publishing industry changes

Will Barnes & Noble Survive? How The Publishing Industry is Changing in an Internet-Based Era

The publishing industry, as we know it, is radically different from what it was 10 or even 5 years ago.

More tumultuousness arrived back in June of 2019 when Barnes & Noble, the U.S.’s largest bookstore chain, was sold to a hedge fund (Elliott Management).

The sale comes after a slew of top-level management troubles, fierce competition from online booksellers like Amazon, and the closure of more than 150 stores in the last 10 years.

In the New York Times article describing the transfer of B&N from one pair of hands to another, it’s very clear, before the sale, many people feared the bookstore chain was in danger of dying.

Why should we care?

  • Because, as content creators, we need to keep our fingers on the pulse of the publishing industry.
  • We’re ALL technically publishers, ourselves.
  • Books are a type of content, whether they appear in print or digitally.
  • The print industry and digital content are linked. They’re two sides of the same coin.

Finally, Barnes & Noble is one of the biggest players in the publishing industry. What happens to them will have a ripple effect.

So, what is the future of Barnes & Noble? What does that mean for print publishing? As content creators, should we bother with traditional publishing at all? 🤔

Let’s discuss.

publishing industry barnes and noble books

First Things First: What Does the Future of Barnes & Noble Look Like?

Joanna Penn addressed this topic recently on The Creative Penn Podcast during an interview with Mike Shatzkin. He’s an author and thought leader on what the digital future means for book publishing. He’s also the CEO of The Idea Logical Company.

Here’s what Shatzkin had to say on B&N’s future:

“I think Barnes & Noble, very much like Waterstones, is really not configured for the future. The very large store with a very big selection was mooted by Amazon. It’s 25 years later but even now I believe that they are past their sell-by date.

Then the question becomes, if all your leases are large retail establishments and it doesn’t make sense to build them with a hundred and twenty-five thousand titles, what else are you going to fill them with?”

😮

In other words, Barnes & Noble is running on an outdated retail model. Nobody buys books the way they sell them anymore. Hundreds of thousands of books in one store are far too many options for the average book shopper, who can find whatever they want online.

Right now, although it’s not going under, the future of Barnes & Noble is shaky.

To persist and thrive in this tough atmosphere for print publishing, they need to make some changes.

Honestly? For B&N to survive, they’ll need to change the way they operate drastically.

What's going on in the publishing industry these days? Author @JuliaEMcCoy has some thoughts. Read all about it 📚 📖 Click To Tweet

In the interview, Shatzkin suggests B&N shift to smaller stores or even mini stores-within-stores, such as taking over the book department within another retailer’s real estate.

Interesting Tidbit: Audiobooks Are on the Rise

Meanwhile, Joanna Penn emphasized the growing popularity of audiobooks, which can’t be ignored.

“…what we’re actually seeing right now in some markets is audio first. We’re seeing Storytel, for example, growing markets as well as obviously Audible… I think I’ve seen my own behavior change to an audio-first listening preference, especially with nonfiction which traditionally I would buy in print.”

This preference for audiobooks is actually a growing trend. According to the Audio Publishers Association, audiobook revenue grew by 24.5% from 2017-2018. In 2018, total revenue was $940 million.

Usage looks promising, too. In 2019, 50% of Americans, 12 and older, listened to at least one audiobook (up 6% from 2018).

After 150 stores closed and being sold to a hedge fund, the future seems unclear for Barnes & Noble -- and print publishing. @JuliaEMcCoy answers why content creators should care and how self-publishing wins over traditional. 📚 Click To Tweet

The Rise of Self-Publishing

Alongside the preference for digital formats and shopping for books online, self-publishing has grown in both popularity and legitimacy, too.

In fact, the digital publishing industry has made self-publishing viable and profitable in the first place.

Here’s how Mike Shatzkin puts it in the aforementioned podcast interview with Joanna Penn:

“…book publishing is the business of content and markets. And if you’re a publisher, what you need to understand is the content that you are publishing and the markets to which you can appeal. Now a lot of small players have the capability to develop content and some idea of the markets.

But if it were the year 2000, you might have all that knowledge but you would have to go through the intermediary distribution system to get your books to the public. There would have been no other way.”

20 years ago, there was no way to self-publish without bearing a huge burden in terms of cost and marketing. Today, that has radically changed.

Thanks to the internet and services like Ingram and Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, people can self-publish a book and immediately have a method for distribution online. Thanks to social media and blogs, you can market your book and reach an audience.

For example, when placed side-by-side, today both self-published authors and traditionally published authors are on the same playing field in terms of earnings:

What’s really surprising:

  • About 77% of self-published authors make at least $1,000 from their writing.
  • Only 9% of traditionally published authors make as much.
More content creators are choosing self-publishing over the traditional, thanks to the internet. In fact, 77% of self-published authors make at least $1,000 from their writing. @JuliaEMcCoy shares the pros and cons of self-publishing. 📖 Click To Tweet

Should You Self-Publish, or Publish Traditionally?

That brings us to the question of the day:

If you’re a content creator, writer, or author, should you self-publish? Or should you go the traditional route?

Both of my books are self-published.

These are the pros and cons:

  • Pro: Taking my books to market was incredibly easy.
  • Con: The editing, design, formatting, and writing was all on me.
  • Con: Authors can publish anything, so the self-published market is saturated with crap work.
  • Pro: This can be an opportunity, because if/when you publish a great book, it stands out!
  • Pro: You make 70% of the royalties when self-publishing, as opposed to a couple of dollars per book at a very slim margin when it’s traditionally published.

Since publishing my first book in April 2016, I’ve earned $14,000 in royalties. In addition, I’ve earned over 7,000 in a variety of other currencies. Not bad!

A few other reasons to self-publish:

1. Self-Published Authors Can Publish Quickly

One of the ways self-publishing really shines is in the timeline. As fast as you want your book out, it can happen. It’s totally up to you.

A self-published book can go to market MUCH faster than a traditionally published book because there are fewer hoops to jump through (see point #3). You don’t need to wait around for book agents or publishers to give the okay – YOU give the okay.

2. Self-Publishing Profit Margins Are Higher

If you self-publish, you’ll keep a larger cut of the profits from every book sold.

On average, self-published authors keep 70% of their royalties.

In contrast, traditionally published authors earn an advance – a flat amount the publisher pays once. After that, the author doesn’t earn any money until the book makes at least as much as the advance amount.

For example, say an author is paid an $8,000 advance for their book. That’s all they get until the book starts earning $$ back for the publisher. After that, the author only makes $1-2 per book sold. Youch. 😳

3. Print Books Are Making a Comeback, But Not in Bookstores

As we’ve seen from the example of Barnes & Noble, counting on traditionally published books to do well in physical stores is a huge gamble.

Yes, going this route at least gives your book a shot at being sold in bookstores, but it’s not guaranteed. Stores have thousands of books to choose from to populate their shelves, and only the most commercially promising ones will make the cut.

And, if you make it to bookstore shelves, you’re at the mercy of failing bookstore models like B&N. Will you ever move a copy in that vast maze of books?

There is a far better chance that someone will buy a physical copy of your book on the internet.

In 2018, print book sales rose by 2.5%. Then, in the first quarter of 2019, hardcover books saw a 7.8% sales increase.

4. The Traditional Publishing Route is Tedious

If you go the traditional way, publishing your book will take a long, long time.

  • First, you’ll need to query agents about your book (essentially sending them a book pitch). Your agent is the one who will shop your book to publishers. Finding an agent can take a long time – months or even years.
  • Once you find an interested agent, you might need to work with them to edit and revise the book. Tack an extra few months onto your publishing timeline.
  • THEN, your agent will find a publisher. You sign a contract with them, essentially handing over the print rights to your work (read: you can’t go print it elsewhere unless you want a lawsuit).
  • You’ll go through another round of copyedits and revisions with the publisher. This takes additional months of work. They’ll also design your cover and have the final say on the title.
  • The publisher is in charge of publishing and distributing your book. Most publishers do little, if any, marketing.

Source: Jennie Nash

As you can see, it’s very hard to get published traditionally. The wait between a “yes” from a book agent to holding your published book in your hands can take as long as a year – maybe even longer.

From this angle, self-publishing looks pretty darn good in comparison.

Some of the pros of self-publishing for @JuliaEMcCoy: faster publication times, higher profit margins, and getting to avoid that tedious process in traditional publishing! Know more in this post. ✍️ Click To Tweet

Barnes & Noble is Skating By, and Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Looks More Promising Than Ever

While Barnes & Noble hangs on by its teeth, digital publishing and self-publishing online are taking off.

The internet has given us content creators the power to share our wisdom, stories, and knowledge with the world in book format.

We don’t have to wait around for a publisher to approve of our work, and we don’t have to rely on bookstores to stock it on shelves.

If you’re thinking about publishing a book (a great way to position yourself as a subject authority), think long and hard before you go the traditional way. Self-publishing is both legitimate and profitable – and equally as rewarding.

awesome CTA publishing industry

content ecosystem

Your Content Bullets Aren’t Working: Why the Answer to Content ROI Lies in a Content Ecosystem

I was listening to a live talk from Jay Baer not too long ago, and this quote hit me hard:

“Stop doing random acts of content. Stop firing content bullets into the air hoping that a customer bird will fly by and that it’ll WORK.”

As this quote permeated my brain, subconsciously stewing while I carried on a typical month interacting with marketers, going through meeting after meeting, leading my team, writing and brainstorming content for all my publications… this thought hit me:

The reason why random content acts don’t work, and why so many believe these low-ROI tactics are still worth trying.

here’s a concept I teach in my Content Strategy & Marketing Course called the “content net.” It’s the antithesis to random acts of content. But, it’s not the norm.

I’m bringing it up today, because, well: content bullets. They need to STOP.

Why? Because one-off content tactics result in dismal content marketing. In an industry that’s already ridiculously tough to break into, relying on content bullets makes NO sense.

Consider this: According to a Backlinko study, 94% of blog posts earn zero external links. 😱

If only 6% of blog posts published get any backlinks, that means it’s a mighty feat to build your link profile and brand authority – especially if your site is brand new.

Even worse, when you ARE able to rank in Google, settling for position #2-10 isn’t enough. You need to be #1 to get the best shot at traffic and leads. That’s because click-through rates (CTR) drastically drop as soon as you fall to position 2, according to an Advanced Web Ranking study. In fact, at position 2, CTR is cut in half.

Unfortunately, ranking #1 for a keyword requires much more than random acts of content. You need more than one bullet to hit the bullseye – especially when that bullseye is a moving target.

So, what exactly does it take?

Let’s get into today’s original concept by yours truly, called the “content ecosystem”, developed to help you understand how and why a long-term, consistent approach to content over time works.

content ecosystem graphic

Your Content Bullets Aren’t Working (Why You’re Still Trying Them)

Learn about @JuliaEMcCoy's original concept called the 'content ecosystem,' developed to help you understand how and why a long-term, consistent approach to content over time works. 🌏 Click To Tweet

Marketers and brands are still relying on content to be their magic shot – the golden bullet that will miraculously hit whatever targets or goals they’re aiming for.

They regard random content as their “golden egg” that will bring in ALL the traffic, leads, and sales $$$ they’ve ever wanted, much like the mythical golden egg from Jack and the Beanstalk (which ensures Jack and his mother live in comfort the rest of their days).

magic content bullets

But content doesn’t operate that way.

For it to work, content needs work. It needs a basic foundation of strategic fundamentals in place to succeed. Most marketers don’t do this, or they don’t fully understand how to do it.

According to a ClearVoice survey of 1,000 marketers, the biggest content challenges are centered around production: time, content quality, creating content, scaling content, and generating ideas.

But, instead of getting strategic and putting in more legwork, they expect a one-off content bullet to make the magic happen and the sales fly in.

How did this happen? How did so many marketers come to think of content as a miraculous solution?

No matter the situation, pretty much nothing in life works like this.

One random act rarely to never equals a level 10 success.

Does a workout, for instance, lead to an instant buff physique? NO. If you pick up the violin, will you be able to play Bach in a week? AS IF.

Look at any major “people” success story. Oprah and her empire. Elon Musk and Tesla. Steve Jobs and Mac. NONE of these mega-brand legacies came about from overnight success or a shot in the dark. These people all worked their butts off to succeed.

Does any good thing in life work this way? Typically not.

So, why are we trying to apply this line of thinking to marketing, to business?

If you could get one-on-one advice from Oprah or Steve Jobs’ ghost or Elon Musk (dreams, am I right?), what do you think they would say?

Here’s my guess:

Quit wimping out and trying to take shortcuts. Quit copying and pasting what “experts” do or say and hoping instant success will come. Stop trying one little tweak and expecting the world to fall in your lap.

Success is about hard work. Not luck, not a shot in the dark, and certainly not a magic bullet. And that absolutely holds true for content.

Success is about hard work. Not luck, not a shot in the dark, and not a magic bullet. And that absolutely holds true for content. 💯 Click To Tweet

Hire a team of proven, capable content experts to boost your online ROI through great content. Visit the content shop here.

Why Today’s Audience Won’t Stand for the Content Bullet

Let’s take this one step further. Content bullets won’t work for you, but also, they won’t EVER work for your audience.

Look at the state of marketing online – people can smell an inauthentic, fake, or “doing it for the likes, follows, traffic, $$” approach from a mile away.

  • The CTR of Facebook ads is dismal – 0.5 – 1.6% – because people are seeing through the bullsh*t marketers and the Lamborghini lies.
  • Every marketing channel you’ve ever relied on is decaying. Andrew Chen calls this “the law of shitty clickthroughs.” It just means that, even when you find a marketing strategy that works, it will inevitably stop working due to increased competition, fading novelty, and more scale. “First to market” means nothing in an online world where saturation happens FAST.
  • As recently as 2018, Instagram has doubled-down on eradicating fake bot accounts, fake likes, and fake followers. People who used to pay to fake a super-popular, engaged account are up a creek without a paddle. (It’s no wonder users prize authenticity online since so much of what we see is staged or fake.)
  • Finally, let’s not forget that people don’t trust ads. In particular, 79% of Gen Z participants said in a recent study that they “avoid ads whenever [they] can.”

