These two artists are my top favorite musicians, if not my favorites. I love the music they produce for how it makes me feel, but I also know the work they put into their tracks and videos. I’m a fan of hard work and innovation, and I love that both Jay Z and Taylor Swift have developed such an influential presence from their own labors.

Content marketing is hard work as well, but I know that many of us can admit to letting things slide and resting on our laurels. You fall into a pattern of content creation that mimics a production line and you wind up churning out mediocre content that does OK.

But do you think either of these artists got where they are by just falling into a cycle of mediocre work? There’s a lot to be learned from what they’ve accomplished that can help you punch up your content marketing efforts.

Stop Playing It Safe

There are a staggering number of marketers who regularly struggle with producing content that people want to engage with – something like 60%, based on a recent study. Part of that has something to do with going along with the status quo.

You see other marketers producing certain types of content, so you go along with what seems popular. In-house content marketers might run with whatever has been working, or else they produce based on what leadership wants to see.

There’s no innovation there; no getting out and trying new things. There’s no standing up for the craft itself. If you’re afraid to try new things, afraid to break something, afraid to fall under scrutiny, then how do you plan to grow?

In 2015, Taylor Swift took issue with Apple’s decision to allow free trials of its streaming service. During those trials, artists wouldn’t be paid royalties if their songs were played. Rather than remaining quiet, she called out Apple on its decision and stated that she would not be releasing her album through the service.

Apple quickly changed its tune. Eddy Cue, Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services, replied back in a tweet, saying Apple “will pay artist[sic] for streaming, even during customer’s free trial period.”

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While other artists didn’t want to speak out because of the discomfort of going against Apple, Swift wasn’t having it – and her actions influenced change.

I’m not saying you need to go out, pick fights, burn bridges, and set the world on fire trying to show how fearless you are. But you should certainly step outside of your comfort zone. Stop creating the same content, stop playing follow the leader, and stop settling.

Innovate, come up with new ways to bring value to your audience, and be willing to risk a little. The rewards can be amazing, but they don’t come without hard work.

Collaborate with Influencers

Both Jay Z and Taylor Swift have developed some impressive connections over the course of their careers. They’ve also learned that by leveraging those relationships, they can create something new and exciting that will appeal to a much wider audience.

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I couldn’t begin to count the number of times Jay Z has collaborated with fellow artists in his own genre. But one of the things I love about him is that he also works with people outside of rap and hip hop. His collaborations with Linkin Park and Alicia Keys are just two examples of where he was able to reach an audience of listeners who may have traditionally avoided his music.

Taylor Swift is no stranger to collaboration, and she took it to a whole new level on Bad BloodThe video features a number of celebrities/artists including Kendrick Lamar, Jessica Alba, Lena Dunham, Lily Aldridge, and Selena Gomez, to name a few.

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As a content marketer, there are countless opportunities to team up with other influencers who can put your content and your brand in front of a much larger audience.

A perfect example of this is a series I’m currently working on around productivity. I interview successful entrepreneurs and marketers and share their stories with an expansive audience through the Zirtual blog.

Everyone involved benefits by gaining access to that larger audience.

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“Consumers trust recommendations from a third party more often than a brand itself,” writes Kristen Matthews, marketing manager at GroupHigh. “And it makes sense if you think about it in a more personal context. You don’t usually trust a person at a cocktail party who comes up to you and brags about himself or herself and spouts fun facts about his or her personality to convince you to be a friend. But you often believe your mutual friend who vouches for that person. An influencer is the mutual friend connecting your brand with your target consumers.”

If you’ve never done anything like this before, then the process of asking an influencer to collaborate with you might feel a little daunting or outside of your comfort zone.

Good! Remember what I just mentioned about being fearless and trying something new.

Finding influencers and reaching out to them is extremely easy, and it’s not a time-consuming process. There are a number of tools that greatly reduce the legwork. Buzzsumo can help you track down influencers with relative ease. Check out popular articles based on topic, pick out the ones with the most engagement, and start making lists of well-known influencers to reach out to.

