Wednesday, September 20, 2023

How to Manage Gen X Employees

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe..."

I made my first ‘corporate video’ on a 16mm Arri BL, and it contained the words “Just 5 minutes from this cinema.” I've created magazine ads in 1:618 with a scalple and Cow Gum. I rendered video titles with my Atari ST. I wrote my first website in Notepad and my second in Netscape Composer. I worked in SEO when getting on DMoz was critical and Lycos was still a puppy. I’ve seen dot com bubbles burst, the Berlin Wall fall, every Star Wars film at the cinema, and I was an art student under Thatcher. I am tech-savvy - but not tech-dependent. I’ve written millions of words of copy, been married twice, and lived/worked in six different counties. I have footwear that's probably older than you are.

Check this out for the classic explaination, beloved by so many TicTokers.

The Unsung Role Models: Gen X

♬ GEN X is ppl born around 1965 to 1981 - The Anxious Millennial
Be sure you actually want an honest opinion before you ask me for one. My work/life balance is good, but I’ll work ‘til I die (and when I work, I work hard). Self-reliance is my middle name, and I don’t give a damn about workplace politics unless it’ll get in the way of my deliverables. I’m flexible and can adapt to change, but I can involuntarily roll my eyes so hard I check out my own ass. I have learned to keep my mouth shut, but only recently, though not if I see injustice, bad science, or bigotry. I am loyal but do not cross me. 

I am Generation X

Here’s how to manage us so that nobody gets hurt. 

Who Exactly is Gen X? 

My Gen X colleagues, in my experience, are often the unsung role models and silent mentors in the modern workplace. Born between the late 1960s and early 1980s they are more Taoist than the Boomers and more stoic than the Millennials. Now in our 40s and 50s, we hold senior positions in agencies and across all industry sectors. 

As any savvy marketer or creative will tell you, understanding the dynamics of your team and where people fit is important. We're not complicated, but there's some things you need to know becasue they run deep in the Gen X psyche.

While younger workers may be taking career breaks, Gen X employees are deliberatly choosing to stay employed, driven by necessity and desire. Primarily, our financial obligations of kids, mortgages, divorces, medical bills, that classic camper van we didn't really need, etc. that make a consistent income indispensable. Moreover, after navigating numerous economic upheavals and diligently building their careers, many are reluctant to sideline their potential for further career advancement. So much for the label of "the slacker generation."

Here are my thoughts, from the horse’s mouth, based on thirty years working in/with creative teams (in-house and in-agency) and from being a somewhat typical (all be it neuroatypical) example of my demographic: 

Unpacking the Gen X DNA 

Gen Xers are archetypically known for their resourcefulness, independence, and for valuing work-life balance. We embraced personal computing from the ZX Spectrum onwards and invariably hold strong views on equality and individual liberty. 

As the ‘latchkey generation,’ we’re more than capable of managing our time and challenges solo. We’ve been feeding ourselves since we were ten and we "drank out of the hose" because we weren't allowed in the house. We thrive without micromanagement, solving challenges with experience and initiative, and are best given a goal and some KPIs. Revved up, then let loose like an Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle. Helicopter-manage us and we’ll hate you, our jobs, and leave (for a 16%+ pay rise with your competitors). Micromanagement shows a clear lack of trust and feels like it’s taking away our autonomy - it will stifle our creativity and hinder productivity. We’ve been doing this a long time, and we’ve plenty of connections and other places to go if we don’t like it here. 

While respectful, we do lean towards open, relaxed work settings. Expect friendly collaboration and an open-door policy. We are often straight-talking and appreciate straight-talking comms in return. Gen X are resilient, having self medicated themselves through the 90s, and we’ve earned any success we may have. Our tenacity - some may say bloody mindedness - often shines, and can be used to drive projects with passion and perseverance. The MTV Generation (X) is less about the hustle, and more about efficient results. Often cited for our grace under pressure, Gen X will ensure quality over quantity. Our aptitude at time-management and problem-solving makes us efficient players – so let us play. We got this. Leave us to it.  

Growing up in a battlefield of economic shenanigans, we value work dedication AND personal time. If you want a late meeting, fine, but don’t push it too much or we’ll quickly feel undervalued and unappreciated. Quid pro quo, Clarice. Taking us for granted is a mistake, but with some concessions for fair division of holiday time so we can take our teenagers to Disneyland (or whatever), and keep weekends for our hobbies, we’ll nod and smile quite happily. I work for a US company, so it’s part of the job to be flexible and available outside of GMT, and that’s fine, but I still take time to walk my dogs in the mornings if I’ve got meetings ‘till 9 PM. Having experienced a litany of seismic shifts in work cultures, we’re all about adaptability. 

We can embrace change, proudly championing diversity and creativity, be it AI in the workplace or collaborative cloud tools, and are often change leaders. Putting us in charge of collating the ESG report or having us on the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council is our natural habitat. We evolved with the rise of PCs, mobile phones, and the internet. Quick to pick up new tech trends and early adopters, while valuing traditional methods, we’re happy to try most new things (unless it’s decaf coffee) if you can engage us with how they’ll streamline processes and won’t impact on our deadlines.

We genuinely value a clear brief and constructive dialogues, so open feedback channels to promote growth and understanding. A tech-free childhood fostered innate problem-solving and collaboration abilities. Gen X is capable of taking part in some superb team dynamics leading to productive and creative outcomes. 

Actual Management Tips

To harness the dynamism of your resident Gen X, consider the following:
  • Micromanagement? No thanks. Allow them their autonomy.
  • Feedback is Gold. Constructive criticism is welcomed; just keep it honest.
  • Valued Time = Productivity. Their work-life balance mantra ensures optimal results.
  • Open Conversations Lead to Success. Honesty garners respect and drives collaboration.
  • Never Stop Learning. Offer opportunities for skill enhancement.
  • Experience is Priceless. Respect their journey and insights; they’re a world-weary goldmine. 
Tapping into the strengths and understanding of Gen X can really add to any team's dynamism – especially when there’s so much young blood in our industry it’s important not to be trapped in a single generational mindset. Gen X is a bridge between tradition and innovation, and can bring invaluable insights from both past lessons, a hands-on and polymath attitude, and from a passion for exploring future trends. 

