The Innovative Marketer's Blog

Great Content Isn’t About Best Practices; It’s About Your Practices

Posted by Matthew Cook

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Why do so many businesses have such a hard time creating decent blog content? I don’t think it’s because writing is hard—or not just because writing is hard, or not even primarily because writing is hard.

Writing is hard; I’ve written about that before. But bad writing is something that can be fixed. And you can always hire someone like me to do it for you.

The more I’ve helped businesses with their content marketing and inbound marketing efforts, the more convinced I’ve become that the main thing standing between most businesses and great content is fear—fear of putting their own thoughts and ideas out there, fear of taking a stand for what they believe, fear of even acknowledging that they have thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and opinions of their own.

This is why I hate the concept of best practices. The concept of best practices gives businesses something to hide behind when they’re afraid of taking responsibility for their own opinions. How many blog posts, whitepapers, or eBooks have your read lately that start with something along the lines of, “In the X industry, best practices call for…”?

Sometimes they don’t use the phrase “best practices,” but the idea is still there: “It is widely accepted in the X industry that…”

Where did these so-called best practices come from, anyway? Too often, in their content, businesses act like they’re just out there in the ether, pre-formed and perfect. We know this isn’t true.

If something has been accepted by a whole industry as a pretty good idea, it’s been accepted for a reason. It’s been accepted because people in that industry have looked at it, thought about it, compared it to their own experiences, decided, “Yeah, that is a pretty good idea,” and started doing it themselves.

That’s exactly what your readers want to hear from you. When people are reading your blog content, I don’t think they care a whole lot what the best practices are. Anyone can take any practice and call it a best practice. What your readers want to know from you is what you do and why you do it.

So you’ve adapted a certain way of doing things. Why? What experiences did you have that led you to believe your way is the best way? What kind of success have you had doing things this way, and, while we’re at it, what challenges?

This Is What I’m Talking About:

A client of my agency’s (without getting too specific) bases its services on a certain industry standard (one of those ones that starts with ISO and ends with an impressive sequence of numbers that must mean something to somebody). After interviewing this client’s subject matter experts, my writing team and I created a whitepaper for them about their services and the problems they solve.

Overall, this client was happy with our work, but they did request one change. In the section where the paper talked about the industry standard, we had used language like “we believe” and “we think.” The client asked us to take that out.

“We don’t believe it’s the best standard to follow,” our client told us. “It just is.”

Says who?

The fact of the matter is, our client does believe that particular standard is the best one. They had taken a look at it, looked at the alternatives, and made a judgment based on their own experience and expertise. Yet, they’re preferred to hide behind best practices rather than claim their thoughts as their own.

Fear is Powerful

I get it. When you put your own ideas out there, there’s a chance you might be wrong. There’s a chance you might be criticized. There’s a chance you might give someone some very bad advice and they might get very upset at you as a result.

But—and here’s what I believe—if you want your content, and your business, to rise above all the other ones that are just regurgitating the same best practices without rhyme or reason, you have to take the risk. That’s what inbound marketing is all about.

Earlier, I asked where best practices come from. The answer is, they come from thought leaders. These are people who overcame their fear and put their ideas out there and have risen to the top of their industries. That’s worth the risk, I think.

On Content” is an ongoing blog series by IMR content manager Matthew Cook that confronts the difficulties and celebrates the pleasures of writing online content.

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Topics: Blogging, Content Marketing