Teach me something

Ian Lurie

This post is more than my usual rant. It’s going to make people squirm. Hell, it made me squirm, because we’re all guilty of my topic: Marketing content has become meaningless word puke.

My dark epiphany

I did some research today. I wanted to learn a new thing about marketing. So, I looked at ten articles, all on the same topic.

They all said:

  1. Know your customer
  2. Have content
  3. Tell people about it
  4. Measure it

They weren’t much more specific than that, either.

That started me down the long, dark toilet bowl of despair. So I decided to research another topic.

You know what those posts and articles said?

  1. Know your customer
  2. Have content
  3. Tell people about it
  4. Measure it

One article took the bold step of adding “Be authentic.”

That isn’t weird, useful and significant. It’s dull, useless and forgettable. Stop it.

Ask yourself three questions

Before you publish, look at what you wrote. Ask yourself three questions:

  1. Is there a light bulb moment? Something that changes the reader’s thinking?
  2. Is there something in this content that a reader can take and use? Something they can execute, or show, or talk about in a real way that impacts their marketing?
  3. Is this a new idea?

If you can say “yes” just once, publish.

You’re better than this

You’ve got better ideas than “know your customer.”

Tell me how to know my customer. Explain where I can get real information, or check and test audiences.

Tell me how I can “have content.” Besides cranking out drivel.

Explain how I can get content in front of people.

Of course, others have answered these questions. That’s OK. Your answers must be useful. You’ll have your unique way of approaching it. Just stop the mealy-mouthed marketing speak.

Give me thoughts with some meat on them. Teach me something.


Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (that's more than 25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team, training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

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  1. Ian,
    The reason you can’t be taught anymore is because you have mastered all that you have been taught.
    So what now?
    What is the “new thing about marketing” that you seek?
    The student must become the teacher…
    …and along the way you will learn from your teachings…
    …and your students.
    Enjoy the journey.

      1. The problem is that I’ve blogged really (I think) interesting stuff before – outside the box, insightful, change-your-marketing stuff. And nobody gives a crap. So I did it again. And nobody gives a crap. So I bang out 10 Blah Blahs Your Blah Blahed and everyone rejoiced.
        And so yes, the kitten cries … but if nobody cares about the top-level stuff except “someone like Ian every once in a while” it just won’t happen. I’d MUCH rather write that stuff. But nobody cares.

        1. I think they do care. It’s about the noise level. In spite of all my cynicism, I’m still an idealist. If we can lower the noise level, we’ll see things improve.
          Maybe content shaming…?
          I kid.

  2. I used to learn stuff by reading. But at some point, I had to switch to learning stuff by doing, cause I couldn’t find that much new stuff to learn by reading.

  3. Actually, Ian… you practiced what you preach in this post, by hopefully making some of the word vomit purveyors actually THINK about what they publish.
    The other several thousand, of course, will just go copy this post onto their own platform and spew forth…
    I feel your pain!

  4. I love this post. I have been in Marketing for 15 years but doing it the old paper and program way. Now I’m doing nearly 100% digital marketing and it changes every day. I read all the time looking for the latest trends, something new and out-of-the-box. Not just to borrow it but in the hopes that it will trip my creative trigger and I will come up with something that I can share. I think we need to be students AND teachers every day ourselves. It’s trite but it is true – I never want to stop learning. Give me something to learn and I’ll respond in kind.

  5. Thank you SO much. The post I am working on with you, Ian, develops your world-building idea for an amateur readership and I hope will do what you describe. Your work does what you describe. My work does too. Your commenters are more and less brave–we are a small tribe. I often search for small jobs on Upwork and am astonished (ok, I confess: offended, appalled, aghast, enraged) at the number of employers who want we freelancers to produce what amounts to garbage that already exists–and how many of them come right out and say so.
    I think your point about lowering the noise is right. As a fundraiser, I once wrote back to a gigantically overstuffed fundraising mailing I received (in the days of mostly hard-copy) to say that the giganticness of the mailing had had the opposite effect to the one intended. The creator of the mailing wrote me back smarmily that if I were really a (good) fundraiser, I’d know those were the kind of mailings that statistically reaped highest results. True: but “highest” meant .01% or less difference; high results are not the point of those kinds of mailings. Simply getting a new donor in the door is. I wrote him back asking, “what next? the Bible? we send the whole Bible to every potential donor?”
    I think perhaps the ongoing noisy drivel about content is not really intended for anyone but total newbies. We can simply not produce it and read it. We can decide we have advanced to experimenting and sharing the fruits of our experiments—I’d love to learn more about what your commentor Meg Geddes has learned by doing. I try always to write from my doing, too. Maybe a new word is in order; “content” is like “cheese food” contrasted with cheese. It’s legal but you would not want to eat it once alerted. As a writer, I was appalled (ok, I spend a fair amount of time getting appalled, but it’s passing, I don’t stay appalled) when the word “content” began to take the place of actual writing-related words. I don’t produce content. Ever. If someone wanted me to, I think I might congenially ask them if they would like actual writing, or a post, or an e-appeal, but if they just want content, they can go troll. Lovingly, [email protected] https://bethrapsblog.wordpress.com/ for my writerly work and http://www.raisingclarity.com for my fundraising

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