Whether you’re a Gen Xer yourself, work alongside one, or manage a whole team of them – appreciating their unique blend of skills and experiences can only set you up for success.

Play nice, and we’ll play nice back. Probably.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Why Content Marketing Should Embrace AI

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about how I was using AI, still pretty much in its content marketing infancy, as a collaborative tool in my daily work. It might be a good time for an update. 

I’m writing this by hand, not using any AI input, but I am using AI spellchecker because, well, that just makes sense.
I genuinely believe that artificial intelligence isn’t just a tool, but a transformative force in content marketing. It offers unparalleled personalisation, enhances creativity, optimises distribution, and fosters data-driven decision-making. While there’s ethical considerations that undoubtedly need to be addressed (should I be sharing the by-line?) and a wider conversation to be had, the gains for me have been weapons-grade.

For content marketing professionals like myself, who seek continuous innovation and efficiency as part of the process, the integration of AI has a lot of benefits. Its power to revolutionise the way we approach marketing is not just promising; it's already here. And I use it daily.

Using AI Day to Day
Just about everything I’ve written at work since last November has had some level of AI collaboration, be it ideas, data, explanations from ChatGPT, or images and visuals from MidJourney. As I said in my early thoughts and finding on AI, I am not now and never will be, any kind of an aficionado of Artificial Intelligence (AI). I’ve found a level of usage, however, that suits the way I work and has put my productivity level through the roof. If there were KoolAid, I’ve drunk it.

Here's a few reasons why:
I can’t spell for Jack: Or punctuate, really. I get by pretty well and always have, but most of that is from practice and I don’t have an English degree. I’ve worked with journalists who have nothing but my deepest admiration. I don’t naturally write in US English, for starters. On the most basic level, AI tools (like Grammarly and Wordtune) are indispensable spelling and grammar checkers that can be tuned for brand voice and stop me rambling on with run-on sentences and comma splices. They do this in-line while I’m writing, across assorted applications, with zero friction. If we get one decent solar flare, I am so screwed.

Explaining concepts: Most content markets are biblical at trivia – especially those of us in an agency who flit from topic to topic. We have to write and create fresh ideas around everything from pet food to the socio-economic impact of retail robotics. Immersing myself in a topic is one thing, but I work in cybersecurity, and sometimes, working from home as I do, I need to ask someone to “explain, like you would to a graduate student, what are the core concepts behind user and entity behavior analytics” without (once again) hassling our product marketing manager in Teams. I don’t have time to wade through pages of weak Google results. Thank you, ChatGPT4.

Fresh ideas: Being creative on demand, daily, is what I do. Some days, at the risk of using the phrase “writer's block,” it’s not a natural state to be in. Sometimes I need some inspiration. AI is one of the options I turn to when I’m staring at my screen like a goldfish in a strobe light.

Above and beyond ChatGPT, which is my default for most things, platforms like ShortlyAIJasper, and others provide creative writing environments with useful prompts and suggestions. Websites like Reedsy offer writing prompt generators that can kickstart the creative process. If we have some programming skills, and it’s actually not rocket science, we can use AI models (including OpenAI) to create customised prompts based on our specific needs and interests. 

I recently wrote a whole other post on the creative content marketing process, including the use of AI, but tools like MindMeister or Lucidchart also allow us to create mind maps and visual prompts to help brainstorm and ideate.

Talking to the audience: I’m not the Chief Information Security Officer of a billion-dollar Fortune 500, but the CISO is the main target of the bulk of the output I produce these days. What do they actually care about that will be of genuine value to them? What are their concerns? What is the CISO community talking about? Much as I love them, this is the new Yahoo Answers (alas, no longer with us) and Quora

Using AI for inspiration, I recently crafted a post on “How can Busy CISOs Avoid Occupational Burn-Out?” Sure, it’s low-hanging fruit. It was, however, “syndicated” by Cloud Security Alliance, who published it to their site, giving us a ton of retweets from their share and some juicy PageRank from linking. This has happened more than once, because the professional cybersecurity community found real value in my writing.

Making it pretty: Back in the 80s, before I ventured into the world of film production and before the advent of the Internet, I studied graphic design at college. I can turn my hand to a reasonable infographic, airbrush a burnt-out car out of a corporate image (true story), and I’m something of a Photoshop veteran, but, MidJourney is now my go-to for basic imagery. Sure, there’s beautiful original art for free at Pixabay and Upsplash, and many a time I still make use of these invaluable assets, but I have deadlines and things to get done. While always enjoyable, I don’t have the capacity to wade through thousands of images that are “almost” right for the job – not when I can cut and paste a prompt I know will give me exactly the brand look and consistent style we use, add a few new words that reflect my copy, then spend two minutes in Photoshop to round off the edges and apply (in our case) a corporate duotone. And this for $15 less month than Shutterstock and with no limits on volume.

Just this week I’ve been dabbling with PikaLabs, to give our corporate Twitter pics some movement - because it’s our job to experiment. I also use MidJourney for ideas, like showing me graphical suggestions for infographics (using specific data) that I can then exploit in Illustrator. It’s not the whole process, far from it, but it’s a part of the process.
Analytics: AI’s not just useful for producing content, it’s also a godsend for analytics and decision-making. Statistics and data analysis leave me cold, but content is born of good data. Original data insights make bankable PR, and getting those insights is now a whole lot easier. Also, trend analysis affords inspiration. I have to give Tableau some props. It's great for anyone who wants to play with data and make it come alive visually, and I’m no tech wizard. It can handle complex calculations, mix different data together, and getting started with the free trial was a breeze. Again, I then add brand and other elements to the output, but it’s damn helpful for ideas and for pulling out the unseen. Being able to dump a load of web analytics onto OpenAI and ask it who our most engaged visitors are, then create me a few personas for those visitors, all within seconds, is useful, enlightening, and inspiring.

