If It’s Called Customer Experience, Why is it All About the Company?

_HY_7338RWhile companies clamor to get their share of revenue from new and existing customers, the delta between what brands say they do for customers and what actually happens has never been larger. Perhaps it’s because of stats like: 90% of executives say that customer experience is central to their strategies, but a whopping 86% don’t expect to see a significant uplift in business results from it. See the math problem here? Too much company-centered thinking and not enough customer-centric business management.

To get more insight on this disconnect, I sat down with Lynn Hunsaker, a customer experience expert who helps companies love and be loved by their customers, through her firm, ClearAction. She should know a thing or two about this topic—she’s directed customer experience programs for 25 years with leadership roles at Fortune 500 companies.

Q: What are the biggest customer experience issues are these days?

A: The first problem is transparency—customers see behind the company’s motives—If there’s a gap between what they’re saying and what they’re doing, it’s harmful to the relationship.

The other big issue is that companies need to get it right the first time— as in don’t roll-out a product prematurely and don’t have surprises in your processes and policies. Brands with the best customer experience or service like Zappos, REI, Trader Joes, Nordstrom, Ritz Carlton, Adobe, Boeing, and American Express—they pay attention to their customers first and themselves second. Whether it’s B2C or B2B it makes no difference, the focus is on the customer, and that’s what matters.

Q: When companies don’t get it right, customers are taking to social these days to gripe about it and get action.

A: Yes, but “social media” tends to be rigidly defined as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other popular platforms. It should also includes online communities of other types, including online rating systems like Yelp, TripAdvisor, just to name just a few. In fact, the ratings mentality now permeates the psyche of every generation, from Millennials to Baby Boomers, empowering them to critique brands and be forthcoming with their opinions. Ultiimately, though, what tends to happen with social media complaints is that companies try to resolve these very public criticisms by responding to it at a micro level.

Q: What does “micro level” problem solving in customer experience mean?

A: Companies resolve issues one customer at a time, one service rep at a time, or within a single department at a time—a quick fix and then move on to other priorities. If you really want to make a difference for all customers and for your company’s revenue and profit growth, prevent issues from happening again altogether. That usually requires departments to work together to resolve the root causes of issues—that’s harder and takes longer, but it’s what’s needed to build trust that earns loyalty.

Another example of micro response to customers: when a customer complains on Twitter, it apologizes and tweets out the happy news to counteract the bad press caused on social media. Sure, it may appear that the problem is solved, but it’s really just a case by case response and a Band-Aid for a bigger problem. And when this “resolution” is over-the-top, like giving six movie complimentary passes to apologize for the theater snafu of two people, it really just masks an attempt to generate positive word-of-mouth. Again it’s about the company, not the customer.

Q: So are customer surveys just a waste of time then?

A: Brands tend to use customer surveys as a barometer or a report card, hopefully with good news for their public relations department or to increase their Net Promoter ratings, showing how many customers would “recommend” the company.

When a service rep or sales person tells a customer that a survey answer other than “highly satisfied” could ruin their bonus or performance assessment, yes, a survey is a waste of time and money for customers and the company. This situation happens because employees are penalized or rewarded too heavily on customer behavior instead of monitoring their own behavior internally.

Instead of looking at surveys as a one-by-one solution opportunity or a means to show how awesome your company is, you can get more value by looking for patterns in it, as well as in other sources of feedback, like complaints on the 800 number, social media, or customer anecdotes—it’s really a collage of information that matters. These patterns help companies elevate the response to a macro-level, and that’s ultimately the goal. When you connect the feedback dots, you make things better for all customers, not just one at a time.

Q: Can companies turn their customer experience reputation around?

A: Absolutely. An example is Suntrust Bank, who saw the financial meltdown in 2008 as an opportunity to see how they could rebuild trust with their customers. One of the executives would often ask in meetings: “Are we deciding on this because we’ve been bankers for so many years, or because customers told us?” This question became a habit for managers across the company, and changed their decision-making to be customer-focused. This is the kind of habit more brands need to adopt.

Q: Sounds like there is hope. What do you see ahead for 2015?

A: Yes and no. Brands will be pushing harder on the customer experience manager to show business results. They’ll try to do this through more surveys, customer journey maps, social media, content marketing, customer engagement events and campaigns, and loyalty programs. Some companies, though, will disband their investment in customer experience altogether, getting rid of entire departments. For a lot of companies, it’s going to be business as usual mantra, with the mismatch between what the company says and what customers experience is.

