The X-Factor that Sets Your Content Apart from the Competition

In the 20 years since Bill Gates declared, “Content is King,” only one thing is certain.

There’s a whole lot of competition to wear the crown.

In 1996, when Gates wrote his prophetic essay on content, only 20 million Americans were online. To give those numbers some context, 271 million Americans are online today.

In those early days of the world wide web, there wasn’t all that much to do online. Creating a website wasn’t half as easy as it is today, and most news sites barely even registered online. Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, 1996 was also the year the New York Times launched their first website.

I’m sharing this, because I always shake my head in wonder when people now go around claiming, “Content is King.”

This is obviously true, which begs the question. Does this claim really give you any clue on how to set your content apart?

I would argue no.  It’s not enough to just put up a blog or publish white papers and ebooks (remember those?). It’s not enough to be insanely useful.

Creating content does little more than meet the bar for entry.

I was listening the other day to a podcast about a lone phone booth in the Mojave desert.

This phone booth, out in the middle of nowhere, should have lived a long, obscure life out in the desert. Instead, it captured the public’s imagination, to the point that it attracted so many visitors that the National Park Service removed all traces of the booth to discourage people from visiting the site.

The Mojave phone booth’s remarkable story starts in 1997, when Godfrey Daniels became fascinated with a report that there was this random phone in the desert. He became obsessed with calling the booth several times a day, wondering if anyone would ever pick up.

After a month of daily dialing, a woman answered.

Because Daniels was an Internet entrepreneur, he created a website for the booth. And to his complete surprise, his obsession spread to people around the globe.

Although the phone booth is no longer there, the fame of the Mojave phone booth begs the question.

Why did it inspire such a devoted following?

The reason people were so attracted to the booth was that it was just so unexpected.

It wasn’t located in a city, like most phone booths. It wasn’t at the side of a major interstate, which might have been understandable.

It was 8 miles from the nearest paved road.

mojave phone booth

Remember 1997? Not only was the Internet not all that populated yet, but also the Nokia was the hottest thing happening in the world of cell phones.

As Daniels said, “When you were out in the desert in those days you were on your own. You couldn’t contact anybody. The idea there was this phone booth just sitting out in an uncontactable place, it was sort of like somebody was on the moon. You could contact somebody on the moon.”

Coming across a story about a phone booth in the middle of Los Angeles would have been unremarkable.

But a booth in the Mojave?


Yet many businesses and organizations model their content on the competition.

It’s natural to look around and see what’s out there. In fact, we generally start client projects this way!

But the goal of this landscape survey isn’t to build just another phone booth.

It’s to figure out what is unexpected about your brand.

This might sound obvious, but I’ve worked with product designers who leave out their company’s commitment to green practices, because they think, “No one cares,” and coaches who can’t articulate what their special sauce is to customers.

This is a big problem, because the way to set your content, and by extension your brand, apart is to drive home that difference.

Consider your audience. When they first find your website, they have a predetermined set of expectations and questions that are all driven by past experiences. You can probably predict exactly what they would ask if you got on the phone with them.

Click here for our audience swipe file, and never wonder again what questions and topics your audience cares about most.

You absolutely should answer their questions (that’s being relevant and useful), but there’s incredible power in subverting expectations.

This is something Brené Brown does beautifully.

Her audience, as do all of us I expect, brings questions like, “What do people think of me? How can I feel more loved? How do I feel less alone?”

Instead of telling her audience that they shouldn’t worry about what people think, or giving them tips on finding a partner, Brown gives an unexpected answer.

“If you want to feel more connected to others, first you must allow yourself to be vulnerable.”

Standing out among the competition isn’t about being the loudest voice or the most controversial. It isn’t even about being the best at self-promotion.

It’s knowing your audience deeply, understanding what their questions, concerns, hopes and dreams are.

It’s taking the time to find out what else they’re being exposed to.

And consciously putting forward the products or ideas that offer an alternative point of view.

When you create your next piece of content, ask yourself:

  • Who does my organization serve?
  • What are they looking for?
  • What do I represent that’s different than everything else they’re finding in the market?

[embed_popupally_pro popup_id=”9″]

A Frank (and fun!) Conversation with Tara Gentile

Last week, Tara Gentile and I sat down and recording the kind of conversation (aided by some great questions from readers) we generally have over a couple glasses of wine.