I also have a tool that I’ve created called Marketer that will help you find the contact information for influencers so your communication can be more personalized and one-on-one.

However you go about doing it, influencer marketing is one of the best ways to reach a much larger audience with a minimal cost. Ads promoting your content and brand may not provide the best results as 47% of online customers are using adblock technology.

Pair up with an influencer who already has a captive audience, and you can guarantee they’ll be paying attention. You can’t block great organic content – and they won’t want to.

Be Flexible and Ready to Pivot

Taylor Swift launched her music career as a country singer in 2006, and in just a few short years she slid into pop crossovers before making her full transition from country star to pop sensation. It was a smart move that has earned her a number of awards including ten Grammys, five Guinness World Records, an Emmy, and 23 Billboard Music awards.

Her success has also earned her a spot in Time’s 100 most influential people in the world. She’s achieved that through her talent, obviously, but also through a willingness to be flexible and to pivot into something different.

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A common mistake in content marketing is a reliance on simplistic approaches and going with the most basic approach to content. What’s the easiest type of content to throw together consistently that everyone is comfortable with?

Blog posts.

A well-written, 10x blog post with a ton of value could continue to serve you, bringing in great organic traffic in the long run. I’m certainly not knocking the format. But it begs the question, “Is that all you’re doing?”

If your content marketing is limited to blogging, or one other type of content, is it serving you the way you want it to? Are you seeing the results you want? Is it what your audience wants?

Just because a majority of others are using a specific format or channel for content marketing doesn’t mean you should as well. You have to be flexible enough to change if the data and your research say that it’s time to pivot.

I couldn’t say what Taylor Swift’s career would look like if she hadn’t changed her genre, but I can say that she wouldn’t have the same awards that she has now. The talent would be the same, the content would be just as great, but it would be a very different audience and likely a very different outcome.

You don’t need to dump one type of content in favor of another, though, in order to be more flexible. There are a number of other ways to achieve this.

  • Find out what formats your audience traditionally enjoys and target one or more of those.
  • Look to your older content that does exceptionally well and repurpose it into new formats.
  • Use a tool like Buzzsumo to source highly-shared content and put a new spin on it in another format.
  • Partner with influencers who specialize in other format types and collaborate on something new.

Being flexible with your content, as well as your topics, will help you experiment to find out what works best for your audience. It will also help both you and your audience avoid burnout.

“There’s a lot of religion around this topic and, to some degree, I think it’s a false choice,” says Joe Chernov, VP of marketing for InsightSquared. “You need enough content of a certain quality to drive the business. There reaches a point of diminishing returns on the quality side, and I imagine there reaches a point of no return on the quantity side.”

Emotional Connections are Important

So many brands are finally starting to move past trying to tell (force?) their company story. Today, I see a growing number of brands that are trying to just tell great stories – period. It’s less about promoting a specific idea, product, or service and more about becoming a media entity that creates, curates, and disseminates content that an audience will want to digest and engage with. Those brands are trying to use storytelling to make an emotional connection, and it’s working.

You can see the impact emotional connections and storytelling have around the Olympics with all the amazing, tear-jerking ad placements:

While Jay Z is already a storyteller to a point with his music and the lyrics, even he aimed to do more to connect with people through a Life + Times YouTube channel. It’s a branded content channel related to the magazine of the same name. The channel features original content, including artist interviews, Jay Z’s music videos, and a variety of other content intended to tell stories and create a more human connection to the artist.

It was a fairly solid campaign when it was running, amassing three quarters of a million subscribers, though it’s been some time since new content was added.

Taylor Swift has a tremendous amount of talent, but her talent is only part of her success. She has an ability to write and share the most gut-wrenching and relatable stories through her music. She can so accurately describe heartache, something everyone goes through, that it creates a monumental emotional connection with her audience. Once that connection is there, it tends to stick.

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For both artists, their storytelling reminds us of the experience of being human, our own thoughts, and our own emotions. It also reminds us that others feel the same so we don’t quite feel so alone.