Thankfully, there is that small group of companies—which is maybe a good thing since it’s easier to stand out from the crowd—that are going to step back and ask themselves: is what we’re doing more about us or customers? These companies will persistently seek patterns to resolve issues from happening again. They’ll earn trust and down the line business results by improving ease-of-doing-business for customers. In other words: it will be about the person buying their products, not the company, and that is what customer experience management is all about.

What Becomes of Content in 2015?

cwordThe word “content” has supplanted itself as The Marketing Word in 2014, to the point that I’m hard-pressed to find a digital headline or article without it this past year. Then there are the white papers, conferences, books, and even the Content Marketing Institute (sounds very heady, doesn’t it?). You get the idea. But let’s get some perspective here: Content, in all its incarnations over the years, was simply called something else—be it copy, copywriting, promotion, website content, marketing blurbs, plain old writing, insert big etcetera here. With the rise of social media and other digital marketing to further a brand—whether posts or podcasts, vines or viral videos—this marketing expansion now sits under the same umbrella: Content. One and all. The blending of terms combined with the craving for sky high shares brought to the forefront big changes swirling around in advertising, journalism, and marketing the past several years. Some good, some not so good. I believe we reached a tipping point in 2014 and are venturing to the point of no return. Sure, there is plenty of smart, insightful, and creative content out there, but it is overshadowed by junky digital filler caused by “content mania” and insatiable need to feed the social media sharing beast. Let me explain.

Sponsored Content, aka Native Ads

This kind of promotion has been around for ages in other forms (corporate advertorial in trade magazine, anyone?) But online sponsored content is a bit more dangerous in such prolific quantities. Why? It’s more than a hoodwink; it confuses consumers expecting unbiased articles, whether they care or not.

Sponsored content has seen explosive growth in the past few years due to the expansion of digital publishers, coupled with news outlets desperately looking for a panacea to cover plummeting ad profits. Mission definitely accomplished, but the tricky (read: ethical) part is the barely-there line between “real articles” and those brought to us by our favorite and not-so-favorite brands. Even the bastion of buttoned-up news, the New York Times, got into the sponsored content business. You see, the lines have really (really) blurred, even for the Gray Lady. The FCC stepped in to help consumers identify sponsored content, but many readers eat it up if it’s “interesting” no matter how indigestible the thought of brand involvement might be. Studies show it decreases trust of content, but it doesn’t stop them from clicking.

Brand Journalism

Which leads us another trend from the content explosion—brand journalism—companies who deploy articles the way a news reporter might—factual information? Yes, but with words that supports the brand’s message, liifestyle, or agenda. This content fuels brands with a great resource for well-written blogs, C-level ghostwriters, and sponsored content, not to mention spawning new careers for jaded journalists, frustrated fiction writers, and corporate careerists looking for a fresh start.

Hootsuite’s CEO Ryan Holmes even nonchalantly dropped a reference to its corporate “newsrooms” at a conference earlier this year. A reach perhaps, but it appears to be the future of The Brand. Welcome to the new blurry world of the “news” where articles you read might not have a clear bias but the source of the materials will.

Attack of the Content Creators

Another way content has taken hold lately is the crazy-big growth of “content creators,” “content experts,” and other fill-in-the-blank content titles (full disclosure: I brand myself this way too). Hardly anyone is simply a “writer” anymore. Sure, including a white-hot industry in your title might make your keywords stand out more, but consider the downside: lots of competitors use this title too, making it a crowded field.

Digital publishing outfits like the Huffington Post, Gawker, and other media companies large and small often won’t pay or divvy out peanuts based on article shares. After all, if you won’t write for free, someone else more hungry for the lure of digital fame will. The more that writers that offer their services without compensation or laughably low pay, the more devalued the profession becomes. This cannot be undone (another disclosure: I have written for zero pay to get my name out there). I get why it happens—it’s called supply and demand—but there is collective power in writers holding out for what we deserve instead of giving in to this pressure.

On their own, none of these trends is necessarily catastrophic for content. But when you put them together it gives me great concern to think where content is going in 2015 with the jumbling of words, images, and audio breeding only as share fodder, the cocktail of news and brand agenda, coupled with the cheapening of writing as a craft, I wonder if we’ve lost some of our core quality standards and beliefs in what content is about. Like the “click-bait headlines” that trick us into thinking we’re getting one thing instead of another, we’re fooling no one but ourselves to say it doesn’t matter in the future.

Image: Velocity Partners

Small Business Saturday is Every Day

openOn November 29, as American Express does every year, it will again promote Small Business Saturday—and so will retail, consulting, and other entrepreneurs in large and small towns across America. Truth be told, I’ve always had mixed feelings about this annual event. While it puts those of us who work our butts off every day in the limelight for day (coinciding with Black Friday—surprise), there is still the smell of corporate money that permeates the air, and it reeks just a tad. That said, with small business and entrepreneurship stronger than ever, I offer my ode to “us”, the small business owner. I should know, I’ve been a consultant for 15 years and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Labor of love

Everyone who has ever started a business has a story, myself included. Maybe corporate life was becoming too much of a grind, there was an unexpected lay off, or that Next Big Idea just wouldn’t go away from our brains. Whatever the motivation, the end result is to be a small business owner. It is a core part of our identities, and we want more than anything is for it to be successful. The alternative? Not much. This is our lifeblood and doing something different usually just doesn’t feel “right.”

We have blended lives

If any small business owner tells you they leave work at their retail store, desk in the upstairs office or on their tablet, they are lying (or gently fibbing to themselves). Running a business is a constant process—whether it’s bookkeeping, ensuring that orders get out before a holiday, or planning the next marketing campaign, our brain neurons are always firing (or misfiring) ideas, to-do lists, and ruminating what we did wrong or perfectly right and want to repeat again.

We never go on autopilot

One of the best things you’ll get from a small business is creativity: it might be uncovering that one way to make a deal work, whipping up a new promotion just for you, or coming up with fresh ways to differentiate ourselves from the competition. Experimenting with something new is a regular occurrence, if not, business gets stale. We are always thinking and wanting to make ourselves invaluable to you (but not in a desperate way), not to mention us entrepreneur types get bored easily.

Special orders don’t upset us 

As with corporations, there’s always that “one”. Liken it to your customer that always calls the complaint line, revisits the contract 50 times, or any other time-sucking and irksome behavior. The difference? We deal with it on an intimate level instead of as a company. We can’t sluff it off to a manager or customer service—we are customer service (and CEO and CMO and everything else). We are composed of nerve and grit and rely on this often when dealing with our, um…our “special” folks. In the end, these types of customers make us stronger, teach us lessons, and can bring positive changes for how we manage our business in the future.

You are our “regular paycheck”

When you have a full-time job you know you’re going to get paid on a schedule.  For those of us who have a small business it is not an assumed. We put our trust in you to be our source of income. We give you our all and expect that we’ll be compensated fairly and on time. Customers and clients that stretch out payments, lose invoices, or use delay tactics make a difference in our financial lives (and not in a good way). Small businesses don’t have the cash flow that corporations  do—those dollars really matter to us. We may not tell you that directly but it’s true.

We go the extra mile

I can’t speak for all small businesses, but as a rule, if you want an article turned around ASAP, a substitute in that gift basket, or an extra rounds on that consult for free—we will do it. Why? Because we have a relationship with you, appreciate your business, and can “make up our own rules” (otherwise known as flexibility). This can’t always be said for a corporation. Our relationship gives us a sense of satisfaction and pride when we can give you what you want. “You saved the day” and “You’re awesome” means a lot to us. That one-to-one exchange can’t always be replicated with larger companies.

Word-of-mouth is our bread and butter

There’s a reason reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor, and LinkedIn carry such weight in the online world: they make up the referral world that we all live in, and we rely on it heavily. Then there’s offline—the real world—which has been around since business has: an introduction through a colleague or a neighbor that steps into your store after hearing a glowing recommendation. These help add up to business sustenance. They also drive us to do better and strive to be the best for you.

At its core, Small Business Saturday may be just a smart promotion for one of the largest companies in the free world. But kudos to Amex for recognizing the trials, tribulations, and hard work of millions of small businesses—at least once a year anyway. More importantly, a toast to us—the ones who do the work all the time.

Blog Power Grows Up at WordPress Camp

wpstarrynightIt was my first and last WordPress Camp in San Francisco, not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because it’s outgrown its location and will be transformed into a global event next year. It’s no surprise either, with the WordPress mission to “democratize publishing” on a trajectory to being realized. Fact: WordPress powers almost 25% of all sites on the web or 342 blog posts a minute (that’s 7.9B annually). After 11 years, WordPress hasn’t just arrived, it’s getting its extreme close-up. This was also reflected in the topics. My expectations of widgets and coding were met with many “big picture” presentations. Here were some of the more interesting old-to-new themes (get it? get it?).

The State of Word

Matt Mullenweg, WordPress God and co-founder, with his low-key, wry and affable demeanor, talked honestly about the bittersweet growth of WordCamp from 9 to 81 and outsizing the Mission Bay Conference Center. Other topics included the site fixes coming up this year, including better managing the reviled plugins that frustrate its users, security issues tightened up, and cleaning up the stats system and making it more user-friendly. The big hope? The  dream of an auto-updated WordPress site instead of the current patchwork of versions and manual upgrades (Side note: ironically, WordPress often makes random changes to its interface, both small and large, which I’ve always found a bit odd and discombobulating. Then again, WordPress is free so I can’t complain).

It’s a Multi-Device Platform World, Let’s Deal With It

Sizing right or “responsive design” on mobile, tablets, and PCs is a no-brainer these days, but we need to think about this equation differently, according to Luke Wroblewski, who runs a digital design and strategy firm. He gave a fascinating talk about how human behaviors and ergonomics associated with them are equally important as quantitative factors like distance, size, and other “hard facts.” The free-flowing, multi-device platform world we live in now ranges from the smallest of computers, like Google Glass, to ginormous LED screens that we slide seamlessly among for the technology we need at that particular time. How we interact between devices, sometimes simultaneously, counts as much as anything else. Taking all of these factors into consideration is key for product development of the future. In other words, using human behavior and environment as guideposts, devices will be designed according to what we do with them, not by their physical form. In many ways, this is new territory.

Know Blog Rules But Break Them, Too

We’ve heard a million times about how the consumer ultimately decides what your brand is, but according to Internet-famous bloggers at WordPress, your blog should ooze and seep your personality, in a good way. Crafty Chica enthusiastically talked about finding your purpose and style within “the lane that works for you” (while also spreading the word “glitter” generously in her talk). Or as Chris Lema put it, “Take a corner no one is fighting for” when you choose your blog topic, and go bold with a strong stance. He pointed out that readers are tired of lists and how-tos; they crave and expect more these days with all the content out there. Why do you like one SEO strategy more than another? What is behind your opinion? Writer and academic Christine Harkins pointed out that, “Blogs exist for two reasons: to move people to action or to connect with people.” She defined blog voice as “writing the way you talk, sharing what you know, and telling the truth.” Amen to that. She even offered up a smattering of amusing copyrights suited just perfectly to the personality of the blogger.

So look for this impromptu copyright on my blog one of these days: “If you’ve got a big following, go ahead and steal my stuff—I’ll just quote you later and take credit.”

Image: Moufflets blog (and Van Gogh), WordPress logo contest, 2009 entry. I hope it won!

My 6 Insights From a Pitchfest

pitchesLiving in Silicon Valley for 20+ years and in San Francisco for the past four, I have been around technology for quite a spell. Now is one of the most exciting times to be in the thick of tech. Sure there is the annoying “brogrammer” culture, hipster entrepreneurs swigging from $200 wine bottles at SF restaurants, and rents and real estate rising faster than you can say “WhatsApp.” But it’s still thrilling to be here, both as participant and observer from the sidelines. With that, it’s on everyone’s tech bucket list to attend at least one pitch fest. I got lucky and scored a home run: a VC/Investor panel discussion AND company pitches. Here’s what I learned:

#1 Startup events are (intentionally) a bit messy and disorganized

Before I went, I asked a friend who has attended many what I should wear. Jeans seemed too casual but dressing up seemed dorky. His sage words: “Dress better than most so people will think you’re important.” Done. The event was held in a steamy, industrial-ish downstairs of a co-working space. The frazzled hostess kept things amusing throughout: announcing there was a break between presentations, and then not, and then there is. Asking to borrow someone’s Mac for a PowerPoint, fixing the feedback-ing mic numerous times, interrupting speakers to interject her thoughts. You get the idea. Somehow these incidents made the event seem more startup-y and authentic, though it was closer to a crash-and-burn for a corporate event-planning pro like myself.

#2 It’s awkward to present when your country is squashing democracy

It was unfortunate timing for a Hong Kong incubator presenting a detailed, lavish pitch on the benefits of setting up shop and making your first million there. Problem was, it was the same day the political chaos in Hong Kong was topping headlines. I waited for the presenter to reference it, but the elephant in the room stayed quiet, or in this case, the police, protesters and tear gas. It would have been appropriate to say something vague and innocuous like: “We are thinking about everyone in our country during this difficult time.” It shows an awareness and sensitivity to issues other than the almighty dollar bill.

#3 Corporate portmanteaus are still a thing

One of the investor companies from England played an upbeat, chock full o’Brit perky video promoting the milieu of ways that startups should work with their firm. It was smooth sailing until the horribly matched words like “glocal” and “talentricity” reared their oversized font heads onto the screen. It reminded me of a scene from a “Silicon Valley” script, except that it was real life. Either way, this gibberish needs to fade to black. Forever. They are counter-culture to everything that is startup.

#4 Pitches and public speaking skills can only go up

The variety of pitches was astounding: an online organic produce delivery service to an “omni-channel retail kiosk” (which no one understood), to a movie service catering to Southeast Asians. The content and presentations were of varying talent, but the majority were poorly constructed. This is no surprise since entrepreneurs tend to be heads-down creating products, not working on their communication skills (though that excuse can’t be used for companies with VC Big Shots on their advisory boards). The importance of a good pitch cannot be understated—it is the holy grail to getting funded. My take is that a pitch should possess three “C” qualities: be clear, concise, and compelling (in a three-minute package). Weaving a great and logically flowing story into your presentation is absolutely critical.

#5 Testosterone-All; Estrogen-0 

This comes as no surprise but every single pitch and panel member was male. The women’s roles at the event? The “helpers”—the hostess, those setting up computers, coordinating food and drinks and the like. I was encouraged to see that females of all ages made up about 25% of the audience. Of course, male dominance is a systemic issue in tech (and many other industries) that will not be resolved in this space. The good news is that there is much more awareness of this issue, now something just has to be done about it…

#6 There are good takeaways 

Feedback from the investors was clearly valuable to the entrepreneurs and I got some good advice too: 1) The best way to get to the core greatness and uniqueness of your product or service is to ask your customers—they will give you the read-back of your true value; 2) Leverage the social capital that you have, aka tech influencers, who are usually happy to help, but ask directly for what you want and make it something interesting and easy to do; 3) Know what success means upfront in your business, and if you “pivot,” do so before you are on the spiral to going down in flames; 4) The story of why you started your company is the core of your greatness and at the root of the problems you solve. It’s what drives and motivates you, and what makes you unique. It’s the DNA of your future success.

Will I go to another pitchfest? Maybe, maybe not. But it will be awfully cool if one of those companies I saw is the Next Big Thing.

Image: Marketoonist, Tom Fishburne

Confessions of a Marketer: 3 Buying Sins We Commit

airline-word-cloud-540x368No matter who you are, where you live, or how much money you make, there are common things we tend to do when it comes to buying products. Marketing 101 tells us that these decisions are based on logical touchpoints like price, familiarity, ease of use, brand experiences, and the like. But then you add the emotional flavoring packet of how we feel when we use it, reaction to the colors, influence from friends, to name a few. The melding of logic and emotions is so interwoven and subconscious during the buying process that it’s nearly impossible to pull the two apart. Our brains on brands can be quite the conundrum, and, frankly sometimes make no sense. Take three diametrically opposed buying behaviors that many of us engage in regularly, whether at the Big Box retailer, the local store, or that online site.

Buying from brands we hate: For me (and millions of others), Comcast is No. 1 when it comes to brand loathing. Unsurprisingly it’s honored on the 10 most hated companies in America list. The majority of the top 10 are popular and profitable, including McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. Ironic or par for the course? For me, I’m a hater of Comcast’s horrible customer service, erratic connection, and dominance on an industry, yet I still pay that hefty “Triple Play” bill each month. Admittedly, part of the reason is that I am too lazy to find other resources for my internet, cable, and landline (yep—I still got one), many of which are equally unappetizing. In a nutshell, I stay with crappy Comcast because it’s the path of least resistance, and shamefully that trumps everything else sometimes.

Supporting small brands that went corporate: One of my favorite “natural” products is Burt Bee’s Coconut Foot Creme. I love that undisturbed-coconut-y aroma. For years I thought my purchase was going to a small, organic company in some cute Vermont town, which made me love it even more. It turns out I’ve been supporting Clorox’s corporate coffers since 2007—that’s quite a different smell. But Kashi, Honest Tea, and many other “small” brands have also gone big. Large corporations will chase the organic, sustainable money on its unstoppable upward trajectory—they obviously want a cut of that action. The recent purchase of Amy’s Organic to General Mills reminded me of the grieving process I went through with Burt’s Bees: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. I tend to get stuck at the bargaining stage: I don’t like the fact that my David is now a Goliath, but I am willing to forgo my values for their awesome macaroni and cheese. Sadly, case closed.

Going with brands that are against our values: This can be the most difficult one. Even if you’re not a scrapbooker or DIY type, you’ve probably heard of the recent Hobby Lobby’s Supreme Court case: It fought and won against covering birth control pills for employees under ObamaCare, claiming it went against their values. If Michaels and Hobby Lobby were equal distance from my house it would be an easy decision for me. But plenty of corporations we do business with every day espouse opinions and use profits from our purchases for causes that we mildly or vehemently oppose. For instance, Dominos Pizza and Carl’s Jr. are big anti-abortion supporters and Expedia is a supporter of a climate change denier organization. But do these factors weigh in when we want to buy something? Yes…and no. Knowing the political and cultural leanings of corporations means we might think about switching, but the emphasis on “might”. We’re guilty of sometimes squashing our moral values for a product or service we love, need or is easier to get.

Ultimately, the only person we answer to when we buy something that goes against our core is that face in the mirror— how do we feel ethically, morally, and financially about our purchasing decisions? Whatever “games” we have to play to make that occur, we will do it if motivated enough, because in the end, we want what we want. And isn’t that what consumerism is all about?

5 Ways to Avoid Your Content Jumping the Shark

fozI think we can all agree that August exposed the dark side of content overload capitalizing on horrific events, specifically the many news-jacking incidents of the Robin Williams death story to tell a branding lessons, public relations exercises,  or a host of other bad coverage decisions. Content surpassed the tipping point on good taste long before Robin Williams’ death, but it’s a sad reminder that we’d all benefit from sticking to some basic rules.

With no formal “content code of conduct” in this digital wild west, I believe it benefits everyone to create articles and posts that avoid blatant self-interest or all-out sensationalism, otherwise, readers will look away out of boredom, indifference, or outright disgust. Sure, quality varies in any profession—whether it’s graphic design or accounting or anything else—but content has gotten pretty sloppy these days. And with branded content increasingly contributing to the bottom-line for companies and publishers, there’s even more potential for a downward spiral.

As someone once said: “Just because you have a pen, it doesn’t mean you should write.” So, if you’re going to produce content, consider these five ideas to help toggle that fine line.

No Knee-Jerk News-jacking: In the race to produce the first or competing angle on a trending topic, the temptation to get in on the action because everyone else is can be a fool’s game. If you have nothing new to add or merely seems an opportune moment to spout expertise or make a vague connection, you’re probably better off keeping quiet. Sitting on a trending topic before hitting those keystrokes allows time for ideas to marinate, the opportunity to leverage real-time media insight, and ultimately produce more thoughtful content if you choose to do so.

Write for Your Audience, Not SEO: Despite my marketing chops, I’m still a former journalist so I generally leave the keyword ninja moves to the pros. That said, I gladly encourage and promote clicks to my articles, but not at the price of quality. I care that three (alliterated) criteria are met when I write: It should educate, enlighten, or entertain (or the miracle of all three). If an article doesn’t do any of these, it’s back to the drawing board. In the end, as the saying goes, “the best SEO is good content.” Amen to that.

Consider the “So What?” Factor: By now we can all agree thousands of posts abound on blogging best practices, do’s and don’ts of emails, or writing the killer LinkedIn profile—you get the idea. Though they all bring their own unique value to the table, most have been done before. The question to ask is: What differentiates my content from everything else out there? I know personally how many times I get all excited to write about a topic only to find out it’s already been done ad nauseam. But I am happy to say I have many ideas rattling around in my brain that will one day make their singular debut, so I move on.

Be Human: Digital content readers tend to be an intelligent, curious bunch and can usually be found hunting the web for good stuff—they have no patience or time for self-promotion or articles with the substance of popcorn. The smarter, more relatable your articles are, the more they will spark a conversation and as a bonus, your personality will also shine through. I’ve also found it serves no purpose to “play Switzerland” by staying neutral on a topic. Taking a stand is what separates you from the sheep and gets your audience engaged and responsive, whether they agree with you or not.

Stoke the Passion: When you write about a topic that piques your own interest and curiosity, that enthusiasm will come out organically. I create lots of content on marketing and technology, but I never write about something that doesn’t interest me. It might result in less-than-stellar readership sometimes, but I’ve learned something myself (and for the small group of readers interested in controversial billboards of 2013, you’re welcome).

The endless tidal wave of content these days is only going up (and up), so don’t be tempted to jump the shark, no matter how high the SEO results might be.