Saving time: Rolling all the above together, how much time do I save on a full production day? I’d estimate an hour, maybe two. What do I do with that time? More work. 

I can produce two 1200-word blog posts, or a blog post and solution brief, plus my other work, between 9-5. That’s probably an extra case study and an explainer script in a week – and good value content at that. Harsh, perhaps, but with a level of productivity like that why would future employers consider a candidate who hasn’t embraced AI collaboration?

Will AI Take Our Jobs?
Obviously, I think of AI as a boost for my creativity and efficiency. It is, right? 

Well, yes and no. Unless we’re an undertaker or a hairdresser, we’ll have to embrace the possibilities of AI, or yes we’ll get left behind. Proofreaders and translators, copywriters, video producers, graphic designers, audio editors, analysts… I do elements of all these jobs in my content marketing role and all jobs in the AI firing line. But is my job in the firing line? 

No. AI isn’t creative without the right promps and actions by a human agent. Ps Beta now has AI image generation built in, and it’s now part of the creative process. Digital artists are training on this in Universities around the world, right now. The likes of outpainting and process-driven AI image creation are a massive time saver, and now a part of the creative process. Augmenting imagery with AI is now normal and part of the job, but it still needs a creative operator – well, at least for now. As you can see from the above, I’m still pretty hands on. AI is not the creative in creative content marketing, it’s a means to an end.
We can’t afford to put our heads in the sand and ignore AI, and we need to make it a part of our day-to-day or, frankly, get a new career. Isn’t it a part of our jobs to be experimenting with new tools and mediums? In the future, AI will turn one creative person into a polymath, an individual into a team, and continue to be a fantastic collaborator for outstanding creative output. Embracing AI as a collaborator, now, means we’ll be a part of that future.

Let’s not get left behind.

If you’d like to follow up with me on this post, please grab me on Twitter (though I’m shadow tweeting these days), Threads (where I’m happily get my book geek on), or LinkedIn for a chat.

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Staying Creative as a Content Marketer

A colleague suggested I write this, and it’s been percolating at the back of my brain, getting tickled by the bubbles of misfiring neurons, for the last seven days.

In the giddy world of content marketing, where engagement and innovation reign like Louis XIV, creativity isn't just a bonus; it's an essential part of the mix. As a content marketing “expert” – “ex” being the unknown quantity and “spert” being a drip under pressure - my job is to be thinking out of the box, tapping into new trends and thinking, immersing myself in a topic I usually have no knowledge about going in, and creating fresh content that resonates with a specific target audience. Originality at capacity is our bread and butter. How do I stay consistently creative - ahead of time, on spec, and under budget - in an always-evolving environment?


Well, I’m glad you asked.

Understanding the Importance of Creativity 


“Alexa, what is Creativity?”

“Creativity is the innate or cultivated ability to transcend traditional thinking, develop original ideas, and discover uncharted paths of expression and problem-solving. It is not confined to the arts but permeates all aspects of life, from scientific innovation to business strategies. Creativity involves connecting disparate ideas, thinking laterally, and taking risks to create something new and valuable. It's a dynamic and often unpredictable process that engages the mind, emotions, and spirit, transforming the way we see and interact with the world. Creativity is the spark that ignites innovation and breathes life into our everyday experiences.”

“Yeah, whatevs. Play Spotify.” 


Creativity pays the bills.

Strategies to Boost Creativity 

Always be Learning

Never stop trying new things. I’ve dabbled in podcasting, virtual worlds, VR, AR, AI, and so many other things before they made it to the mainstream because curiosity is important. 

I was an early Second Life adopter and joined Twitter and Facebook the day they went public. I was also a big user of Google Lively and a multiple Mayor on Foursquare. Some become useful, and some fall by the wayside. They do, however, stimulate ideas. 

I once won a New Statesman Award for the best green campaign by building trees in a virtual world, selling them in-world, and using the L$ to plant trees in meat-space, allowing people to carbon offset their virtual lives as Second Life hit the cultural zeitgeist. I was adding locations to the Niantic database when it was Ingress, meaning some of my retail clients suddenly found they were Pokémon Go hubs and were inundated with potential customers. I use AI in my work daily, and have been for nearly a year. Specialisation is for insects.

Always be playing. Always be experimenting. Always be learning. Always be curious. It stimulates ideas, and you never know what’s going to become useful. As long as you're green, you're growing. As soon as you're ripe, you start to rot. 

Invest in yourself and attend workshops and seminars. Visit trade shows. Learning from experts keeps things fresh. Seek out wisdom. Engaging with fellow creative minds nurtures your innovative spirit. Once a month, I Skype with my old colleagues from Conversify, Karen Woodward and Shelli Martineau (who are social media and creative content geniuses), and it's always inspiring - sometimes, we record it for the Bad Twin Podcast. I get together for virtual coffees with the content markers who are using AI at one of our agencies just to shoot the breeze after work and share prompt ideas.

Books on creativity, marketing, art, branding, psychology, graphic design, history, and even fiction can expand our thinking, and I've an ever-growing collection of eBay bargains that I sit upon like Smaug. Flicking through the pages, rubbing my chin like a veritable BookWyrm, when the creative fancy takes me.


Daily Creative Habits

Coffee first, then I head up to my office. 

