This is like the foundational tenet that we hear so much, so often, that we run the risk of taking if for grated that we actually know what it means and are delivering it. It came as a shock to me personally when I realised that actually the truth is that I hadn’t been doing this so well. Not well at all in fact.
It’s not the first time this has happened in my life around something I really care about. One of my most significant ‘growing up’ lessons (and just to be clear, this did not occur in adolescence - I was already well and truly a "grown-up", at least in age) was realising the difference between logically understanding a concept, a life truth, a principle, and actually doing it. For me, it was all about accountability. I knew what accountability meant logically, and if fact, I loved it. It made so much sense to me, really resonated, and I’m sure I preached to more than one other person more than once about all I understood about accountability. But then one day when my Iife had reached rock bottom, I realised that for all my understanding and resonance with the principle, I’d done bugger-all of it myself. Understanding is only one half of the equation.
I think this is a common pitfall and a reason people get stuck in so many areas of life. Some principles or high-level concepts are so familiar to us, so drummed in, so ubiquitous to us that we actually confuse our knowledge and understanding of them with actual implementation. It’s kind of like a marriage, or family that we see every day. We know we love them, we know this so confidently and unquestioningly that we may forget to explicitly communicate that, or worse still, treat them in a way that communicates the opposite message.
In the same vein, how many times have you heard that the first step to content marketing is to produce work, or content, that’s top quality? That it needs to be of a high standard to stand out from the crowd, from all the other content. That not only does it need to be high quality, but something that your audience really wants, loves, needs. That it’s actually useful to them and solves a problem for them. You hear it all.the.time. right?
Well I can only truly speak for myself, but I know that not only have I heard that so much, I also really, really care about it and believe it underpins connection, authenticity, brand and all marketing. I love that stuff, it’s my thing … But I had begun to take that I knew what it meant for granted so much that I believed I was doing it and was therefore ready to move on to the next thing. I’d begun to see quality as a check box. Tick, yep, done that, got that, what next?
Ok so for a start, any lesson that’s worth learning tends to be an ongoing practice, not a one-off check box. Take getting fit as an example. Clearly understanding the importance of exercising is not the same as sticking to a fitness regime. Sure, you have to understand its benefits first in order to be motivated and committed to doing the work, but understanding is not enough. You then have to do the work - you have to go for that run, Crossfit, yoga, whatever it is. But then there’s more - you have to keep doing it. You have to incorporate that principle of fitness into your life not just in resonating thoughts, but in action.
Producing high quality content therefore is not a point you get to and from which you move to another stage. Sure, once you’re producing high quality content, you have options and things you can do with it, but high quality is not a static thing - it’s something you have to continually strive for. Something you have to practice on an ongoing basis and, I don’t think it’s unfair to say, something that you have to keep improving on.
I didn’t know that I’d got off track and I certainly didn’t expect an epiphany in this form, but I got it just the same. I realised, sadly and painfully enough, that I had ticked the check box for quality and moved on to tactics. I hate this! I bellow on about it all the time to other people - DON’T DO THIS!!! Especially in marketing - I’m passionate about this: unless you have found your reason, your why, and are producing work of a high standard that people actually care about, then all of your marketing efforts will come off as tacky, slimy tactics that will get you nowhere.
What I didn’t realise is that quality and tactics can both be represented on a sliding scale, from really, really poor, to really, really good. And that even though I wasn’t all the way down the poor end on either, I wasn’t as far as I could be towards the truly excellent end. Which is actually fine, but what’s not fine is that I subconsciously ticked the box and therefore wasn’t going to move. My blog posts were ok, they were getting some attention and I wasn’t embarrassed about them. My website was/is ok - I mean I have one, it’s up, which is better than nothing, but I wasn’t proud of it, am not proud of it. It can be a LOT better. But because I checked the box, I had begun to see the ‘just ship it’ principle as a tactic. I believed I had enough quality to just publish and that publishing regularly, shipping it, and pushing for exposure was the focus.
‘Just ship it’ isn’t a bad principle, nor the most sinister tactic if that’s how you’re using it. There’s a lot worse you can do on the crappy tactics scale, trust me! But because I thought I’d got the quality thing down alright, I was putting a higher emphasis on a lower principle. The quality will do, just get it out there. And when you do that, you always have to come back and take stock and re-callibrate.
