What makes a unicorn, besides the sparkles, rainbows, and solitary horn?
Something you don’t see too often, if ever.
So when it comes to content marketing, what are the unicorns? What’s rare and hard to find?
Some CoSchedule users wondered about planning unique marketing with their content calendars. Here is how you can find your own unicorns.
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1. Unique Marketing Has Originality
Originality, the king of the unicorns.
It’s extremely rare, because most content is derivative, and that’s OK to be honest (more on that in a bit).
Original thinking, when it comes to content marketing, is highly perishable. Its expiration date is short, since original ideas are quickly aped by others desperate for ideas who then flood the niche with so much sameness that the original original is quickly lost. You’ve seen this at work, where a unique idea appears, and within a month, everyone is laying some kind of claim to it.
Our own best practices hamper it, since linking to and reaching out to influencers is a significantly successful way to grow your own following.
Finding something fresh and new, as you scroll through content marketing blog posts, is rare.
All of this is not to say that originality is the most important qualification for content. Like I said, using the ideas of someone else to create your own has serious value (read here).
Most of us, myself included, build on an idea of someone else. This is nearly always good and how creativity functions. But prizing originality carries over into great work ethic when you’re making that derivative work. It means you care enough to build on an idea, not merely repackage it. Too often, because we’re always pushing ourselves to find content ideas, it’s tempting to collect, reword, repackage, and barely rework someone else’s idea.
You can be original even if you’re building on other’s ideas. The key is to build, not borrow.
2. Unique Marketing Backs Up Its Promises
Too many content marketers make promises. Empty ones.
We all tip toward this trap, often because we’re trying to find that perfect headline that will make content stand out in a crowded field.
“How To Get 50,000 Twitter Followers In A Week”
“I Made $100,000 In One Month. You Can, Too.”
Truthful headlines are much less interesting, even if they truthfully reflect the content of the post or the likely outcome of the average reader who might not be able to recreate a specific quality of your success (e.g. an influencer mentioning you online to her huge following) that played a big role.
“Get 50 Twitter Followers In A Week”
“I Made $2,000 In One Month. You Can Too.”
Many of your readers probably forgive you for the outlandish promises you make in your headlines, because they are familiar with those kinds of headlines. In some way, we’ve adapted as readers and the big promises are automatically downgraded in our heads. We don’t really expect to get 50,000 Twitter followers in one week, though we do expect a blog post that will give us information on how to get a lot of Twitter followers quickly.
Not all readers are so forgiving, though. Their frustration sometimes pops up in comments as they demand to know more specifics to make it happen for them. I get fairly excited about a post that promises to deliver something realistic, and then actually comes up with the practical and specific steps to do so.
We have to be careful as content marketers to not eagerly spin our happenstance successes as if they were methodical successes, and be more upfront about our methodical (and less sexy) successes. If it took your solo blog a year to pull in 4,000 Twitter followers, there is still something your readers can learn from that. This plays into the next unicorn, that of being authentic.
Avoid promising what you can’t deliver just to get initial attention.
It’s a hard row to hoe, claiming to be authentic but also knowing you need to project success if you’re going to get followers to buy what you’re selling.
I had a viral blog post on my personal blog once. There were some things I learned from it that I shared with my readers, including what it feels like, what I traced the phenomenon back to, and how I managed it. I attempted to dissect the blog post find the qualities that may have contributed to that virality.
But I have to be honest (and I did admit this to my blog readers): I’d been blogging for eleven years before I finally had my taste of a bona fide viral blog post. It was so tempting to write as an authority on viral blog posts, as if I was swinging home runs regularly, but that would have been inauthentic.
I’ve since seen other posts reach varying levels of viral success, but I want to be careful to not use that as my spin, selling my content as if I can make that happen for my readers every time.
Authenticity, that word you hear ad nauseum in content marketing, withers under the hot glare of branding. We want our brand to be authentic, but we also want it to exude success, so we look for ways to celebrate our high points and spin the low ones as mere teachable moments. You can still show your success while authentically sharing your failures without being patronizing.
