This might very well be the second most personal blog post I wrote in the 46 years I’m walking around on this earth. Lately I increasingly become irritated when I read some of the things ‘thought leaders’ write and the marketing content that gets ‘produced’. And it shows. Not just on this blog but elsewhere too.
It’s not the first time that happens but it keeps growing and that made me think. I’ve been writing about digital technology, marketing and business since 1996. That’s 17 years.
In that time I wrote 24 papers on all possible marketing and business topics, sometimes in my native language, Dutch, and sometimes in English. Some are even still online after all these years I noticed today.
I also wrote 18 books on digital marketing and business: from SEO and web analytics to marketing ROI, content management and social media. You will never know I wrote those books. For starters, most of them are in Dutch and, secondly, most of them I did as a ghostwriter.
You don’t want to know how many articles I wrote or how many blog posts for various magazines, websites and blogs. Whereas I was able to count the number of papers and books I wrote, starting to count the articles is impossible. Just to give you an idea: during the years I launched and had the first website on digital marketing in my native country, I ‘produced’ at least 2,000 articles for it. During that same period (six years) I wrote for 6 monthly magazines, had a website on search engine marketing and one on content management systems. This stopped in 2009, the year I decided to start writing in English, launched several blogs in English, started guest blogging, and ended up writing even more than before.
My mother often tells me I wrote the essays of school friends at age 10 so I guess I always was a real human content machine, addicted to writing and increasingly to sharing the stuff I figured out, knew and learned as I started doing new things, landing new gigs and thinking (lots of thinking). Now you’re the content machine.
In all those years I had one enemy in capitalizing on all that content: myself. And there were – at least – two reasons. First of all, I utterly suck at personal branding. I know how to build the personal brands of others (one of the reasons I let myself seduce to ghostwrite – and a lot) but I just can’t seem to do it for myself. Sure, some people know my face but just to give you an idea: it took me years to start on Twitter under my own name. I started with various Twitter accounts for all the blogs I had or managed. In fact, I have less followers and “Klout” (to show you how utterly flawed that system and the whole concept of social influence is) than many of my other Twitter accounts.
I even had discussions with some people I met online or during the events I organized in 2011 and 2012 about that personal branding aspect, that seems so hard for me but so necessary these days to get a message across and awareness around the stuff you have the urge to share or say. “Just do it”. “Why would I?”. “Because it matters”. Remember, Bryan Eisenberg and Olivier Blanchard? Remember, Jim Sterne, how you said the header of that one blog had to show my face instead of some stupid stock photo and I couldn’t do it? When you’re passionate about what you do and try to change the mindset of an audience – in this case marketers – branding and perception simply matter more than opinion, especially when that opinion goes against the established “truths” that are spread each second. I’m not saying I hold the truth. I’m saying I notice that the hype keeps growing, and it increasingly becomes harder – for me – to passionately share and try to get marketers and execs thinking by analyzing and writing. But, again, that’s my fault and no one asked me to try to make ‘marketing’ a better place and activity, anyway. My lack of personal branding will and my “preacher” syndrome are my problem, not that of anyone else.
The second reason I didn’t capitalize on all that content is that I didn’t want to be perceived as a writer or blogger. Kind of ridiculous, isn’t it? Writing and blogging (and often as a ghostwriter to “hide” it) and then expecting you’re not perceived as a writer or blogger? Who was I kidding? Perception is everything today, another evolution that has been carefully cultivated in an era of noise and avalanches of opinions and content. But that’s how it is, we all have to live with it and who am I to judge what everyone puts out?
The fact that I’m what used to be known as a 360° marketer didn’t make it easier either. People need to be able to label you, just as many need to be able to label the marketing reality, using silos, new buzzwords, old models and patterns they know. It doesn’t have to be too confusing or complex. Easy does it, even if easy often means ineffective. But, again, my problem such as many other reasons why I didn’t capitalize on what I did. As a friend says: wrong time – as in too soon – and wrong place. And also: why captalize on something that’s about – often different – opinions in the first place? Content as a commodity? Views and experiences as just “content”?
And then there is the question of the true self, that organizations should start uncovering too in a global and integrated – or better: connected – world. The core of what they and their connected ecosystem, including more stakeholders than ever before, stand for instead of just waving the flags of authenticity and turning the opportunities they have to become really customer-centric and connected in a fundamental way – once again – into the tactics and techniques they have always known and the certainties of a past they’re clinging to: the ‘control’ and broadcast mentality, this time hiding behind labels as content marketing and social media marketing. Or is broadcasting OK, after all or again? We’re all broadcasting. I know: I use all those labels such as content marketing too. Silly but we need to speak some common language. I guess.