Simply put, content bullets pushed out with a “get ROI NOW” mentality are entirely dependent on luck – not a proven formula. Most of all, they can’t possibly contain the heart or soul they need to succeed with audiences hungry for authentic experiences.

Think Beyond Content Bullets – Enter: The Content Ecosystem

That brings us back around to something I mentioned earlier, a concept I teach in my Content Strategy & Marketing Course: the content net.

It’s the opposite of a magic content bullet.

Another synonymous name for it is a content ecosystem.

Your content ecosystem is a whole host of content pieces tied together and supported by consistency and underlying brand quality.

It. Does. Not. Compromise.

Instead of taking a shot at content in the dark, using a content marketing ecosystem is like sitting down to an elaborate content blueprint under a floodlight.

content ecosystem

7 Pathways in the Content Ecosystem

The content marketing ecosystem encompasses your entire content marketing operation. It’s made up of separate parts that affect each other. Without the dedication and a commitment to providing value to your audience above all, you can’t hope to make your content ecosystem a smoothly flowing stream of amazingness.

Here’s how it breaks down. Scroll below the infographic for more details in the blog text.

1. Brand Quality (Affects content consistency, scaling content, and brand authority)

At the deepest levels of your content ecosystem lies our first pathway: brand quality. This needs to exist at the foundation because it does two MAJOR jobs:

  • It gives your readers an amazing experience at your brand touch points, especially your website and content.
  • It gears up your pages to earn Google rankings and pull in organic traffic.

Brand quality begins and ends with a great website, one that’s smooth, fast, and all-around awesome. That’s not all, though. Along with speed and responsiveness, your website should also include:

  • Great content
  • Beautiful visuals/photography
  • A clear brand style with:
    • A distinctive, audience-aimed voice and tone
    • A recognizable, professional logo and brand color palette

For more about why a fantastic website serves as the foundation of brand quality, check out my SEMrush webinar recap: How to Write & Publish Authority-Building SEO Blogs in 2019.

Express Writers' home page with highlights on its user-friendly design

Content ecosystem pathway #1: Brand quality. Qualities: great content, beautiful visuals, audience-aimed voice and tone, a recognizable logo and brand color palette, and an awesome website. 🎯 Click To Tweet

2. Brand Consistency (Affects brand quality, distribution, scaling content, and brand authority)

Hand-in-hand with brand quality, brand consistency is our next important pathway in the content ecosystem.

Specifically, consistency means upholding your quality standards repeatedly over time. If readers can count on your brand to publish and distribute amazing content and experiences, the better off you’ll be. To achieve consistency, you need:

  • Dependable content quality
  • Regular content scheduling and maintenance

For example, look at our own high-volume content plan at Express Writers. Our commitment for 8 years has been one long-form, comprehensive piece of content weekly, and we update content on a monthly basis, too.

Thanks to this consistency, we rank for over 18,000 keywords in Google and regularly bring in six-figure income for months.

Express Writers' page stats on SEMrush. It's ranking for over 18,000 keywords.

Another fantastic case study that shows off how brand consistency wins comes from the Cleveland Clinic. If you’ve ever searched a medical health question on Google, you’ve probably seen one of their blogs in the results.

That’s because their consistency is incredible. As their Manager of Digital Engagement, Amanda Todorovich, revealed in an interview with Kuno Creative, they post 3-5 times per day with a team of 40 medical expert bloggers contributing.

Since launching the blog in April 2012, they regularly see over 5 million visitors in a single month. Now that’s the power of quality and consistency!

Cleveland Clinic's Health Essentials blog

Content ecosystem pathway #2: Brand consistency. How to achieve it: Dependable content quality and regular content scheduling and maintenance. 📅 Click To Tweet

3. Content Creation (Offshoot of brand consistency – affects scaling content and brand authority)

On the path through our content ecosystem, the next step takes us to an offshoot of brand consistency – content creation.

Pouring your best into content creation won’t matter if you can’t uphold that consistently. You need to keep your standards high 24/7 if you expect to grow your brand authority.

Consistency of content creation standards also affects scale. If you can’t replicate your blog quality from one post to the next, you’re probably doing too much and need to scale back for better results.

Content creation standards should always include the following pieces:

  • Researched
  • Audience-focused and relevant
  • Organized and logical
  • Informative, entertaining, or useful
Content ecosystem pathway #3: Content creation. Content qualities include: researched, audience-focused, organized and logical, and informative and useful. 🧐 Click To Tweet

4. Content Distribution (Affects brand authority and reach)

Next up, brand consistency and content creation directly affect content distribution. This is how and when you serve your content to your audience.

Of course, part and parcel of distribution is promotion. Sharing your content on social networks is a natural way to ensure more and more people lay their eyeballs on it.

You can’t just distribute content anywhere, though. A major component is posting on the social channels where your audience lives, at the times they’re most likely to engage. If your audience is mainly B2B, that might mean LinkedIn and/or Twitter in the mornings and late evenings. For B2C or ecommerce, it might mean brand presences on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, etc. during hours of the day when engagement is highest.

Sprout Social's study results on the best time to post in Instagram. Highest engagement appears during weekday noons.

Finally, content distribution is a direct pathway to brand authority and reach. The more relevant, interesting, and engaging you can be to your audience, the more they will see your posts, interact with your content, and keep you top-of-mind.

Content ecosystem pathway #4: Content distribution. Major component: Posting on social channels where your audience lives and engage. 📝 Click To Tweet

5. Scaling Content (Affects brand authority and reach)

As your content gains success, the next pathway in the content ecosystem is scaling. This means producing more or branching out into different types of content, without sacrificing your original commitment to quality.

Scaling is all about optimizing your content workflows to keep production consistent, yet reach more people.

Amanda Todorovich and the Cleveland Clinic blog are great examples of scaling as well as consistency. Although the blog and brand have reached new heights of success, Amanda and her team remain committed to what they can do to produce the highest-quality content possible with the most relevant information for their audience niches.

Cleveland Clinic Health Essential blog's article titled, "Does Sun Protection Clothing Actually Work?"

According to Amanda, their content marketing ethos is “not more, but better.”

From a feature on Content Marketing Institute, here are a few insights into how the Cleveland Clinic content marketing team accomplishes this:

  • They constantly reuse and revise old content. To keep up their daily social media posting quotas, they will share posts from the archives or old posts updated with new research.
  • They tap the expertise of 40 medical professionals to write, review, and vet posts before they go live. (They need this many people to keep up with their rigorous publishing schedule.)
  • They have developed formulas for creating great headlines and choosing photos for posts.
  • They keep tabs on specific measurements for success.
  • The content team meets daily to discuss how their content efforts are doing.

As you can see, scaling content requires a few keys in place to work:

  • Efficient and effective workflows in place
  • Well-defined team roles
    • Strategists
    • Writers
    • Editors
    • Designers

If you scale the right way, that will naturally lead to higher brand authority and better reach.

Content ecosystem pathway #5: Scaling content. What you need: Efficient and effective workflows and well-defined team roles (strategists, writers, editors, and designers). 📈 Click To Tweet

6. Brand Authority (Affects reach)

Results time. (Or, as they say, all roads lead here.)

Most of the pathways in the content ecosystem point here. Once you have the other pieces working harmoniously in a continuous rhythm, your brand authority will grow and evolve.

At this point, the value of one incredibly unique, distinguishing idea grows, too. In other words, it’s time to start publishing your MASTER content pieces, the ones that may put you on the map. This is how you level-up from simply having a brand-aware audience to being “known” in your niche.

Remember: This level is impossible to hit without both brand consistency and quality leading you here, first.

Content ecosystem pathway #6: Brand authority. What you need: Brand consistency and quality pathways + starting to publish master content pieces to be known in your niche. 💎 Click To Tweet

Download the profitable content strategist skills cheat sheet here

7. Reach (Affects scaling content)

If you scale your content correctly, if you leverage your newfound brand authority, then your overall reach will begin to climb, too.

Reach is about reaching new audience members, growing your impact and influence, and adding more people to your loyal tribe.

The major points you need to understand about reach:

  • Reach shoots up when all other parts of the content ecosystem hit their highest levels
  • The greater your brand authority/visibility, the greater your reach
  • Reach propels your content marketing forward to new levels
  • Scaling content to maintain quality and consistency is key

When your content ecosystem is a smoothly running system, when all pathways naturally flow together, only then can your reach truly explode.

content ecosystem

Content ecosystem pathway #7: Reach. What you need: Greater brand authority/visibility, scaling content to maintain quality and consistency. 🤝 Click To Tweet

Forget Content Bullets or Shots in the Dark: Make Your Content Marketing a Flowing Ecosystem

As you can see, a content ecosystem is a holistic way of thinking about your entire content marketing scheme. It should all flow together.

You can’t let it drop. You can’t compromise for the sake of time or money. And you can’t put all your faith in one or two content bullets.

To truly see sustainable success, marketers MUST uphold a content ecosystem over time and understand how the parts connect, intertwine, and mingle. It’s a series of pathways that require dedication at every stage.

Ideally, as it evolves, it will get better and better until you reach your goals. After that, you can forge ahead to set new goals bigger than you ever dreamed.

CTA content ecosystem.

content hacker

Content Hacking: The Future of Content Marketing

If you’ve spent any amount of time on the internet, you’ve probably heard terms like “hack” and “hacking.”

In the blog-o-sphere, these terms have been used to mean “clever solutions to tricky problems” or “tricks to make your life easier.” If you Google “hacks,” you can see this clearly – the results are all about clever, interesting, or creative solutions to life’s dilemmas. 💡

Hacking is typically a good thing.

Now, what about hacking for marketing? Scary and bad – or good and effective?

The term ‘hacking’ was used in the marketing industry in 2010, when Sean Ellis, co-author of Hacking Growth and CEO of GrowthHackers, coined the term growth hacking in his blog, Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup. Ellis says: “A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.”

With content hacking, the definition is just this – hands-on creativity and can-do, growth-focused attitude – but applied to content creation.

True content hacking is about getting tough, heavy content marketing tasks done in a smart way.

Making life easier.

Getting to the rewards faster, without sacrificing quality or principles along the way.

When applied to content, content hacking is about making your content marketing better, using BETTER, smarter methods.

Growth-focused methods.

Join me on an adventure where we dive into the traits, skillsets and brain of a modern-day content hacker. You might relate to a large percentage of these traits yourself. (Let me know in the comments if you do.) Ready?

content hacking

The Content Hacker: Origins of Content Hacking

Full disclosure: I didn’t come up with the term “content hacker” itself.

The hat-tip for that goes to Garrett Moon of CoSchedule.

He coined the phrase by smashing together the concepts of growth hacking and content marketing.

  • As we already mentioned above, growth hacking is a term Sean Ellis, the CEO of GrowthHackers, originated. It’s the process of driving breakout business growth using “a high-velocity testing/learning process.”
  • It’s about being quick, agile, and nimble on your feet. If a process doesn’t work, you need to be able to pivot, adapt, and try something else.
  • At the end of the day, sustainable growth is the bottom line, not quick fixes. You have to learn what works and what doesn’t — fast.

As for content marketing, we all know and love it.

  • Content marketing is the process of creating useful content that builds trust and turns traffic into leads and customers.

Thus, growth hacking + content marketing = content hacker (noun): a growth-focused content marketer.

(No, that doesn’t mean cheap or overnight fast-track tricks.)

Content hackers climb over roadblocks to reach our goals on the content marketing horizon. They don’t add to the noise. They create beauty online. A real brand reputation that relies on content that works.

If you’re on-board for all of the above, then congratulations: You’re a content hacker, too. 👋

Growth hacking + content marketing = content hacker (noun): a growth-focused content marketer. Learn more about a #contenthacker Click To Tweet The term content hacker takes inspiration from the original creator of 'growth hacking', @SeanEllis. #contenthacking 💡 Click To Tweet 'A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.' - @SeanEllis #contenthacking Click To Tweet Content hackers climb over roadblocks to reach our goals on the content marketing horizon. This is white-hat hacking or growth hacking for content. @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet True 'content hacking' is about getting tough, heavy content marketing tasks done in a smart way. @JuliaEMcCoy 🧠💡 #contenthacking Click To Tweet

What a Content Hacker is NOT

Let’s be clear: Content hacking is NOT about “overnight success” or “scary-quick results.”

It’s NOT about fast fixes or putting band-aids on content marketing problems.

Instead, a content hacker is laser-focused on growth – any kind of growth, whether that means converting three new leads to customers, getting 100 more people to visit your blog, or earning 1,000 new email subscribers.

No matter how small, growth is something you can build on. Growth is something you can leverage.

As long as it’s consistent and sustainable…

As long as the process to get there is repeatable…

As long as the content serves the user’s wants/needs/pain points, that’s the kind of growth a content hacker is all about.

Content hacking is NOT about fast fixes or putting band-aids on content marketing problems. More about a growth-driven #contentmarketer Click To Tweet

Why Does Content Hacking Matter Now and in The Future of Content Marketing?

In 2019, content by itself won’t do much. I hate to break it to you.

There’s too much noise out there on the web. You won’t stand out unless you approach content in a radically different way.

Nearly 4 million blog posts are written every day. That means, in a single year, over 1.46 billion individual posts are published.

The internet is bursting at the seams with content. Even worse, much of it is useless.

Worse than that?

Most of the content that IS useful is same-old, same-old. (How many times have you seen this headline: ‘# Ways to Start a Blog’?)

So, we’re left looking at a big, stinking pile of crap content. Let’s call it “Crap Content Mountain.”

If this scenario makes you feel bleak, here’s a ray of light.

Crappy, same-old, ugly content is exactly what a content hacker rails against.

Content hackers don’t create useless content. They don’t create content because it’s the “thing to do.”

Instead, they are always locked-in on their audience and hell-bent on producing content that those people will gobble up.

They’re constantly researching their audience, researching topics and keywords, testing new ideas, updating their knowledge, and trying new content marketing tactics.

Content hackers are the future of content marketing because, in the end, they are the ones working to make the internet better. Content hackers STOP producing more crap to add to the content trash pile.

We’re on a mission to create content that matters to users, and builds trust and connections between audiences and brands.

