This post is a deep dive into slide 9 of my presentation titled, “Finding Your Voice: How to Write Authentically to Engage and Retain. For those of you attending the upcoming AMA Iowa conference on February 23, 2018, I will be delivering that presentation and this post is the “Extended Version,” of Slide 9, not unlike an extended LP or EP in music.
Slide 9 is titled “Make Connections.” That’s easy to advise and much harder to do so let’s take a look at the actual process for making connections with relevant and tangential topics as well as authors who may not be well known or even consider themselves “authors” and why making connections will make you a better, and more engaging writer.
If you are anything like me, you feel pretty overwhelmed much of the time as you work to keep up with the moving target of content marketing, let alone analytics and marketing in general and sometimes you want to put your head in your hands and cover your ears with headphones blaring Rage Against the Machine. There is no way anyone can keep up with all of the information promulgated so we all have to learn to be selective, to trust our instincts, and find the content that truly captures us. And guess what?
That content does not necessarily have to be marketing content.
Consuming content is hard. We all have jobs to do, groceries to get, houses to clean and emails, oh my stars, the emails. They never end. Plus, we need to relax once in a while and focusing on marketing content 24-7 does not a well-rounded writer make.
I subscribe to five different podcasts and I listen to an additional two or three and only one of those podcasts is about marketing (it’s Jay Acunzo’s Unthinkable) but the ones
I enjoy the most and the ones that seem to spur the most innovative ideas (possibly giving myself too much credit here) and enable me to think in an interdisciplinary fashion (which is how I believe strong marketers think) are the surprise topics that The New Yorker podcast serves up. One of my faves is an interview that The New Yorker writer, David Remnick conducts with Bruce Springsteen. Remnick sits down with Springsteen for an hour on the stage of The New Yorker Festival and whether you are a fan of Springsteen or not, I would question you at length if you did not find the interview compelling and interesting. Again, not about marketing at all but my takeaways (that apply to marketing) are as follows:
- Deciding what to write and when matter (this stems from the question to Springsteen about why he decided to write his memoir). Kinda begs the question of when one begins to reflect on their own life and very much begs the question of timing. When it the right time to address the topic–whether it’s an innovative marketing concept or net neutrality *gulp*, timing is everything. For example, there is no way I am touching the net neutrality issue until the smoke clears a little. I would like to learn from others and their views on the subject before I start spouting about it.
- Find the (writing) voice you are comfortable in that normally might feel awkward and keep at it.
- Express yourself authentically or don’t bother (in a super charming way, Springsteen cops to the fact that the subtext of every one of his songs is a cry for or about Daddy–how authentic is that?) He actually goes into his relationship with his dad in detail and both heartwrenching and relatable.
And that’s just one podcast from The New Yorker. Some of the other topics that have captured me range from “Slut: The Play,” an Empowering Story for Young Women” (and a great way to hone your empathy) to an interview with author of “My Struggle,” “Karl Ove Knausgaard on Near Death Experiences, Raising Kids, Puberty, Brain Surgery and Turtles.” I mean come on, if you can’t find something compelling and applicable to content marketing from that podcast, you should take a walk in the woods and re-awaken your imagination. And if you can retain your Midwestern, American sense of humor, you will be utterly charmed by the ever-existential Scandinavian. Don’t forget that Scandinavia is the land of Soren Kirkegaard, the father of existentialism and honestly, that perspective is pretty helpful sometimes. Case in point is my favorite Kirkegaard quote, “Once you label me you negate me.” That feels pretty timely, don’t you think?
I consume my content on long walks so my advice to take a long walk in the woods is advice that I adhere to as well. It is incredibly helpful and taking the time to listen to content while walking seems to open up my mind and enable me to make connections in a way I am just not able to do while sitting at my desk.
Podcasts are, of course, just one form of content. If reading is your thing, then read and pick up magazines and articles you might not normally read. I cannot tell you the wealth of ideas (and knowledge) I gain by reading Omni Magazine. Before you contradict me and tell me that Omni Magazine went out of print in the 90s, check again. They just quietly relaunched a quarterly publication that is worth a review, as is Scientific American.
I dig how reading about science engages another part of my brain and I feel I gain a great deal of valuable and applicable knowledge from reading about the mind and how the mind functions from a scientific perspective. Makes senses for us marketers to know a bit about that, don’t you think?
DO A LITTLE DIGGING
So now that you have consumed content that goes beyond the same information about SEO and SEM and Google Adwords and such, you can do a little digging and begin to make connections that are rather innovative.
For example, articles about the mind and brain function lend insight into empathy (which is something I feel every good writer should have) and how empathy can lend itself to strong content marketing. But this time, instead of backlinking to the other content marketing articles on empathy, you can provide new insight into empathy by linking to “off the beaten path content” and aid your readers in thinking in new ways as well.
Now it’s time to start writing. Sometimes I use a loose, handwritten outline but for the most part, I just start writing and as I write the thread begins to emerge. Sure, I may have to go back and do a little more research on one topic or another but the only way to get words on the page is to start writing and keep writing.
For inspiration and guidance in that area, I look to publications that challenge my own experiences. One of my “go-to’s” is Deep South Magazine. I am not a southerner and I honestly know very little about the southern American experience so reading articles like “The Greatest Bromances in Southern Literature” and “The Real Roots of Southern Cuisine” are fascinating. The magazine is a window into a culture very far from my own, but arguably, one I should understand since we source our products for The Fat Plant Society from North Carolina and Kentucky and some of our customers are from the south so it’s a market I need to know and know well.
Of course, some days the words flow out of me faster and easier than others but the bottom line is that the words won’t appear on the page unless you type them. Get some content on the page and worry about finding the thread and editing it later. Just keep writing and it will come.
Once you start making connections between seemingly disparate concepts, you become more interesting and so does your writing.
As David Remnick tells Bruce Springsteen, every good song, like every good piece of writing has brains, soul, and heart.