The value of content
So, I’ve come to this point where I start thinking “what else is there to write about?”. And what’s the good of writing about it? Who needs the repetition of the same messages I’ve been trying to get across for years? Who needs opinions where the “Six reasons why xyz…” stuff rules. Snacks. Is there something I can add that makes sense for the folks that are “following” me? Note that this isn’t a case against content nor blogging. It’s a personal question and a dissapointment about the evolutions I see happening. I believe in blogging. A lot. I believe in sharing. A lot. There are plenty of things to write about, there always are. But what else is there to write about that I didn’t repeat over and over again, and you probably never even read because there is so much. Be “excellent”? Be “awesome”? That would be about me and a bit more narcissistic and parasocial than I – hope – I am. Provide more of what I think you want or need? What else is there? New generations? Is it my “place” and role to provide “content” I hope is not too crappy? These question gets louder and louder as I increasingly notice we’re still talking about the same stuff we talked about 10 years ago. OK, some tactics changed and some new evolutions are added but in the end it boils down to the eternal repetition of the same. If that eternal same would be good, that might be OK. But more often than not it isn’t. I see the same mistakes made over and over again and the same politics, risk-aversity, resistance to change and disconnect with the evolutions in the “real world” as usual. No opinions, real-life stuff or self-reflection. Guruism over value. Content. A lot.
Perturbances in the ecosystem, which a connected organization that’s in tune with the world is, most of the time end up in returning to the – false – equilibrium state, once the perturbating factors have been integrated, without ever touching the core. A core that’s human and resistant to change by definition in most cases. It’s the story of the bad marriage that never ends because the unknown state of evolution towards genuine symbiosis with the self and the real world freightens more than the unfortunate state of – false – equilibrium during times of perturbation. The sad thing is that this state of perturbation – as we know it today – will remain until the left-out atomic elements of the ecosystem – the external stakeholders – become part of the eocystem in a holistic way (holistic and atomistic are not opposites).
This may sound arrogant to you but as far as I’m concerned and can see, and despite all the new evolutions in society, technology and human behavior, there has been close to zero innovative thinking in at least the 5 last years. Or am I pessimistic and misinformed? Then let me rephraze: there is very little really fundamental work, both in thought and practice, when it comes down to marketing and even business. There are new terms and models but they look the same as those we had before. When digging through a bunch of external hard disks and all the content they contain from over the past ten years last Sunday, I was shocked to see how the stuff I wrote – and many of my Belgian friends I talked with during my publishing years – over ten years ago, is the same stuff I have to read every single day. It opens eyes.
I’m not going to bore you any longer but here’s the thing: despite a life-long love for that strange thing called “content”, I see it’s still undervalued by marketers and is turned back into business as usual. They don’t get the holistic and customer-centric approach and I haven’t been able to sell it enough. My mistake (and no one asked me to, in the end). Finally, regarding that life-long motto: customer-centricity beyond the customer; most changes happen in theory, believe me. And then the eternal lack of real, genuine and human co-creation. And it’s not just about content and customer-centricity.
So, here I am. I have all that content and all those blogs and social accounts. I still have a mass of texts in my native language, dating back from before 2005, that I could translate and serve as entirely new, without anyone even noticing. I still have hours of videos I could put online and write about from great people like Olivier Blanchard, Gerry McGovern, Bryan Eisenberg, Lee Odden, Kristin Zhivago, Jamie Notter, Joost de Valk, Brian Solis, Trey Pennington (R.I.P.), Dela Quist, Dave Chaffey, Richard Sedley, Gianfranco Cuzziol, Christopher Barger and so many more I hired to speak at events I organized (mainly to share smart marketing inspiration and ‘content’ through the mouths of others, imagine that). Smart people that get it (why else hire them). Some of these events I sold (or gave away, really) and others I have no clue what I’ll do with them. And then there are literally hundreds of “ghostwritten” blog posts and a bunch of books I could rewrite and put up as new.
Looking for value
But you know what? I don’t see the value anymore of sharing it and trying to have people look beyond the obvious and the buzzwords (and maybe it’s arrogant to believe that’s my mission) and the content snacks. There is so much noise that little space remains to think and cut the crap. There is too much focus on the next big shiny thing, the jargon invented to look at the theory and models instead of the human complexity and simplicity at the same time. I have a customer to work for (and for whom I do a blog post now and then) and want to focus on making them succeed – and maybe others that are really open for change because it’s in their DNA, even if there are always exciting objections to overcome in the human business. But, at least, they know where the value is: not in selling jargon to C-level executives and having buy-in for models (why I advise you to not sell content marketing as such internally, talk about what matters and it’s never an umbrella term).
