By James Scherer published June 24, 2014

3 Strategies to Stand Out From the Content Creation Crowd

regular lightbulbs with one different oneI wish I could say that standing out from the content creation crowd is something that I excel at, but I can’t.

I like to think I write intelligently, quickly, and well, but all that does is make me a pretty good content marketer. It doesn’t make me a content marketer who stands out from the crowd.

So perhaps I need a special something. Perhaps we all do.

Your competitors are creating content. They’re competing with you for the top of the search results and they’re doing it at an ever-increasing rate.

It’s no longer enough to simply write content. Everybody’s doing that. Your local spa is blogging. Fashionistas, coffee shops, photographers, law firms, warehouses, outdoor stores, salons, and haberdasheries (okay, I’m not 100 percent sure about that last one, but you get the point) are all leveraging content creation to market their products and services.

What’s the question your business answers? Type it into Google. Is your website or content at the top? If not, then this article might be worth a read.

Let me give you an analogy:

Let’s pretend you are in a fast-flowing river with about 100 other people, standing in waders up to the thigh with white water pushing against you, trying to knock you over.

A rescue helicopter comes over the ridge, with room for four or five people in its cabin.

What do you do?

Now, you could wave your arms and scream until you’re hoarse. The problem with this tactic is that about 90 of your fellow rescuees are doing the same thing. With their screaming and the roaring of the rapids, the helicopter wouldn’t be able to hear a thing you’re saying.

Or, you could find a nearby rock with its tip just above the water. You could climb on top and get a bit closer to the helicopter, standing out from the crowd by finding a place that seems a bit less dangerous (finding your “content” niche). This would be a good call.

But there are a dozen other people who have managed to climb onto your rock as well. You’re pushing and shoving as there’s not quite enough room, and the helicopter is getting closer. It’s sweeping over the frothing water, coming fast and low.

What else you can do to get its attention? The helicopter only fits four or five people and there’s a dozen of you on this wet and slippery rock.

Here’s what I suggest: Raise a flag. Start singing. Start stomping your feet and clapping your hands. Take your shirt off. Take your pants off. Throw a shoe. Throw your pants.

You need to get off that rock, and sometimes that takes extreme measures.

This article will give you three strategies (and 25-odd specific ideas) on how to stand out, be memorable, and generate a personal brand that people remember.

Before I dive in, I want to warn you that the suggestions I give below are just that: suggestions. Many of them have never been tried before (that’s the whole point). If you like an idea, test it out for a month or two and measure your results. (However, if you get fired for going too far with one of my suggestions, I’m not accepting liability.)

1. Find your “thing”

In person, it’s far easier to have a memorable personal characteristic that people will take away from meeting you. Do you have pink hair or a face tattoo? Do you have a ridiculous laugh or do you sweat profusely when you get nervous?

Online is harder. You need to find the pink hair within your online persona (I’d try to avoid the sweating profusely, if you can). You need to translate your ability to charm people in public into an ability to charm people with your content.

Here are a few suggestions on finding your thing:

  • Go current and relevant: Start a weekly write-up of sector news or relevant posts.
  • An actual persona: Create a character and write whole articles as that person. Or, create a memorable mascot and have it feature consistently in your content.
  • POV: Feature an odd point of view (for instance, you could try to write as the Google algorithm rather than just about it).
  • Go super visual: Use images, graphs, screenshots. Make your content visual on a whole new level.
  • Find the niche within your niche. Let’s say you’re a Facebook marketer, and within that niche you’re also a Facebook advertising expert. But how about becoming a Facebook targeting expert? Nobody knows Facebook targeting like you. You’ve done it all, seen it all, and are on the very cusp of every development and update. You’re the guy or gal when it comes to Facebook targeting, and everybody knows it. Use this distinction to propel your content above that of your competitors. 

Finding your thing is up to you. Get creative. Are there real-world characteristics about you that could work with an online persona? Brainstorm with your friends and family, colleagues, anybody who knows you. What do they think is your primary characteristic? What stuck in their head the first time they met you?

2. Write differently

Most everybody can write content. It mostly just requires a couple hands and a basic understanding of language. Theoretically content marketing also requires a bit of knowledge about your subject, but that can be faked pretty effectively. Nope, it’s mostly about two hands (hell, even one works) and the ability to string words together and finish off with a period.

However, not everyone can write differently. Not everyone can write content that is memorable a week or a month down the line. It’s the people who can, however, who are encouraging brand recall, social sharing, and commenting and are, thus, boosting their readership.

I’m not saying that each article you write needs to be a diamond ring, carefully polished, honed, and perfectly positioned in its setting. Spending three days on a single article is not good for your content marketing ROI, and it’s likely your boss (even if that boss is you) won’t appreciate it either.

