3 Lessons in Truly Epic Content Marketing

Jonathan Crowe by
Alternative Cover for Epic Content Marketing: Muhammad Ali

There may be no lack of quick tips and how-to advice for content marketers online, but there’s still something to be said for sitting down with a book that can walk you through a more structured, in-depth approach to the subject (as a former book editor, I also have a soft spot in my heart for the things).

I recently had a chance to pick up Joe Pulizzi’s Epic Content Marketing: How to Tell a Different Story, Break Through the Clutter, and Win More Customers by Marketing Less, and wanted to share a few key takeaways and my own review of the book below.

My 3 Favorite Lessons from Epic Content Marketing

1) Go Big

Epic-Content-Marketing-coverWhat is “epic” content marketing all about? It really comes down to a simple choice:

Do you want to simply add to the mountain of information and content each of us gets bombarded with every day, or do you want to create something with real substance that leaves a lasting impression?

In my opinion, one of the best takeaways from the book is Pulizzi’s encouragement to take risks, fail, and aim for the “impossible”. Or, as Pulizzi puts it, have big hairy audacious goals (BHAGs). After all, if you don’t expect truly great things from your content, what chance do you think it has of making an impact?

With competition over our extremely limited free time and attention spans at an all-time high, content marketing is very much a winner-take-all game. Not to get too Ricky Bobby on you, but there aren’t a lot of prizes for 2nd place — who cares if you’re a prospect’s 2nd-most trusted resource, if you show up on page 2 of their search results, or if you round-out their list of top 20 blogs they recommend (do you honestly think they regularly read more than two or three — do you regularly read more than that? Who has the time?)?

Go big or go home — that’s the most important lesson reading Epic Content Marketing can hammer home. To put it into perspective from a different angle, Pulizzi suggests that we ask ourselves a powerful question:

If your content was to vanish tomorrow, would anyone miss it?

If not, don’t you think it’s time you tried something big?

2) Focus on a Niche You Can Dominate

Keep in mind — going big doesn’t mean trying to boil the ocean. Your content should be strategic, targeted, and aimed at dominating the best niche possible.

Pulizzi uses the example of a locale pet supply store. While the business may not have a tiny hope of escaping the shadow cast by industry giants like Petco and PetSmart, what it can do is focus on becoming the leading expert in the right niche (ex: traveling with your dog).

How do you determine the right niche to go after? Talking with and gathering insights on your best customers is a good place to start.

3) Find Your Voice

If you ever want to stand out and make a genuine connection with your audience you have to be yourself. Drop the bland corporate speak. Stop trying to be something you’re not. Let them know who you are and what you stand for. Take a strong point of view. There are three things people respond to on a core, emotional level that they recognize as real: empathy, enthusiasm, and empowerment. Tap into your passion and share it. Doing so may not make you popular with everyone, but it can absolutely endear you with the right niche.

A simple, but great exercise that Pulizzi suggests is to post your mission statement, and to look at and refer back to it often. It can be fairly basic (the more short and sweet the better). In general, it should list:

  • your core audience
  • your promise to that audience
  • deliverable / result

It should match your company’s mission and business goals and make it absolutely clear what makes your mission and content relevant. Pulizzi shares the following examples of content marketing mission statements in Epic Content Marketing and encourages you to check them out:

Epic Content Marketing Review

I had big hopes for Joe Pulizzi’s Epic Content Marketing, and on many levels, it absolutely delivers. It makes a strong case for content marketing, helps you do the same (a big help for those looking to secure buy-in), and it provides compelling examples of great companies actually putting content marketing into action. It also provides a basic walk-through for developing your own content strategy, and helpful tips for getting your content creation and distribution up and running. All in all, it’s a great read for anyone looking to build a solid foundation in content marketing.

If anything, I just wish there were more chapters dedicated to advanced topics. I realize that for many readers, the concept of content marketing is something that’s still relatively new, but for those of us already in the choir, it’s probably safe to skip the obligatory “what it is / why it matters” section that takes up the first 50+ pages of the book.

That aside, the only other thing I would have loved to see more of is Pulizzi following up on his own terrific advice and taking stronger stances.

Back in February, Pulizzi announced he had one goal for his upcoming book. Did he accomplish it?

You would be hard pressed to find anyone more knowledgeable or more passionate about content marketing than Joe Pulizzi, and when he wants to, he can start fires. Case in point — when he laid waste to “the fallacy that more content is better” in a blog post for CMI last February. It’s a fantastic post, and in it, Pulizzi acknowledges that the primary challenge content marketers face has shifted:

In North America, nine in 10 businesses (of any size in any industry) use content marketing. Content marketing is not new, but it is getting cluttered; contaminated, if you will.

How do we break through this clutter? We need to be epic with our content marketing. We need to do it better.

This was a post that got me to shoot up in my chair, and I think it’s worth going back and reading those lines again. Look at the word choice. Not only is Pulizzi insinuating that there are right and wrong ways to do content marketing, he’s also suggesting (yes, perhaps indirectly) that if you’re doing it the wrong way you’re contaminating it — you’re contributing to a problem and making everything harder for the rest of us.

That’s powerful stuff. And it’s something all of us in content marketing need to hear.

He challenges us to be more creative. More daring. To ask ourselves:

  • Is the content you are distributing truly best of breed — meaning that it’s as good or better than anything else available?
  • Are you really making an impact on your customer’s lives or careers with the information you provide to them?
  • Are you in the game just to sell more, or are you in it to make a difference?
  • Are you setting up your content marketing department around more or around best?

He also issues a challenge to himself, stating that he had “one goal for the book [he was working on]: to say something worth saying.”

That post was provocative. Almost confrontationally so. I loved it because it was Pulizzi shedding light on a major turning point in the movement he helped spark, and it was him drawing a line in the sand. The only problem was it set my expectations for what Epic Content Marketing was going to be all about.

In a sense, it is, but as that blog post shows, Pulizzi can go further, and what I found missing in much of the book was that same level of fire and urgency and focus on what’s coming next. Did he “say something worth saying”? Absolutely. I would definitely recommend Epic Content Marketing. But I’m already looking forward to the sequel — and hope next time Joe takes off the gloves and doesn’t hold back.

Senior Content Manager