💥Content hackers are the ones AGAINST adding more crap to add to the content trash pile. They're on a mission to create content that matters to users and builds trust and connection. @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet

In fact, this has been my goal with content from the very beginning, back in 2011 when I started Express Writers. Needless to say, it works. Our numbers prove that: 90,000 visitors/month in organic traffic, and 14-16% of those visitors convert through our content.

Analysis of a Modern-Day Content Hacker

To be called a true content hacker, you need a certain set of skills. You don’t necessarily have to be the James Bond of content marketing, but a little creativity, agility, and ingenuity in your wheelhouse won’t hurt.

If we must whittle down the ideal content hacker to a few traits, we think these are the most important ones. If you want to hack your way to mega-growth with content, take note – here we see the average specimen as they might look in the wild.

content hacker

See an analysis and the leading traits of of today's smart, growth-focused content marketer in @JuliaEMcCoy's #contenthacker guide 👨🏼‍🎤👩‍🎤 Click To Tweet

Mind: Tactical, Growth-Minded Thinker

A content hacker intrinsically understands content marketing’s worth. By 2021, the industry is expected to reach $412.88 billion. The content hacker is at the forefront of this valuable industry, the one brainstorming ways to tap into that growth for their own niche, and searching for new tactics to make it happen.

Ears: Constantly Listening/Learning

A good content hacker always has their ears open. They’re constantly listening, measuring results, learning what works and what doesn’t, and pivoting as needed to stay on the path of content marketing growth.

Mouth: Clever Communicator

Communication is key for the content hacker. They use every form of it – words, videos, social media, email, and more – on the right platforms, from Instagram Stories to Facebook Live and beyond, to speak to the heart of the matter. They customize communication to the brand they’re creating content for, and exist where their audience lives.

Feet: Agile and Flexible

Watch out – a content hacker is fast. They learn quickly, rebound from mistakes, and are ready to try another strategy, tactic, or idea within the next minute. If one road or method isn’t working, they’ll cut through the brush to find another path that will help their brand grow.

Heart: Audience-Focused

Above all, the users matter most to a content hacker. Understanding the user’s needs, wants, desires, and problems (not the brand or client’s) is pivotal to producing useful content that converts.

Cardiovascular: Patience & Strong Work Ethic

Patience is a must for the content hacker. Most content marketing ROI doesn’t come in until 12-24 months after as a matter of fact. Without a strong work ethic and the patience to see their content tactics and growth hacks through to the finish line, a content hacker would never get anywhere.

Veins: Storytelling and Writing Chops

Most content hackers find their way to the field through their love of storytelling. The ideal content hacker understands the value of stories and knows how to write. They spend much of their time telling them through amazing content creation. Plenty of marketers are catching on, too. Content creation spend has seen the highest increase over the last 12 months over any other content marketing area, according to CMI’s Budgets, Benchmarks, and Trends report.

Blood: Caffeinated

Let’s face it: The content hacker needs a daily dose of joe (or tea) to fuel those early mornings and late nights of content hacking – or to power through the dreaded 3 p.m. slump.

Tools: Skilled Researcher

Researching is an essential skill for the content hacker. They’re always researching and looking for useful data, whether that means finding out everything they can about their audience or discovering profitable keywords that tie to user search intent. Tools today’s content hacker uses include Moz, Ahrefs, SEMrush, Mangools’ KWFinder, and BuzzSumo.

To sum up the skillsets and traits of a successful content hacker…

  • They’re agile, independent thinkers whose major focus is brand growth through the creation of user-satisfying content.
  • They’re ready to hack through the internet jungle at moment’s notice to reach the growth and results they crave.
  • If one way is blocked, they’re experts at finding a clear path to ROI.

These smart, strategic content marketers have a wide playing field open to them.

Question: Why put all the trouble into making sure you learn the skill sets involved in content hacking?

Well, according to a study by Fractl and Moz, content marketing job growth increased by nearly 350% between 2011 – 2015.

content strategy job growth

This is a trend that has continued into 2019. That’s pretty epic.

And I think we can continue to see this increasing in the future, as the industry of content marketing rises as a whole.

ContentHacker.com – Launching Soon!

As you can tell, my heart is invested in this topic 1000%.

That’s why I’m moving forward and launching a brand this June that is wholly dedicated to growth-focused content marketers. You guessed it — it’s called Content Hacker.

content hacker

This will be my personal brand, but it will also serve as a resource center, education platform, and publication for every single person who believes in the content hacker way of life.

Because anything short of growth and results (both for us AND our real, living, human audience) would be cruddy, am I right?

I’m super excited to share this new venture with you.

And, chances are, if you’ve read this far, you’re interested in joining me as this new launch happens. To stay up-to-date on all things content hacking, sign up for the list.

See you soon, fellow content hackers!

content shop

how to stand out online

How to Stand Out Online: 5 Questions to Ask to Know What Makes You Different From the Rest of the Pack

“Be yourself; everyone else is taken.”

Thank you, Oscar Wilde, for the inspiration.

But this doesn’t just apply to individuals.

It applies to businesses and brands, too.

As the creator of Express Writers, I have learned that we are successful because we have embraced our individuality and refuse to focus on what our competitors are doing.

Along with dancing to the beat of our own drum, from the beginning, we focus on building the best services for our clients and original thoughts that build elite and unique levels of service.

From my own life experience, I know how hard it is to find out what makes you different in an industry everyone seems to be in.

I’ve always enjoyed writing, and building a content marketing and writing agency was a natural next step for me. But it hasn’t come easy. Through the ups and downs, I discovered my greatest successes on the heels of failures.

(It’s a longer story than this, and you can read it all here.) In short, my failures helped me ask a ton of questions and ultimately embrace my flaws and stand out from the rest of the content-marketing industry.

So,  how do you find out what makes you different from your industry?

Here is a number of questions to help you and your business know just how well you’re standing out — and making a real difference online.

Answer these 5 questions to know if you're standing out and making a real difference online, vs. adding to the noise. @JuliaEMcCoy #ContentDifferentiationFactor Click To Tweet

how to stand out online

How to Stand Out Online: 5 Questions to Ask to Know What Makes You Different from the Rest of the Pack

Let’s dive into the five questions every entrepreneur and business owner should be asking.

1. What is Your Content Differentiation Factor in Your Industry?

how to stand out online

I teach this concept in my Content Strategy & Marketing course and have written extensively on it in my book. To summarize, your content differentiation factor (CDF) is what separates you from the billions of other content on the web.

Ask this question:

“Does my business communicate topics with people that the rest of the web doesn’t?”

Maybe it’s exclusive content you provide that no one else does, a positive digital experience clients can’t get anywhere else, etc.

Your CDF is how you present your brand/business, and how you communicate industry topics to your audience.

So, understand what separates you from the rest of your industry and go from there.

oscar wilde

2. What Makes Your Selling Technique Different from Everyone Else?

Everyone in your industry is selling something similar, right?

For example, if you’re in the marketing industry, you’re probably doing some content marketing.

Why? Because content marketing provides one of the highest ROIs.

From our last post, 6 Major Content Marketing Trends from CMI’s 2019 B2C Content Marketing Research Report

If you understand that, a number of other people in your industry know that too — so, how do your content marketing services stand out from everyone else? Or any of your other services for that matter?

Remember, your unique selling proposition (USP) is different than your CDF.

  • Your USP is the factor that makes your services and products different than competitors. (Different in terms of by choosing your services and products, they are receiving a higher value.)
  • Your CDF is how your business/brand is presented. (When you acknowledge industry topics you don’t just give a generic response. You provide an individual and valuable experience that will educate and benefit your customers.)

Make sure you’re asking this strategic question:

“How do I present my services/products differently?”

Remember though, don’t focus only on your competitors.

By focusing on what your competitors are doing, you’re losing focus on your own ideas.

Understand what your competitors are doing and how you’re different from them, but don’t focus too much on them.

Look inside you, your team, and your own environment for your best ideas. Make sure you have a valid reason to give when your customers ask why they should invest in you and your services/products.

3. What Does Your Business Do for Your Customers?

This is part of your USP: understanding what your business/brand provides your customers.

If you’re having a hard time pinpointing what your USP is — don’t worry. You can start narrowing it down by asking yourself what your business does for your customers.

For example, Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon, said that he sold hope, not makeup.

how to stand out online

Revson’s promise to his customer was that he was going to provide a product that gave women hope to receive the look they wanted.

So, when you’re thinking about what your businesses do for your customers, don’t just think about the products/services you sell. Think of the feelings and solutions it provides.

4. Are You Comparing Yourself to Your Competitors Too Much?

I mentioned earlier when I talked about asking yourself what your USP is how you should understand what your competitors are doing.

But, don’t focus on them too much.

Once you start focusing on your competitors more than you start focusing on your own ideas, you lose your own sense of creativity.

Trust me.

I used to use templates for my emails, and veered too close to copying and pasting while going off “best practices.”

Then, one day, I sat down without distractions, only armed with inner inspiration.

I had the idea for a great email around my Content Strategy & Marketing Course, and wrote it out.

It turned into one of my most high-converting emails to date:

how to stand out online

If you think you’re losing the original “you”, simply ask yourself, “Do I compare myself to my competitors too much?”

If the answer is yes, then I have a few tips to get you to stop analyzing your competitors and start going more internal for bigger and better results:

  • 1. Unglue Yourself from Social Media
  • 2. Get Some Fresh Air and Exercise
  • 3. Indulge Your Creativity

Read more here: Why Focusing On Your Competitor Could Be Killing Your Business

If your answer is no, that’s great! 👏🏻

Remember, it’s important to study what your competitors are doing, without fixating on them. After all, there are millions of people in the world and a lot of them are studying what you’re studying. They’ve made mistakes and have crossed roadblocks you haven’t gotten to yet.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, you just need to recreate it.

1. What is your content differentiation factor? 2. What makes your selling technique different from everyone else? Ask yourself these five questions to see if you're standing out in your industry. @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet

5. What Brands Do You Love?

What are a few examples of well-known brands that resonate with you and your business? Make a list of your favorite businesses and look into their business models.

They don’t have to be in your industry.

In fact, if they’re not in your industry, then it’s not as easy to compare yourself to your competitors — which, remember, you don’t want to do.

Well-known businesses haven’t always been well known — they had a starting point, just like you.

Well-known businesses haven’t always been well known — they had a starting point, just like you. @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet

Here are three examples of well-known businesses that are prime examples of not fitting in.

1. Netflix

It doesn’t matter what your industry is: Netflix is absolutely killing the whole “doing something the rest of the industry isn’t” thing.

They can be used as an example for just about any business.

Not only were they one of the first ones in the streaming video industry, they started using all kinds of data to give the people what they want.

[email protected] @dove @airbnb are examples of brands busting through next levels by NOT fitting with typical competitors. Click To Tweet

how to stand out online

Netflix understands their audience better than any other video-streaming business — and some could argue businesses outside of the video streaming industry.

People want more options of movies/TV shows to binge watch, Netflix started making their own original videos and people are definitely not complaining.

Your business might not be a video-streaming business, but you can use Netflix as a leader — study your audience and go after them.

2. Dove

In the early days of fashion, the only models that were good enough were super tall and super skinny.

Until recently.

how to stand out online

Dove introduced a “Real Beauty Pledge” that uses real, everyday women as their models and help women build self-esteem confidence.

how to stand out online

Not only was this campaign revolutionary for marketing in general, it increased their entire business by 2 BILLION dollars.

Yeah, billions — that’s a huge increase.

Dove shows us that businesses can become the voice of the unrepresented — even if it hasn’t been done before.

Can you just imagine the conversation in the boardroom about this?

“Hey Bill – I want to do a campaign with eleven every-day women that look just like the moms I hang out with at my school PTA meetings.”

“Uh, Sarah, I had supermodels on the Cayman Islands at the top of my list.”

“But every woman will relate to mine and we’ll grow by at least $1 or even 2 billion.”

…SILENCE…

“Hmm…yeah, you’ve got a point about our audience there. Okay, Sarah, you win this one.”

👏🏻 The campaign idea may have sounded crazy at first, but with a campaign most women can relate with, it was a huge success.

3. Airbnb

If you enjoy traveling, you’ve heard of Airbnb, and even if you don’t like traveling, you’ve probably heard of Airbnb.

Airbnb is a travel company that is revolutionizing the hotel industry by giving people a home anywhere around the world while also giving them a local and unique experience without breaking their bank.

how to stand out online

Airbnb’s business model is targeted to get people to list their real-life home for a few days, weeks, or months, so more people have reasonably priced places to stay while also experiencing local culture. They advertise a great message: customers can become business owners just by renting out their homes, or, if they don’t want to rent out their personal home, they can be renters where they can experience a unique place that is theirs for the time that they’re visiting.

After seeing the most popular locations and types of homes users wanted to rent, they introduced AirBnb Plus. Airbnb Plus is their way of presenting specific areas and homes that are “extra special.” The Airbnb team even studied real data to showcase the best cities and homes around the world for amazing customer experiences.

how to stand out online how to stand out online

Although Airbnb studies their data thoroughly, ultimately, they treat their customers as business partners.

If you as an Airbnb customer book an apartment for a week, you deal with the person that owns that apartment/house — not Airbnb. Airbnb only steps in if the home does not meet the listing standards or you (as the customer) do not feel like you belong. Plus, Airbnb promises to reimburse customers for homes that do not live up to listing standards, or on the flip side, they’ll help the homeowner if customers damage the home. That’s a pretty amazing guarantee level.

A good goal that Airbnb has uniquely captured, that you could also work towards: treat both your first-time and returning customers so well, they want to start referring your service freely to others. But the way you do this must be unique, like Airbnb’s above-and-beyond guarantee.

Start Asking These 5 Questions and Stop Same-Old Syndrome

It’s hard to stand out, especially in a world where everyone is doing what seems the same thing.

I mean, just look around the Facebook ad-o-sphere. Or the marketing universe in general.

Everyone’s quoting “best practices” and then looking over the shoulder of their competitor just to end up doing same old, same old.

What if we authentically focused on creating a truthful message, connecting with our audience and solving problems instead of just selling things?

