Hello. 5 lessons content marketers (i.e. humans) can learn from Adele

As is habit during my commute, I was listening to NPR when the critic Ken Tucker concluded his review of Adele’s latest album, 25:

In a pop world overflowing with singers who want to blow you away, Adele wants to talk with you, to have a conversation. It’s a chat she’s having with millions of people yearning to engage with someone who’s not shouting at them or begging them to click a like button.

Maybe it’s because I was walking to work that this quote instantly reminded me of content marketing. More accurately, it embarrassed me. I immediately thought of all the blog posts I write for my employer, the ever gracious eZ Systems.

Like many youngsters dubbed “content marketer,” I am guilty of contributing to the white noise that marks the B2B blogosphere. Ever since Brian Halligan coined inbound marketing in 2005, there’s been a huge rise in the number of people like me, who are essentially taking big purple crayons and drawing all over the internet in an attempt to be a “thought leader.”

In our anxiety to produce stunning content while retaining the aura of professionalism, we often (or maybe just me) forget our very human passions and values. When we forget that, we create mindless dribble that gets the job done, but is the digital equivalent of throwing trash into the subway tracks.

This quote for me was like a bucket of cold water thrown on my face. Once the shock and cold dissipated, I realized that the key to being a powerful human communicator, which Adele so beautifully exemplifies, is this: be human, no matter how many people are watching.

Some lessons from Adele

1. to charm others, take an honest pleasure in them

One reason Adele is so damn charming is that she actually cares about people. She is more than merely interested: she believes that everyone has something to teach her. You don’t write a song about your hometown (Hometown Glory: great song, go stream it now) unless you care to meet the people around you.

I love the photographer Richard Avedon’s definition of charm: “the ability to be truly interested in other people.”

When you see Adele on talk shows, like this clip of her going to an Adele Impersonator contest, you see her sincerely enjoying others. She doesn’t have to pump up her own image. She is there for the experience and she is going to enjoy that experience with others.

2. take a perverse pleasure in cutting things out

It took Adele four years to write 11 songs. (Ok 14 if you’re like me and went to Target to buy the deluxe album with three extra tracks). During that time she wrote many, many songs that she did not include in the album, including Sia’s hit “Alive.”

Sometimes, less truly is more. In my own copy for the eZ blog, I’ve been asking myself when I can delete anything. Is this phrase or sentence or word really necessary?

It’s always a surprise, in reviewing copy that I thought was finalized, to see that this or that really could be deleted. Sometimes it’s a visitor or peer who points out the flabby bit, and it’s always a prick to the ego but one that I am, thankfully, becoming inured to.

I’ve start to take a perverse pleasure in deleting words. I’ve started to act with the philosophy that the act of deletion is just as powerful as addition.

And this attitude, if I can go so far as to call it an artistic viewpoint, is something the preternaturally talented Adele perfected in her previous album, 21.

3. stay true to your vision, even when under pressure

When millions of people are looking at you, how do you remain true to yourself and to your voice?

The world is watching Adele; I suppose you could say the world is pretty much her office. And with all those eyeballs telling her to write more, release tracks faster, say something with more edge, it’s rather amazing that she doesn’t crack under pressure to say something that isn’t truly tied up with her being.

And in the end, standing staunchly near by her vision was the smartest path forward. Two weeks ago, Adele became the first artist ever to sell more than a million albums the first and second week of her album’s release. This is in an age when industry experts are likely telling her to focus on streaming.

If she followed a list of “best practices,” there’s no way she would be as nearly successful as she is today.

And speaking of jargon-y terms and phrases….

4. don’t be another “thought leader”

Adele has this habit of never claiming she has all the answers. She looks to her own experience and reports back what she finds, but thanks to her built-in proof bs detector, she never comes across as gimmicky, which resonates with just about everyone, particularly those millennials who can spy specious jargon from a mile away.

Sujan Patel is able to do this constantly. He is one of those rare people who probably does spend just about every ounce of conscious thought in service of content marketing.

He’s an authority, but reading his blogs, you never get the sense that he’s authoritarian. That slip to authoritarian is what many blogs feel the need to pose as. Real mastery means you can use actual words, not Deliverables and Though Leadership and Leaveraging the Intersitial Blah Blah Blah.

While there is considerable pressure to create something smart while being professional, know that the best barometer for discovering quality work is yourself.

5. you acquire the largest audience by maintaining your humanity