Marketers: We’re Sharing Our Content Backwards
The thing to know about me is that I’m an extreme extrovert. I come from a long line of extreme extroverts too. If you closed your eyes at a family dinner, you’d swear that 29, maybe 30 humans were in that room. (Actual population: 9, maybe 10 parents/grandparents, siblings, and cousins.) An even better example of why I am the way I am would be if you and my mother waited in line together, anywhere in the world, you’d be best friends with the people behind you five minutes into waiting.
(Why behind you? Great question. You see, while the people in front of you would be facing forward, backs to my mother, the people behind you would be facing the exact right direction for a lengthy conversation, should she only turn around to say hello. That’s when they’d find themselves face to face with their new BFF. They just wouldn’t realize it yet. The poor saps…)
Bottom line: I draw my energy from other people, because I am a people person who comes from a long line of people people.
Understand: I can talk to anyone about anything, anytime, anywhere…but even still, I’ve learned there’s one thing I need to stop talking about in my work if I’m going to succeed.
A few weeks ago, my first-ever documentary series launched. It’s called Against the Grain, built in partnership with the customer service software company Help Scout. It’s a travel-esque show, in which we visited different cities in the US, pre-COVID, looking for thriving companies who, despite their success, reject the classic business success story. They (like I) can’t tolerate the winner-take-all, growth-at-all-costs story so idolized in the business world. Instead, they (like I) believe in using business as a force for good, as a way to make something that makes a difference.
The thing is, somewhere inside all the words I just wrote to you just now, at least some of the people reading this blog post started to lose interest. Even the most super of the superfans were like, Hurry up and get to the point where you talk about why this matters to ME, already!
And that’s the hard lesson we need to re-learn every time we launch anything special, like a new show or a new episode: Stop talking about WHAT you made. Start talking about WHY you made it.
As makers and marketers, we get so excited about our work (and, sometimes, feel so stressed about the work working), that we go screeching around the internet talking about the fact that, Look! We made a thing!
The problem is we’ve lost sight of what marketing really is. Marketing is about participation, not promotion. If you aren’t a consistent contributor to the community, how can you hope to serve them with the work you create? To distribute the show, don’t distribute “the show.” Distribute the ideas. Evangelize the cause. If the lone reason you built something was selfish, like “to promote our brand” or “to sell a bunch of stuff” or “to drive leads”…well, you’ve identified the problem and the real reason nobody will care when you start talking about it.
When we make things in order to make a difference, not just make a quick buck, we give ourselves the ability to not only create better work but to grow it. Nobody cares that I have a new docuseries (unless the person already loves everything I do, in which case, you are probably my very-loving, very-VERY-extroverted mom — hi, Mom!). Nobody cares that I made “a thing.” But you might care why — if that reason is focused on you.
So, this week, a weird question for you and your marketing: What if you weren’t allowed to mention WHAT you made…until after you shared WHY you made it?
To rally people to your cause, don’t talk about the content or the medium. Talk about THE CAUSE. If your content seems to lack such a thing, again, that’s the problem.
What if you can’t mention WHAT the thing is…until after they understand WHY it exists? How might that transform everything in your marketing, from the tiniest tweet to the biggest project?
This is hard. I ignore this advice all the time. I’m just so excited about Against the Grain! I’m so geeked out about that new-new, and all the mad skills I want to display to the world, that I too often sprint around the internet and tell people WHAT I made. The problem is, I haven’t given anyone a reason WHY they should care. I’m battling years of marketing and even more years being an extreme extrovert that have wired my brain to spot a person and just start…talking.
The poor saps…
This week, when you leave the warm, overly-chatty confines of this blog, and you begin to turn around to face the people around you, waiting in some digital line somewhere for the next tweet or post or update, remember to ask yourself:
“What if we can’t mention WHAT we made…until after they understand WHY we made it?”
Founder of Marketing Showrunners, host of 3 Clips and other podcasts and docuseries about creativity, and author of Break the Wheel. I’m trying to create a world where people feel intrinsically motivated by their work. Previously in content marketing and digital strategy at Google and HubSpot and VP of brand and community at the VC firm NextView. I write, tinker, and speak on stages and into microphones for a living. It’s weird but wonderful.
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