Need some help creating content that reaches your audience in a powerful, impactful way? We’re just an email away.

value-focused marketing

How a Value-Focused, Serve-First Marketing Approach is the Best Approach For Today & Tomorrow’s Smart Marketer

Early this February, I wrote a blog telling the story of my LinkedIn post that went viral.

The short, organic post that went viral was a rant about cold sales pitches. Too many people were connecting with me on LinkedIn only to flood my inbox with these money-grubbing pitches. Fed up, I posted a rant that ended up garnering over 1,000 likes, 287 comments, and over 85,000 views.

cold, ugly sales pitch rant

linkedin post stats

Naturally, that visibility made a lot of haters crawl out of the woodwork, but the post was also flooded with positive comments and genuine questions.

One question, in particular, caught my eye. It went something like, “So, you don’t pitch EVER, or sell EVER?”

My answer? No, not really.

And this question made me think deeper about it all.

Our focus at Express Writers truly is on serving our customers first.

That rings true from our blogs and content, down to our sales team (which are not actually made up of salespeople, but content specialists and managers who focus on helping, instead of selling).

Even our live on-site conversations with ‘hot leads’ are focused on helping and serving, rather than selling.

This value-first, serve-first mentality goes hand-in-hand with content marketing. Content marketing is value-focused marketing. A content-focused marketing approach is our #1 way of driving qualified traffic to our site, earning leads, and making sales. I have leaned into content marketing because I love it, and because it WORKS — we have seen amazing things happen because of our audience-first content focus in marketing.

This content marketing mindset has trickled down into almost every aspect of what we do at Express Writers — and that’s what I wanted to write about today on the blog. How a serve-first mindset really, truly can equal brand growth.

Delighting your customers AND growing your bottom line? It’s possible. Read on.

Our focus is on serving our customers first. That rings true from our blogs and content, down to our sales team. More on #valuefirstmarketing via @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet

value-focused marketing

The Growth of a Value-First, Serve-First Content Marketing Approach: Your Consumer Wants You To Care About Them

Content marketing as a whole has been growing rapidly.

A Technavio market research analyst forecasted the content marketing market to grow globally at a CAGR of more than 16% from 2017-2021, according to their latest report. By 2021, content marketing is set to be worth over $412 billion!

According to Ujjwal Doshi, a lead analyst at Technavio for media and entertainment services research, content marketing’s effectiveness is because of the lack of effectiveness in traditional marketing. What do you know — today’s consumer is savvy, and can’t be fooled into buying something!

“The effectiveness of traditional marketing is decreasing by the day. Companies must adopt the latest marketing trends to enhance their business and increase their consumer base. Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach that is focused on creating and sharing valuable, consistent, and relevant content to attract and retain the audience.”

content marketing industry

Source: technavio.com

As a whole, content marketing is first and foremost about the customer, NOT about the brand. And this is why it’s growing at such an incredible rate and being adopted by upwards of 90% of B2Bs. According to Content Marketing Institute’s definition, the whole point of content marketing is actually to “attract and retain a clearly defined audience.”

They go on to say:

“Instead of pitching your products or services, you are providing truly relevant and useful content to your prospects and customers to help them solve their issues.”

This is a big shift from traditional marketing and advertising, where it’s all about the brand pushing their message out to consumers. Instead, with content marketing, the consumer has the power to discover and connect with brands and content that suit their needs.

And that’s what today’s smart consumer is looking for in a brand or marketer. Someone that cares about them.

Content marketing is first and foremost about the customer, NOT about the brand. And that's what today's smart consumer is looking for in a brand or marketer. Someone that cares about them. @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet

Unsurprisingly, the rise of content marketing has happened alongside changing buyer preferences. Shoppers don’t like pushy sales pitches, ads, or impersonal marketing according to studies by Accenture, BigCommerce, and SnapApp & Heinz Marketing. The latter study even found that most B2B Millennial buyers are sales avoiders, and will avoid talking to sales until at least the middle of their buying journeys.

the rise of sales avoiders

Modern buyers have the internet and social media at their beck and call to help them find information and make purchase decisions, so their buying journeys are more independent, self-directed, and unpredictable than ever.

This quote from the BigCommerce study showcases how buyer expectations have changed:

Erik Christiansen Justuno quote

“Millennials have grown accustomed to speed, convenience, and a personalized online shopping experience. However, Gen Z has never known shopping without these. They’re more brand agnostic and very wary of brand promises.” – Erik Christiansen

In other words, trust and loyalty are harder to win than ever, but today they matter more than ever.

Consumers today are more discerning, smarter, savvier, and more resourceful. They have the internet to help them make informed purchases. They can smell a sneaky sales pitch from miles away, and they know when brands are being inauthentic.

That’s why we need to serve our customers value before we do anything else. We need to focus on building trust and loyalty rather than selling. It’s what they want!

How do we do it? With a content marketing strategy built on the right framework.

Lifecycle Marketing: A Framework for Targeted Content Marketing

Luckily, the concept of lifecycle marketing fits in perfectly with a content marketing mindset.

When you think of the buyer’s journey in terms of a lifecycle versus a sales funnel, you can more accurately predict what they need/want at each stage, including after you’ve won their loyalty.

the marketing lifecycle

A traditional sales funnel doesn’t show that part of the journey, let alone what you’re supposed to do to keep delighting loyal customers. The only way to go is down and out, and once customers purchase (and thus leave the funnel), they’re often forgotten.

AIDA model

In contrast, tracking leads and customers in a marketing lifecycle also helps you track their journey to loyalty and beyond. The goal is to nurture leads and encourage them to keep trusting you — not just get their money. And, of course, you build loyalty and trust with value and service, which content marketing is all about.

For proof of how well a value-first, serve-first mentality works, we’re going to look at 5 brands that champion it — and probably owe their success to it. Let’s go.

5 Examples of Value-Driven, Service-Oriented Brands Getting It Done

1. The Honest Company

The Honest Company, Jessica Alba’s eco-friendly company, is a great example of a value-first, serve-first brand. It all starts with their products, which are universally loved for their quality, gentleness, and natural/sustainable ingredients.

the honest company reviews

Their content on the Honestly Blog is also value-forward, offering useful and helpful guidance for moms, parents, and women of all ages.

honestly blog content

Their activity in the comments on their Facebook posts also attests to their dedication to their customers (and their customers’ trust in their brand):

the honest company facebook

2. Trader Joe’s

Another brand putting customers and value first: Trader Joe’s.

buzzfeed trader joe's best grocery story list article

(The people at BuzzFeed agree.)

On Twitter, you can see evidence of the grocery chain regularly delighting customers:

The message featured in the tweet below appeared in one of their Fearless Flyers (a mailed newsletter that describes all the new and fun seasonal products coming to your local TJ’s in mouth-watering detail – A.K.A. content marketing!).

It not only plainly states “We love our customers” – it also shows how Trader Joe’s listens to their feedback seriously.

Finally, don’t forget Trader Joe’s Recipes, a blog where they bring you delicious dishes using their signature products:

trader joes breakfast tacos

Trader Joe’s February Fearless Flyer

Source: Trader Joe’s February Fearless Flyer

3. Book Depository

Known and beloved by bookworms all over the world for their vast selection and free delivery on ANY order, Book Depository is another brand prioritizing the customer.

For starters, their homepage is like browsing a well-organized bookstore, which is nice if you don’t know exactly what you want:

book depository categories

Plus, in every order, they slip in a free, custom-designed bookmark. Since most readers I know always need something to hold their place, this is a nice little perk.

book depository bookmarks

On their Twitter account, Book Depository keeps the bookishness going with regular fun polls, discounts, literary quotes, and lots and LOTS of giveaways.

As a result, Book Depository as a brand feels very personal and approachable – much like the clerks at your favorite bookstore. That’s because, from free shipping to free bookmarks, book lists, recommendations, and bookish conversations, the emphasis is always on the book-loving customer.

4. Magnolia

Another brand with a serve-first, value-first approach embedded into its name is Magnolia, the umbrella name for Chip and Joanna Gaines’ sprawling empire.

If you’ve never heard of Magnolia, maybe Fixer Upper might ring a bell. The hit show appeared for 5 seasons on HGTV. During that time, the Gaines family established Magnolia as a brand with a heart, values, and a customer-first approach while showcasing timeless design.

After the show ended, the Magnolia engine didn’t stop. It has since expanded to include a quarterly magazine, a line of home goods for Target, and collections of furniture, rugs, wallpaper, paint, and more sold online and in various home stores across the U.S.

You’ll find evidence of Magnolia’s value-driven approach in their Manifesto. Lines from this mission statement grace their websites as well as their magazine:

   magnolia mission statement magnolia mission statement magnolia mission statement

The focus on customers is also really obvious. In the Magnolia Home brand guidelines for retailers, there’s even a section about how to serve them:

Magnolia Home brand guidelines

“Show kindness and exceed their expectations”. “Go the extra mile”. “Show respect for the customer’s time”. “Make a positive impact”.

All of Magnolia’s content reflects value (and strong values), from their blog to the Magnolia Journal, to Joanna Gaines’s various books.

magnolia blog

magnolia journal

On Magnolia’s Facebook page, you’ll find much of the same. If you scroll through any of the post comments, you’ll find devoted fans and followers expressing their admiration, or even spontaneously sharing the recipes they made from Joanna’s cookbook:

magnolia facebook comments

When customers express their love like this, you know the brand is doing something right.

5. Express Writers

Last of all, we’re throwing our company into the hat because we strongly believe in putting value first. We lean into the content marketing mindset and focus on serving value before selling.

A great example of that in action comes from our team leader, Korilynn. Even during sales-oriented Drift chats, she cares about having real conversations with our leads.

express writers drift chat

In 2016, I ditched the commissioned sales model altogether because I found it brought in salespeople to our team who were wallet-first, not customer-first. In contrast, when we focus on serving the customer, everyone benefits.

That’s also why we work so hard to create the best content we can. It’s a major part of serving our audience and providing value.

express writers the write blog

As a whole, it’s about building relationships, retaining customers, and growing their lifetime value. Happy, delighted, loyal customers are worth it – they give back as much as you put in!

A Value-First, Serve-First Mentality is the Way to Grow Your Brand in 2019 and Beyond

Today, customers are actively looking for brands they can trust.

Trust is a big deal because the internet is full of shady deals, slimy salespeople, false information, fake news, and scams.

When you’re a beacon of trust in that dark forest, people will flock to you. Online buyers want to invest their money in smart purchases. They want to use their resources to find brands that give them the best experience of value and service.

Value first. Serve first. Start here, and your brand foundation will be stronger for it.

value focused marketing CTA

entrepreneur

3 Major Lessons from 8 Years: What It Takes to Be a Successful Entrepreneur (Video)

Way back in time, February 2011, I decided to follow my dreams and build a life and career I’d love.

And I’m so glad I did.

This is my eighth year since stepping out and deciding to be a full-time entrepreneur — and this coming May will mark eight years for my company, Express Writers.

The idea of figuring out how to make money doing what I loved came to me like a lightbulb moment, and I acted on it same-day, Googling “how to write and earn money online” and building my first freelance profile. (To the action-takers the world belongs!)

Waking up and doing something I loved gave me a brand new reason to get up every day and embrace Mondays.

I’d always loved to write, ever since I was a 12-year-old kid writing a 200-page medieval fiction. And I loved the internet. I’d made my first paycheck doing online surveys at 13.

I blended both passions, and found online content.

Within three months, I had an entire career on my hands, and dozens of clients asking me for more. I was suddenly at a crossroads: stop taking more clients (I already had more than I could handle), or build a team.

I built a team, that May. (This was just four months after making the decision to drop out of college and quit McDonald’s!)

Today… eight years later, 90+ people on staff, thousands of clients served… I am proof that anyone, anywhere, can follow their dreams. I was living in a cult when I decided to build my own life — which I later escaped, thanks to the freedom and income I’d built! That means you, my friend, have no excuse. 😉

Since this benchmark has come, instead of my typical how-to videos, I decided to film a special video for you today.

Being an entrepreneur may look pretty from the top, but it’s a hellauv a lot of hard work, especially if you have BIG, hairy goals (like me). My constant goal is to build the best content writing agency in the industry. I don’t consider my brand fully ‘there’ — but we are at an incredibly exciting place today, and I wanted to stop and celebrate that with my latest video for my YouTube channel, @JuliaMcCoy.

Without further ado, here it is.

This is dedicated to each and every one of you as motivation to never, ever, give up on your dreams. If today feels like your greatest struggle, then your greatest moment is just a few steps ahead. 💖The best is yet to come.

Don’t expect everything for nothing. Put in the work to reap the results. This and more in @JuliaEMcCoy's inspirational video, celebrating 8 years of #entrepreneurship 🥂 Click To Tweet

3 Major Lessons from 8 Years: What It Takes to Be a Successful Entrepreneur

entrepreneurship

Being an entrepreneur is a twofold thing.

It’s incredibly rewarding, and incredibly difficult.

It’s an exhilarating ride when you win and achieve your goals.

And it’s a letdown when people desert you, things don’t work, and you get overwhelmed.

For the past eight years, I’ve been an entrepreneur. I’d never call it easy, but I call it rewarding. The process of becoming a full-time entrepreneur, learning the skills necessary to grow a team, earn hundreds of clients, and make my own living has taught me so much.

Today, I identify as a content hacker. I take online content and create it in a way that directly leads to bottom line revenue and growth, like growth hacking but with content. Content marketing is the new marketing, for today and tomorrow’s entrepreneur — it provides value to your end user and puts you where they’re already searching for answers. So, I’m a college dropout who taught myself everything simply as I went! I got out there and put in the work. Today, my methodologies in content marketing have been the sole means of growth for my agency, Express Writers — and millions of dollars in revenue.

As I go into my eighth year of entrepreneurship, with hundreds of people hired and fired, countless failures, lessons and letdowns, incredible wins and moments where it all became worth it, and millions of dollars in revenue… what are the top factors that have contributed to my entrepreneurial success?

3 Lessons that Equal Entrepreneurial Success

Here are my top three lessons from 8 years of entrepreneurship. They might not be what you think.

