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To Create Engaging Content Marketing You Must Hug the Chaos

[Editor’s note: Happy Holidays! This week, the editorial team at Content Marketing Institute wanted to share some of the best content marketing blog posts we’ve seen from our CMI Consultants. Today’s post originally appeared on Robert Rose’s The Mythic Marketer blog on June 19, 2012.]

create engaging content marketing

My grandfather used to say something that’s been on my mind a lot recently. Whenever I got frustrated about anything — school, a job, life, more generally — he would ask me “What have you created lately?” Then, he’d chide me: “Go create a new experience for someone.” He wrote this to me once in a card that explained this idea, which was: When you create a new experience for someone, you get to experience it — and in turn, it creates new opportunity for you. 

I didn’t really know what he meant by that until just recently. I’ve rewritten my grandfather’s suggestion a bit, and this is what I’ve come up with:

“It is in the creation of the experience that we get to experience new creation.” 

It’s taken me 20 years to really understand what this means.

You’ve heard the saying before that if you want to learn something, go figure out how to teach it. At its core, it’s a very similar type of suggestion.

Businesses are changing 

We’ve heard this of course. Business is changing; marketing is changing. But really what’s happening is that people are changing. And, as employees, team members, managers — basically anyone focused on making money by observing and working with influencing human behavior — we have a choice. We can change — or we can be changed.

I’ve been out on the road the last two months teaching content marketing workshops to companies both large and small — everything from multibillion dollar insurance companies to technology start-ups and even people who want to be a start-up. And, I’m seeing a similar pattern come up with each experience.

Employees (our team members) see “Content Marketing” and “Marketing-as-Storytelling” as this very interesting thing that will be near impossible to execute. Why?  Because it means the organization has to change. And, “Well, it probably won’t, so why should I even try?”

Managers (our directors and VPs) see content marketing and storytelling as this fundamental change in the way they are managing teams. They want the flexibility to try new things, but because of a focus on short-term performance and data, they’ve worked themselves into a box that, quite frankly, they’re not allowed to think outside of.

And the C-Suite recognizes that new marketing paradigms, like content marketing (and digital, more broadly) are changing the rules of the game for marketing. But this change will be different than anything they’ve done before. They ask themselves how can they institute change from a top-down basis without risking a big failure across one quarter. Or two… or forever.

Ultimately, all of these things come down to one thing, and that’s fear of the chaos.

We’re new at this business storytelling thing 

See, one of the things that we are challenged with as business professionals is that we are always striving for two things: harmony and measurability.

We have spent our careers building business systems for consistency. We have laser focus on removing operational conflicts and anything that will take away from consistent, predictable, harmonious processes.

We believe in measurability as a foundation for that predictability. The old saying, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” comes out of this thinking. This, of course, has been morphed into “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t count.” And this last one is, of course, complete nonsense.

Think for a moment about the love you have for someone special in your life. Maybe it’s your wife, or your mom, or your dad or your children — or even a dog. How much love is there? Have you measured it lately? Well, if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t count, right?

Storytelling is hugging the chaos 

Great storytelling is a contradiction. Engaging stories set out to deliberately draw a conflict — a comparison of morality, or of fundamental change, or of good and evil. Of starting at a place where we don’t know how it’s going to turn out. We hug the chaos!

The story of how you met your wife starts with you not knowing if she would eventually become your wife. You had no idea.

As marketers today, we are inundated with reasons to do the opposite of this.

We operate from knowledge; from past experiences. We very often only act when we have the data to support our product, our position, our package, our pricing, our promotion… In fact, we’ve historically scaled our data analysis skills in marketing and we hire outside our company for anything creative. We keep a safe distance from the “creative genius” that can be so compelling, but also so unknown, so chaotic, so tragically wrong. Why is that?

To become storytellers we’ve got to change that. We’ve got to not only embrace the absence of data, we should make time to move ourselves occasionally into the chaos, and into the winds of change. We need to exercise our creativity as frequently as possible to let it bloom and deliver us a contradiction, a conflict — something that will introduce a conflict that we can resolve with a passionate, engaging story.

The chaos is a place that we should make space for in our marketing strategy. It is a place where we sometimes feel panic, or where we don’t know where to go. It’s a place where we have no idea what should, or will, come next. And it can often provide truths that you could never have believed before.

We can use this chaos to build a story around a piece of content we want to write for our content marketing — or we can use it to develop entirely new brands or even our own career paths. Use the embrace of chaos to summon your genius and move your audience into something that immediately draws a conflict or a contradiction that must be resolved; that an audience will engage with you until it is resolved.

Find the time, not only to embrace the chaos, but also to love it. Use the benefit of not knowing what the answer is to summon your inspiration, your wisdom — and to tell your story.

That’s how you become different. That’s how you start to tell stories, and it’s what makes your story remarkable.

For more content marketing insight from Robert Rose, read Managing Content Marketing, co-written by Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi.