Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Power of Content Calendars

Not just for the wordsmiths and marketeers in your organization. It’s as easy as 1-7-30-4-2-1

It’s no secret that Thought Leadership Marketing (aka “content marketing”) is one of the most effective ways to position yourself as an expert in your niche and to stay top of mind with your clients, prospects, influencers and/or members throughout the year. Blogs, e-newsletters, white papers, webinars, published articles, social media posts and podcasts, are all proven forms of thought leadership marketing. We know you have the expertise in house, but how do you keep coming up with great topics when you don’t have a full-time writing staff?

Start with a plan.

You wouldn’t have clients invest their money without a plan. You wouldn’t hire an architect to build your dream house if he or she didn’t use blue prints. So, why would you start pushing out content to your universe of followers without a plan?

Getting started and sticking to it

Editorial content calendars (sometimes called content calendars) are what we typically recommend to clients to get your thoughts organized for the short-term, intermediate term and long-term. You can start with a simple spreadsheet showing the months, types of content, topics covered and who’s responsible for each piece of content. 

You don’t need to invest in expensive or sophisticated marketing automation software in the early going. The main objective is to have a simple snapshot of the year ahead and to try your best to stick to the plan. It’s OK to make adjustments as important new topics rise to the surface during the course of the year. But you want to maintain a consistent schedule—we call it a “cadence” just like being consistent about your diet, your new exercise routine or your new personal enrichment class.
In fact, both content calendars and resolutions tend to fail for many of the same reasons. Perhaps you committed to a goal that’s too big or your support group falls apart. Maybe you just don’t know where to begin. Instead of giving up on your content marketing plans, as four out of five people do with their resolutions, make a plan that works for your organization.

To help you stick to your content plan, here are 6 key steps adapted from a presentation by Frank Dale, CEO of content management software company, Compendium (now part of Oracle):

1. Map out all the content your organization produces.
There’s probably more than you think. In addition to blogs, write down all forms of content, including videos, photos, presentations, webinars, social media posts, marketing materials, press releases, industry and business articles, white papers, FAQs and events.

2. Sort this content into categories or types.
Creating content categories ensures that your organization covers a broad range of topics, not just marketing. Categories can include: “”How To” best practices, industry trends, company news, marketing, events and more.

3. Identify who is creating your content.
Your organization has content authors who don’t know they’re authors. Anyone with hands-on experience within the company has a story to tell and can contribute to your content marketing effort. This includes employees from different areas of your company (marketing, IT, legal) as well as external authors (customers, partners, industry thought leaders).

4. Determine how much and how often your “experts” can contribute. Some authors can easily provide a steady stream of content (social media managers, public relations, customers), while others may be more sporadic (event planners, video producers).

5. Think rows and columns. Once you’ve completed these steps, develop a simple spreadsheet that includes all this information. From this spreadsheet, you can begin to create a content calendar. We like using a traditional monthly calendar because I can easily see what content is planned and when.

6. Be realistic about what your organization can accomplish.
It might be helpful to think about frequency using a technique pioneered by content strategist Russell Sparkman/FusionSpark Media  called the “1-7-30-4-2-1” method. Here’s how it works:

·         1 represents the content your organization can commit to publishing daily. This might be something as easy as the sharing of industry news via Twitter or Facebook.
·         7 refers to weekly content, such as a blog post.
·         30 is what your organization can publish monthly. These might be more extensive content pieces, such as an e-newsletter or video.
·         4 refers to a quarterly content commitment, such as a white paper, e-book or contest.
·         2 is biannual content, such as an event, new brochure or webcast.
·         1 is annual content, such as an event, conference or app.

Don’t get painted into a corner

We advise our clients to think three to six assignments ahead at all times. Start setting up little folders for each upcoming post or article now (paper or digital is fine). You never know when you’ll come across a great nugget or factoid in July that will be perfect for the assignment that’s not due until November.


Approaching content marketing in these manageable bite-sized steps prevents you from feeling overwhelmed and allows you to build a content calendar that’s manageable and sustainable. Best of all, this exercise is easier and less painful than dieting or going to the gym and you’ll have a “ripped” and “buff” reputation to show off for all your effort and discipline.


TAGS: content calendars, editorial calendars, content marketing, Russell Sparkman, Compendium, 

Monday, February 13, 2017

How About a K.I.S.S for Valentine’s Day?

Leonardo da Vinci, the 15th century renaissance genius once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” What he really meant was “Keep It Simple Stupid” (K.I.S.S.). Based on your reaction to last week’s post, Super Bowl Ads and Vince Lombardi Motto Confirm Need for Simplicity, we thought it might be worth drilling further into how we can manage the overwhelming complexity in our lives.

Sydney Finkelstein, a management professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School
of Business did a great piece for BBC  two years ago this week--Why Is Simplicity So Complicated?—and it’s still relevant today. The majority of you (71%) told us in our unscientific InstaPoll that your work life is more complex than it was five years ago. In fact, nearly three in five of you (57%) felt your work life is significantly more complex than it was five years ago.

