By Joe Pulizzi published March 2, 2016

Finding Your Sweet Spot – An Extreme Content Focus [Exercise]

extreme-content-focus-cover

If you’ve been reading my latest posts here at Content Marketing Institute, you’ll see a trend around differentiation. Specifically, either start telling a different story or don’t bother at all.

Related to this, Gary Vaynerchuk made a statement in the first minute of his DailyVee 015 show that’s worth breaking apart:

The No. 1 thing that you can do is … you need to decide what’s the one thing that you are better at than anything else … and you need to become the extreme version of that.

What’s the 1 thing that you are better at than anything else? Become the extreme version of that via @garyvee Click To Tweet

Generalist content doesn’t cut through the clutter, and yet most of the content marketing examples we see are just that – general. Worse yet, they are general and not helpful. In that case, it would be better not to create any content at all.

Easier said than done

While as a content marketer you may believe that is true, choosing a content area is anything but simple. Just look at any decent-sized enterprise. Each product manager wants a focus on the problems around his or her product. The content person rises to the challenge by creating content around multiple themes and campaigns. The content person is charged with creating content for more product managers.

Wonderful, now all the product areas have some “content.” But what happens? We can’t possibly deliver the best content in the world if we are filling content holes in every part of the enterprise. This is like working in your email inbox the entire day. By the end of the day, you realize how unproductive you’ve been.

You must choose. Go back up to Gary’s quote and look at the word “decide.” You must choose. It doesn’t just happen. As Michael Porter so eloquently says, “Strategy is choice. Strategy means saying no to certain kinds of things.”

Strategy is choice. Strategy means saying no to certain kinds of things says @MichaelEPorter via @cmicontent Click To Tweet

You have to make the hard choice. You need to make a decision on where to put your eggs. Where can you make meaningful impact?

Finding extreme – knowledge and skill

In my latest book Content Inc. I talk about the importance of identifying your sweet spot. For a larger enterprise, the sweet spot is the intersection of an exceptional knowledge or unique skill area and a defined customer pain point.

Knowledge-customer-pain-points

What do we mean by knowledge? Knowledge is information acquired about a particular subject through study or observation.

Joseph Kalinowski, our creative director at Content Marketing Institute, has knowledge (by the definition above) in a number of areas including the band Kiss, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Star Wars action figures, and Jack Daniels. For any one of these topics, Joseph would destroy the average person with his knowledge in that area.

In addition to his knowledge areas, Joseph is also a skilled graphic designer. Skill is defined by dictionary.com as “the ability to do something well” or an area in which a person has “expertise or competence.” Simply put, skill is knowledge used properly.

If Joseph wanted to start an audience-building content marketing strategy, he would start by listing these areas (even before looking at the target audience’s needs). It’s better to look at your own strengths first – where you have a unique story to tell – instead of identifying the customer pain points and then seeing if you have anything to offer.

Long story short – you have to find your extreme area of possible authority.

Where to start – an exercise

Begin by listing those areas in which your organization has a skill set or knowledge area in something that’s larger or better than the average organization. This is brainstorming time – more is better at this point.

Knowledge areas                                                            

1.

2.

3.

4.

Special skills

1.

2.

3.

4.

If you completed the exercise correctly, you should have significantly more knowledge areas than skill areas. Here’s how this exercise might look for agricultural equipment manufacturer John Deere.

Knowledge areas

  • Agricultural technology
  • How to profit as a farmer
  • Supply chain/logistics in agriculture
  • Energy costs and farming
  • How a small business farmer can grow new revenue streams

Special skills

  • Manufacturing farming equipment
  • Design simulation specific to agriculture
  • International trade relations

After you’ve completed this little exercise, rate your knowledge areas and special skills with your team. Put a 5 next to the ones where you are “off the charts” with your skill or expertise. Put a 1 next to those that really don’t differentiate your organization from any other.

Identify customer pain point

Great. You now have lots of knowledge and skill areas. I hope you identified a few you never thought of. Now, you need to find the customer pain point to finish determining the sweet spot.

First, you have to identify the customer.

For this to work, the focus needs to be on one audience persona. If you are a business-to-business marketer, you may have seven to nine decision-maker, influencer, and gatekeeper audiences that you are targeting with your communications or which are part of the buying process. Again, you need to choose.

In this stage, most marketers don’t want to choose. They believe if they choose, someone will be left out (either an audience member or a product manager who needs content). But if you don’t choose, your content never becomes specific or relevant enough to matter … to get attention … to build trust.

Altair Engineering, a B2B simulation-software company, created a content brand called Enlighten, specifically designed for mechanical engineers who use simulation software. Once Altair chose the audience, it identified a key problem – product weight reduction.

In manufacturing, the weight of a product is critical to its production costs, its shipping cost, and the possibility that the product will be specified into a larger product set. In other words, weight matters to mechanical engineers.

