Thinking around the corners. 7 ideas to re-charge your content

re-charge your content

By Téa Silvestre Godfrey, {grow} Community Member

It’s been a little over two years since Mark Schaefer coined the term “Content Shock” and about 9 months since he wrote the book that outlined a slew of great ideas to help us survive this mega-trend of overwhelming content density.

But he left out one seriously crucial point.

In fact it is a point Mark often practices himself, but he hasn’t articulated it.

And (besides his practice of keeping it real and staying human) it’s at the heart of how he stands out in a saturated content marketplace.

So why didn’t he include it in his book? Why doesn’t he tell you about it in his blog posts?

Mark does it so naturally that I bet he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it. Because, hey, when you’re that close to it, it’s easy to miss.

How leaders rise above the noise

He did it when he named the elephant in the content marketing room (Content Shock).

He did it when he took an unemotional and academic pro-Klout stance in Return on Influence.

And he does it every time he shares his thoughts on why things are the way they are — and what we might do differently, if we want better results.

The “it” in question is his ability to think differently — creatively — about any given situation, but most important, have the courage to actually say it.

In the past, we might have called it something cliché like “thought leadership,” but it involves so much more than being an influencer (or someone who does a lot of public speaking or writing).

For now, let’s call it “thinking around corners.”

The Proof is in the Pudding

The Content Shock post was the shot heard ‘round the internet, right?

People showed up in droves to comment (1,300+ comments on his post), share (3,000+ shares), and respond by writing their own blog posts on the topic (more than 1,000 to date).

In short, Mark expressed and opinion that got noticed. Big time.

He didn’t decide to pick an unsaturated niche and start there. He just looked closely at what was going on around him, poked the box (as Seth Godin would say), and then shared his thoughts with us.

Was it controversial? Not really. It was a topic that seemed to be on almost everybody’s mind. He just … poked it.

How do you poke the box in your corner of the world?

In the past, our marketing experts implored us to use content marketing as a way to establish our “authority.” The idea was to gain trust by showing off our expertise.

“Write fabulously helpful how-to content,” they said.

That, too, was great advice. At the time.

But today, we need something more than 20 best practices for amplifying your message.

What’s missing is an emphasis on crafting a creative message in the first place.

And usually that’s because creativity isn’t something you can learn via a simple blog post (although I’ll attempt to teach you some of that in a minute).

The difference is … your difference

Success means something more than zagging when everyone else is zigging.

Being different is simple, but not easy. The trick is you must set aside regular time and energy to BE CURIOUS.

Here are seven practices to help you break out of the dreaded echo-chamber and approach your content marketing from a deeper and more impactful place:

1. Question everything (and be willing to dig for answers).

Look at your industry with a beginner’s mind and take note of what your colleagues are saying. Is everyone beating the same drum? Are those best practices still useful? Is the world really flat? How do you know? Where’s the proof? Make a list of all those tactics and ideas and write about them. Take them one at a time and examine every detail. Ask a lot of “Why?” questions. Why do we do that way? Why is this important? Why aren’t we challenging the status quo? See if you can pinpoint something that needs changing. Or something that’s no longer appropriate.

2. Study industries outside your own.

How do other types of professionals approach issues? How do they market themselves? Pick an industry you’re not at all comfortable with and study it. Notice what limits they work within; or conversely, what boundaries they choose to ignore. Allow their perspectives to become yours — just for a day. How could you approach your own goals (or your clients’) differently?

3. Look for patterns and echoes.

Connect the dots. This takes a bit of time, so be willing and patient enough to spend the necessary hours thinking.

Pretend you’re Sherlock Holmes or Carrie from Homeland attempting to solve a mystery of great import. What’s the story beneath the story? Or the story that all those pieces — together — are trying to tell you? For example, when you write your first draft of a blog post, there’s a point you’re trying to make.

The most effective way to do that is to use a story as a way to show what you mean. You might even weave two or three mini-stories together. On their surface, these stories help you make that main point, but there might be a deeper, more meaningful lesson that emerges. As you write, ask yourself, “Why is this important?” And keep asking until you can go no further.

4. Say what others are only thinking.

As soon as you notice yourself become fearful of saying a thing out loud — because it might ruffle someone’s influence feathers or be received as bad news — you know you’re on to something big! Don’t be afraid to point out the elephant in the room or the naked emperor. Be childlike in your willingness to shine a light on something, and be an adult in your willingness to own the consequences.

5. Propose solutions.

It’s not enough to rant and complain. You’ve also got to bring options. What else can we do? What other paths might we take? This is where you’ll outshine the others who merely point fingers. This is where you become a Business Luminary.

6. Release your grasp on an expected outcome.

As soon as you decide that your end-goal (for example, writing something that goes viral) is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing, you kill your ability to think creatively. Innovation emerges from a place that doesn’t hold onto an expected outcome, but rather allows for play and experimentation. It needs a place where you’re free to ask questions and are willing to be vulnerable.

7. Listen to feedback.

Great ideas aren’t born in a vacuum or clarified on your own. You need the give-and-take of a conversation (sometimes many!) to help you refine your thoughts and test them. Listen to your customers, colleagues, masterminds, and mentors. Be willing to be wrong. And be brave enough to take a stand, when you’re right.

Don’t rest on your laurels.

Things change so quickly these days that once you’ve led everyone in a new direction, it won’t be the new direction for long. At best you’ll have one, maybe two years of being the industry leader on a topic before someone else comes along with a different way of looking at the situation. This is exactly how echo-chambers are born. Continue to assess and ask questions.

If good content marketing and brand storytelling has taught us anything it’s that we can always do better. And if you want to stand out, you’ve got to step away from the herd, step up on that soapbox, and show us what needs to change — in your own voice.

Poke that box. This is how you arrive to give a TED talk, write a book, or lead a movement. This is how you move beyond content shock. This is how you help make your industry (and our world in general) that much brighter.

What’s your experience with thinking around corners? Do you have an approach that’s worked for you?

tea - storybistroTéa SIlvestre Godfrey is the founder of Story Bistro and the author of “Attract and Feed a Hungry Crowd: How Thinking Like a Chef Can Help You Build a Stronger Business.” She teaches workshops in brand storytelling and mentors creative solopreneurs, coaches, and authors on the art of building a heart-centered, luminary business. Learn more at StoryBistro.com.

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Hairbear

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