When creating content, too many companies fall for the expertise trap. Whether it's a video, a podcast, or a written blog post, it all winds up being about how much the designer knows about designing, the doctor knows about the body, or the woodworker knows about wood. The question is, does anyone really care?
Don't get me wrong -- educating your client base can be a great tactic -- but there's a big difference between teaching your audience things they care about and teaching them everything you know.
For example, if you're an art gallery catering to the middle class (i.e. not super wealthy collectors), your content would probably better serve you by focusing on how a customer should choose art for their home -- lessons in color theory and stories of interior design -- than by focusing on the frontier of modern art or details of art history, things that only collectors and academics care about.
Next time you're creating content, think about your audience. Are they mothers? Are they business owners? Are they cogs in a corporate machine looking for a way out? Instead of ladening your content with jargon, industry references, and minutiae, it's a lot more effective to create content that people will enjoy reading because it's interesting and resonates on an emotional level.
Craftsmanship. It's one of those words you don't hear much in a digital environment. And yet, craftsmanship is just as vital today as it was a thousand years ago. It's analog and pastoral connotations are merely that -- connotations. The pursuit of excellence is just as fitting for the cabinet maker as it is for those of us who spend our working hours in front of a monitor.
Craftsmanship takes practice, observation, and patience. The road is long and paved with repetition, repetition, and more repetition. But, the end result is a product you can stand behind -- something you can point to with pride and say, "I did that."
When you've reached that point, people won't say "Oh, that's neat." or "Hmmm, interesting." The only thing they'll be able to say is "Damn. Good job." And that's the sort of thing that'll put a grin on your face when a lot of other things won't.
About two hours north of our office, in the Chattahoochee National Forest, lies Springer Mountain, a common starting location for Appalachian Trail hikers. At Springer Mountain, hopes are high: a return to nature is afoot. But, it's not uncommon for hope to be spoiled by the unforseen. Many hikers give up only a week into the 6 month journey. The conservancy reports:
"They give up for all kinds of reasons. Starting too early, heavy rains and snow, a schedule that is too ambitious and leads to injury, unexpectedly rugged terrain, overspending a meager budget, poor physical shape, ill-fitting and overly heavy equipment, or a lack of humor—all contribute to an ill-fated expedition."
I could take this paragraph and slice it into a million different metaphors. For clients, for agencies, for life. But what really struck me in the long list of reasons people give up is near the end -- a lack of humor.
Prospering in the face of dreary circumstances requires more than simply skill, or even determination. Sometimes the shit hits the fan and the only thing that will help you move forward is laughing about it.
So if work really has you down, if you don't have any work at all, or if you're just going through hard times, don't give up. Go look for your sense of humor and it will lead the way out.
Companies always want to be cool, but few companies actually are. Most are predictable and boring.
If you're predictable and boring, and you ask an agency for cool, what you'll get instead is slick.
Cool requires only one thing: Be unique and do interesting things. Companies that are cool embrace their quirks. They don't find the latest trend and hop in front of it like a dude desperate to lead the parade. They add to the culture and remix it; they don't exploit it. The more you learn about a cool company, the more interesting they are.
Slick is different than cool. Slick looks like cool from across the room, but as soon as you talk to it, you realize it's just a veneer. Slick companies are the farthest thing from interesting. They're more concerned with appearing cool than being cool. It's a short term gimmick, and it never works for long. Once the veneer cracks, you're back to square one. Like Mitt Romney saying, "Who Let The Dogs Out", your customers can smell the inauthenticity.
So if you're a boring company looking to become cool. Don't expect that a slick flash website or cutting edge social media campaign will do the trick. You'll be slick, but definitely not cool.
Ideas, like tea, need time to steep. Beneath the surface of the water, or the surface of your mind, magical things are happening. Unfortunately, all too often people try to generate great ideas with sheer brute intellect. They suppose if they think about it long enough and hard enough, the answer will come. But that's rarely the case.
In James Webb Young's tried, true, and excellent little book A Technique for Producing Ideas, he describes a five step process for creating ideas. Steeping, or digestion in Young's metaphor, is the third step, and one of the most frequently overlooked. You see, some things the subconscious mind can process better than the conscious mind. However, our subconscious is rarely able, if ever, to engage with something while it's still attracting our surface-level attention. So, we need to learn to let things go.
This isn't to say that good ideas appear out of thin air; ideas can only be processed subconsciously after you've done the hard work of research and exhausted the conscious mind by gathering facts and digging frantically. But when you're tired, worn, and ready to call it a day, stop beating your head against the wall. Walk alway. Sleep on it. Do anything to get your mind off the problem. That's when your subconscious will work its magic, and the right idea will come to you when you least expect it.