Using storytelling in your content involves more than just a few short sentences worked into the middle of a blog post as a point of reference. It’s more than the story itself. It’s about sharing something that people can relate to; something that forces them to listen, care, and want to share it with everyone they know because they felt something when they experienced it.

Note: when they experienced it.

Not when they read it, and not when they watched it, but when they experienced it.

As a content marketer, you have to ask yourself why you’re creating content and what you hope to achieve. Part of your answer should be that your content is produced to get your audience excited about the topic. The contents of any piece should speak to their biggest problems and worries, and ultimately leverage that to get them to absolutely love you.

Strategy is Critical to Success

Jay Z is not soft-spoken by any means, and he’s certainly been open about his long-term goals and 12-year plan. Over the course of that plan, he’s suffered some setbacks, but he always recovers and rights himself.

Everything in his 12-year plan is strategically plotted, with nothing thrown in on a whim. While the average person may have a long-term goal that includes buying a house or going back to school, Jay Z is thinking on a much larger scale.

He isn’t necessarily focusing on his own goals; instead, he’s concerned with creating a cultural movement that will change the rap and hip hop industry for all artists. It was, and still is, a young music industry, and he wants longevity. His strategy is a big part of driving success, and it’s something every content marketer can learn from.

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Do you have a documented content marketing strategy, or just a dusty plan to create one eventually?

If you don’t have a strategy in place, you can count yourself among the majority. Only 32% of marketers actually have a documented content marketing strategy, and that can create a lot of challenges and missed opportunities.

Consider that only about 30% of marketers see their efforts as effective, and you can imagine why. I believe it has everything to do with a lack of strategy. That strategy includes a lot of crucial elements:

  • What your goals are
  • What the micro goals are that you’ll target to hit the major goals
  • How you measure success
  • Who your audience is
  • What content formats and channels you will use to reach them
  • How you’ll keep them engaged
  • What kind of content you need for different stages of your funnel
  • How you’ll promote your content

Are you keeping all of that in your head? That’s not even everything that should be part of your strategy, and it’s already clear why it should be documented.

Having a clearly laid out strategy is one of the reasons Jay Z was able to carefully and thoughtfully take his investment in the Nets and push for their move to Brooklyn. That piece of the plan netted him a hefty return on his investment when he quietly cashed out.

On the outside, his actions might seem spontaneous and strange for a musician, but inside it’s all based on a well-thought-out strategy.

No One Starts Out Famous

If you’re working to build your brand through content marketing, it’s a healthy practice to remind yourself that everyone who is someone needed to build themselves up to get there.

If you look back over the course of Jay Z’s career during the 90s, you’ll find that he gradually built his name in the business by making small appearances on the tracks of other artists. Jay Z didn’t land record deals easily in his early days. When he couldn’t land a label, he sold his CDs out of his car. As he continued to grow his career, he begged to open for other acts and continued to hustle.

When you’re building a name for yourself, and your brand, you need to hustle the same way. I remember early on trying to get approvals to write for publications like Inc and Entrepreneur. When you don’t have much meat to your name, it’s not easy to get approvals, but it comes with time.

As a content marketer, you need to constantly hustle by guest posting wherever you can get those opportunities. Like Jay Z, you get your content out wherever you can.  You’ll get rejections, you’ll land a few, and you’ll keep working on your pitch emails until you’ve got it nailed and start landing major publications.

Over time, you’ll grow your authority, you’ll earn respect, and your audience will increase. In time, it becomes a lot easier to promote your content, so much so that others will be curating it more often than you have to ask them to share it.

Don’t take that success as a pass to take it easy. Jay Z is a popular musician, he founded Rocawear, owns entertainment company Roc Nation, made a significant return from his investment in the Nets, and he’s still one of the hardest working guys in his industry.

Both Jay Z and Taylor Swift provide a wealth of inspiration you can take to reform, reimagine, and relaunch your own content marketing strategy.

What artists have inspired you to try new things in marketing your business? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below:

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