Altair chose to become the problem-solver around product weight reduction, and includes this mission statement on the site:

The enlighten website has been created by Altair ProductDesign and strives to be the world’s leading source for useful, informative and inspirational content concerned with minimizing the weight of products across industry. Enlighten is intended to help inform and educate on the current thinking and trends in the market and highlight advances in lightweight design techniques, materials technology and manufacturing processes.

Not bad, right?

Choosing the pain

Again, get back with your team and do the exercise … list critical pain points that your audience has. You already know many of them because you’ve been marketing to them, but now is the time to talk to your salespeople, your customer service folks, your engineers, and product people.

Once your list is complete, rate each from 1 (snoozer) to 5 (critical problem that affects the livelihood of the audience).

You have to choose. This is what Zig Ziglar calls being “meaningful specific.” If you are “meaningful broad,” you’ll never be relevant enough. You have to decide on the customer pain point where you can help and make a real impact on your customer (or future customer).

Don't become a wandering generality. Be a meaningful specific says @TheZigZiglar via @cmicontent Click To Tweet

How do you know?

If you are struggling to know whether you are specific enough, just ask yourself the following question, “If we delivered compelling and relevant content on a consistent basis to our target audience around this topic over a long period, could we become the leading informational providers in the world around that topic?”

If the answer is no, you are not specific enough. Period.

Connecting to create your sweet spot

Now, match the areas which have a 5 – from your knowledge and skill side – with the customer pain points that have a 5. After going through this exercise, you’ll uncover a few areas that you can seriously run with. You’ll also probably discover that what you had been creating content around is not even close to being “meaningful specific.”

Understanding the model

Why is this model important? Your business might have a knowledge area that may not be relevant to customers. For example, a number of General Electric executives are knowledgeable in business strategy. GE’s internal training programs are some of the most famous ever developed by a corporation. That said, that knowledge may not translate into solving a GE customer’s issue or pain point. So GE’s knowledge of business strategy doesn’t necessarily align with the targeted customer’s pain point and doesn’t work for the sweet spot model.

Doug Kessler, co-founder of content agency Velocity Partners, believes the sweet spot is three-dimensional. It’s important to know the exact size, shape, and depth. As he details:

  • Size – Your sweet spot should be a focused area, with as tight a focus as possible without leaving stuff out.
  • Shape – You need to know exactly where your expertise reaches and where it stops. Just because you have knowledge in certain areas doesn’t mean that authority naturally extends to other areas.
  • Depth – Your expertise goes as deeply as it needs to go; you don’t have to pretend it goes deeper.

Going the distance

Whether you are just starting out with a content marketing strategy for a new audience or retrofitting an old strategy with new thinking, I believe this exercise is worth doing. As my partner-in-crime Robert Rose says at the end of every This Old Marketing podcast, “It’s your story to tell … tell it well.” Find a story that’s worth telling … your unique story that is meaningful to a particular audience. Be extreme!

For regular insight, practical advice, and helpful exercises from Joe Pulizzi and other experts in content marketing, subscribe to the free daily or weekly CMI blog.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi considers himself the poster boy for content marketing. Founder of the Content Marketing Institute , Joe evangelizes content marketing around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books, including best-selling Epic Content Marketing (McGraw-Hill) and the new book, Content Inc. Check out Joe's two podcasts. If you want to get on his good side, send him something orange. For more on Joe, check out his personal site or follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • http://www.shadeofinfo.com/blog/ Andrew M. Warner

    Hey Joe,

    Really great stuff here.

    The whole thing seems easier said than done but I’m definitely willing to try it. I love that line, skill is knowledge used properly.

    That is so true.

    – Andrew

  • Jennee

    Hi Joe,

    I really enjoyed listening about the Altair story during your podcast and was glad to see it discussed in the post.

    I’m just starting out as a freelance writer and have been banging my head against the wall (metaphorically speaking of course), trying to figure out what my sweet spot is for services and niche topics.

    I don’t consider myself an expert in anything just yet but as I continue to learn, I’ll make note of what excites me the most – most of my career ‘successes’ have been a result of my Jill of All Trades skillset but I keep running into the theme of specification.

    This article is super insightful and I”ll be referring to this regularly!

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Jennee…you are right, it’s not easy and it may take time to find it. The changes in the internet only benefit us to become a master of one over a jack of all trades. Good luck!

  • http://www.bigskywords.com/ Greg Strandberg

    Good ideas.

  • rogercparker

    Dear Joe:
    This is incredible! Your Joe Kalinowski illustration and John Deere list really clarified things. You’ve created a manifesto, without using the term.

    Only thing I would have done differently is to emphasize your line, “…you have to find extreme area of possible authority” and make it Tweetable. Wonderful opposition.

    BTW, I’m traveling from NH to NYC next week, and have purchased a fresh copy of Content Inc., to reread–since I hate rereading books I’ve already underlined, asterisked, and cluttered with notes.
    Roger

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      You’re too kind my friend. Thanks so much! Glad you found it useful.

  • Lana Pavkovic

    This is great stuff. Thank you Joe!

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Lana…hope to see you at Content Marketing World this year.