Whether inside or outside the workplace, Finkelstein said most people today feel that they’re always busy, always on, “always trying to keep up with an endless array of challenges and tasks hurtling their way.”  He added that even when people know what they need to do, the sheer volume of tasks filling up “countless sticky notes, smartphone memos, and good old-fashioned ‘to do’ lists adds up to one big serving of complexity.’”

Sound familiar?

Many have lamented the cruel irony of technology—something that’s meant to make everyday life simpler and efficient—actually makes it more complex. As Finkelstein noted: “How simple can it be when we have profuse password prompts and inboxes brimming with 500 new emails per day? Why do I need to sign into an app or website using Facebook or Twitter? And the pile-on of technological simplifiers that complicate things goes on and on — just how many passwords do you have to remember to sign into everything you need for daily life and work?”

Is life becoming too complex or are we just getting lazy?
 Take our Web InstaPoll and see how you stack up to your peers.

Solution: Complexity-free zones

We recently collaborated with our client, Independence Advisors, on an e-book about the many parallels between flyfishing and investing. What’s flyfishing got to do with investing?  Turns out plenty as Independence founder, Chas Boinske is happy to explain. A lifelong passionate angler, Boinske has found that being patient, using a small number of reliable tools, minimizing your choices and keeping costs down works quite well on the river and in the investment world. For more on this topic, read Chas’s recent post based on the e-book Simplicity Can Pay Big Dividends in Fishing and Investing.

Psychologists refer to the “power of mindfulness,” which roughly translates into living in the moment and not cluttering your brain with too many other things. Many who meditate, run, swim or do yoga can get a taste of that state of mind. Embracing simplicity in everyday life isn’t easy, but there are things we can do to create more complexity-free zones.
Here are some of Finkelstein’s recommendations about how to do so:
1. Start by looking for the simple solution to things, at least as a first step. This can be almost laughably easy. What’s the first thing you should do when your computer, printer or modem freezes, asks Finkelstein? Unplug! Chances are that simple will maneuver will do more for you then perusing FAQs, waiting for tech support or calling customer service.
2. Don’t constantly check your email.  Finkelstein suggests carving out a fixed time period every day— start with 20 minutes and move up to two hours, or longer — when you’re just NOT connected. This might not be feasible for everyone, but 20 minutes is a manageable start for most. For more, see our recent post, Time for a Technology Time-Out?
3. React less. Many managers spend their days fighting fires, reacting to what is happening, rather than controlling events. Finkelstein argues that you can get better at this by building a 15-minute “reflection break” into as many of your days as possible. This is time in which you simply THINK rather than do. It’s not so much daydreaming as it is thinking about what you should do better, differently, or not at all. Take the time to be more proactive, rather than reactive. “The greater sense of control that comes with reflection will pay for itself many times over in the form of reduced stress,” says Finkelstein.
4. Use your resources and delegate. Imagine you could magically create a team of people who can contribute rather than having to do everything yourself. Newsflash: If you’re a manager, you’ve probably got people reporting to you already. While it’s not simple to be a manager, Finkelstein said the principles of delegation are simple enough. “Set clear goals. Empower people to take charge. Hold them accountable. Coach them. You’ll know you’re getting this reasonably right when you feel confident enough to take your reflection breaks every day,” added Finkelstein.

So what’s the common thread between Finkelstein’s and Boinske’s advice? They create time. And when you have more time you have greater control and less stress. “Simplicity is one of those rare states where the old adage that less is more actually holds true,” observed Finkelstein.
As renowned folk singer Pete Seeger famously quipped, “Any darn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple.” On this Valentine’s Day, keep the value of simplicity and clarity in mind if you really want to impress that someone special in your life. When you use your brain as well as your heart, you’ll look like a genius rather than a fool. You might even get a K.I.S.S.


TAGS: Leonardo da Vinci, Sydney Finkelstein, Chas Boinske, Independence Advisors, managing complexity, stress reduction

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Super Bowl Ads and Vince Lombardi Motto Confirm Need for Simplicity

I was on a video conference call with a client the other day. We had half a dozen people calling in from four different cities and several time zones. I tested my system, accessed the web link, punched in the call-in number and the pass code….and spent the next 10 minutes listening to elevator music…..by myself.

Panicked, I reviewed my calendar to make sure I had the right day and time. Check. I tried the call in number and pass code again to make sure I had dialed in correctly. Check. I tested my system settings to make sure I had all the updated software for slides, audio and video. Check. So, where was everybody?
Slowly, but surely the invitees straggled in….An East Coast team member apologized for having another call go late. Another participant in the Southeast said her building’s Internet service was down all day. Meanwhile, her colleague on another floor of the same building said he did have Internet service, but the IT department had started its weekly patch update right before our call was scheduled. Yet another team member was driving through the Midwest and had no wireless service at the time the call started. Then the slides wouldn’t load.

Sound familiar?