Job número uno I scan my emails. I have our BDMs and sales engineers in the loop to provide me with content suggestions to support what they do. If they have a client or prospect with a specific content or usage case, that may be an excuse for a solution brief, an explainer video, or a new angle on a success story. A blog post, if nothing else. We’re part of the marketing team – never forget we’re there to support the sales process. You are not being paid to be creative without a business case for it. In the words of Capt. Jack Aubrey, “We do not have time for your damned hobbies, sir!” We’re not being paid to believe in the power of our dreams – if that’s your thing and you make a living from it, good on ya, but alas, that's rare, and I like a regular paycheck.


Once I’m happy nothing’s broken or needs my attention, and I’ve made a few notes of anything for action, I take the dogs out for a walk. Physical movement stimulates mental agility and creative thinking. I’m very lucky. I live in the spectacular Sperrins, the largest mountain range in Ireland, spanning some 40 miles. Regardless, the same stimulation existed when I lived in Leeds, Nottingham, Denver, Stockholm, or anywhere outside my home office. Not focusing on a pair of monitors eight inches from my nose is a must and gives fresh stimulus and time to mull ideas. I might see some cool signage, a Pine Martin, a tractor rally, talk to a neighbor, or I might just think of a different way to phrase something for clarity. I wouldn’t get that at my desk, and it’s all a catalyst for creativity. A few months ago, Alison in the Post Office complained to me about the effects of the cyberattack on the UK postal service, so home I went to write a guest post about the effect on rural communities for link-building. Subconscious processing during this 'incubation period' can lead to unexpected and innovative solutions.


When I return to my desk I usually make notes and put any thoughts in ink. I have a notebook worthy of a serial killer and the search history of a domestic terrorist. If your desktop doesn’t look like Verdun, do you even work in content marketing? Writing freely each morning can clear mental clutter and spark new ideas. It might not be relevant today, but in 6 months’ time, it could be the seed for an entire campaign or a white paper on whatever. My partner calls it “Dopermining,” but even when I watch TV in the evening, I hit Wikipedia or IMDB to “find out more.”


NB: ALWAYS write an idea down, or at least take a screen grab or leave the tab open. Nearly 30 years of doing this has taught me that I won’t remember it if I don’t, even if I think I will. Give the likes of Evernote a go.

Regarding moving, I also love a standing desk and have been using one for decades. This is my current setup:

Which brings me on to:


Building a Creative Workspace 

A sedentary body is a sedentary mind. Also, it’s bad for the waistline. 


I spend at least half the day upright at my desk, some of that getting my steps in with an under-desk treadmill, tapping away about all things cybersecurity. Standing lets me step back and gives me a different perspective. The rest of the time, I sit on an exercise ball. This means I don’t have to move the treadmill, and it’s great for posture, so I’m not bending over my keyboard like a croissant. I appreciate that not everyone can afford the luxury of a desk like this, but I began with a bit of DIY and a wireless keyboard. Get creative. This is how I started many moons ago, with a bit of spare pine bolted to an adjustable shelf.

If you don’t work from home, ask about a change in your environment come appraisal time. Agencies, especially, are often surprisingly amenable to the idea of a communal standing hot desk, and Ikea does some low-budget starter packages that won’t break the bank. During COVID we got a "home office payment," so I bought a secondhand Flexispot base from Facebook Marketplace and a bit bit of nice oak for esthetics, which I'm still using today. In total, it cost me about £250, but it is a REALLY nice bit of oak. The treadmill was partially bought with Amazon vouchers from some VO work I did for a friend.


Sometimes it’s good to take a step back. Surround yourself with colours, books, objects, and artwork that inspire you. Structure your space in a way that stimulates and doesn't stifle your thinking. If you can, have a view with a window nearby. Changing scenery or rearranging your workspace can shift your mental state and stimulate creativity. Yes, sometimes I do play with those action figures in work time.


While I’m working I listen to an eclectic array of music and podcasts. I even watch YouTube or BritBox (but nothing I have to concentrate on) on my iPad. Don’t limit yourself to your usual – try Nordic Folk, Polynesian Pop, Trance, Frank Zappa, Ganstergrass, or someone else's playlist made for running around a castle at midnight or selling your soul at the crossroads at midnight. Feel free to have a root through my playlists on Spotify. Staying in your comfort zone defeats the purpose.


Weekly Internals

Once a week we have a marketing dept. team call, and I solicit ideas and suggestions for gaps in our assets catalogue. I also ask for anything for our weekly internal newsletter (all the what’s new and fluff that’s good for LinkedIn sharing) that they’ve produced and invite contributions for proofreading and brand compliance, which all come under my remit. I also attend the big weekly sales pow-wow because nine times out of ten it stimulates an idea or another usage case, plus it keeps me on the sales team's radar. I can't create a conversation if I’m not a part of the conversation.


Regular collaboration with team members can ignite fresh ideas. Engaging with colleagues from different areas of the business can provide new perspectives. Figurative speaking, I'll turn up to the opening of an envelope if there might be a story in it.


Here's an infamous anecdote I’m paraphrasing from my old boss, Trevor, at Tank PR:


“I worked with a veteran PR guy who would sit in the loading bay at his company. He’d sit there every so often and just watch. Eventually, he’d spot something, like a pallet going to Zimbabwe or a special order going to New Zealand, and he’d have his story.”


Leveraging Technology for Creativity 

Platforms like MindMeister allow us to visually organise our ideas. Tools like Feedly can help us stay updated on the latest trends and inspiration. 

While not directly a creativity tools, Zapier or HeyData's automation of repetitive tasks can free up time and mental energy, allowing content marketers to focus more on the creative aspects of our work. Admittedly somewhat whimsical, if you're stuck for a blog or content ideas Portent generates suggestions based on keywords, often sparking inspiration for unique angles - especially for SEO content. While primarily a grammar-checking tool, the free version of Grammarly can also help in refining the tone and style of writing, aiding us brain-weary content monkeys in crafting compelling text – infinite monkeys, infinite typewriters. 

AI is fried-gold and, with the right input, can be brilliant in generating creative content and providing innovative ideas – see this post for more on that. 


