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5 Steps to Blast Through Fear and Create Epic Content

person belaying off cliffYou know what keeps most of our content from attaining epic status, don’t you?


Our fear of looking foolish. Of negative responses on social media. Or, worse, of getting hardly any visits, social shares, leads, or sales from our best efforts.

We all like to think of content marketing pros like Darren Rowse, Ann Handley, and Brian Clark as fearless. But at the recent Authority Intensive conference, they and other speakers admitted they still face the same trepidation we do around content. 

“We cannot defeat the fear voice in our head,” marketing icon Seth Godin advised the audience. “What works is welcoming the fear into your life and dancing with it.”

While you’re lacing up your dancing shoes in preparation for creating epic content, consider these five timely takeaways from the event:

1. Start with value, expand to authority

It’s no secret that information is a commodity. The rush to publish and a focus on quantity over quality further has exacerbated the issue of content shock, or the overload of available content.

So we need to combine actionable information with personality, creativity, and empathy to strike a chord with real people — not just search engines. In turn, that makes our content more likely to be noticed and shared, increasing engagement and attracting an even wider audience.

That concept was distilled and presented by pioneering chief content officer Handley as a formula:

Useful x Empathy x Inspired = Great Content

Or, as Mark Twain put it: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

As an example of this idea in practice, Handley pointed to the OpenView Labs blog. Aiming to be a consistent resource for its audience and to provide a variety of epic content efforts (such as videos and eBooks), OpenView saw unique blog visits increase by more than 300 percent, its email list grew by 60 percent (to 31,000), and the company was able to shorten its sales cycle.

2. Break out of your content comfort zone

Quality is the elephant in the content marketing room, and it was artfully tackled by Velocity Partners’ blockbuster-hit slide deck, “Crap.” Playing it safe with content isn’t the path to authority and a bigger audience. (There’s a reason why CMI’s Joe Pulizzi called his latest book Epic Content Marketing rather than Average Content Marketing — nobody wants to aim for average!).

That’s why we need to take more risks with our content creation and distribution. As Godin noted, filling templates with clever headlines that lead to unsatisfying fluff isn’t a model for success. “Failures are most responsible for my success,” he told the crowd. “We need to do things that are off the grid.” And he’s right (again).

Look at your own content. Where can you take more chances? How often do you analyze the performance of the best and worst performers to find ways to further improve future content creation efforts? Do you solicit feedback from a few trusted advisers outside your organization (top customers, key partners, industry peers) before shipping?

The Buffer blog is a great example. When the team pivoted from posting all about social media to a broader focus on productivity and life hacks, the blog’s reach grew dramatically. As they refine their content mix, they even post their stats and share their views on what did and didn’t work. Epic posts like 53+ Free Image Sources For Your Blog and Social Media Posts or The Ideal Length of Everything Online, Backed by Research employ a powerful mix of value, authority validated by data, and a fresh take on common subjects, in this case aggregating content from several channels.

3. Listen, interact and connect — don’t just broadcast

Whether you’ve already got great content, or you’re still trying to get there, one rule that never changes is that you need to learn from your audience members. It can be easy to forget that they are the engines driving your business, and their needs should come first — even before your own business’ needs.

Listening to his community has been crucial to the growth of Rowse’s Problogger business. Case in point: After launching his 31-day blogging course in 2005 and improving the marketing of relaunches in successive years, Rowse heard increasing requests for a course his readers could access anytime — not just once every other year. So he turned the content into an eBook for roughly $1,000, and launched it with a $20 price tag. On Day One he sold 1,000 copies. To date, it’s sold more than 30,000 copies, and Rowse has since launched more than a dozen other eBooks, plus a blogging conference in Australia for more than 500 attendees.

How can you get your audience more involved in your content? Rowse makes a point of asking for input with a brief annual survey that’s netted Problogger 50,000 responses in the last five years.

Another simple yet powerful option: Link to a short survey from your email list’s welcome message. does this, and as the site’s audience tripled in recent years, thousands of responses have played a vital role in shaping the site’s content marketing and products.

email welcome message-Social Triggers

4. Enhance your content calendar with customer insights

If you’re serious about content marketing, you already know a content calendar is an indispensable tool for managing the process.

But complementing that tool with real data — qualitative audience feedback, your site and marketing channel analytics, and insights about customer journeys — is what paves the way to epic content marketing.

As Lee Odden put it, to be the best answer for buyers, you need to identify the tough questions they need answered at every stage, from initial awareness and interest to purchase decisions, loyalty, and advocacy.

What your audience members need today will change along with their situation, so your content and communications must evolve to keep pace.

For example, the system Raven Tools uses for this is what its Director of Marketing and Customer Experience Arienne Holland called its “AVA” model: Answering the needs and issues raised by customers; reinforcing the Value as it relates to the product’s benefits and features; and Anticipating the next steps, questions, and needs likely to arise for the customer.

You can see this model in action with the email welcome series Raven Tools sends its trial customers. The five-part series focuses heavily on benefits, provides a variety of content formats to resonate with customers’ various learning styles and engagement preferences, and makes it easy for them to learn to use the software tool.

raven reports series

5. Keep pursuing your passion

If there were a shortcut to convert the energy from inspirational events into epic content results, we’d all be using it already. So that’s off the table.

But we can control our perception of what it takes to create great content — and we can adjust the preconceived notions that often stymie our efforts.

Rowse shared a story of how he nearly talked himself out of publishing a post entitled, How to Hold a Digital Camera. He fought it, thinking it was far too simplistic to be useful, but ultimately he convinced himself the need was there and he published the post. It’s been viewed more than 600,000 times and ranks No. 1 in Google for a variety of relevant searches.

“This is a marathon not a sprint,” said Rowse, who has published every day for more than 11 years, and credits discipline and following his curiosities for helping him uncover his true passions. “Success is more about doing the things you already know you should do than discovering secrets you don’t yet know.”

For more great ideas, insights, and examples for advancing your content marketing, read Epic Content Marketing, by Joe Pulizzi.

Cover image via Bigstock