1. Quit Chasing Shiny Objects

If you’re chasing shiny object after shiny object, and you have serious FOMO about the things you want to do, STOP right now. Focus on one goal, and do everything in your power to achieve it. Then focus on another, and achieve that. Think in terms of single goals. And make these goals big—the bigger the better! It’s better to shoot for the stars and land on the moon than shoot for the hills and land back in the weeds.

Here’s an example of a big hairy goal: grow my business to seven figures in 12 months, or build an industry-leading course in 8 months. The how and the path will get clearer when you know and focus on one goal and what it takes to get there.

2. Getting Up After Failure is the Key to Success

Don’t expect everything for nothing. Put in the work before you reap the results. After your hard work is done, expect to do more hard work. Get up after you fail. Don’t dwell on your failures; dwell on what you’ve learned from them.

Your three best friends in success are Self-Discipline, Hard Work and Perseverance. This means not letting a failure stop you. Get back up and try again!

3. People Aren’t Unicorns

I hate to break it to you…but all humans make mistakes. It’s just a human thing. So, never put your faith in a single human. This means both your clients AND best team leader. Be ready and anticipate change, hold your people accountable no matter what, never blindly treat someone like a unicorn, a cash cow–ditch all that thinking now. It’s up to YOU and no one else to see your success through! So, make sure you consistently put in the effort, know what’s going on, and never sit by and let someone else do everything.

Exciting Announcement

This spring, I have two HUGE launches I’m super excited about (this means a few 12-hour days and late nights, but it will totally be worth it!).

I’m about to launch a new personal brand this spring, which I’m super excited about. I can’t wait to reveal it.

We’re also about to unveil a whole new site soon for my agency brand, Express Writers.

Stay tuned!

As I end… Here’s to each and every one of you, and many years of business success and happiness for you, too! 🥂

– Julia

funnels are dying

Facebook Ad ROA Has Plummeted From 11.88x to .66x (The Ad Strategist’s Latest Report)

If you’ve been following the Write Blog at all in the past few months, you know how I feel about anti-customer sales funnels. 

For example:

Now when I say anti-customer sales funnels – I mean a very specific type of “funnel.”

You know these very well. They’re the ones that start out with a Facebook ad, featuring an “expert” sitting in a flashy Lamborghini, or ostensibly walking around and showing you his pool and/or house in some exotic location, promising you with eagerness that his genius online money-making methods can make you millions of dollars, too — and when you click, you end up watching a pushy webinar and you’re funneled into a timed-out sales sequence page connected to a hard sales pitch via email that goes on for days on end.

It’s the opposite of valuable, relevant content marketing that serves the audience.

Well, times are ‘a changing.

Sales funnels may be dying, and we have proof. You may have heard of Amanda Bond (A.K.A. The Ad Strategist). (I sat down with her in a recent episode of The Write Podcast. She’s a marketer I really respect.)

Amanda isn’t just a commanding online presence – she has the chops to back it up. She has personally served over 73 million ad impressions on Facebook, and her ads have generated over $10 million in revenue. She recently published an incredible report full of so much gold, I had to share it with you all, here on The Write Blog. It’s called The Real Reason Facebook Ads Have Stopped Working.

This report speaks to me not just because of the staggering results inside (more on those coming up). Amanda has a mantra after my own heart, which she eloquently brings up in her disclaimer at the beginning of the piece.

“No one wants to attack their own industry. No business owner wants to ‘bite the hand that feeds them.’ But this level of corruption is wrecking people’s lives. Good people’s lives. And it’s time you heard the truth from someone on the inside.”

This is just the beginning of a fantastic report that is full of MAJOR takeaways for any marketer.

One of the biggest findings in her report? Facebook ad ROA has gone from 11.88x to .66x, in just two years. Amanda estimates that the total return on ad spend (ROAS) in 2016 was 11.88x. That means whatever you spent on ads, you got back 11-12 times over. In 2018, that number has plummeted to 0.66x.

Let’s take a look.

The interruptive sales funnel may be dying, and we have proof. More on the death of anti-customer #marketing featuring @TheAdStrategist and @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet

why sales funnels are dying

Facebook Ad ROA Has Plummeted From 11.88x to .66x: 3 Major Takeaways from the Latest Facebook Ad Study

1. Facebook Ad Funnels (and Funnels in General) Aren’t Working Anymore… But It’s Not Your Fault

According to Amanda, Facebook ads used to work like gangbusters. The years 2014-2016 were a heyday if you wanted to create profitable ads.

Today, that scenario is a distant memory. Amanda estimates that the total return on ad spend (ROAS) in 2016 was 11.88x. That means whatever you spent on ads, you got back 11-12 times over.

'No one wants to attack their own industry. But this level of corruption is wrecking people’s lives. Good people’s lives. And it’s time you heard the truth from someone on the inside.' - @TheAdStrategist #facebook #salesfunnels Click To Tweet

In 2018, that number has plummeted to 0.66x.

screenshot of 0.66x return on ad spend

Why that huge plunge? The initial success of FB ads was built on a broken system, to begin with.

Internet marketing was exploding, and a key subgroup was at the helm, shaping the way people approach ads to this day. Amanda calls this “The Rise of Bro-Marketing.”

screenshot of section of blog "the rise of bro-marketing"

“A digital marketing subculture dominated by money-hungry, funnel-hacking, win-at-all-costs business owners. A business ethos that’s publicly client-centric, but privately egocentric.”

These types of people were not just pioneers in the Facebook ad industry, but also some of the loudest. They built sleazy lead generation tactics and funnel hacking, and swore by the mentality of “sales first, clients second.”

screenshot of bro marketing tactics section

An industry built on these principles was sure to fall at some point…

Especially as the market became saturated and people started wising up to the aggressive ad funnel game. That leads us to our next major takeaway:

2. Self-Centered, Seller-First Marketing (Bro-Marketing) and Sales Funnels Are Dying

Of course, bro-marketing tactics and “force-driven funnels” are both dying, as Amanda reveals in her study. These are the main reasons she mentions:

  • Bro-marketers compete on volume. That means they’re ultra-focused on getting people into their sales funnel, whether they’re quality leads or not. That ALSO means 99% of those leads fall out of the bottom of the funnel.
  • To turn a profit using this system, you have to keep generating more and more leads just to get to the one or two that eventually stick and make a purchase.
  • And THAT is how bro-marketers normalized abysmally low conversion rates – as low as 1-2% – which are unsustainable for most people.

Amanda puts it like this:screenshot of quote "they're paying for one hundred (expensive) leads and only ever converting one of them"

“They’re paying for one hundred (expensive) leads and only ever converting one of them.”

HOWEVER, bro-marketers trick people into buying into this type of marketing by using their own vanity metrics to create a false sense of security, i.e. “YOU CAN GET THESE RESULTS, TOO.” But, the truth is, the results are a sham.

What I love here is how Amanda explains you are NOT a bad marketer if you bought into this. As she says, the ad funnel industry was built on these principles, and “we’re all drinking from the same polluted pond.”

If you think #Facebook ad funnels (and funnels in general) still work, you should read @JuliaEMcCoy's summary of the Facebook ads report published by @TheAdStrategist ASAP. Click To Tweet

The saddest part:

screenshot of quote “Standard funnels (the vehicles designed to generate sales) are often the very thing keeping people from purchasing.”

“Standard funnels (the vehicles designed to generate sales) are often the very thing keeping people from purchasing.”

This screenshot of slimy funnel ads drives that point home. (Are these types of ads the newest form of the cliché “used car salesman”?)

screenshot of slimy funnel ads

3. The Secret to Profitable FB Ads: Connect, Commit, Close

So, what’s the opposite of manipulative funnels and sleazy sales tactics?

As Amanda says in her study, it’s putting the customer first. (And that’s something I am totally behind.)

In particular, what she teaches is a 3-step process: Connect, Commit, Close.

  • Connect with your audience by giving them value and leadership. Win their trust and attention. Warm them up naturally so they want to commit. (This is also the foundation of content marketing – no coincidence!)
  • You’ve connected, and your warm audience is engaged and/or demonstrating a desire to commit. At this point, you invite them to invest while empowering them to make the best decision possible.
  • Leads who make it to the next stage are hot. It’s time to close by overcoming objections, educating, and selling smartly.

Say “No” to Funnels and “Yes” to Your Customer’s Needs

If you haven’t read Amanda Bond’s study in full yet, go do that right now. It’s THAT good. (Also, go follow her, @TheAdStrategist, and don’t forget to check out my interview with her on The Write Podcast!)

She has really summed up a huge movement in the marketing industry right now:

The sales funnel mentality is failing to serve anyone, anymore.

Consumers these days are too smart to be dragged along sales assembly lines. We have to treat them like the intelligent, human buyers they are, NOT like wallets or numbers in our selling machines.

The sales funnel mentality is failing to serve anyone, anymore. This and more takeaways from @JuliaEMcCoy's breakdown of @TheAdStrategist's #Facebook ads report. Click To Tweet

It’s not just about ethics, either. It’s about improving your engagement and profits, too, which is a win-win for everyone. But don’t just take my word for it…

Why Content Marketing Is a Huge Win for Marketers Today 

From this report, the overall takeaway is clear: Modern marketing that works is customer-centric, not sales-centric. That applies to ALL your marketing – which is why content marketing, in particular, is a winner.

First of all, it seamlessly fits alongside a customer-centric, funnel-free ads strategy, like what Amanda teaches. It meets your customer at their point of need, offers them value, guidance, and information, and builds trust. Put those elements together, and it adds up to profitable end results.

Market research backs that up, too. A recent forecast says the main reason for the industry’s growth is because content marketing offers “lower costs than traditional advertising and an increased conversion rate.”

Over and over, we have found that to be truer than true. Content marketing is the customer-centric marketing of today, and it’s here to stay.

At Express Writers, where we use content marketing exclusively to earn organic traffic and leads, we see conversions from hot inbound leads happen in two days to two weeks on average. These high-quality leads net us four-figure sales regularly – pretty amazing, right? 

Here’s a screenshot of our Google Analytics across one month of 2018. On average, we’re seeing upwards of 3,000 visitors/day from our organic traffic rankings.

The majority of EW’s traffic and leads come in through organic search, thanks to content marketing.

Incredible things happen when you put your customer front and center. (Express Writers is living proof of that.) No matter what type of marketing you’re talking about, that’s a huge takeaway for the future.

work life balance

Work-Life Balance Strategies: What 24 Marketing Experts Say About Work-Life Balance

We often glorify the idea of non-stop hustling.

We see these images of influencers on social media who all seem to have it all put together, at the peak of their success while grinding 24/7.

And we, too, try to find ways to become productive every single day, hoping to reach that point where we become satisfyingly successful.

No wonder that the average productivity rate for every American worker has gone all the way up to 400% since 1950.

It’s not even a surprise that the average American works for 44 hours per week — that’s more than eight hours per day. Crazy, isn’t it?

You may already know this, but then again, overworking isn’t the key to success. And continuing to do so means damaging your health, relationships, and your self-worth.

So, why not ditch the hustle and focus on achieving a better work-life balance?

We know. It sounds easy, but hard to do especially when you love your job.

That’s why we’ve asked the marketing experts about their own work-life balance strategies. We hope these points will inspire you to find your own balance.

work life balance guide

Work-Life Balance Strategies: What 24 Marketing Experts Say About Work-Life Balance

Thinking work-life balance is impossible to do? Read what the marketing pros do, and you’ll find the best tips that may work for you.

1. Mark Schaefer

“I’m probably at a different stage in my life than other readers.

I’m in my 50s. At this point, I do what I love. There really is not much difference between work and home because I choose to do things that bring me joy, so there really is no struggle.

Of course, you always run into bumps in the road. But you just have to recognize that as a normal part of life and keep moving ahead.”

'There really is not much difference between work and home, because I choose to do things that bring me joy, so there really is no struggle.' @markwschaefer on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Mark Schaefer is a globally recognized social media expert, speaker, executive branding coach, marketing strategist, podcaster and writer. He’s the Executive Director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, blogger of {grow}, and author of six marketing books including the best-selling “The Content Code” and “The Tao of Twitter.” Listen to his appearance on The Write Podcast.

2. Andy Crestodina

“Go to bed. It sounds simple. But it’s very powerful. If you can get to bed and fall asleep 90 minutes sooner, you can wake up that much earlier and use that time for something far more important than whatever you were going to watch on Netflix at 10:30 PM.

Imagine what would happen to your content, your brand, your knowledge, your network.

Here’s a quick list of things you could do with that time over the next year:

  • Write a book
  • Launch a video series
  • Write 50 guest posts
  • Becoming a columnist for a major publication

Or even crush a non-marketing goal…

  • Have six-pack abs
  • Learn to speak Italian

What are the main differences between high and low performers?

It’s not knowledge. Most people know HOW to do the things on that list. The difference is willpower, persistence and focus.

So, get to bed! Then get up at 4:30 AM every day for two months no matter what. Then you will have formed the habit and it will come automatically.

Use the time to invest in yourself. 99% of you will not take this advice. The other 1% will be so successful, I almost feel bad for their competitors.”

'Go to bed. It sounds simple. But it's very powerful. If you can get to bed and fall asleep 90 minutes sooner, you can wake up that much earlier and use that time for something far more important...' @crestodina on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Andy Crestodina is the co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Orbit Media, an award-winning 38-person web design and development firm in Chicago. He’s also a top-rated marketing speaker and the author of “Content Chemistry.” Andy guest hosted our #ContentWritingChat not too long ago.

3. Glen Gilmore

“For the last two years, I’ve spent more time out of the country than in the country on consultations, speaking engagements, and brand ambassadorships. Whether I’m at home or on the road, I always do my best to work in a moment for meditation, a healthy breakfast, and a half-hour walk.

Even a few pages of a good book a night helps. And though I always work on long flights, I do indulge in a movie or two.

And when it’s time with family, it’s time away from looking at a phone for anything that’s non-emergent.

And, just as I always have a long list of work-related projects to complete, I keep an equally long list of personal projects and goals to accomplish. I work at advancing them both.”

'Whether I'm at home or on the road, I always do my best to work in a moment for meditation, a healthy breakfast, and a half-hour walk.' @glengilmore on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Glen Gilmore is a Forbes Top 20 “Social Media Influencer” who provides Digital Marketing strategy and training to some of the Fortune 500 companies like Amazon, Huawei, and Verizon. He’s also a practicing lawyer and author of “Social Media Law for Business.”