There's a lot of good resources out there, and ten minutes on PinterestBehance, or 99Designs can get the creative juices flowing if you're looking for infographic ideas or new ways of displaying data.

The Creative Block

Even though professional work is driven by process and necessity, it can happen to the best of us. 


Recognise what might be causing the block and address it. This invariably involves introspection and some observation of my work habits and mental state. Considering factors like recent stressors, unrealistic expectations, fear of failure, fear of "the unknown" when you write a lot of technical content like I do, the need for stimulus, or even external distractions - any of these may be inhibiting our creativity. Reflecting on changes in our routine or environment, and assessing how we feel about the project itself, can often illuminate underlying issues that have led to staring at the screen for the last fifteen minutes. Sometimes this raises an inner tut, and I realize I'm just procrastinating and need to break a big task down into smaller tasks so that I can crack on.

Often, stepping away for a while can bring back creativity and give me a fresh angle. Trying painting, baking, new tools, online Dungeons and Dragons, or playing music can all unlock hidden creativity. New experiences and cultures provide a fresh perspective. 


The most surprising insights can come from unexpected places. I find that creativity often thrives in a non-linear way, and exploring new avenues can help us reconnect with our creative flow and find the spark we need to continue our project. Turning things around and considering new approaches is good practice: Take, for example, this video, where I embraced and highlighted the limitations rather than looking to create the standard case study assets.


Go for lunch with younger or older colleagues outside your departmental bubble. Brainstorm, or just chat. Sometimes, a fresh perspective from a workmate or friend can provide the spark needed to break through a creative impasse. Speak aloud to the dog; vocalisation is underrated. New ways of looking at things, and new insights, are all around us.


Putting too much pressure on yourself for the perfect idea can stifle creativity. Embrace a growth mindset, recognising that mistakes and imperfections are part of the creative process. There's plenty of opportunity to polish things later. Instead of fixating on a single solution, try to generate a multitude of ideas. Embrace thinking that doesn't follow a straight path and allow yourself to explore possibilities.

Techniques such as the Six Thinking Hats or SCAMPER can provide a structured approach to thinking creatively, guiding us through the different angles and aspects of a problem.


An old boss, Aliza, suggested mindfulness during one of our podcasts. She’s written books on the subject. Mindfulness practices can help clear mental clutter, allowing new ideas to surface. As a white Gen X male from Lancashire, I didn't consider the benefit until I was challenged to try it. Meditation, in whatever form makes us comfy, helps nurture a state of relaxed attention where our creativity can flourish. Stop. Clear your mind. Give ideas a chance.

Embrace The Creative Journey 


Staying creative as a content marketer isn't just about sudden sparks of brilliance. It's about cultivating an environment, both within and around you, that continuously nurtures and encourages creative thinking. Sometimes it’s about attitude – it’s not writing twenty FAQs for SEO; it’s a fresh crop of word puzzles that must be conquered. Whether adopting new daily habits, restructuring your workspace, collaborating with others, or embracing new tools, remember that creativity isn't a finite resource. It's a renewable energy that thrives on curiosity, exploration, and a willingness to experiment.


Sure, it’s work, but when I publish a piece of research I’m proud of or something of genuine value to our target audience and picked up for syndication, it feels like more than work. Embrace the wonderful chaos of professional creativity. Let it lead you down unexpected paths, open up new doors, and fill your content with the kind of humanized energy and originality that resonates with your audience. 


The road to inspiration is wide open, and it's ours to travel. Now I just have to practice what I preach.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Using Content Marketing to Win Trust and Investment

Content marketing has evolved beyond a trending and nebulous buzzword to a recognized and pivotal pillar in modern marketing. Its potential to foster trust, authenticity, and authority isn't a newfound revelation, and it’s entirely possible to create content that won’t just entice customers, but will also hook those potential investors.


External Influence to Self-Controlled Narrative


Historically, journalists, PR agents, and external representatives largely dictated the media narrative. While this offers credibility, it also presents vulnerability — especially if your brand isn't currently 'in the limelight.’ 


Content marketing turns the tables, allowing brands to carve out their own narrative. By doing so, it hands the reins to internal “experts,” like me, enabling us to produce and harness owned media. This control establishes undeniable industry leadership and expertise, coming with a clear brand voice, an opinion, standards, and a narrative – just as all good content should. 

Lets' presume we already have a killer elevaror pitch, a biblical business plan, and can adequatly articulate our reasons for approaching any potential investor, and crack on... 


The Investor Audience 


Who these people are depends on your industry, and just as we would create personas for buyers, it’s a good idea to create character sheets for the folks who hold the future purse strings and to know what exactly is going to make them see your company as a solid bet.

Making content with resonance means having an understanding of the diverse motivations of potential backers. Who are these people with magical unicorn money and angel wings? Unless you know you can’t personalize content, and a scattergun is rarely as effective as a rifle when bagging these mythical birds. While we're promoting our vision to them, we need to know their unique drivers.


Far from a definitive representation, here are a few basic folks you might consider, paraphrasing personas I’ve used for this in the past. If you know your targets you can even consider boosting relevent content through some targeted social advertising. Different sizes, motivations, targets, wants, and needs:


Enthusiastic Emma

Emma (or Em2 to her friends) is deeply entrenched in our industry. Her Gen X and well-established perspective is invaluable, whether professional experience or through a genuine connection with our product. She goes to trade shows to catch up with old friends and colleagues, and is probably (at least) aware of our directorship and business players. While she might not invest directly, her expansive Filofax could usher in potential backers. Share business expertise in social channels and credit folks she probably respects already. If she’s published, how about reviewing one of her books? However, recognize that industry familiarity doesn’t always equate to embracing innovation, and be sure that any business ideas are articulated very clearly, highlighting its unique angle in the market.