Quality and making stuff that actually helps people has to be part of your process. For quality, you have to have a target you’re striving for, something you want to get to one day, and you have to find ways to take steps towards achieving that or becoming that TODAY. And tomorrow, and the next day. It’s the accountability thing again - you actually have to DO it, not just understand it. And making stuff that actually helps people is a part of that quality. Quality’s not just how well you write, or how lovely your layout and images are - sure, they’re important, no doubt and I for one am, at least from today(!), committed to constantly improving these aspects, but a big piece of quality is how well you serve people. If your audience just wants a beautiful reading experience, then understand that and aim to nail it. If they want things they can take away and put into action right away, well you have to do that too. Sometimes they want both, but knowing that is key to producing quality.
Making stuff and writing about things that are interesting and which actually help people isn’t really for you to decide either. I’m interested in marketing, could talk all day about it, but I know that the people I really want to help and connect with and make something useful for don’t like marketing. No they don’t. They find it overwhelming, they find it sleazy and frankly they’d rather have nothing to do with it. What they care about is being a doula and helping women birth naturally and mother gently, or making natural skincare products that don’t harm their families or the environment, or selling enough of their dreamcatchers so they can justify doing it all day long because they love it so much. Marketing to them is a necessary evil and I want to be the one who can show them that they can do it effectively in a way that feels right to them - sans sleaze! Whether or not I can pull that off depends on how well I understand them and the effort I put into producing things that represent real value and real quality to them.
Significant pieces in my epiphany:
1. Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield
This book arrived in the post on Tuesday.
It’s been on my ‘to read’ list for ages, but my husband recently ordered it for me and it arrived Tuesday.
I read it that night. It confirmed a lot of what my soul already knew.
2. On Wednesday I read a Content Marketing Institute article about growing the Canva blog.
I don’t usually pay too much attention to articles like these because I find that they can often be more overwhelming than helpful, but not this one.
Again, it seemed to tap into something I was already thinking about and was particularly piqued after reading ‘Turning Pro’ the night before.
It put rock solid fundamentals before any sort of tactic. I found it confronting, but undeniable.
Read the article here.
3. After reading this article, I went to the Canva blog - I wanted to see what he was talking about.
I regularly use Canva, but I’d never read their blog. Now I know I’ll never miss one.
There’s a line in the CM Institute’s article that asks, ‘What do you want your blog to be when it grows up?'
This is it. I want my blog to be like the Canva blog - excellent quality, far and away better than the usual, it’s long, long form writing, there’s lots if images - it’s beautiful in every way, not just superficially.
Have a look at the Canva Design School blog here.
4. Ice to the Brim
On Thursday I went to this site and completely fell in love with it.
This is what I want my website to be when it grows up.
It’s beautiful, it’s purposeful, it’s personal, in fact it oozes personality and it makes me feel like I’m at home - I want that at JamTree.
Go see what I'm talking about and meet Chase Reeves here.
5. Fizzle’s 9 Stages of Small Business
I’m going to use this as a roadmap to go back and spend the time to get these steps right.
My foundation wasn’t sure enough so I had to have an epiphany about that, but it’s ok because now I can do it properly.
If you haven't heard of Fizzle, I highly recommend you change that here.
Today came the culmination of an unwanted epiphany that started on Tuesday, so today I draw a line in the sand and share with you the places I want to go and the things that I am going to do differently to get there. I don’t know if this post will represent any of the quality and usefulness I’ve been talking about, but if nothing else, I’ve shared a point in the road I’m on and I hope that in some small way, it gives you the courage to reconsider, reevaluate and perhaps take comfort in the fact that just because your road is wiggly and windy with a few wrong turns, you can still learn and you can still turn it into a positive. Keep moving forward, keep striving for quality, keep seeking to understand both yourself and those you want to serve.
I don't know how useful or high-quality this post really was today, but I promise you this - I am on a mission to walk the talk and learn everything I can so that I can be the producer of quality, helpful content that helps you do the thing you love.
Photo credit: 'You Can't Depend on Your Eyes' by Brian Talbot via Flickr