college town such as Athens, Georgia.

Maybe you are a die-hard copywriter, having cut your teeth on direct response campaigns through snail mail, but you’re looking for a faster-paced challenge.

Or maybe you are like me: an English Literature graduate from the Midwest who wanted more out of life than days waiting tables and nights working on poems no one would read.

No matter which category you belong to (or maybe you defy all categories), you know you are a writer because you love to write. You love thinking about writing. You love to have people read your writing …

And, more importantly, you’d love to get paid to write.

The bad news is you won’t find “writers” on the list of the fastest growing careers. The good news is, I think that’s going to change pretty soon.

Why? Simple: the rapid and powerful rise of content marketing.

Because of the content marketing boom, we are now living in the age of the online writer.

Who exactly is the online writer? What does she look like?

She is a person who has an:

  • Average understanding of SEO
  • Average understanding of usability
  • Above average understanding of social media
  • Outstanding understanding of copywriting
  • Above average understanding of storytelling
  • Average research skills
  • Average caffeine appreciation
  • Above average combative work ethic

You can carve out a pretty satisfying career as a web writer if you have all of these skills. If you do, congratulations. However, I want to encourage you not to stop there.

The rewards of evolving into a content marketer

I want you to go further and turn yourself into a content marketer. A content marketer is a person who has an:

  • Outstanding understanding of content strategy
  • Above average understanding of SEO
  • Above average understanding of social media
  • Average understanding of subscription assets
  • Average research skills
  • Average understanding of conversion skills

As you can see, there is some overlap between the two lists.

If you already have all the qualities of a web writer, that means you are ahead of the curve. You just need to bone up in a few other disciplines, and you’ll be on your way toward becoming a full-fledged content marketer.

Some of you might have a little farther to travel: you don’t have all of these skill sets yet. But don’t fret. We all start somewhere.

The good news is that if you keep going, striving, learning, and practicing, you’ll build the natural authority that makes you an in-demand content marketer.

But no matter how far you have to travel, a little encouragement never hurts. Besides, for those who have a longer road to travel, encouragement makes the journey more enjoyable.

That’s why I want to share five reasons that will encourage you to think of yourself as a content marketer.

1. The demand for content creators is still growing

What’s driving this demand? According to a late 2015 update to a previously published Forrester report, research suggests consumers demand more content (if it’s good):

“Marketers who create valuable content and stories that attract audiences … build valuable relationships with customers and generate positive business outcomes.”

In this digital age, consumers are in control of the purchase process and want information before they make decisions. Any company that relies solely on traditional advertising tactics will likely struggle.

According to Content Marketing Institute’s research report, B2B Content Marketing – 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends – North America, 76 percent of B2B companies said they’ll increase content creation (slide 14). And to accommodate this increase, 51 percent of companies said they’ll increase their budgets (slide 26).

As a result, businesses will need more writers with a flair for content marketing.

2. Ad blocking will increase content marketing budgets

Late last year, the number one most downloaded app was for ad blocking.

This fast adoption of ad blocking software has caused publishers to spin out of control. According to an often-quoted Adobe and PageFair study, ad blocking software was estimated to cost publishers $ 22 billion in revenue during 2015.

That’s a lot of money.

But a bloodbath for independent media is probably overstating the case. More than likely, publishers will shift gears and adopt a content marketing strategy over a traditional advertising one, with a particular focus on content distribution.

As a result, businesses will need more writers with a flair for content marketing.

3. More companies will invest in content distribution

As Contently stated in their 2016 State of Content Marketing report, 70 percent of content marketers spend less than $ 1,000 on content distribution.

That percentage is expected to change once companies realize that the most successful content marketers spend a higher portion of their budgets on content distribution (like sponsored content) than their less-successful peers.

As a result, businesses will need more writers with a flair for content marketing.

4. More SEO budgets will shift towards optimizing content for discovery and conversion

In the last five years, Google has aggressively focused on rewarding high-quality content. A by-product of this intense focus is that we no longer think of SEO as a standalone practice.

Instead, consider Sean Jackson’s phrase “OC/DC” (Optimizing Content for Discovery and Conversion). OC/DC encapsulates the idea of amplifying the overall reach and results of content creation.

Yes, great content may well result in traffic from Google, which is important. But a more holistic strategy pulls in traffic from a variety of sources — social media, related blogs, content distribution (see section 3), and so forth.

Optimizing content for discovery and conversion requires a writer to think like a content marketer — the person who, as I listed above, has experience with social media, subscription assets, republishing, and conversion copywriting.

As a result, businesses will need more writers with a flair for content marketing.

5. More social sites are becoming publishing platforms

First it was Medium, a social site that gives people an unlimited space to write (even if it’s not original content). Then LinkedIn opened its publishing platform to everyone.

Since then, Facebook released Instant Articles, which allows publishers to share content directly inside the Facebook app — last year to a limited group of brands. They’re slated to open it up to everyone soon, even your grandma.

And longer tweets may be coming soon to Twitter.

While social platforms may encourage content syndication, there is also an opportunity to tailor content for an audience on a specific platform. BuzzFeed is one such pioneer.

As a result, businesses will need more writers with a flair for content marketing.

Avoid digital sharecropping

I should point out, soon-to-be content marketer, that if you set up your content marketing strategy properly, it doesn’t violate our long-time advice not to overbuild on someone else’s land.

Rather than building mini-empires on other platforms, focus on creating definitive articles on your own site. Once that’s in place, use social platforms to drive traffic back to you.

You’ll optimize your related social media content for each specific platform where you publish, but all roads lead back to you and your original authoritative content.

Who’s hiring content marketers?