Boardroom Brian

Juggling the intricacies of the investment landscape, boomer Brian meticulously manages a diverse portfolio of opportunities on behalf of various investors - or, he could work for a single investment firm looking for opertunities and gaps in their squillian dollar portfolio. With an innate ability to spot emerging trends and an eagle eye for under-the-radar prospects, he blends caution with calculated risk. Brian is an opportunity of opportunities. For Brian, every investment is not just a transaction but a proud testament to his unwavering commitment to maximizing returns and fortifying trust amongst the investors or the company he represents. Brian reads the investment press, likes seeing numbers, spends time with his grandkids, plays golf, and appreciates good Irish whisky. 

Strategic Steve

Mr. Steve is a serial investor with a decent track record of success, and the allure of tax reliefs like the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) for start-ups has got him thinking. We need to familiarize ourselves with EIS & SEIS benefits and articulate the perks they offer, while obviously underscoring our venture's inherent value and ROI. Steve believes in diversifying his portfolio. After investing in our vision, he might swiftly transition to another opportunity, preferring a hands-off approach. Regular communication is vital. While he may not always respond, our updates keep him in the loop, and we need to show him we’re out and about, touting our wares and bigging up his investment. Initially he's going to want to see growth in the market, and that we fulfil an obvious business need and plug a gap that our competitiors can't.

Mentorship Mandy

Mandy’s vast experience is a veritable rhodium mine. Her insights can be transformative - whether she's directly from our sector or possesses overarching competencies like legal or sales enablement. Maybe credibility and accountability are important to her, and she wants to see how we treat our people and know our ethics before investing or offering her support. Maybe, thanks to our transparency, she can see a gap where she could make a difference. She's going to want to get involved rather than invest money, and (if that's what you need) her value is incalculable.

Institutional Ikshula

Operating funds and meticulously scouting investment opportunities defines Ikshula. Her structured approach is matched by her expectation of entrepreneurs - it's her money, after all. Transparency is a big factor, and Ikshula wants to see the numbers and the people - or her chequebook is staying in her pocket. She knows there are plenty of other opportunities, so she wants to see the ROI and our position/movement in the market. Showcase your professionalism and don't let it slip - she'll probably take a spelling mistake personally.

Chris Crypto

Chris is new to business investment but has a chunk of capital, burning a hole in their Gen Z crypto-wallet. Just because they're new doesn’t mean they're not shrewd, and Chris wants to know if their investment is going to turn into gold. They want to see how the company is growing already and wants to know who and what they're investing in. They are tech-savvy, but show them the money. They might enjoy some of the kudos from being involved, but show them what other investors and stakeholders are getting out of their investments. Show it in a “Millennial way” and in the investment channels where they consume their news and information. 

Investors who groove with your content see you as a beacon of expertise and “a safe bet.”

This perception raises your brand's credibility and can unlock decent investment opportunities. Trust me, I’ve seen this work for previous brands and companies I’ve worked with. I've just seen a previous company I worked for is being bought for $3.6B, thanks Brian, which was our overall and ongoing content marketing strategy and what's promoted this post.

It’s also basic psychology: 


Passionately Broadcast (from the diaphragm)


Like attracting clients, magnetizing investors necessitates broadcasting your expertise and zeal. Here we should be crafting content that reflects the business's leadership and fervor, appealing to investors who align with the business's aspirations. Stand out and have opinions, or fade into the background.


Disseminating our content to potential investors using digital platforms like emails or LinkedIn groups, or even publishing ghostwritten articles by leadership onto the inherent LinkedIn publishing platform, is now a must. Having active social channels for both the business and its C-suite demonstrates transparency and improves credibility – they must, however, be active and of genuine value, even if an organization's marketing team manages some of this and calls for content and expertise from across the wider org.


Investors will want to see certain documentation as part of the mix, such as success stories, appearance in any prominent awards (think Gartner, Forrester, or high-profile industry-specific), and a company ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance – including diversity and sustainability) report. They will appreciate insight into what’s going on behind the curtain and how the company supports and retains staff/expertise – knowing that any business is so oftern the sum total of its workforce experience and commitment.


Make it Personal


People invest in people. Go first-person, from one of the founders or the MD. 

Don’t rely on a team member who could take their voice with them, go direct to the horse's mouth. Even if everything they create is ghostwritten, it doesn’t matter. Even if you script video interviews and podcast opportunities for them. Personality sells and gives investors reassurance in having a face attached to the brand, in the organization's in-house expertise, in where and how the company sits in the market, and in its consistency. If they have even a glimmer of personality and/or sense of delivery, get them some media training and push them into the limelight.


Having an opinion and making statements in conjunction with news-jacking/PR activities is great here, as the individual can write or speak on topics that have real value and showcase their (the business) thought leadership credentials. From panel discussions to external fire-side chats, using that person will be a big part of raising brand awareness and adding credibility for investors.


Fluff The Narrative with Data 


Investors love numbers, so if you have numbers make them part of the PR story. 

  • “We produced 2M more bottles of chili sauce this year!”
  • “We mitigated a massive DDoS attack of 2.54 Tbps!”
  • “Our Stockholm team has doubled in size to 500 employees in Q3 2023!”
  • “We now have data centers in 40 locations worldwide.”
  • “In our first four years, we've never lost a single member of staff.”

You get the idea. While enthusiasm sparks interest, tangible facts and concrete evidence cement trust. 


Any investor-centric data content should ideally include the following: 

  • Demonstrable expertise that assures investors of our capabilities. 
  • Comprehensive research underscoring our proposition's market relevance. 
  • Highlighting what sets us apart in our specific marketplace. 

Effectively answering these will intrigue investors and (critically) convince them of a venture's viability.


Cultivating Investor Relations 


Just like clients, investors vest their faith and finance in our vision. 


Post-investment, it's good practice to engage and reassure them continually. Regularly update them about our venture's trajectory, spotlighting how their investment or support is amplifying our overarching vision. If necessary, give them their own Investors newsletter, even if it’s only going out to a handful of people, with gentle encouragement and easy links to share our other content with a wider audience.