Finally, we got everything loaded about 25 minutes after the one-hour call was supposed to start. And it was a very productive meeting….while it lasted. At about 55 past the hour, people started dropping off because they had to race to their next meeting or conference call (and likely take a bio break). And about half of the action items for next meeting went unclaimed.
In one sense it’s amazing that you can hear and see remote colleagues in real-time and work collaboratively from far flung workspaces, whether in a conventional office, car or spare bedroom of your home. But, is all this technology really making us more productive—even when it works?

I bet this scenario didn’t occur to any of the tech companies (or ad agencies) that shelled out $5 million for Super Bowl air time—even the ones going for humor.

According to the Deloitte Human Capital Trends survey, more than 7 out of 10 surveyed organizations rated the need to simplify work as an “important problem,” with more than 25 percent citing it as a “very important” problem. According to Deloitte, only 10 percent of companies have a major work simplification program today.

Is life becoming too complex or are we just getting lazy?
Take our Web InstaPoll and see how you stack up to your peers.

Bottom line: You can’t do your best work or your best thinking, when you are constantly distracted, overwhelmed, and stressed out just trying to keep up. As management guru, Stephen Covey famously wrote in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:  too many workers today will tell you, “I’m so busy sawing, I don’t have time to sharpen the saw.”
Deloitte researchers said two-thirds of today's employees feel "overwhelmed" and 80 percent would like to work fewer hours. But how can they when the average worker checks their phone 150 times per day? With the flood of emails, conference calls, meetings, and other distractions research says the average office worker can only focus for seven minutes at a time before they either switch windows or check Facebook, according to neurologist Larry Rosen (see video for more).

Fortunately, not everyone has resigned themselves to the tyranny of complexity.

Our client Kyle Walters, founder of Dallas-based Atlas Wealth Advisors recently spun off a tax affiliate. Why? Because his firm got tired of referring clients to tax specialists who didn’t call back, or who wren’t proactive about helping clients anticipate future problems As Walters explained, what most people really want is a single point of contact—a “personal CFO”-- to handle all of their financial issues in one place. “So we stepped in to fill the void,” added Walters, whose firm’s motto is: “Simplifying Your Life.”
My friend Richard Rapp, head of the Westport, CT-based creative agency, Altamira, said that managing complexity, not eliminating it, is the key to achieving success today. Rapp said that complexity usually falls into two categories:  (1) Those that are self-inflicted and (2) Those that are thrust upon us. “We help our clients untangle their complexity challenges through a triage approach that involves key stakeholders on the ground and in the C-suite,” he explained.

Super Bowl ads: Confusing or brilliant?

Some thought many of Sunday’s Super Bowl ads were riveting, while others thought they were great entertainment, but not likely to make them go out an purchase the advertised products or services—even if they could remember who the advertiser was.

According to Rapp, the ads that stood out and scored well on the USA Today Ad Meter were those that “focused single-mindedly on a story that rang true to the brand and resonated emotionally with viewers.” Many ads used humor, action and celebrity to break-through the clutter of 60 plus ads during the game. Here are a few that stood out for Rapp:
  • Buick’s Cam Newton ad told a simple story using humor and celebrity in a very effective manner. Importantly, the entire story revolved around pre-conceived attitudes about the Buick brand. 
  • Amazon Echo and Google Home both aired spots that demonstrated the features and benefits of their AI assistants and both were very good. However, Amazon Echo aired three different 10-second spots, each focused on a different feature. The “play My Girl” ad was 10 seconds of perfection with excellent casting, a simple and beautiful story line, a cute young girl and a simple, clear payoff delivered by the advertiser’s product, observed Rapp.
  • Mercedes-Benz tapped the Boomer emotion, and likely Mercedes-AMG roadster buyer, with one last hurrah for the Born to be Wild generation. The use of Steppenwolf’s classic, the only song available on the juke box in this biker bar, drove the story to its climax as we saw Peter Fonda climbing into his Mercedes roadster and leaving the pack of Harley Davidsons in the dust. Excellent storytelling, use of music and celebrity that was dead on.
  • Kia scored points for the overall use of humor by making fun of cause-minded young drivers and using the most outrageous comedic actress, Melissa McCarthy in the role of the “hero’s journey,” chuckled Rapp. The message was actually very simple: that it’s hard to be an environmental hero, but it’s easy to be eco-friendly when driving the Kia Niro. 

As with so many things in life, the simplest approach is best. Rapp said that “clarity of purpose and vision” allows companies to push their innovation and growth goals more effectively, while better aligning employee buy-in and customer acceptance. Walters said it stems from the rise in complexity in life today and people’s limited attention spans. “There’s so much more going on in people’s lives and there’s so much more that you need to know. The decisions become bigger. The stakes become more dangerous if you’re not careful. I find people don’t even know what they don’t know,” added Walters.
NFL coaching legend, Vince Lombardi may have summed it up best: “People try to find things in this game that don’t exist. Football is only about two things: blocking and tackling.”


TAGS: Kyle Walters, Richard Rapp, Super Bowl ads, need for simplicity, Melissa McCarthy, Steven Covey, Deloitte Human Capital Trends