4. Ryan Robinson

“For me, work-life balance is a constant game of course correction.

I’m rarely in perfect sync between work and personal life for long intervals of time. However, over the years I’ve pushed myself to regularly zoom out and take a look at whether work or fun are getting too much of my attention – and identify which one needs more attention.

Some weeks, I force myself to only work 20 to 30 hours and enjoy going on a mid-week hike to clear my head and reset my priorities when things are getting a little stressful.

Yet during other weeks if I’m preparing for a course launch or recording a lot of interviews for my podcast, it can easily turn into 50 to 60 hours of staring at a screen. That’s draining and unsustainable for me.

So, what I’ve really come to learn, is that work-life balance (at least for me) is more about being hyper-aware of my mental state, and feeling empowered to take corrective action to avoid burning out when I need to.

My advice is to always thoughtfully plan your week out ahead of time, so that you first schedule blocks of time for the most important activities – like getting physical activity every day, going on date nights with your significant other, or putting the kids to bed.

Work should fit in around the greater purpose of your life, but have the mental flexibility to anticipate that there will be times when work will rightfully command more attention than usual. Do your best to plan ahead for it, and then make up for it with time to recharge afterwards.”

'My advice is to always thoughtfully plan your week out ahead of time, so that you first schedule blocks of time for the most important activities.' @theryanrobinson on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Ryan Robinson is a content marketing consultant for the world’s top entrepreneurs and startups. He also teaches over 250,000 monthly readers how to start a blog and build a profitable side business on his blog, ryrob.com.

5. Lee Odden

“As the CEO and face of our company that is active in the industry, my personal expectations of work-life balance are very different than those for one of my team members.

While I’m essentially ‘on’ 24/7 through engagement with a network that is global, staff, clients, conferences and requests for interviews and quotes like this one, I do find ways to keep myself sane, aka ‘balanced’.

  • I do work at work. I set goals for the tasks I want to complete for the day and stay until they are done. I do my best not to bring work home. Things do come up where I will need to log in, but only for a few minutes. This motivates me to be more productive and time at home is family time.
  • Vacation is virtually work-free. When I go on vacation, I work very hard to stay offline (except for Instagram of course). This requires advanced planning as well and has been very beneficial for getting refreshed.
  • I’m practical about setting goals and also expectations with others so I’m not saying yes to everything and drowning out my personal time with overcommitments. I also use software to manage goals, planning, progress and to optimize my time. Goals, planning and optimizing for effectiveness are key to make work balanced so you can enjoy more of the rest of your life.”
'I'm practical about setting goals and also expectations with others so I'm not saying yes to everything and drowning out my personal time with overcommitments.' @leeodden on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Lee Odden is the CEO and co-founder of TopRank Marketing, an internationally recognized digital marketing agency based in Minneapolis.  He’s also a keynote speaker for digital marketing industry conferences, consultant, and author of the book “Optimize.”

6. Erika Heald

“It can be easy to get so caught up in your work – especially when it’s work you love – that you don’t take time for yourself. That’s why I have a few work-life balance routines I’ve followed for myself for the past five or six years:

  • I get to bed early enough to have 8 hours of sleep at least 5 nights per week.
  • I have a membership to Burke-Williams and make time once per month to have a massage and spend some time relaxing and refocusing.
  • I use a Passion Planner to keep myself focused on making steady progress towards my personal and professional goals.
  • I don’t work when I’m on vacation. Period.

These may seem like small things, but for me, they add up, over the course of time, as being the foundations of having a great work-life balance.”

'I don't work when I'm on vacation. Period.' @sferika on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Erika Heald is a strategic marketing consultant with 20 years B2B and B2C marketing experience. She hosts #ContentChat, a weekly Twitter chat program for content creators and marketers. She also blogs about gluten-free baking at Erika’s Gluten-free Kitchen. She guest hosted on #ContentWritingChat.

7. Joe Williams

“I’ve struggled for years in getting the right work-life balance, but I’ve learned you need to decide on a time each day to finish work and be satisfied with what you have done. That way, you can transition into social life and be truly present.

If only it was that easy? Well, perhaps it can be. Here are my top two productivity hacks to help: The first is using the zero-based calendar approach and the second is combining it with the Pomodoro technique.

The idea with the zero-based calendar is to leave zero time unallocated in your working day because Parkinson’s law states that ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.’

And as you may know, the Pomodoro technique is about doing short bursts of work and taking periodic breaks. I am aiming for 12 Pomodoros per day and rather than focusing on specific ‘todos’ in my zero-based calendar, I allocate 4 Pomodoros at a time for an area of work that I need to do.

It’s surprising how doing these two hacks allows me to finish work on time and feel satisfied with my day’s effort – and, of course, be truly present for my family and friends in the evening.”

'Here are my top two productivity hacks to help: The first is using the zero-based calendar approach and the second is combining it with the Pomodoro technique.' @joetheseo on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Joe Williams is the founder of Tribe SEO, which offers the search engine optimization (SEO) training course, “Learn SEO Fast.”

8. Michele Linn

“While this may seem counterintuitive, I’m a big believer in not multitasking (unless I’m folding laundry or taking a walk while on a conference call).

After many frenzied years, I realized I’m the best version of myself when I’m completely present with whatever I’m doing – be it working or hanging out with my kids.

I used to set aside early mornings to be ‘in the zone’ time, but that proved difficult. Too often I’d be crabby during our morning family routine because my head was stuck on work.

Now, I deliberately set aside time at least once or twice a week to work ‘heads down’ in a coffee shop or (my favorite) the library for 3-4 hours. I break out my noise-canceling headphones, set my 37-minute Pomodoro timer (yes, it’s random) and get cracking on deliberate todos.

I get a lot of work done in a short amount of time, I feel productive and I have no pestering guilt when I’m not working in the evening.

And when plans go off the rails as they often do? I do my best to take it in stride and find that next pocket of heads-down time.”

'After many frenzied years, I realized I’m the best version of myself when I’m completely present with whatever I’m doing – be it working or hanging out with my kids.' @michelelinn on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Michele Linn is the co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Mantis Research, a consultancy dedicated to helping brands create original research. She’s the former Head of Editorial of Content Marketing Institute. Check out the recap of her appearance on our Twitter chat, #ContentWritingChat.

9. Shane Barker

“Most professionals find it extremely challenging to strike a healthy work-life balance. Today’s digital age powered with smartphones and numerous work applications has made it even more difficult. With work constantly popping up in your inbox, you often feel like you never really left office.

I believe that both professional and personal life is essential to our overall well-being. And the only way to strike a perfect balance between the two is to set boundaries for when you’re available for work and when you’re not.

Setting a boundary for your personal time goes far beyond disconnecting yourself from work emails or calls while off work. You also need to learn to leave work at work. Don’t look at it on your phone and don’t carry it in your head.

Thankfully, I have a great team working remotely from different parts of the world to handle work commitments when I am not around, and vice-versa. At Content Solutions, we ensure that all of our team members get enough personal time to rejuvenate.

I hope the United States succeeds in achieving the kind of work-life balance that countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark already enjoy.”

'Setting a boundary for your personal time goes far beyond disconnecting yourself from work emails or calls while off work. You also need to learn to leave work at work. ' @shane_barker on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Shane Barker is a digital marketing consultant specializing in sales funnels, targeted traffic and website conversions. He’s has worked with Fortune 500 companies and is a regular contributor in top publications such as Inc.com and Forbes.

10. Gerry Moran

“When you are passionate and having fun with building and running a world-class social media and content marketing organization at Cognizant, then it’s easier to achieve a work-life balance.

But, when you get down to it, I use a weekly action plan focusing on ‘above-the-line’ priorities to move us closer to our goals – then I empower my team to get it done on their terms.”

'I use a weekly action plan focusing on 'above-the-line' priorities to move us closer to our goals – then I empower my team to get it done on their terms.' @gerrymoran on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Gerry Moran is the Global Head of Social Media at Cognizant with 30 years of diverse experience on social media, B2B and B2C marketing, and entrepreneurship. He has also trained small businesses, students, and teams from companies like HBO and IKEA.

11. Heidi Cohen

“Achieving work-life balance starts with deciding what you want to accomplish for the next year, 3 years and 5 years across work, personal relationships, romance, family, health and spiritual needs.

At different phases of your life, this mix may vary. Further outside events may cause you to change the balance for reasons beyond your control.

I find that the key to work-life balance is to always find time to do something for you no matter how small. This me-time helps you to refocus and allows you to regain your calm.”

'I find that the key to work-life balance is to always find time to do something for you no matter how small. This me-time helps you to refocus and allows you to regain your calm.' @heidicohen on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Heidi Cohen is the president of Riverside Marketing Strategies and the Chief Content Officer of Heidi Cohen’s Actionable Marketing Guide where she shares her marketing insights on social media, content marketing and mobile. She also conducts marketing classes in universities and speaks at marketing conferences and events across the US and other countries.

12. Henneke Duistermaat

“I am not sure I am the right person to comment on work-life balance but I have been surprised at how much work I can do in just a few hours a day.

A few years ago I was hurt in a car crash and I had to radically cut the hours I work to between 2-4 hours a day. I learned to focus on what’s essential to keep my business running (my blog to grow my audience and teaching online courses to generate an income).

Being forced to cut down my hours made me realize how much time I was wasting before.

Nowadays, when I’m at my desk, I know what I want to achieve and I spend very little time on social media. Instead of cramming more work into my day, I prioritize what I want to do in the hours I can work.”

'Instead of cramming more work into my day, I prioritize what I want to do in the hours I can work.' @henneked on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Henneke Duistermaat is a copywriter and business writing coach featured in top publications such as Forbes and Inc.com. She has guest blogged for KISSmetrics, SmartBlogger, Copyblogger and CopyHackers. She’s also the author of the highly-recommended business writing books, “Blog to Win Business” and “How to Write Seductive Web Copy.” Listen to her share writing tips on The Write Podcast.

13. Carla Johnson

“Balancing the priorities of both work and life is simple, but not easy. Simple, because it’s an idea we believe in and want to make happen. But hard because it comes down to the little by little choices we make.

I find it easier to manage when I set my priorities for both from the big-picture perspective and then work down to what that means tactically.

For example, if I say I want to spend more time with my family, does that mean more long-weekends away? Or does it mean having three meals a week together as a family? If I say I want to be more successful in my career, does that mean generate more revenue for my business? Write another book?

Once I better define the big picture, then I’m able to prioritize what things matter most. And then I do my best to focus on those. It’s focus that I struggle with the most, but it’s what helps me keep balance.”

'I find it easier to manage when I set my priorities for both from the big-picture perspective and then work down to what that means tactically.' @carlajohnson on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Carla Johnson is a world-renowned storyteller, speaker and author. She also offers training and consulting services for marketing executives and teams looking for help in creating unique branding strategies. Her latest book, “Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing”, explains content creation management in detail for businesses.

14. Brooke Sellas

“Because we’re in the social media and advertising space, notifications are a way of life for me. There’s the constant ping of an email, or the bloop of a Facebook notification, or the bleep of a conversation on Twitter. This means that I have to disconnect from my phone on the weekends or during any downtime. I do this in one of two ways.

If I don’t need my phone at all, like for personal phone calls or texts, I take a digital detox. Meaning I completely shun my phone for 24 to 48 hours. This is no easy task but going cold turkey really helps me to live in the moment with my husband and/or friends and be present with my personal life.

If I must have my phone for personal reasons, I’ll do a ‘mini’ digital detox and place my phone on airplane mode for a specific amount of time. I’ll strategically check in from time-to-time, but the notifications are kept to a minimum by doing this. Which means the distractions are also kept to a lovely 5-minute time frame as well!

On some apps, like Basecamp, I can set up my notifications to stop for certain time periods or not to send at all over the weekend. Again, it’s not an easy task and I often ‘cheat’ but overall, keeping my weekends for my family and friends (and myself!) is an important part of my work-life balance.”

'If I don’t need my phone at all, like for personal phone calls or texts, I take a digital detox. Meaning I completely shun my phone for 24 to 48 hours.' @BrookeSellas on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Brooke Sellas is the founder and CEO of B Squared Media, an award-winning social media marketing and advertising agency that’s been featured on Inc.com, IBM, Yahoo!, and Twitter. She also guest speaks at Fortune 500 companies, middle-market brands and universities.

15. Julia McCoy

As head of operations, HR and marketing at Express Writers, parent to a four-year-old, wife, teacher, and podcast host; our very own CEO, Julia McCoy, shares her own tips about work-life balance.

“First, it’s important to love what you do. I think work-life balance comes much easier if you actually enjoy waking up to your tasks every day. I do. I feel like a kid in a sandbox when I get to write books or ideate great content and lead a great team of people!

Secondly, it’s critical to take time out for yourself. Tell guilt around taking time out to shove it. You deserve and need self-care. Go out to the fanciest seafood restaurant in town once a week to treat yourself.

It’s also important to get out of your house if you constantly work there. Take work to your favorite coffee shop and enjoy your surroundings while you work.

It’s okay to treat yourself. And treating yourself could look like the gym, not just stopping for your favorite food or dessert. To me, one of the best feelings is being worn out from burning 100 calories on a treadmill!

Thirdly, say no to more opportunities if they don’t benefit your bottom-line growth and maximize your potential. Skip the FOMO in favor of JOMO (Joy of Missing Out). Stop saying yes to everything, and you’ll find you have more time for hanging out with the family, enjoying life, and breathing in-between heavy task loads.”

'Say no to more opportunities if they don't benefit your bottom-line growth and maximize your potential. Skip the FOMO in favor of JOMO (Joy of Missing Out).' @JuliaEMcCoy on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Julia McCoy is the CEO of Express Writers. She is also an author of two books — currently working on her third, teacher of two online courses, and the host of the Write Podcast.

16. David Reimherr

“Work-life balance is paramount here at Magnificent.

First things first, I make sure not to overwork our team and get us all on the same page of working hard when they are here, and to take care of themselves and spend time with their friends and family.