Be Ready


Naturally, organizations should anticipate presenting investors with a comprehensive business blueprint, with all those essential financial terminologies, promotional tactics, fiscal forecasts, and market insights so beloved by those who hold the purse strings. 


More often, an ESG is now part of the content mix. Investors are canny to greenwashing and want to see a genuine effort by companies to be ethical, address outstanding ESG issues, and promote change from within. They want to know, prior to any commitment, that a business is sustainable and addressing the likes of gender equality and LGBTQ rights in the workplace. An ESG takes time and research and usually involves many stakeholders across assorted sectors of the org. so get the ball rolling ASAP. According to HCCA, 82% of workers say they’d prefer to be paid less and work for a company with ethical business practices than receive higher pay at a company with questionable ethics, so this is usually good messaging regardless. No one wants to find out they’ve invested in a company that has a sweatshop of coders in another country, pumps raw sewage into the local river, or has an MD with a history of wire fraud. 


Remember, they probably also have their own accountants to placate, and they'll want to scrutinize indicators like expenditure rate, anticipated expansion, cost of securing new customers, and profit margins, to the nth degree. This is standard content fare and will be the backbone of any engagement once the process moves forwards. I invariably get roped into this to humanize it, roll it in graphical glitter, proof copy, and liaise with any designers involved. Have it ready before you even start content marketing for investors, and make it good.


A nurtured investor relationship can amplify a brand's credibility, potentially attracting more patrons, akin to satisfied clients becoming brand advocates. 


In essence, genuine passion, complemented by a well-executed content strategy, with a backbone or relevant ready ephemera, can nurture the right investment opportunities and help to maintain long-term investor relationships. 


Content is what people see – make sure investors are seeing what they need.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Using AI for Content Marketing: Early Thoughts and Findings

I write for a living.

I am not now, nor ever will be, any kind of an expert in Artificial Intelligence (AI).

I write ad copy, technical documentation, and scripts for explainer content. I create infographics, edit videos, produce podcasts, and run the full content marketing gamut from social media to PPC advertising. I've been doing this for over 25 years, and I currently work in-house for a well know cybersecurity provider.

Since November last year, my output has changed dramatically; I’ve been using AI tools to support our content marketing efforts.

However, using AI is a bit like editing sound: You put shit in, you get shit out.


AI has come a long way in the last few months. No longer just words of caution from the pen of Heinlein or Gibson, AI can produce high-quality content virtually indistinguishable from that of flesh and blood writers. This is down to how one uses AI and how we create prompts (instructions) rather than a natural ability for AI to write in an approachable way. I hear a lot of people say that AI (I use the new ChatGPTPlus) is instantly recognizable because it talks in a passive voice. There’s an answer to this, as with pretty much all current gripes about AI textual output. Tell it not to.

Here’s an example of the most basic and first prompt I use in ChatGPT for creating text content for work:

“Please act as a B2B copywriter. You will write in a positive and active voice. Your copy will be <brand trait>, <brand trait>, and <brand trait>. It will also be original and innovative. It will be targeted at experienced <target persona> and <target persona>, and should be of genuine value to this audience. It will use terminology with which they are accustomed. Each article or post you write should contain sub-headings of major points, and bulleted lists of sub-points or actions. Please expand on any content with real-world examples and/or citation (as appropriate), providing URLs to further reading if possible. Please write in American English, and finish your writing with a fleuron.”

One can even afford a few affectations: Notice how I always say “please,” just in case it’ll spare me during the AI/robo uprising? I also ask for an indicator that the AI has finished writing because, in longer-form content, it’s necessary to type “please continue” to get past character limits, so I like to clearly know when it's come to an end.

I’d consider this the very basic of prompts and start every new chat with something along these lines. Then I go into what I want the AI to do after giving it its “mode of operation” and voice. “Create me an 800-word blog post worthy of Mordor,” etc. Usually, this will include additional instructions like SEO keywords I want it to cover, topics or solutions I want it to touch on or consider, specific industries I want it to research, or whatever. Yes, I do edit any output - pretty thoroughly. I insert more brand voice, add product value to blog posts on general topics, sprinkle in a bit of appropriate levity, add hyperlinks, further relevant information based on my general topic knowledge, I might play with the tense, add a bit more SEO glitter (if needed), and often whole paragraphs of additional content where the AI has inspired me to do so. I sometimes turn back to ChatGPT to “please expand on <blah>,” “please explain <technical term/concept>,” or “please rewrite this in <blah> number of characters,” and I’ll always fact-check any references, technical output, or legal standards that it provides. AI has become my collaborator and writing partner, and (right now) that's definitely the way to get the best results. If you’d like to see more prompts like the one above, I heartily recommend the splendid work of Maximilian Vogel, and there's tonnes of stuff on GitHub (including prompts for writing code, etc.). Remember, any copywriter won’t be able to give you what you want if the brief is poor, so learn how to prompt before you expect usable results. You can dip into anything written on the TrueFort blog since January to see some examples.

Also, try things like “Optimize <sentence> to 75 characters to use as a LinkedIn ad description,” "Please give me some ideas for blog posts targeted at <persona>, discussing their most important professional concerns,” or once it already has your traits and targets (and maybe even existing sample messaging) “Please create six attention-grabbing call-to-action messages, and buttons, for a landing page on <blah> where we want visitors to <action>." The functionality is only limited by your input. Even if it’s not immediately what you’re looking for, I guarantee some of the output will be a catalyst for other ideas. Seriously - go play - the basics are free, and my new “Plus” plan is only $20pcm. Plus is available during peak traffic (which seems to be all the time of late), has a much faster response speed, and I get priority access to new versions and features.

