The Content Marketer’s Progress: Surviving the Slough of Despond
The moment has finally arrived. It’s time to flash two fingers in the air to anyone who told me that 17th century English literature isn’t relevant to a modern world career.
Let me introduce the growing band of content marketers to the of the “Slough of Despond” made famous, in about 1668, by John Bunyan’s book, The Pilgrims Progress.
Now, you wouldn’t describe old John as one of nature’s optimists. He was a miserable old git who thought we were all on an inner descent to a “miry Slough” where we’d never escape the “fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions” that live there.
Believe it or not, content marketing has its very own Slough of Despond. And you can ignore it at your peril.
The Content Journey
First the good news: I don’t share John’s fear for your souls. But I can’t help dipping into his world to describe a real and present danger to the success of your best practice content journey.
We need to find our way through a period that’s potentially brimming with its own negative forces; all out to derail your long-term, best-practice, revenue-focused content strategy.
Let’s take a look at how it works, borrowing the tried and trusted medium of a hype cycle to illustrate the key moments in a best-practice content programme.
A) Rise of Expectation
The moment when you get sign off for your content resources, team and budget. The excitement (and expectation) levels start rising across the organisation as the promise of content marketing takes hold.
B) Pinnacle of Planning
Excitement reaches fever pitch as you position your content themes, craft your messages, segment your audience, establish a creative direction, outline your editorial calendar, and introduce new marketing tools.
C) Slough of Despond
The dangerous gap between potential and reality. Everyone expects content straight away. They don’t see you frantically building campaign sites, loading marketing automation flows and creating a great content library. They see an activity lull. Fear and doubts creep in. Excitement lost.
D) Restoration of Faith
Once you’ve made the hard yards the content starts to flow. Your planned, focused and beautiful content (ebooks, videos, prezis, blogs) flow onto sites and automation platforms. Excitement regained.
E) Flight of Revenue
Your content machine is now in full flow pulling new leads into your database (via your site) to be nurtured from prospects into customers with a growing commercial relationship. Hero status.
The problem is clear: get stuck in the Slough for too long and you risk a loss of confidence and your budget. Projects can, and do, get pulled when organisations panic and withdraw support just when you’re on the brink of getting it right.
The Best-Practice Paradox
You might think the Slough is a trap for shoddy marketers. You would be wrong. It’s the sworn enemy of true world class content marketing programs that want to spend time and resource on the essential big ideas:
Outlining what you are you doing, who are you doing it for, and why are you doing it.
Tight campaign focus
Positioning a relevant, available and attainable story.
Compelling visual treatment
Creating a compelling look to power your content campaign.
Actionable editorial plan
Defining the steps that will take you where you need to go.
Effective software portfolio
Identifying and rolling out the tools that underpin the journey.
Establishing benchmarks and KPIs to prove your success.
If you skip these fundamental steps then your content programme will probably fail. But solving them takes time and nervous onlookers start asking: where’s the content?
It’s the best-practice paradox: you’re ultimately damned if you don’t and possibly (and prematurely) damned if you do.
Surviving the Slough
So what can you do to stop your content project disappearing into the quick sand? Here are five key tips:
1. Acknowledge the Slough’s existence – The first step to salvation is to accept the problem. We’ve all been guilty of presenting the best practice content journey like a walk in the park. You need to tell your stakeholders that doing it the right way isn’t the easy way.
2. Run a content process – You’ll need to be in charge of a joined up content system that brings together multiple components. Your project will be quicker and richer if you run them as a system rather than a series of discrete deliverables that don’t quite fit together.
3. Plan quick wins – It’s okay to start doing stuff straight away. It’s never a bad idea to get some content into play as early as possible even if it’s just a taster of what’s to come. Getting a blog up and running or a scene setting ebook is both valuable and soothing. It signals progress.
4. Don’t stop reporting – Somebody needs to keep communicating relentless progress and successes. Resist the temptation to bury your head in the production pile until it’s all ready. A reassuring voice and progress sheet will go a long way.
5. Share your working – If you’re getting new software into play then organise presentations and demonstrations. A quick trip around the endless possibilities of a marketing automation system will keep the excitement levels up.
The road to revenue isn’t without bumps. But the best content marketer keeps keeps her nerve and doesn’t cut corners. You can’t ignore the dangers but you can make sure you don’t get stuck there for too long.