Today is the first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, which means it’s time to kick off our Summer of Strategy. I’ll be sending tips, food for thought, and easy wins to my subscribers for 104 days, starting today.
(If you aren’t already getting email from me, you can do that by dropping your info in the box at the bottom of this post.)
Stay on track by knowing what your site is about
Let’s start by looking at what your content is actually about.
I boil it down to three key components: V-E-P. That stands for Values, Expertise, and Personality.
You might think that Expertise would come first. That’s the classic content marketing model, after all: Provide value and your audience will flock to you.
But merit-first isn’t how the world actually works. (Wouldn’t it be nice if it did?)
Values have brought humans together ever since we’ve been humans. But if you find the word values annoying, you could also call this Beliefs, Ethics, or even Religion. They all activate the same part of our complicated brains.
We’ll talk more about how to zero in on this for your projects in tomorrow’s email, so don’t worry too much about it today. Just know that what you believe and value has a strong correlation with who’s going to be attracted to your work.
Expertise does matter, mainly because it’s the vehicle for how you help other people.
It’s not what you know, it’s what you know that helps someone else
To quote the corny (but true) old Zig Ziglar phrase,
“You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”
Your expertise is what leads to your site’s topic list. And it doesn’t necessarily need to be something that saves lives or makes kazillionaires.
There are many, many ways to share what you’re good at with other humans, who will keep coming back to learn more.
If you’re good at something other people are interested in learning, you’ve got this. And it’s not a problem, at all, if you aren’t the world’s foremost expert at it. You just need to be a little further down the path than your audience is.
The final element is Personality. There are a few content creators out there who rely mostly on this, but it’s really tricky to translate attention into customers without expertise and values.
Personality alone doesn’t make for effective content, but no one on the web is looking for more bland, either.
Please note that not every personality is loud or over the top. There is one Gary Vee, and we don’t need extras. (Gary is all the extra we can handle.)
It doesn’t matter whether you’re funny or serious, quiet or shouty, intuitive or empirical, mouthy, confident, shy, aloof, affectionate, cranky, or calm. You can be any combination of those. But bring the person you are to your content.
In other words, mom was right — be yourself, and let the right people find you and love you for who you actually are.
We’ll be talking more about personality in content later this week in The Fierce.
VEP should inform all of the content you publish
Values set a healthy boundary that determines who gets to be in your circle.
Expertise drives your topic list, opening up ideas for content that will help your audience reach their goals.
And Personality keeps your content from being generic and boring. It also helps people get to know who you are as a human, so they feel comfortable spending more time (and maybe money) with you.
Staying on topic
Lots of content strategists will tell you not to stray off topic. (Often because they’re obsessed with search engines, which we’ll talk about another day.)
And mainly, I agree with that.
Everything that falls within your VEP is on topic.
Writing about your topic without any values or personality makes you Wikipedia — and you may have noticed that Wikipedia always seems starved for cash.
That means sometimes you write a post that has nothing to do with your expertise, but everything to do with your values. (An uncompromising Black Lives Matter post might fall into this category for you.)
And once in awhile, it can be strategically smart to post some content that’s primarily about your personality — who you are, how you came to your topic, and how your topic fits into your actual life.
At Copyblogger, we occasionally ran origin stories. Brian has one, I have one, and James Chartrand and Jon Morrow do as well. These were stories outside our usual topic list, that helped our audience get to know us better as individuals.
There are a lot of subtle but profound benefits to that. If nothing else, humans like to do business with humans. And search engines don’t have credit cards.
It’s not 33-33-33
Virtually no successful site blends all three of these in equal parts. The precise mix will be up to you.
For some creators, values are the first thing you notice. Others lead with expertise. And for some, personality drives the bus.
And sure, once in awhile, you’ll find a successful site that drops one of these completely.
But most of us will see massive benefits from using VEP to clarify what our site is about and how it connects to our audience’s values, goals, and desires.
Here are a few examples from clients and friends of mine.
The dog agility world champion whose values are kindness with a strong social justice component, expertise is positive reinforcement dog training, and personality is competitive but friendly.
The digital founder whose values are faith and family, expertise is design-driven entrepreneurship, and personality is self-deprecating and reflective.
The registered dietician whose values are compassion and commitment to the best empirical evidence, expertise is helping binge eating disorder patients repair their relationship with food, and personality is inquisitive and introverted.
Can you see how every VEP combination gives your work a unique fingerprint? Change any element and the entire balance will shift — and the content will attract a different audience.
Today’s action items
Think about where you want to keep your notes for your own Summer of Strategy. It might be a physical paper notebook, an Evernote folder, or something else.
Also, think about your own VEP. Without feeling like you have to get it 100% right, what do you think your own VEP elements might be? We’ll have more specifics on each throughout the week.
If it feels right to you, share your thoughts on Twitter or Instagram using the #SummerOfStrategy hashtag.
Get yourself 104 days of content strategy
This summer, I’ll be publishing 104 bits of advice you’ll be able to use to make your content more strategic … so that your hard work actually gets you somewhere you want to go.
Once a week, I’ll publish content like today’s, diving a little more deeply into a theme for the week.
Then on remaining days, I’ll send to-dos, food for thought, and simple actions you can take to get more of that theme into your content. These are going out by email, so you’ll want to be on my email list to get the full benefit.
On Fridays, you’ll see my usual weekly curated newsletter, The Fierce, which will be oriented around the theme.
And if you get onto the list but feel a little overwhelmed by daily messages, you’ll have an option to switch to The Fierce only.
If you want to make lots of progress on your content this summer — without killing yourself with a huge task list — jump in! Drop your email below and remember to confirm that you want to receive all the good things.
Once you confirm, I’ll get you started with a special report on 7 Things Prolific Writers Do Differently — because content always starts with writing. Becoming even slightly more prolific will pay off in major ways.
And if it’s not summer where you live — I promise, all of the tips and strategies will still be useful to you. 🙂