By Josh Ritchie, Co-Founder and CEO, Column Five
Developing and promoting great content is no easy game. It takes a lot to run a good operation—and the most important aspect is the people in that operation. Beyond their skill sets and knowledge base, good content professionals exhibit particular qualities that contribute to their success.
Whether you’re a one-person operation or a CMO in charge of a large department, work to cultivate these seven qualities in yourself and the people around you to improve your content marketing efforts.
Content marketing isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon without a finish line. Being comfortable with this reality is hugely important. While it’s frustrating to see tactics that used to work become less effective, or experiment with new things that fail, it’s imperative to understand that patience really is a virtue when it comes to doing content right for the long-haul.
Cultivating this mindset will help you avoid burnout when things don’t go the way you’d like. In working with large brands and tiny startups at my agency, I know there’s a learning curve for everyone. If you want to master content marketing (or anything), you need to be willing to spend time required to get good.
As we know, Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to master anything. Truthfully, I’ve been active in marketing for over 10,000 hours myself, and I still feel like there’s so much to learn—in large part because things are always changing.
Remember that no one who’s doing this work well and making a name for themselves as a leader started yesterday. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Good things take time.
2) Good Listening Skills
Good content marketing isn’t about doing what you want. It’s about serving your customers first. (If you’re an agency, this means your customers’ customers.) This is where empathy comes into play.
To create excellent content marketing, you need to get inside your customers’ minds, understand what they struggle with, and look for ways to help fix their troubles. To do that, you need to listen more than you talk. This means both listening to the challenges they face in their day to day—and listening to their feedback on your product or service, no matter how harsh it may be. This outsider perspective is the key to moving in the right direction.
And customers are not the only ones you should be listening to. Pay attention to anyone and everyone who’s doing great work. Soak up their knowledge like a sponge. As Brandon Mull says, “Smart people learn from their mistakes. But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others.”
While opportunities to listen might not always easily and organically present themselves to you, regardless of your role, clients, or business model, make it your responsibility to create these opportunities. I find that emailing people to ask for feedback not only works well but is relatively pain-free—and it scales.
If you’re bored with what you’re doing, it shows in your content. The antidote? Get inspired and mix it up. Curiosity will serve you well here. (Interestingly, creativity guru and author Elizabeth Gilbert encourages people not to look for their passion in life but to follow their curiosity.)
You should always be interested in learning new things, expanding your skill set, or trying a different approach. In content marketing, an always-changing field, resting on your laurels is death.
Always assume that there are better, more interesting, and more effective things you could—and should—be doing, then go out and find them. Make curiosity an intrinsic part of your nature. I promise you will tap into some seriously awesome stuff.
There is little room for ego in content marketing. In fact, the more willing you are to be humbled, the more successful you’ll be. The more you experiment and fail, the more you improve—even if it feels humiliating.
Humility makes you a better team player and allows you to put your customers and brand before yourself. You become more open-minded and willing to engage with others (aka listen!), which helps both personally and professionally.
I’m a big proponent of the “strong opinions, weakly held” approach to doing things. Adopting this mentality also allows you to encourage and accept constructive feedback—and sometimes even help from others when needed. In the long run, this only helps.
While you should be humble, it’s also important to build your confidence in your content marketing skills.
Confidence is the key to not letting an epic failure eat you alive—and to getting back up and trying again. Rewards don’t come to people who give up before they even try; they come to those who are not willing to let their failures define who they are. As Randy Nelson of Pixar says, “The core skill of innovators is error recovery, not failure avoidance.” The ability to recover, he says, not some innate ability, is the mark of a creative genius.
Building confidence in yourself and your team requires boldness and courage. The good news is the quicker you bounce back from obstacles, the more your confidence grows. And the more confident you are, the more likely you are to pitch that crazy-but-brilliant idea that just might bring your team to the next level.
Maintaining quality and consistency are vital to a successful content marketing operation, but it takes a lot of diligence to maintain. This is why discipline is the key to keeping the engine running.
Creating and promoting content can sometimes be like going to the gym: four out of five of the times I don’t want to be there, but I power through my workout and 100 percent of the time I’m glad I did.
Even when it gets hard, frustrating, or confusing, know that the content still needs to be created.
Now this doesn’t mean you should focus on quantity over quality simply to maintain discipline. It means you should work to strategize and follow through.
Remember: The only way to track your content’s success (and learn what to do better next time) is to have something to measure it against.
You’ve heard about the importance of authenticity a couple million times by now. That said, there are some common traps that brands fall into in this quest. I’d advise you against the following:
Unnecessary trend-jacking: Do you really care what your medical provider thinks about Kanye West on Twitter? No. If it’s a natural fit, you can consider it. But far too often this just ends up backfiring.
Copying other brands: So Apple came out with a great new campaign? Let them have it and come up with something of your own. Copying other brand’s voices or tactics looks hacky at best and sleazy at worst.
If you approach content marketing with an honest and sincere desire to do good and provide value to your readers first and foremost, you won’t go wrong. Don’t try to be authentic; just be.
Always Check Yourself
When working with customers or fellow content marketers, you will find many opportunities to demonstrate these qualities or practice cultivating them. If you find some more difficult than others, that’s OK. That means you’re aware—and that’s a great first step.