For great content strategy, look to Bruce Springsteen.
Bruce has been in the business in a big way since 1973. This month, in fact, marks 41 years of Bruce music. If you have been to a Springsteen concert recently, you know that even though he is 64, he is anything but washed up. Yes, he’s aged, and his music has certainly matured, but he has a growing cult following.
I love Bruce’s older music. The first album is bliss: creative, poetic, unexpected. The second album, also released in 1973, is different, but in some ways better. It houses genius jazz riffs and rock anthems that remain unmatched.
Come 1975, Born to Run was released. It is still considered one of the best albums ever recorded. It has a narrative feel that the first two do not. When you listen, you almost feel like you’re on a Harley on a turnpike in New Jersey on a humid summer night.
Fast forward to 1983. Nebraska, Springsteen’s sixth studio album, was a masterpiece. Dark and sad, it stirs a whirlwind of emotions that teeter between hope and despair.
Then, the next year, he released Born in the USA, a secondary breakout album that was wildly popular, upbeat and fun, and oddly misunderstood.
Time-warp over 20 years in time to Wrecking Ball (2012) and High Hopes (2014), his last two albums. Bruce’s seventeen studio albums display an incredible evolution that maintains a common thread of style and theme over four decades. The music has changed, and yet it’s all undeniably Bruce.
Bruce has never been known for rich, sultry vocals. Lots of people really don’t care for his voice. His lyrics, however, are in a class of their own. Those lyrics have caused Springsteen’s massive fan base to rise up (excuse the pun). Springsteen the lyrical poet is a content master.
When you create a content strategy, think like Springsteen.
1. Be unmistakably you.
What is your brand?
Hint: Don’t use adjectives to describe it. Adjectives are the usual suspects that water down your branding. Words like creative, fast, cutting-edge, or sophisticated describe millions of brands. You don’t want to get lost in a sea of mediocre competition, and that’s what you’ll get if you try to describe yourself that way.
Think about Springsteen’s brand. He speaks to (and for) middle class America, people who want the American dream but find it elusive. He is a storyteller of the American everyman. He taps into hope for something better while acknowledging the struggle, the sweat and tears. He sings about failed marriages, messy family relationships, unemployment, injustice, 9/11, teenage fun … teenage pregnancy. Know anyone whose lives have been affected by any of these?
That’s Springsteen’s brand.
Are you the designer who is a color maestro, who has an eye for combinations that are unexpectedly dazzling?
Are you the programmer who can do in 2,000 lines of code what it takes other programmers 5,000 lines? Are you the anti-bloatware code writer?
Do you give a haircut that grows out magnificently for weeks? Do your clients rave about your mad razor-cutting skills?
Do you have a Middle Eastern decorating style that has people driving miles and paying a premium to get a slice of your fabulous taste in their home?
Are you the attorney that has a way of coming up with a sneak attack during cross examination that the opposing counsel never saw coming?
Let’s take the last one. You don’t want to call yourself a “premiere lawyer specializing in business,” or even just that you “get results.”
No matter what your business, whatever you do, don’t use the words ‘getting results.’ What results? Laser focus on what you mean by that. Is it:
~An average 43% lift in response?
~Project management that saves an average of 8% in expeditures over your competitors?
~Identifying and moving on mutual funds that beat the other money managers’ picks year after year?
But that’s only part of your brand.
Why do your clients like you? Are you funny, fast, easy to talk to? Think about your personal style. Join those qualities to the strengths of your work and voila! You have the start of a solid brand.
2. Evolve, and then evolve some more.
Your brand is the common thread, your theme, as it were. It serves as a framework in which you’ll create. That work you create needs to constantly evolve. If you’re stagnant, you’ll become a one-hit-wonder. If you’re growing by trying new things, exploring your field, finding holes in the typical approaches, and bravely chancing failure, you’re on your way to becoming a living legend in your niche. Don’t stop.
Do some research so that you can launch a new project or service.
Change your website.
Grab some new spices and create a dish with them. Maybe no one’s ever thought of it. Maybe it’ll be a colossal failure. Maybe it’ll steer you down a new path. Who cares? Give it a whirl. Success or failure, you’re sure to learn something.
Take something you’ve been doing the same way for years, and force yourself to rethink it. How can you do it differently? Don’t put the header at the top of the website this time. Add lace to the dress, even if you have never used it before. Write short, spunky chapters in your book this time. Buy rimless glasses instead. Brainstorm ways to simplify your app for your users. Put your next white paper content into Prezi. Silver instead of black. You get the idea.
3. Produce content consistently.
Springsteen puts out albums every few years, and he has for almost a half a century. Put this lesson in your context. Be realistic about your content calendar; pick a pace and stick with it. For example, two blog posts per month is fine as long as you are prepared to make those posts without fail for years. YEARS. The key is to generate a lot of content over time. It’s a marathon. You’re in training.
If you’re researching and evolving the development of your business as outlined in #2 above, you’ll have plenty to write about.
Springsteen’s consistent album release schedule has created freight train momentum. If he had stopped putting out new music for a huge chunk of years, there may have been a fade in his following. His body of work is massive enough to warrant his having his own station on SiriusXM. Think about that. What will your work and your content win for you if you stay with it long enough? What can you do to earn your own channel (however that looks) in your niche?
4. Be real.
Springsteen’s rich, raw portrayal of life in the post-industrial information age resonates with people all over the world. He tells the truth, even when the truth is ugly. He is true to himself by telling the story of America as he sees it. As it turns out, he talks about themes that we all experience but rarely talk about. His fans beg for more.
Be the farmer who talks about corruption in agriculture.
Be the image consultant who talks about the fine line between genuine and saccharine.
Be the architect who refuses to applaud the building designs that other people praise but you can’t stand.
It’s okay to say you think Hemingway is overrated.
It’s okay to say you love savory apple pie more than sweet.
It’s okay to re-upholster the second-hand store couch instead of buying a new one at Ikea because you love the way the old, springy cushions feel.
It’s okay to let yourself go grey.
Do it your way. Talk about it. It will make you magnetic. A magnetic brand: that’s the goal.
5. Prepare for disdain.
Some people practically worship Springsteen, while plenty of people can’t stand him. That’s the nature of the beast. If you differentiate, develop a powerful brand, and give the world your authentic self in your content, someone’s going to be repulsed. Brace yourself.
Thick skin will save you some heartache, so grow it. When the naysayers argue (and they will), be ready to defend your position or at least agree to disagree. Resistance is a good thing: It sharpens your logic and gives you an opportunity to articulate your opinions.
And laugh about it. Springsteen does, and it works for him.
The Worst Kind of Content
I hate throwing up when I have the flu. Don’t you? Regurgitation is gross.
I repeat: Regurgitation is gross.
Don’t regurgitate the content you have read in the latest books and articles. Plain vanilla is not a brand, and I promise, it is not you. Easy, yes, but not you.
Instead, give your brand authority by voicing your opinions about what you’re reading. Question industry leaders. Poke holes in the latest trends. Make predictions. Synthesize.
Regurgitation is old and stale. Make your content new.
Springsteen’s music doesn’t sound like anyone else’s. If you apply that principle to your content andinvest in your content over the long haul, you’ll build an audience that will pay to show up, just like Bruce. It gives a whole new meaning to “be your own Boss.” (That’s pun #2.)
Kari Matthews is a Springsteen fan who writes content and copy for tech companies. Give her a shout at karimatthews.com.
Image from insidethebeltway.com