So no. I can’t tell you how to write a viral blog post, but I can tell you about the qualities that have surrounded them. For reals. And there’s value in that.
Being an authentic success means having a fair amount of failures. Share it all.
4. Valuable Unmeasurables
Content marketers love—love love love—data. Numbers. Things that can be measured. Because wise decisions can be made with those kinds of things. You can’t make an informed decision if you don’t have any data to back it up.
Data is part of the toolbox. It’s not the toolbox.
I can be a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to data, if only in an attempt to put some rudder into the non-numerical side of the ship to avoid creating a self-fulfilling whirlpool. And also because, for me, numbers don’t trigger ideas as well as other input.
Here’s a dirty secret (and it’s not really a secret, since I’ve admitted to it before): I’m not a big numbers person. Sometimes, when I look at a post filled with bar graphs and scatter plots that work to visualize the data someone carefully harvested and interpreted, I get taken up with the colors and patterns in the actual graph and can’t even see the data behind it.
I look at the measuring cup and get distracted by the color of it instead of the ingredient inside.
There are valuable unmeasurables, those things of worth that won’t show up in any analytics you might collect. While you might not want to go on a gut feeling for your next big business decision, you should not ignore it, always. Too often, we get trapped in the problem of the false dilemma, that idea that there are only two options: all for, or all against.
There are more than two options. It’s not either/or, but either/and. Data and a gut feeling.
In my mind, the list of what ignoring the data-driven approach to content marketing might look like is endless, but here are a few examples to get you thinking along these lines:
- One person. One person might request a post topic. One person might say a particular post helped. One person might have questions that need further explanation. The value of one in a data-centric world is low; you don’t get a trend off of just one. But in a people-centric world, one is a big deal. So don’t ignore the one person who needs help, wants to know more, or asks a question, even if your larger data say that isn’t a topic that will help your overall traffic.
- Burnout. Your data may be telling you that writing posts about Topic A all the time is bringing in the goods. But months of exploring and discussing every possible angle to Topic A has left you completely burned out. So write about something you enjoy—Topic B—even if your data can’t back you up with promised success. Otherwise, it’s all work and drudgery. So what if it doesn’t bring in conversions. It’ll give you a breather and you need that.
Remember, you’re not bound by data. You don’t serve it; rather, it should serve you.
Make use of data, but not to exclusion. There are things you can’t measure that matter, too.
5. Real Language
One of my older posts on this blog dealt with determining how much editing was too much editing. I wrote it out of a struggle I was facing, trying to find that perfect point where you clean up the copy but you don’t change the voice of the writer. Unless there’s a strict style guide in place and the content creators aren’t really getting recognized as individual people, their unique voice should be heard and not edited out. This was a battle over pet phrases, word choices, paragraphical rhythm (breaking up paragraphs into smaller ones and making the copy appear and read choppy).
But this pursuit of real language is more than an editor’s dilemma. It’s also one of accent.
Let’s use regional accents as an example. If you’re from North Dakota or Minnesota, you really appreciate saying all of the sounds in a word. People from other parts of the country laugh at how drawn out the letter “O” sounds, but I don’t hear it.
“If the letter is in there,” I often say, “it was meant to be said.”
We all pick up the accent of the place we hear the most language, whether the south, the east coast, or the northern plains. In the same way, we pick up the “accent” of the things we read. Our content marketing starts to sound the same as all the other content marketing in the language used. We might slip into jargon or metaphors and put up unknown barriers to readers. We also lose a sense of uniqueness.
Now, you might say this has benefits. Readers in your niche will understand. And that’s true. But there’s a reason it’s refreshing to read the writing of someone who’s reading books, magazines, and other content outside of that singular realm. They bring a bit of that back into the language pool and freshen up that stagnant water. Readers can pick up on this, and it can make an otherwise typical piece of content into something that seems new or unusual.
It’s tempting to copy the sound, words, phrases, and approach of other content marketers and influencers. After all, imitating success is one of the paths of success. But remember that you should create content as you, not as Johnny Big Name.
Speak to your niche in the language they know, but maintain your real language.