She’s bringing me on board to teach the next two sessions of 10ThousandFeet, and this chat is an introduction of sorts, since her people don’t know me half as well as you do.

It’s geeky. It’s fun. And, yes, it’s really real. You can watch the video above, or download an audio-only version below. And scroll down to catch highlights from the conversation.

Download the audio-only version. (right-click then “save as”)

This is an absolutely sales-pitch-free conversation. That said, if you’re compelled to check out 10ThousandFeet, I don’t blame you.

How does storytelling contribute to our bottom lines? (2:00)

“The stories we tell create the conditions our businesses are operating in.” — @brigittelyons Tweet it.

“Storytelling in business goes well beyond marketing.” — @taragentile Tweet it.

How do you launch a new product with energy & authenticity? (6:04)

“Allow yourself to nerd out about what makes you excited about your product.” — @brigittelyons Tweet it.

Wherein Tara gets vulnerable about telling stories about her clients (a total, and super sweet, surprise for me!) (7:16)

How do you build a relationship with people when ultimately you have an agenda to sell them something? (10:00)

“Everyone wants you to express an interest in the things that they are passionate about.” — @brigittelyons Tweet it.

“Just because you have something to gain in a relationship doesn’t mean you have an agenda.” — @taragentile Tweet it.

“Trust yourself as a whole person to bring what is most valuable to every relationship.” — @taragentile Tweet it.

What are your criteria for who you bring on to your team, who will be your mentors, and who you will partner with? (19:05)

“Vibe is so important.” — @brigittelyons Tweet it.

What are the top 3 things you can do to promote a new offering? (23:29)

“Give people the opportunity to say ‘yes’ to you.” — @taragentile Tweet it.

“Your inclination is ‘how can I help this person?’ not ‘how can I get out of this?’” — @brigittelyons Tweet it.

“Don’t assume that because the sales opportunity is over, that all opportunities are over.” — @taragentile Tweet it.

“Always assume people are interested.” — @brigittelyons Tweet it.

What are our predictions for future online business trends? (32:31)

“Businesses are starting to reorganize themselves to create value instead of just making a splash on the online stage.” — @taragentile Tweet it.

“Online businesses are following the wider trend of being more intentional.” — @brigittelyons Tweet it.

Staying true to you

Every so often, I share a behind-the-scenes glimpse on how I choose to run my business. Because this post is also about marketing best practices, I decided to post it publicly.

Today, I want to talk to you about the most important principle of running your own business.

Staying true to your strengths.

Most of us opted out of corporate life, because we’re driven, and we have a sense we can do it better. I left the agency life, because I’m a workaholic, who’d rather work her ass off for herself than a boss, and I can’t stand the hourly billing model.

I bet you have a similar story.

But then you go into the crazy world of self employment, and you start to see ALL the ways this crazy thing can be done. You start taking courses and talking to other people, many of whom feel so much more successful than you.

Before you know it, you stop fueling your business with your strengths  You co-opt someone else’s model.

I’m incredibly diligent about not letting this happen, yet it happens all the time.

Take my friend Kate. We couldn’t be more different, when it comes to our work preferences. I work when I feel like it, including weekends and evenings and holidays. Kate structures her week and rarely, if ever, works on the weekend.

I thought about Kate a lot in the past month. Some people noticed I went silent. What happened is this: I took my first real vacation in 2 years. I didn’t write content ahead of time; I didn’t pre-schedule Tweets. I just stopped.

It was amazing.

Kate, on the other hand, is an advocate of digital sabbaticals. I didn’t actually take a digital sabbatical, since I still checked email when I felt like it (not often), and posted images to Instagram. When she goes offline, girl commits.

You’d never know it, though, because Kate schedules content and Tweets.

As the days lengthened, I thought of Kate and wondered if I should have used her approach.

But that wouldn’t be me being me. It’d be me playing at Kate.

I’m workaholic of a particular type. I give myself permission to work as long as I like, whenever I like. And to completely stop when I need to.

My work doesn’t ebb and flow over the course of days. It’s more like months or an entire year.

So when I decided to take my first proper vacation since I launched my business, I really broke.

It was awesome.

Now I’m back, and I am dying to get some new content (and a bootcamp!) out to you.

But, and this is a really important but, this is just my way.

You stay true to you.