I’ve started using it in other ways to help my day-to-day, such as asking it to summarize a page of web content or “Please rewrite <text, or even a URL> in a more accessible or more targeted way.” I’d estimate that using ChatGPT is already saving me around two hours every day, and that’s valuable time I need to get my job done. As anyone in content marketing will testify, short of time travel or cloning, there can never be enough hours in the day. If the ROI of using a tool like this has a productivity saving of two or more hours on a writing day, and you show that ROI and the optimized output to your CMO, I guarantee they’ll find 20 bucks a month in their budget. Mine did.

In support of any output, I also run everything through Grammarly. Mainly to check I’m using American spelling (which doesn’t always come naturally) as I go along, and to check for duplicate online content for SEO purposes.

Already, I’m more inclined to use ChatGPT as a point of reference rather than Google, as I can ask it specific questions about, for example, controlling lateral movement and adopting zero trust best practices, rather than rely on Google pulling back other people's marketing content or, more annoyingly, my own. I’ve actually added a simple web link to my iPhone home screen.


Again, check out our blog. Every single header image (since November) has been generated with MidJourney

This text-to-picture artificial intelligence service empowers users to create art, from (virtually) photo-realistic to the work of Hieronymus Bosch, based on text descriptions. It’s far from intuitive to use, with a plethora of optional fields and seemingly zero instruction manual. It also uses Discord as an interface, so it’s all new unless you’re fourteen years old or an online gamer (which, thankfully, I am). I dipped into MidJourney a while ago to generate images for our online D&D games but soon ran out of the credits needed to make more artwork. A small investment, however, has meant my VTT players now have the perfect graphical representation of who or what I’m thinking.

More recently, I've begun to use this for work.

Putting this in the context of ROI again, MidJourney is $8 a month and takes me 30 seconds to get what I need (content, aspect ratio, angle, depth of field, etc.). In contrast, Shutterstock is $19 a month, takes at least 20 minutes to find what I need, and that will invariably be a compromise. UnSplash and Pixabay have limited assets - and are even worse time vampires. MidJourney is the very definition of disruptive innovation.

For the imagery on our blog, I augment the results with Photoshop to get that distinctive duotone that is our ongoing brand style, but otherwise, the output is perfect. We use a lot of perspectives and patterns in our imagery, and it replicates and topic in this style seamlessly. I’ve also used it in other ways, such as asking for suggestions for convention badges and custom art for mood boards (after uploading our logo and existing brand imagery) or asking it to suggest layouts for infographics.

Learning how to prompt isn’t immediately intuitive, and at first, I had to trawl around forums and communities, hoping someone would throw me a bone. I found the work of Lars Nielsen, Kris Kashtanova, and Guy Parsons very helpful. MidJourney will also test your visual chops above and beyond the subject matter itself, and I've found that my experience with photography, graphic design, and film work has helped a lot in creating prompts. It responds best to camera directions (symmetrical, low-angle, full-body shot, cinematic still shot, etc.), art movements (minimalist, film-noir, brutalist, pop art, etc.), F/stops, lighting types, and styles of photography (landscape, underwater, tilt-shift, still life, etc.). It even responds to prompts detailing the different types of camera you want to replicate (Nikon D850, disposable camera, Polaroid, Canon EOS R, etc.) with added lens types (telephoto, wide-angle, 85mm, neutral density filter, etc.). You also try directors in the prompt, such as “in the style of Sergio Leone” or “in the style of Wong Kar Wai” for that elusive mise-en-scène, so that quinquennial paying off loans from film school might have been worth it after all.


AI video is still in its infancy, but it’ll probably be as early as 2024 when we start to see script-to-explainer video content hit the market. Text to AI-voice and AI audio leveling/editing are already commonplace. I expect us to see a lot of content support-specific AIs turning up in the next few months as the industry realizes the potential and the developers who were victims in the recent spate of Silicon Valley redundancies get to grips with the associated APIs. Expect a crop of low-budget filler, but watch out for the unexpected coming from home developers - building their own Jarvis on any old skip-scrounged kit that’ll run Python. 

Also, expect some serious low-quality copy and a fall in news standards in the form of “black hat journalism.” It’s a simple matter of linking a few APIs to automatically write and publish magazine-style content to a cobbled-together portal for skimming off those referral link dollars. Without good prompting and some appropriate manual editing, we’re going to see some mediocre bollocks that’ll put a black mark on AI's journalistic copybook - and the real press will (justifiably) rush to point fingers and scoff.

Quality content is king. Google has already made a statement about this, but clearly says it has no problem with AI if the copy is of genuine value and will “reward high-quality content, however it is produced.”

Nation-state bad actors and hacktivist are going to ride ChatGPT like a pony, all the way down the misinformation highway to QAnonville. Now anyone can write copy and code, at volume, and the code side of AI functionality is bound to grow even faster as code writes codes. Brace for automated factual disruption on a Brobdingnagian scale. Throw in a couple of Deepfakes, and the 2024 US election is going to be a disinformation masterclass.

Obligatory call to action

Honestly, I think our industry needs to get on board, or we’ll be left on the dock.

I’m not saying human-generated content is dead, far from it, but a human/AI collaboration in a business environment feels productive, and creative, and it’s already happening.

We should look at AI now and consider how it can make what we do more efficient. It’s the copywriters, PR peeps, and content creators who don’t take an interest and don’t integrate AI into their workloads who will find themselves on the sidelines in favor of the people who do. I have a couple of extra hours of additional capacity a day because I know how to use the tools; why would you give my job to someone who doesn’t? Have we reached the point where we should be sharing the by-line with an AI? No, not yet, but I bet we're only a year away from Elon trying to charge us for a tick to prove we're flesh and blood. Expect "prompting" (or whatever they'll call it) to become a part of media courses in the very near future, but those joining University courses in '23 may well be training for jobs that won't exist when they graduate. Things are moving fast, the ball is already rolling, and we can’t stand by like print journalism once did, denying the inevitable.