Update also check this post by Brian Solis , the headline says “Getting Back to Basics: Why Brands are Getting it Wrong in Social Media” but the URL says “Brands are still broadcasting”, hell, yes, they are, and even more now than ever.
The value is in making the connected customer experience, with the customer in the broadest possible sense being each atomic particle in the ecosystem, the essence of everything they do. You can’t sell that vision, at least I can’t. The conditions to make that happen need to be present. The will to change and promise to execute are two elements I want to get from future customers, even if this means there are no future customers. Without having customer-centricity, innovation and even the hunger for change in its DNA, an organization fails in long term marketing and customer success. Now more than ever. That’s why I consider myself lucky to have a customer – and always having had customers – in the B2B ICT services industry where the roots of digital innovation, collaborative ways of working and refreshing integrated views are often more present (at least, in the niches I tend to work in). Have you noticed by the way that virtually all often cited examples of a fully integrated social and content approach, around the customer, concern organizations in the ICT services industry? You know the names.
I’m increasingly bored about the eternal reinventing of the wheel by new generations of people who know what personal branding is and have no problem with it but often don’t realize they just repackage the same things over and over again or focus on the eyeballs instead of the “authentic” (oops, buzzword and to be debated) thought. I’m also increasingly bored and frustrated to meet organizations and managers not understanding the role of content, relevance and customer-centricity. And I’m increasingly frustrated by the self-serving invention of new ideas that in the end mainly turn into temporary cash cows everyone wants to milk until the next thing comes around and we turn our attention to that next cash cow, making distrust regarding our – and my – core activity, communications and marketing even higher than it is today (I guess you know how the C-suite and the internal teams at companies look at marketing in most cases). I’m not saying this is the case for all marketers, you know I hate generalization, but at least allow me to make a point and confront you with what you know is true.
I have the feeling I’m back at square one, with a good customer but also the need for space. As already briefly touched, I’m increasingly interested in the ways organization function and – more importantly – don’t function. The human element, the effective element, the collaboration beyond the fancy words, the eternal love for the human psyche, the ecosystem. I guess it’s not a coincidence as the symbiotic organization with a focus on people is what really matters in a world that has changed beyond what we realize and certainly beyond marketing, buzzwords and tactics (“How to xyz”). In fact, marketing is useless if these organizational core issues I explained before (change, ecosystems, will, the corporate self, the collective,…) are not tackled. No, I’m not talking about social business, responsive organizations or agile whatever.
Because, guess what, we’re beyond adaptive and agile and responsive. We’re in pro-gile, pro-daptive and pro-sponsive. Ecosystems that want to survive on the short term should continue to stick to the equilibrium that seems to work but is utterly disconnected with the reality. Ecosystems that want to survive and thrive on the long term need to be more than responsive and agile to adapt. They need to pro-dapt. They need to have pro-gile innovation rooted in their DNA. It’s inevitable in a more than real-time global economy. Transforming for today is not enough anymore. But it’ll take organizations a few more years to –maybe – get there. Change, the ecosystem, the connected values. Should I write about that? To be frustrated again in ten years? Nah, don’t think so. Furthermore, writing the future of business is a collaborative effort or no effort as the symbiotic organizational self is composed of but also trumps the individual self, even if the individual atomic self can change the ecosystem and alter the organizational DNA. Technology is disruptive. We need people that are disruptive – as I believe I am – and organizations that embrace disruption. Not for the sake of it. For the state of ending the status quo and the bad marriage or counterproductive false equilibrium seeking.
I’m giving it a break. The human content machine is empty and up for sales. Is that an aswer, a solution to the urge I always felt to “change”? I guess not, it’s merely another preaching effort in the desert by saying I’m leaving the desert – at least for a while. A desert that’s too filled with noise and making contemplation harder, unless you’re able to do it (I can’t think when it’s too loud) or shut off. And does it even matter? Or am I in the wrong place? There’s not much water in a desert. Maybe it’s an answer at the same time. To create the space and hope you find it too. We’ll see. Time for disruption. And, anyway, it’s all about you now: you create.
The communities remain for those who want them. The Twitter accounts will tweet. The rest we’ll see. What better way to say it’s been enough for now than in a blog post? If there’s something valuable out there it’ll find me. I hope. But that’s not how it happens. You know what I mean. I hope. Think, find your answers and embrace change. And prove that you can grasp all the great opportunities out there if you stop resisting change and hiding for the reality of business.
Happy blogging and marketing.
PS: it must be irony that I decided to fill this blog post with images of myself – for once. Good memories.