There are few absolutes in life, much less in the world of marketing. But in our experience, about the closest thing to an absolute is this: if a project is going to fail to meet its objectives, it will fail because of content. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a new website or an integrated campaign, most projects fail because they don’t say anything of consequence.
Now, on every website, every ad, you’ll find words and images. There will be content. But all too rarely will you find wisdom.
Content and wisdom are not the same. If content is noise, wisdom cuts through the noise to make people stop and take notice. If content is as nourishing as thin soup, wisdom sustains your business. If content passes through unregistered, wisdom forces you to have an opinion about it.
Think about the amount of noise in the market today. In July of 2015, LinkedIn had more than 1,000,000 people publishing on their platform. It's a crowded, noisy world out there. Too many people, too many agencies want to make the process look easy. It’s just not, if you want to do it well.
The fear of offending anyone is a major cause. Write content and everyone will tepidly agree with you. Share wisdom with your audience and some will abandon you (hint: they aren’t your prospects), while others will respect you for it. (Those are the ones you want.)
So why don’t more people produce content that is closer to wisdom? I believe there are a number of reasons for this.
It’s hard. There is really no way around this point. What you’re trying to do with your business is hard. If it were easy, as you’ve always heard, anyone could do it. Most people are too busy to do the work required.
It’s expensive. This is a hard one and we hear it all the time. And the only thing more expensive that creating wisdom is to create content that no one cares about, that doesn’t work. Doing the work to put your what you know down on paper (or pixels) is an investment, in the same way that creating new products, new channels, new lines of business are an investment in your future. I guess I’ve reached an age where I can say that spending a ton of money on new websites, new ad campaigns, new selling programs — without having something meaningful to say just seems foolish and wasteful.
We internalize our expertise. We spend so much time doing what we do, that w don’t often stop to think about why we do things the way we do. We take for granted that we understand the ins and outs of our industry and sometimes we forget that our clients may not have the same depth of understanding.
Wisdom only comes from years of experience in the trenches. Wisdom is the deep truth not readily apparent on the surface. And you only get wisdom the hard way, by honing your expertise through years of practice. It comes when you learn from both your successes and, more importantly, your failures. There are no prodigies in business.
In our business, you can see this idea by asking an art director why a particular design works. The answer is likely to be “because I like it.” The funny thing is, that’s a perfectly reasonable answer. Art directors spend their professional careers honing their craft, learning the difference between good and bad design. That “opinion” is, in fact, informed by years of experience and education. But “because I like it” doesn’t sell well with clients investing their business in that design.
This goes back to point #1. It’s hard to articulate your expertise.
My advice? Do the hard work and put down on paper the essential lessons of your career. What are the non-negotiables that every one of your clients have to do to succeed?
We work with an agency consultant, David Baker, who has worked with literally hundreds of agencies in the course of his career. There is very little David hasn’t seen, so when he speaks about what it takes to build a successful agency, you listen.
That’s the power of expertise. (And positioning based on that expertise, but we’ll talk about that later.)
David has an interesting concept to help you cut through the BS that fills the market. He calls it Drop and Give Me 20. The idea is this: Assume I’m smart and know a lot about your business. Now tell me 20 things that I don’t know. I would modify that slightly to say: tell me 20 things I don’t know that can have an impact on my business.
When you can do that, you will be offering your clients true expertise and you’ll quit writing Pablum.
One last thing. Don’t worry too much about sharing your wisdom. What people will pay you for is your ability to leverage that wisdom into action that impacts their business.
When we begin a new engagement, our clients typically know there is a problem, but they may not be sure what the real problem is. We often start with an analysis of their entire sales cycle, studying their marketing tools and sales behaviors at each step in the cycle to see if there are gaps, or barriers that prevent prospects from moving forward. This analysis does an excellent job of uncovering these hidden barriers. Interested in learning more?