Instead, what I’m saying is to focus on writing differently:

  • Write controversially: When Matt Cutts said guest blogging for SEO is dead, I took the opposite point of view. When Veritasium released a YouTube video stating that “advertising your page on Facebook is a waste of money,” I responded quickly and emphatically that they were working with incomplete information and that their conclusions were hasty at best (and downright dangerous at worst).
  • Write in color: I don’t actually mean greens and blues and reds (thought that’s not exactly a bad idea either). I mean write with flavor. Cuss. Write a poem. Write an entire article in iambic pentameter. Or, more realistically, write in a fun or anecdotal, sarcastic, or satirical way. Write with skill and talent and engage your reader in more than just subject matter.
  • Write something new: Theories and hypotheses go viral (so long as they’re seriously backed up and make sense). They create controversy themselves and increase your reputation as a thought leader.
  • Write something old in a new light: Take something that people see as understood or take for granted. Turn that thing on its head. Go against the status quo and write an article about using email marketing for lead generation (prompting your existing clients to tell a friend) or using phone calls for webinar sign-ups.
  • Write honestly: Empathy goes a long way. Talk about the struggles you’ve had in the past, and how you overcame them. Play around with talking about your current marketing efforts. Be honest about failed A/B tests, failed marketing campaigns or advertisements. Talk real numbers and show actual shots of your analytics. 

Something else to keep in mind is that not all writers are created equal. I have a degree in English, read constantly, write constantly simply for fun, and was employed as a copy editor before jumping head-first into the world of content creation. If that’s not you, don’t worry about it, but do put some time into mastering your craft as best as you can.

People who blog for business may want to start with a short creative writing or English literature course at a local community college. Focus on persuasive essay writing or short stories (the two combined plus statistics equal 90 percent of blog content). Also consider taking a typing course. I type about 110 words per minute and, I can tell you, it makes my job a whole lot easier.

3. Create differently

Content marketing isn’t just about writing, it’s about consistent content creation: case studies, white papers, presentations, infographics, videos, podcasts, webinars, eBooks… the list goes on.

Creating one of these that stands out from the fast-flowing river is what’s hard.

How do you make a webinar that doesn’t send people to sleep?

  • Host it over coffee with your guest, and (if you know your subject matter), don’t script it at all. Don’t even edit it. This creates an honest interaction with your viewer.
  • Answer questions live and prompt people to ask whatever they want.
  • Keep doing it even if the first 15 times suck. Webinars take more time to catch on than other pieces of content but provide a high ROI and the greatest influence on your reputation if they do. 

How do you make a podcast that people will actually want to listen to?

  • Have a running theme of podcast Fridays where you also provide a recipe for your favorite mixed drink.
  • Create a persona you argue against. For example, if you’re a fan of Facebook Ads, create a persona (or bring in a friend) who champions AdWords.
  • Bring in a teenage kid to talk about social media and how they relate to it. Make it a bi-weekly or monthly conversation. 

How do you make an infographic without a full-time graphic designer and an original report? 

  • Use Google Presentations or Canva and free photo-editing software like GIMP.
  • “Borrow” ideas from your competitors, but put your own flavor on them.
  • Compile stats from case studies, reports, and other infographics. Copy graphs into your own colors (and remember to source!).
  • Create a SlideShare presentation instead (with PowerPoint if you absolutely must, though Google’s presentation tool is better). 

How do you make a YouTube video that gets more than 41 hits?

  • Choose a topic that hasn’t been done a thousand times. Consider the content ideas I’ve given above (controversial, opposing views, characters, etc).
  • Put time and energy into it. Spend time on the script and speak with more excitement and slower than you think you should.
  • Buy or make a green-screen (they’re crazy cheap).
  • Include transitions and edit the intro and outro (Premier Pro should come with your Adobe subscription).
  • Fashion a prompter so you’re not umming and ahhing constantly. 

Conclusion

This has effectively exhausted my creativity for the day. I hope you can take one of these suggestions and work with it. I hope one of them inspires you to use your own creativity and find your own stomping, clapping, pants-off combination that helps your helicopter seek you out amongst the crowd.

Taking a page from my own book, I’m going to be entirely honest with you, reader. I am still looking for my own “thing” that makes me as a content creator memorable. Excellent writing will only take you so far. I need Stelzner’s casual ability to podcast like a boss, Mari’s omnipresent sunny disposition, Godin’s content prolificacy (and baldness), Kawasaki’s inexplicable ability to make mediocre content go viral and Pulizzi’s… I dunno, vision for starting this whole content marketing shindig in the first place?

I’m open to suggestions — let me hear them in the comments below.

Looking for more inspiration on content creation that helps you stand apart from your competitors? Read CMI’s Content Marketing Playbook: 24 Epic Ideas for Connecting with Your Customers. 

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: James Scherer

James Scherer is a content strategist at Wishpond, a platform which makes it easy to create complete marketing campaigns from a single tool. Connect with him on Twitter.

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