I do get some interesting emails into my inbox. People seem almost apologetic when they’re asking my skills. I could quite easily set up a search filter for the terms “I’m sorry to ask but do you do email copywriting at all? The answer, by the way, is yes but I always find it interesting that there’s an apologetic tone.
It comes from two things; 1. You’re being entirely sure exactly what it is you’re looking for. And 2) cowboys.
The first is not surprising in the digital industry and is certainly nothing to be ashamed of, nor apologise for. It is confusing, it does, quite often, seem to be talking at cross-purposes with itself. How would a blog post be different from an SEO article? I need a freelance writer, would that cover web copy? Are you OK including keywords into that? And this is just in the corner of it that I specialise in, copywriting and communications (the answers by the way are it isn’t, depends what kind of writer you’re talking to and sure thing, why not). If we don’t ask questions then we don’t get answers and it’s vital to know and break down the jobs you need doing. You can be very lucky and find one individual who can do each of those tasks, or you may need more than one.
This is where the importance of a digital strategy comes in. Even the word strategy tends to instill a wild-eyed fear in some. It probably comes from the same place as the fear of the blank sheet of white paper. Where do you start? Well I always start in the same way I do almost everything, with a list. With your brand in the middle start drawing a list of the digital additions you need, from social media feeds to web content, blogs, e-communications or a news page. Then from there you can start planning in resources. Make it as detailed as you like with timescales and messaging focus but at it’s heart that’s what it is, a list.
But you can’t be good at everything. You can’t know what the current term digital natives are using for a helpfully key-worded 500 word online article this month. In 2013 it was digital content, in 2012 it was SEO, this year it looks like it might be content marketing. It’s that fast-changing for those of us working in the sector day in and day out, we’re not put out when a client comes along and helps for some friendly support in navigation.
It’s point 2 where the problem starts. Cowboys know you can’t do everything. A colleague of mine believes web design is getting like building; it’s all entirely based on word of mouth. I’d argue it’s the same for digital work, be that design, build, strategy or content. There are so many who claim to be able to do it and have the skills you need that they jump on a lack of knowledge and use it to offer things you don’t need. Or they over-promise and under-deliver. By the end of the process you haven’t got what you needed originally and you’re out of pocket.
But just because a complete cowboy builder left you with an expensive plumbing job, you didn’t just lock the door and refuse to enter the room again. Now, you called your friends and you hired someone who was recommended. And chances are they did the job just fine. The same is true in digital projects. Just because you get stung you shouldn’t use that as a reason to reinforce your belief that digital marketing and content development is all smoke and mirrors. It’s a vital way of extending your brand and telling your story as well as connecting with your audience. I’m a firm believer that content marketing should stick with the Reithian principles of inform, educate and entertain.
2014 is predicted to be the year that digital marketing matures. Accept you can’t be good at everything and you might need a little help navigating. Otherwise the risk is that you and your brand will get left behind.