As for myself, and I know this sounds very unromantic, I have a task note that reminds me to reach out to my wife to schedule something to do together each week. All the success in the world means nothing without a happy home and personal life.

A couple other things I do to keep my mind in the right place is sticking to my morning routine which is a mix of light stretching, push-ups, reading my list of personal mantras, reading an excerpt from “3 Magic Words” and a gratitude meditation.

And one thing I added in about 6-9 months ago which I HIGHLY recommend is a daily 15-20 minute walk during lunch where I clear my head and pay thanks to all the wonderful things in my life. Gratitude is probably one of the only things in life you can’t do too much of!”

'And one thing I added in about 6-9 months ago which I HIGHLY recommend is a daily 15-20 minute walk during lunch where I clear my head and pay thanks to all the wonderful things in my life.' @DavidReimherr on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

David Reimherr is the founder of Magnificent, an Austin-based marketing agency that specializes in content marketing, website development, and email marketing. He also hosts a podcast series featuring the best marketing experts to talk about what’s the latest in the marketing world.

17. Jay Baer

Jay Baer of Convince & Convert Media shares something short, sweet, and to the point.

“If you like your work enough that it doesn’t feel like work, then work-life balance isn’t nearly as stressful.”

'If you like your work enough that it doesn't feel like work, then work-life balance isn't nearly as stressful.' @jaybaer on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Jay Baer is the founder of Convince & Convert, a digital strategy consulting firm that worked with mid-size and large North American companies such as Cisco and Hilton. He’s also a New York Times best-selling author, an advisor, and one of the world’s most popular speakers. Listen to his guest appearance on The Write Podcast.

18. Michael Brenner

“I manage to maintain work-life balance while working at home through a couple of tricks. I ‘go to work’ just as if I was commuting to the office. It’s just a home office and the commute is much shorter. But this allows me to really focus on being productive.

I also block off time for email each morning and afternoon to allow me to completely check out of work when my day is over. And I truly don’t respond to emails on nights and weekends unless it is truly urgent. That allows me to stay focused on my family and come back to work completely refreshed and energized.”

'I also block off time for email each morning and afternoon to allow me to completely check out of work when my day is over.' @brennermichael on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Michael Brenner is the CEO of Marketing Insider Group which worked with popular brands like Adidas, SAP, and The Guardian. He’s also a part-time CMO of the world’s first AI-powered Content Strategy Platform, Concured, a speaker, author, and marketing consultant.

19. Arnie Kuenn

“Work-life balance is something that has always been critical to our agency.

Since the day it was founded, we strived to make it a family business, but not in the way most people think. We try to make it about our employee’s families. We want them home at night and on the weekends with their families and friends.

A healthy, rested employee is good for everyone. As many of your readers know, this is not always the case in agency life and in many smaller businesses. And, we certainly have our share of crazy weeks or months. But we also offer other perks to help with work-life balance.

We allow everyone to schedule their own office hours, work remote one day per week, they can bring their dog to the office, we have a very liberal holiday schedule, and we throw lots of fun events at the office. All of this is designed to help balance office stress and allow for a better quality of life.”

'We try to make it (the agency) about our employee’s families. We want them home at night and on the weekends with their families and friends.' @arniek on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Arnie Kuenn is the founder and CEO of Vertical Measures, a digital marketing agency that worked with clients like Puma and Purdue University. He’s also an international speaker and an award-winning co-author of “Content Marketing Works: 8 Steps to Transform Your Business”.

20. Ann Handley & MarketingProfs

Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, shared with us their 2019 Marketer Happiness Report (Research conducted by Mantis Research). The report, which surveyed 1,533 marketers around the world, shares some of the most surprising findings about today’s marketers.

Some of these surprising facts include:

  • “Marketers feel they are spending too little time with friends, exercising, volunteering, and engaging in hobbies— but too much time on social media.”
  • “Most of us know what we need to accomplish day-to-day — but 43% of us find that our priorities are always or frequently based on what is in our inbox.”
  • “Fewer than one in three of us set aside time each day to be technology-free. We are often in reactive mode—responding to whatever technology throws at us. We are not giving our brains a chance to rest.”

And with these findings, the report suggests some of the following tips that can help marketers achieve the feeling of contentment and enjoyment in their jobs:

  • “Turn off your phone and close your door for at least one hour a day. Yes, doing that will be painful at times, but it will be worth it.”
  • “Let’s turn off our devices every day, and spend more time on those things we say we don’t have enough time for (practically everything!). For instance, spend time on a hobby (do you have a hobby?). Though hobbies may seem an extraneous use of time, we have long believed that making something — anything — will make us more interesting people. And marketers.”
  • “As a group, we’re not great at saying no: 26% of us don’t even think we can say no to projects. (Not surprisingly, this response is more common among marketers who have less experience and those who work for a large organization.) But, the rest of us do have a willingness and opportunity to say no… but we aren’t doing much about it. If a project does not fit your goals or priorities, why do it?”
'Let's turn off our devices every day, and spend more time on those things we say we don’t have enough time for (practically everything!)' @annhandley & @marketingprofs on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, a marketing education & training company offering training programs, online events, conferences, and supplementary free resources for marketers. She is also the author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller, “Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content.”

21. Hailley Griffis

“I’ve been working from home for three years full-time and I was part-time work from home before that. Here’s my advice:

I keep the space where I work and the space where I relax very separate. I find that unless there are strict boundaries between work and home life, I start to feel like I’m always at work and I lose the place where I can be at home and relax.

I know this can be tough, especially in smaller homes, but it’s absolutely worth it to maintain these boundaries so that places meant for relaxing, like the couch and bed, can be saved for relaxing and not become second desks.”

'I keep the space where I work and the space where I relax very separate.' @hailleymari on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Hailley Griffis is the Public Relations Director of the social media management app, Buffer. She’s also the host of Buffer’s own podcast show and MakeWorkWork.

22. Stephanie Stahl

“A work-life balance is a bit of a fairytale. It’s impossible to give equal weight to both all of the time.

As a home-office worker who travels a lot, I’ve found it’s better to try and blend work and life. Sometimes that means a mid-day trip to volunteer at school, or taking my laptop to a dance competition, or occasionally working on weekends, but it allows me to give dedicated time to my family and my job when it’s most necessary.

And let’s face it, now that my favorite grocery store (Whole Foods) delivers and Amazon can have something on my doorstep in two days or less, managing a busy schedule is a lot easier than in the early days of my career.”

'I’ve found it’s better to try and blend work and life... but it allows me to give dedicated time to my family and my job when it’s most necessary' @EditorStahl on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Stephanie Stahl is a writer, editor, and the General Manager of Content Marketing Institute, leading the brand’s event, digital, print, and e-learning operations. For more than two decades, she’s worked in various UBM business units, handling multimedia content and events.

23. Cathy McPhillips

“I like to think of it as a life balance.

We’re part of a team that values family above anything else. No matter what busy-ness might be occurring at our company, our family’s (and our own) health and happiness come first.

Being virtual, we are lucky to have flexibility, but with that comes responsibility. We’re more likely to work and challenge ourselves for a company that values us. It makes a huge difference!”

'We’re part of a team that values family above anything else. No matter what busy-ness might be occurring at our company, our family’s (and our own) health and happiness come first.' @cmcphillips on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Cathy McPhillips is Content Marketing Institute’s Vice President of Marketing. She’s recognized as Folio:’s 2014 Top Women in Media and MarTechExec’s 2018 50 Women You Need to Know in Martech.

24. Lilach Bullock

“It’s certainly not easy to find the right balance; after all these years of being an entrepreneur and actively striving to attain this balance, I still find myself at times not being able to disconnect from work.

That said, I’ve gotten much better over the years at this and in most cases, it’s because I set myself times where I simply must take time off and spend it with my family.

Another ‘trick’ is to try to work as much as possible from your home office; while it’s still work, at least you can “go home” in literally a second – all you have to do is make yourself close your computer.”

'... try to work as much as possible from your home office; while it’s still work, at least you can “go home” in literally a second - all you have to do is make yourself close your computer.' @lilachbullock on #worklifebalance Click To Tweet

Lilach Bullock is a social media and online marketing consultant, trainer, and speaker. She’s been recognized as one of Forbes’ Top 20 Women Social Media Influencers, Oracle’s Social Influencer of Europe winner, and Career Experts’ number 1 Digital Marketing Influencer. She guest hosted on Express Writer’s #ContentWritingChat.

The Key Takeaways in Work-Life Balance Strategies According to Marketing Experts

Each person is unique and no single work-life balance strategy can perfectly work for all. This is true especially for marketers who already vary when it comes to each’s work schedule, style and goals.

However, we’ve noticed a few common denominators among what the marketing pros have shared. Some of them are the following:

  • Going offline
  • Having enough sleep and exercise
  • Planning and setting goals
  • Saying “NO” to unbeneficial opportunities
  • Setting boundaries between work and life
  • Doing what you love

If you haven’t found your balance yet, you can start practicing these top strategies. These tips look simply easy if you can imagine yourself doing them. But when it comes to putting these ideas into action, it surely takes a lot of hard work and patience.

Can you already imagine an hour without your phone?

You can for sure! Maybe not now, but someday.

You can start with 10 minutes, or 30, until you can finally manage to have your hands phone-free for an hour or two. It’s just like for every goal you want to reach — the entire process takes time.

So, we hope these quotes from the best marketing experts today help you find your own balance.

Are you currently struggling to keep your work and life balanced? Or maybe we’ve missed a good work-life balance strategy that’s worth sharing to all our readers? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

marketing lifecycle ebook

content differentiation factor

How to Find Your Brand’s Unique Content Differentiation Factor and Use It to Your Advantage

Every brand has at least one unique “thing” that sets them apart.

The “it” factor.

If you’re involved in building your own brand or a business, you absolutely need to make sure you’ve identified that “one thing” that individualizes your message and your content.

That factor that differentiates you from your competitors. The one essential element everybody else is missing.

Without it, you’ll risk blending into the masses.

You’ll turn into another blip in the content sea. Seen and heard today, forgotten tomorrow. A scary, but true, reality.

So, my question for you today is:

What is your content differentiation factor in your industry?

First, let’s define.

What do I mean by “content differentiation factor?”

definition of content differentiation factor

This is a concept I teach in my Content Strategy & Marketing course and have written about in my book.

Your content differentiation factor (or CDF) is that one, unique thing – the it-factor – that separates you from the billions of other content pages on the web.

It’s the angle you present that provides a slightly different, new spin on topics your readers have seen before.

Joe Pulizzi of CMI calls this your pivot in the industry – more specifically, your content tilt. Joe talks about this concept in his book, Content Inc., which I highly recommend reading. He says:

definition of content tilt

When you have a solid differentiator, you stand out in a great way. Your voice rises to the top and gets heard. People want to hear what you have to say because it’s unique, useful, and valuable.

It’s how you not only reach your audience but reach them powerfully.

For today’s topic, let’s start by looking at a few perfect examples of brands who have it and use it to their advantage, and then get into how to find YOUR content differentiation factor.

What is YOUR standout brand content differentiation factor? Read more in this guide, with examples. #contentmarketing #CDF Click To Tweet

content differentiation factor

Two Examples of Brands Killing It With a Solid Content Differentiation Factor (CDF)

Here are two amazing brands are doing a killer job at using a CDF that aligns them to their audience.

1. Society6

First up, a brand with a solid CDF that perfectly caters to their audience – Society6.

This is essentially a printing service where you can get custom-designed items such as wall art, mugs, notebooks, t-shirts, phone cases, and even bedding, shower curtains, and furniture.

society6 and its content differentiation factor

The differentiator which sets Society6 apart from similar printing services is the artist community that serves as their foundation.

Instead of offering pre-designed patterns and templates, Society6 sources designs from independent artists all over the world who receive a cut of the profits.

society6 uses content from artists who get a portion of the profits

Their content ties into their CDF perfectly. They regularly feature original pieces from artists selling designs on Society6.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

“Message from the Sea” by Christian Schloe / Link in bio @Society6

A post shared by Society6 (@society6) on

They also have a blog with more artist features, tips for creatives selling their designs on the platform, and home décor tips using their custom-printed goods.

society6's blog for artists

Finally, Society6’s huge following and high content engagement speak to how well tapping into their content differentiation factor has played out. On Instagram alone, they have over half a million followers, and each post averages thousands of likes and comments.

society6's huge following

Society6’s unique artists are their greatest asset, and they use this CDF to reach out to both consumers who want to support small businesses as well as creators looking to support themselves with their art.

How are you differentiating yourself from others in your niche? What makes you stand out? @JuliaEMcCoy's guide talks about content differentiation factor, plus examples, and how to do it. #contentmarketing #cdf Click To Tweet

2. Taste of Home

Another brand nailing their content differentiation factor: Taste of Home.

Originally a magazine dedicated to showcasing favorite recipes from home cooks, Taste of Home now has an online presence chock-full of content catered to their readers.

For example, their website serves as an extension of their printed compilations of reader-submitted recipes. However, what sets the brand apart is the fact that only the best of the best get featured because each is tested by the Taste of Home kitchen beforehand. Every recipe comes with tips, anecdotes, or secrets from the cook who submitted it.

vintage recipes from taste of home

Taste of Home leans into their CDF online and carries over the main mission from their print magazine: “foster[ing] a strong and loyal sense of community among like-minded home cooks of all ages.”

taste of home's about page shows its content differentiation factor

user-submitted content from taste of home

Along with user-submitted recipes and food-related blog posts, Taste of Home also populates their social media feeds with eye-catching video content.

Finally, their engaged community speaks to how well Taste of Home has used their CDF to their advantage. They essentially tap into the heart and warmth of home cooking.

How to Find Your Content Differentiation Factor (and Why It’s Different from Your Unique Selling Proposition)

It’s easy to mistake your content differentiation factor for your unique selling proposition, and vice-versa.

Your unique selling proposition is NOT the same as your content differentiation factor. What makes you stand out in your industry? Click To Tweet

But, remember: They’re not one and the same.

  • Your unique selling proposition (USP) is the factor that makes your products or services better or more valuable than your competitors’.
  • Your content differentiation factor is the unique angle you present as a brand/business. It’s how you approach industry topics and write about them from your individual perspective.