These five reasons suggest that the demand for content will continue to increase. But who’s actually hiring content marketers? Here are a few places:

And of course, Copyblogger has a certification program that finds, trains, and promotes highly qualified content marketers.

Are you ready to capitalize on the rapid and powerful rise of content marketing?

Take the next step to sharpen your content marketing skills

To discover how to create in-demand content marketing, check out Authority, our training and networking community designed to help you become a superb content marketer.

Enrollment is closed for now, but put your name on the Authority interest list by clicking on the button below. We’ll let you know when doors open again.

Join the Authority interest list

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3 Surprising Steps to Help You Think Outside the Content Marketing Box

content marketing where you least expect it

Let me tell you a fascinating story about John. 

He’s a fictional character but a good example of the type of people I help every day. In fact, if you pay close attention, you might realize you relate to him in more ways than one.

John is a developer. He writes code day in and day out for a large company.

He doesn’t think of himself as a copywriter. He essentially just codes, all the time. But John also has a strategy up his sleeve. In fact, he uses content marketing every day.

What John might lack in overt marketing skills, he makes up for with an ongoing list of small side projects. He spends hours of his free time building small code snippets and software. Then, he makes them free to download on the popular code-sharing site GitHub.

One day, John wakes up to hundreds of emails in his inbox — job offers, questions, and positive feedback all yell at him through his still-groggy eyelids. He might not be on his third cup of coffee yet, but John is smiling wide.

However, he isn’t surprised by his now-packed inbox; it was just a matter of time.

So, what really happened?

Recently, a big-time developer noticed one of John’s code snippets and decided to share it with his own audience.

This led to thousands of visits and additional links to John’s work, which exposed him to a larger audience, drove traffic to his website, and then resulted in a plethora of potential clients, fans, and leads.

John simply utilized content marketing in a fundamental way:

He provided free solutions to common problems.

Content marketing is more than just writing

Content marketing and copywriting are certainly a powerful combination.

But you can also find content marketing in unlikely places — produced by people who don’t touch the marketing department of a company.

When you offer a free solution to a problem and invite further dialogue by providing a way to contact you, you have the possibility of attracting previously unattainable business opportunities.

And this illustrates one wonderful truth: content marketing strategies can be applied by anyone.

How problem-solving creates profitable opportunities

While the above story of John the developer is inspirational, it might be difficult to understand how it relates to you and your own endeavors — especially if you’re not a developer!

In light of that, I’ve broken down this principle into three steps. Use this process to leverage content marketing to your advantage and grow your audience.

Step #1: Seek out problems

First, develop a list of problems you know people struggle with.

You could survey customers, run polls, or research your target market.

But there’s another tried-and-true method: take note of the problems you face each day.

I know, you’ve already got 50 problems in mind. It seems we humans have a surprisingly efficient ability to complain.

Once you’ve clearly defined a problem, ask your audience for feedback — even if that’s just your family members.

Here’s an example:

I recently had an idea for an application I wanted to build. It was a perfect opportunity to both solve a repetitive task I found myself doing and learn a new JavaScript framework.

So, the first thing I did was jump on Twitter and tweet out a poll. I asked if anyone would find the idea useful.

The answer? Eighty percent thought the idea had already been done.

Sure, my idea was likely not worth pursuing — but I got instant feedback and saved myself a lot of trouble.

Keep doing this, all the while keeping these ideas in a safe place. Eventually, you’ll stumble upon a few problems that get a resounding, “Yes, please!”

Step #2: Eliminate the expensive and time-consuming

The second step is to review your new list of problems and decide which ones you have the ability to solve.

Throw away the ones you don’t know how to solve (or save them for later) and create a revised list with the ones you do know how to solve.

With this process, you need to decide which problems you can solve absolutely free of charge.

At this point, you might be thinking about all of the free time you don’t have to produce free solutions.

But if you are strategic and smart with your time, you’ll be surprised by the value you can provide — it just takes focus and diligence.

Now, select one problem that:

  • You have the ability to solve
  • Doesn’t require an unreasonable amount of time and resources to solve
  • You can give away for free

This will be your baby. You’ll nurture it at every free moment you can spare. (I have three hours before work every morning dedicated to side projects like my newsletter for web designers.)

This problem, which you hate, should now be your favorite thing in the world.

Step #3: Solve the problem and provide the solution for free

Developing a solution to your problem is the shortest step in the process but undoubtedly the hardest and most crucial.

Solving problems is hard. Solving problems with excellence is even more difficult, as any entrepreneur will tell you.

But solving problems is the essential ingredient to success, and the quality of your solution will be what markets your capabilities.

Finally, once you’ve solved the problem — and double-checked that the solution is excellent — you’re ready to provide it for free.

With this process, don’t ask for anything in return, but don’t be a stranger either — always offer ways to connect and an easy way to get in touch with you.

Remember the inviting further dialogue part I mentioned earlier?

Make yourself available. Inviting further dialogue is your call to action.

Content marketing anyone can do

By following this system, you not only benefit your industry and community, you will also indirectly build authority.

John was just a typical developer before that morning of email bliss. He was regarded as the “company guy,” rather than a content marketer or entrepreneur.

Yet, over time and as a result of consistency, prospects recognized him as a trustworthy resource they wanted to do business with.

By following this process again and again, you’ll not only benefit everyone who cares about the problems you can solve, you’ll also gain loyal customers who trust you. They’ll respect you, support you, and market your expertise and products for free for years to come.

The best part of it all? Absolutely anyone in any industry can do it.

You just have to start.

Additional reading: If you found this article useful, you may also like How to Decide Which Content to Sell and What to Give Away for Free.

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