How to stay sane and create content marketing magic

The modern content marketer is expected to be a multi-skilled mythical unicorn.

They clip-clop through their day bursting with ideas, bringing sparkle to everything they create, easily achieving targets, managing their team and basically pooping rainbows.

But what if you’re a real-life, non-magical being responsible for delivering a results-focused content marketing strategy and you’re more stressed than #Blessed? Well, then you need some sage advice from the pros.

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We joined content marketing strategists from around the world (all working in the Higher Education sector) at the ContentEd conference in sunny Edinburgh. We’ve gathered seven of the best takeaways from this super two-day event to help you stay sane and make your own (marketing) magic.

1. Daylight robbery is perfectly acceptable

Austin Kleon (@austinkleon), the keynote speaker, had us nodding heads and sharing wry smiles as he described the struggles all marketers face – staying creative when you have limited time and an avalanche of deadlines in front of you.

To be truly creative you should ‘steal like an artist’ he says. Picasso and T.S Eliot were big fans of this approach, taking inspiration from others but building on what they stole, transforming their ideas and approaches into something new and better.

Kleon also advocates surrounding yourself with a supportive network of other creatives rather than trying to go solo: “Be a contributor – you should both steal and share.”

2. Share your process – even if it’s a hot mess

Kleon referenced Maureen McHugh’s amusing but also starkly accurate visualisation of the life of a project from the initial excitement of The Best Idea Ever to the Dark Night of the Soul. (Yes, we’ve ALL been there).

Kleon says we should share the messy behind-the-scenes work and take our stakeholders through the detail of the process to achieve mutual goals. This collaborative approach to managing a project will really change the dynamic of the group and accelerate your progress.

Another insight is that creativity is about subtraction so we shouldn’t be afraid to leave stuff out.

“Your attention is the most important thing you possess,” according to Kleon. As content marketers, we need to allow ourselves to focus and not get pulled every which way. Choose what to leave out and choose what’s important to you – and really go for it.

3. Minimise pain and value their time

As a busy content marketer, you know the value of your own time and probably wish you had more of it so that you could achieve more. Sarah Richards from Content Design London (@contentdesignLN) emphasised the importance of valuing not just your own time as a content marketer, but that of your target audience.

 “Minimise their pain. Use headings to help people scan web pages, so they can decide whether they want to read or not. Also, use captions and avoid jargon,” Richards says.

So, to all the content unicorns out there: dial down all that magical marketing-speak and you’ll create truly useful content.

4. Hygiene content is still relevant

The team from Sheffield Hallam University (John Ferguson and Richelle Quinn) took us through the six key questions they used when developing their university content strategy.

These simple questions followed the target audience’s journey from awareness of the location, the university itself and then consideration of course options and, finally, decision-making stage – the practical steps around making an application.

The six key questions were: Why this region, why Hallam, why this course, why work with Hallam, what is and how do I?

A key insight they shared is that hygiene content is still very much relevant to any target audience and is easily neglected. They call this the ‘What is…?’ content.

This content is vital to building trust with your website user: “create simple but straightforward content that explains what is a Ph.D, what is an XYZ job title / course title. It’s what your audience is looking for”. You can learn more about Hygiene, Hub, Hero and Superhero content here on our blog.

5. Listen and look in unusual places for content ideas

“What if we could actually know what people are thinking and saying while they are researching their college options?” says the Campus Sonar Founder Dr. Liz Gross (@lizgross144).

Enter stage left: social listening. It’s your always-on focus group and we should all be making the most of it when creating content and putting our strategies together. Social media provides us with access to the largest searchable archive of human thought. *If* we’re listening, that is.

Liz observed a surprising new trend emerging in the Higher Education sector: students are creating content themselves because they aren’t getting the answers they need from the universities. She referenced this video with 800,000 views where a student in California shared her insights on how to get into Harvard (What, like it’s hard?).

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Elle Woods references aside, Liz recommended content marketers use free social listening tools like advanced search on Twitter, Mention, Followerwonk and Hootsuite.

Reddit is also a treasure trove for the savvy content strategist according to Liz: “People tend to be more honest on anonymous social media.” This insight is vital.

We know that data can occasionally be flawed and in focus groups sometimes only the loudest voice is heard – but the searingly raw honesty on social forums like Reddit can provide fantastic intelligence to help analyse content gaps and identify opportunities to get ahead of your competitors.

6. Project management = herding cats? Try collaboration

Have you ever been on a project with a bunch of people but basically no matter what you did it felt like you were herding cats? THAT. We’ve all felt the pain of working in a poorly structured team.

Keynote speaker Mike Powers (@mjpowers) discussed how we can turn working relationships into collaborations. Being a true collaborator means realising that not all conflict is bad.

Powers shared his five point guidelines for successful collaboration:

  1. Know who the final decision maker is (and make sure they are in the room at the start).
  2. Find the real problem, set goals together and know the final goal.
  3. Manage conflict.
  4. Be authentic.
  5. Embrace the theatre.

Words and tone of voice matter when you’re trying to be collaborative too. “Don’t call a meeting. Call a decision-making session,” Power wisely quotes Sarah Richards from Content Design London. He noted that her advice gets people into the right mindset from the start. Your stakeholders are more engaged in the outcome, they know aren’t just a cog in the machine, they are the decision-makers. Accountability can be sexy y’know.

Powers also advocates for pair writing especially when working with subject matter experts who are not content marketers. To do this you work with a colleague on a creating small piece of content. Set a time limit, one person types and the other asks questions. Then you switch so you’re only writing half of the time. Approaching content creation in this way saves time and sparks creativity and also makes for less resistance in the future as you build trust with your in-house experts.

7. Time poor but still hustling like a boss

According to 256’s own research, 56 percent of Irish content marketers say that lack of time is the biggest challenge they face. So it’s no surprise that achieving everything within your remit can be overwhelming at times. The struggle for a content marketing person is real.

Make sure to hit the brakes every now and then and take time out to listen to the pros. It will provide huge benefits: inspiration, consolation and motivation you need to help you stay sane and creating content marketing magic.

Trust me, I know what I’m talking about: I’m a unicorn content marketer.

Need help with your content marketing strategy?

Our experienced content strategists, lead generation specialists and content creators can take away the pain of building a custom content strategy for your brand.  We have a proven track record of getting results. Get in touch to find out more about our services.

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About Paula

Paula is Chief Content Marketing Officer with 256. She has 15+ years’ experience in marketing working with a variety of Irish and international brands and loves content in all its guises. She can often be found discovering new places to eat, drink and be merry in the big schmoke.