In short, your CDF is more akin to your motto, your mission, or your mantra. It’s how you approach connecting to your audience. To do it, you need to present them with an angle they haven’t seen before: your angle.

Here’s how to find it:

1. Don’t Over-Focus on Your Products/Services

This great blog from Jay Baer represents the pitfalls of what can happen when brands only focus on their USP, or on what their products/services do.

unique selling proposition is different from content differentiation factor

The key mistake, like Jay says, is when brands forget to be unique and only focus on the selling proposition:

“When marketers lean on unique selling propositions (USPs), they position their products as effective – but forgettable – solutions.”

Sure, your product is good and effective… but so what? Why should your audience care?

In contrast, your content differentiation factor is the thing that makes you memorable. It gives your audience a reason to listen to you because it’s about how you help them differently than the other guys.

How you help them differently – that’s key.

How do you help your customers differently than all the other brands out there? That's your Content Differentiation Factor. #contentmarketing #cdf Click To Tweet

2. Consider Your Audience

You can’t stop at uniqueness for your CDF. It’s not enough to try to be different in your industry. Why?

Different doesn’t necessarily equal better. It doesn’t always represent a better choice for the customer.

Instead, frame your CDF in light of who you’re helping, what they need from you, and how you fulfill that.

To reference one of our above examples, Society6 does this by honing in on their artist community. Their mission is to empower independent artists and give them a platform for their work.

That very mission is reflected in their content:

society6's cdf continues to make them stand out

Aligning your CDF with your customers and readers is a great way to make sure it’s effective.

3. Ask Yourself How You Help Them BETTER

Maybe you help your audience in a very similar way to your competitors. If that’s the case, ask yourself:

  • How do you help them BETTER?
  • What unique angle of their problem do you solve?
  • What makes that angle possible?
    • Where does your industry expertise come from?
    • What piece of your background helps you help them?

4. Think About the Benefits

Again, stay audience-focused when coming up with your content differentiation factor. What benefits do you offer them when they interact with your brand, read your content, and buy your products/services?

It doesn’t have to be complicated, either.

5. Remember Your WHY

Finally, it always helps to think back to your original “why” – why you got into your business or industry in the first place.

  • What do you hope to do for your customers that no one else can?
  • How do you want to change the world?
  • What positive impact do you want to have on customers in your industry?
Remember your why. This & more on how to differentiate yourself in your industry via @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet

Discover Your Content Differentiation Factor and Get Heard for Profitable Results

It’s hard to stand out online.

That’s not to say it’s impossible. With your CDF firmly in hand, you’ll be well on your way to positioning yourself advantageously online. That way, your content will get read and shared by the right people, and your brand/business can continue to grow.

Just remember that it starts and ends with your audience, and how you impact their lives for the better.

Now get out there and differentiate yourself! And if you need some help with your homepage copy, content differentiation factor homepage slogan, or the blog you’re struggling to produce every week, we can help. Send us a quick line here.

selling skills

5 Selling Skills That Actually Work Today, & Sales Tactics That Need to Die (Quit Cold Pitching!)

Old, archaic sales tactics are dying.

Nobody wants to be “sold to” anymore.

…If you’re in sales, you might think that’s bad news.

But, depending on how you look at it, it can also be incredibly good news.

Why?

Because maybe sales still has a chance – but only if you switch up your tactics.

You have to think about the modern buyer, who is exhausted from constant exposure to ads and brands vying for their dollars.

And, according to the Aspect Consumer Experience Index, which analyzed consumer behavior in 2015, the new generation of buyers “will not tolerate waiting in lines, or repeating their problem to five different people or being treated like a number:”

image with text that says millennials, mobile tech, and social media are changing customer service

In short, your buyers of today are craving something different from the sales experience. And if you don’t hand-deliver on this process, you could risk turning them off. Keep reading for a case-study backed guide on this topic.

Today's buyers are craving something different from the sales experience. Learn what that is in @JuliaEMcCoy's new guide on #sellingskills #contentmarketing #salesmanship Click To Tweet

selling skills guide

What Happened When I Brought the Topic of Selling Skills Up on LinkedIn

Case in point:

I recently posted about this very topic on LinkedIn after getting one too many sales pitches. The response was big. The post hit 4,000 views organically inside 21 hours!

(See the LinkedIn post here.)

linkedin screenshot

There were tons of great comments on the post chiming in, but one stuck out to me, in particular, from Denis Zekic:

screenshot of comments on julia mccoy's linkedin post about ineffective selling tactics

“I call it ‘Unsocial Selling.’” – Denis Zekic

Denis wrote a post and coined a word about this very phenomenon.

Here’s how he describes “unsocial selling:”

“You receive a connection request with no obvious explanation why. You ponder for a second or two should you accept, and then the left side of your brain kicks in and takes over the other side that deals with logic. In haste, you press the ‘accept’ button and it’s all over in a split second.

But then…

Within minutes, if you are unlucky enough – maybe even seconds, you get the sales pitch. Sometimes 3,000 words and over, sometimes shorter. Shrewd operators tend to send snappy ones. To keep you enticed, interested, eager to find more – they take the lion approach. Under the cover of social noise; they observe and stalk their prey without the threat of detection. They sit and watch, and then just before sunrise when you least expect – they launch an attack.”

That’s the thing about these sales pitches – they make you feel like you’re swimming alone in the ocean of social media, circled by bloodthirsty sharks who are ready to scent any tiny weakness. My blog just two weeks ago, Don’t Treat Your Buyers Like It’s 1999: Why The Blood-Thirsty Sales Era is Reaching Tipping Point & Why Content Marketing Works, explores this very phenomenon.

image of a man in business suit with a shark head

Why, oh why, would you ever want to make your buyer feel this way? What logic tells you that this is the way to get a sale?

It makes zero sense, and I’m not alone in the frustration I feel about it.

Why rely on these tactics when there are better selling skills you could be using, ones that directly appeal to the modern buyer?!

The fact that I still see cold calling, cold messaging, and other slimy, rude tactics in the sales world helps me come to one conclusion.

The selling landscape today needs to change.

Are you making these critical sales mistakes? Find out what these top no-nos are, and what you SHOULD be doing for more inbound sales via @JuliaEMcCoy's new guide on #sellingskills #contentmarketing #salesmanship Click To Tweet

3 Traditional Selling Skills and Sales Tactics That Need to Die

To speak to today’s buyers on their level, we need to update our sales skills.

For example, inbound marketing works like crazy – so why aren’t more salespeople using content?

(I previously proved the power of content in our Blogging ROI Case Study. 99% of our clients have found us through our search rankings and content.)

infographic of express writers' blogging roi for may 2018

In comparison, cold calling and traditional, less warm selling strategies are downright weak and ineffective.

Here are the top three sales tactics that, simply put, need to die.

1. Cold Calling

According to a fairly recent research report from Baylor University’s Keller Center, only about 1% of cold calls convert to appointments being made with the prospect.

That’s right – it’s not even a sales conversion. The research breaks down this way:

  • Over two weeks, 50 sales agents made a total of 6,264 cold calls over the phone.
  • Of those calls, only 28% were answered (1,774).
  • Out of that 28%, the sales agents were only able to set up 19 appointments with prospects and get 11 referrals.
  • 1,612 of the call recipients (nearly 91%) flat out weren’t interested.

Other research reports echo those findings. For instance, did you know 9 out of 10 B2B decision-makers at the highest levels don’t respond to cold outreach?

imaging showing that 90% of b2b decision-makers don't respond to cold outreach

Cold calling does NOT work anymore.

2. Cold Messaging

As we demonstrated with my LinkedIn example, cold messaging on a social network can really backfire. If you friend or follow someone and then immediately send them a cold sales pitch, it’s pretty much identical to cold calling.

Read: Your prospect will just get annoyed with you because it’s pretty obvious you established the connection because you want their money.

Not cool.

According to research, only about 1% of cold calls convert to appointments. That's not even a sales conversion. @JuliaEMcCoy shares what you can do instead. #sellingskills #contentmarketing #salesmanship Click To Tweet

3. Overselling

Here’s how Google defines overselling:

screenshot of the definition of the word "overselling"

  • “sell more of (something) that exists or can be delivered”
  • “exaggerate the merits of”

Needless to say, if you’re overselling, you’re essentially lying to your potential customer. You’re overpromising or exaggerating – A.K.A. engaging in the number one slimy sales tactic of all time.

It’s dishonest and plays with the customer’s emotions. Yuck.

Overselling is a big no-no. But how do you know you're doing it? @JuliaEMcCoy shares her insights in her new guide on #sellingskills #contentmarketing #salesmanship Click To Tweet

According to Kevin Daum for Inc., a couple telltale signs you’re overselling include:

  • If the prospect starts arguing with you about your points angrily.
  • If the prospect physically backs away from you.
  • If the prospect makes excuses.

Don’t make your potential customer this uncomfortable. Instead, make them feel confident, taken care of, and informed.

How should you do it? With the following modern selling skills.

5 Essential Selling Skills to Appeal to the Modern Buyer

How can we improve our selling skills so they appeal to today’s modern buyer?

Don’t forget: Inbound leads cost 61% less than outbound leads.

graph comparing the average cost of inbound vs. outbound lead

Inbound marketing beats outbound marketing.

All. Day. Long.

The path we need to follow is clear: We should take inspiration from inbound marketing to fuel sales.

Coupled with that, a HubSpot survey describes exactly what customers are looking for when they engage with sales. They want to interact with sales reps who:

  • Listen to their needs
  • Aren’t pushy
  • Provide relevant information
  • Respond promptly to questions and communication

graph showing that listening to customers' needs is the number one way to improve the sales experience

Unsurprisingly, a prospect or customer gets all of that when they interact with inbound marketing. It’s about them.

How can a sales rep make the user experience positive? According to buyers, listen to them. This and more are covered in @JuliaEMcCoy's guide on #sellingskills #contentmarketing #salesmanship Click To Tweet

These are the type of selling skills you need in this modern sales world. Let’s take a closer look.

1. Using Inbound Content

You can and should incorporate inbound content into your sales pitches.

This AWESOME report from Influence & Co. describes how you can create sales enablement content, align sales and marketing, and essentially super-power sales with the magic touch of content.

Here are a few reasons why content can help boost sales:

  • Highly relevant content is a resource and trust-builder that does the work of phone calls, emails, and other touchpoints.
  • Prospects can share content with other decision-makers to get buy-in.
  • Tying content to sales helps you demonstrate exactly how it has helped you reach your goals, which can be vital for nabbing a content marketing budget increase.

image showing how marketing and sales can be aligned

The report also recommends a working relationship between sales and marketing. For instance, sales should be part of the content creation process so you have a good idea of the content strategy and when it would be best to leverage content during the sales process.

This is how Influence & Co. puts it in the report:

“Marketing and sales alignment is an ongoing process that continuously transfers valuable insights back and forth between each team. Your marketing team uses its audience insights to create content and passes it to sales. Sales leverages that content to enable its conversations with prospects and passes the insights from those interactions back to marketing to use to create even better sales enablement content.”

2. Listening!

Listening is a key selling skill many salespeople are lacking. Instead of listening to their prospect’s needs, they plow straight through to a sales pitch, talk for eons about the company, or give the prospect irrelevant information (like how a product worked for some other person or organization).

Just look at the disconnect between what a prospect wants to hear about versus what a salesperson plans to cover during the first conversation:

graph showing sales and customer disconnect during the first call

We see an obvious pattern emerging here.

Salespeople want to discuss “what my company is trying to achieve,” “the reason my company needs to make the purchase,” “my company’s overall goals,” and more.

My company, my company, my company…

I cannot begin to describe how wrong this angle is. It’s no wonder the buyer checks out during the conversation. Why should they care about YOUR company?

They want to know facts and details relevant to THEM: the price of the product/service, how it works, etc.

Of course, the only way to give them the exact information they’re looking for is to listen carefully to what they say.

Salespeople want to discuss 'what my company is trying to achieve,' 'my company’s overall goals,' and more. What's wrong with this angle? @JuliaEMcCoy shares her insights on #sellingskills #contentmarketing #salesmanship Click To Tweet

3. Providing Information, Knowledge, or Solutions That Are Relevant

Instead of just selling, think about sales in terms of helping the customer make a buying decision. You’re there to be an information source for them so the decision becomes easier.

A big way to help them is to provide relevant information – ideally, solutions to their problem. (This is when relevant content resources really come in handy.)

4. Avoiding the Pushy Pitch

The pushy pitch directly ties into overselling.

If you’re pushing, you’re going too far. You’re imposing your will on the prospect – and all the while, you’re a stranger to them!

the word "pushy" emphasized in a word cloud

The most common words used to describe salespeople. Image via HubSpot

It’s no wonder a lot of prospects will push back when you start getting pushy.

It is, in a word, rude. It’s also the best way to live up to the slimy salesperson stereotype.

5. Responding in a Timely Manner

This is a solid fact: The buyer doesn’t care about your sales timeline. They’re worried about their timeline.

What does this mean?

It means that the sales skill of “responding in a timely manner” should entirely be based on the buyer’s definition of “timely.” They want to know that you’ll work with them, but they don’t want to be pushed if they’re not ready to close.

(Again, here’s another perfect place to use inbound content to your advantage!)

What’s the Key Takeaway for Today’s Modern Selling Skills?

Modern buyers won’t respond to outdated sales skills. You need to meet them at their level if you want to get results.

Today, the modern buyer responds best to an inbound sales strategy. It aligns with content marketing to provide value and information right when the buyer needs it.

For example, in all seven years here at Express Writers, our BEST sales technique has been to offer a free 1:1 consultation, where we simply listen to our customer’s needs and offer a solution with knowledge and confidence.

We don’t push.

And that confidence? It comes IF you have knowledge in what you’re doing.

In short, you can advise, help, and inform your buyer – NOT irritate, annoy, insult, or mislead them.

And that’s a big deal.

(If you don’t have the knowledge, we provide content marketing training. Check out the Content Strategy & Marketing Course to take your expertise to the next level. And if you need content? Well, our team of 95+ content experts can handle that without blinking. See our pricing here.)