12 Things Seminary Taught Me about Killer Content Marketing (that a Marketing Book Never Has)
For many personal brands, content marketing conjures feelings of dread and drudgery. There is a sprinkling of writers in the space, but what about the rest of you? What about the ‘non-writers’ in the room?
When you think of content marketing, you think of writing. And for you, writing equals nails on the chalkboard.
Sure, you’ve read articles about the power of content marketing. And you can’t argue with the facts. Content marketing works! Just not for you.
For you, writing original content comes in spurts. And any content marketing you force out feels like a win. Like giving birth to triplets or passing a kidney stone.
But the “content marketing works” data won’t shut up. Content marketing is remarkably powerful…and ridiculously inexpensive. Yep, content marketing is here to stay.
What You Expect Me To Say Next Is Wrong
This is the place in the content marketing article where I pivot and give you writing tips. Right?
You can find help for that all over the place. We’re going somewhere different.
I want to help you with cutting content…not creating content. I’m going to help you with editing your content, not writing it.
Wait! Before you eject…
What I Expect You To Say Is…
“If I actually churn out a piece of content marketing, that’s a super-bowl size win for me. Editing is for English Lit majors,” you smugly reply.
Or maybe you feel like editing is a luxury reserved for elite content marketers, not beginners in the personal branding space like you. Heck, not even “intermediate” personal brands have time for regular editing.
In fact, you’d prefer spending an entire day at the DMV over a few minutes of “editing.”
What you do NOT say, is…
“Hip hip hooray! Three cheers for editing.” (And then honk your horn like the Duke boys in the General Lee.)
But Here’s the Truth About Editing That Will Make You Honk Your Horn…All The Way To The Bank
Editing is the Jedi power to your content marketing. That’s right. Instead of thinking about content marketing as ‘the stuff you write that has to be good’, think about it as…
The stuff you edit that makes it great!
Let me say that again. Because it’s that important!
Editing is as crucial to your content marketing as writing is.
That, my friend, you can take to the bank!
What Happens To Your Customer When You Ignore Editing’s Jedi Power Over Your Content Marketing?
If you love your customer, then this will hit home.
Yes, editing takes time. And time is precious. (Especially for those in the personal branding space. You’re spinning 11 plates on 10 fingers.) But editing is where you get rid of the crap. (Or if that sounds too harsh, you scoop the cream off the top…because you’d rather eat crap than that nasty cream.)
But here’s the sober truth about your content marketing, your editing, and your customer…
You either edit out the crap or dump it on your customer.
In other words, there is no getting around the time factor. The only question is, who will bear the burden? Will you edit out the crap before you go to market with your content marketing? Or will you expect your customer to wade through it?
Spoiler alert: Your customer won’t!
They’ll find someone else—some other content marketer in your same personal branding space. And when they do, that means fewer trips to the bank for you. Because you have fewer customers. And smaller ROI on your content marketing. And baby-sized bank deposits. (Wah! 😭)
Now that you’re with me, let’s get on to the good stuff!
12 Editing Lessons To Help You Double Your Content Marketing ROI
These lessons cost me a lot, literally. I paid for them in graduate school. ($220 a semester hour in the late ’90s for a guy going into ministry meant it better be good.) I learned all of these lessons about editing content in preaching class—not a marketing book or blog.
I’m going to give you these 12 lessons and inspire you at the end.
Ready to cut like a butcher? (And content market like a Boss!?!)
#1: A clear system is the fastest way to decide what stays and what winds up on the editing room floor.
Editing is not a guessing game. Guessing takes time. And playing the content marketing game is a combination of skill and speed. After all, one new piece of content marketing per quarter is not content marketing.
Do a little research and find a system, framework, outline, or approach you like. Maybe it’s Storybrand. Maybe it’s a series of questions you answer when creating your content. Find an approach you resonate with and use it. Use it to create content. And use it to edit out content.
In my preaching class, we adopted one approach. This made for quick editing when asking: ‘what stays and what goes’.
#2: It’s an ‘Idea Competition’, so eliminate as many competitors as possible.
For personal brands, content marketing is where you share your ideas and draw in customers. You build a tribe. You grow a community.
Think of editing this way. The ideas you share in each content marketing piece are in competition…with each other! If you share two different ideas in one piece, they compete for attention.
Editing is about eliminating as many “idea competitors” as you can. This gives your one idea the best chance to win!
One of the hardest lessons learned from preaching class is how to ONLY talk about ONE THING. Each sermon had to have one idea. And at the end of every sermon, the professor would ask your fellow classmates, “What was the main point?” The confused answers were motivating.
Pro Tip: My ‘One Idea’ for this article? To convince you of the power and practice of editing your content marketing to double it’s ROI. I could also talk about editing tools AND editing as you go vs. editing after a draft. But I’ve chosen to eliminate all competing ideas.
#3. Don’t aim for a good grade, get the hardest teacher.
I had several professors to choose from in grad school. When it came to preaching, I went for the hardest, who was also the best.
Take the same approach when learning to edit your own content. Don’t ask your mom if it’s good. She’ll always give you an A (with milk and cookies).
Find someone good to help review and edit our content marketing. Pay them to look over a piece. You’re going to pay either way.
Pro Tip: Pay a good content marketer to look over his or her shoulder and see how he or she edits. I did this in grad school, and it was worth every penny.
Here’s what I did…
In grad school, every sermon gets filmed. The professor sits in the back of the room behind a wall of plexiglass. He makes comments on tape over your sermon.
Each semester, my professor asked for a volunteer to run the camera. I volunteered every semester! I listened in to the best professor give feedback on over 100+ sermons. I may not be smart, but I’m no dummy. I could never understand why other students didn’t fight for my position.
#4. Making an impact in 5 minutes is way harder than massaging a topic for 50 minutes.
Content marketing online often means an economy of words. Yes, blog articles give you more space, but you can’t ramble. Busy customers won’t stick around if you do.
You don’t have a customer’s attention for 60-minutes. The less time you have, the more difficult it is to make an impact.
My professor told us, “If somebody asks me to teach on Genesis, I always ask, ‘How much time do I have?’ If he says, ‘5 hour-long sessions,’ I say, ‘Great’. If he says, ‘A 5-minute overview,’ I say, ‘That’s gonna cost you!’”
It’s counterintuitive. But the smaller the space, the harder it is to make an impact. So prepare yourself for some ruthless editing in smaller content marketing pieces. Especially your website messaging!
#5. Common constraints catapult your creativity.
This lesson pairs well with the previous one. Many of the platforms you use for content marketing have built-in constraints. Instagram stories have time limits. Twitter has character limits. Even your website has constraints. (Like, visitors form a first impression of your website faster than the blink of an eye…literally.)
Instead of feeling like a straight jacket, use those constraints. They help you whittle down to a kernel of genius.
The first sermon we delivered in grad schools was 12 minutes. We had to get the plane down the runway, in the air, and land it in 12 minutes.
I remember editing that 12-minute sermon. It was like going on an Apollo space mission with only four items. You better believe I brought my four best items.
#6. Everyone has a lot to say…you’re the NOT the exception.
Everybody rambles. So everyone needs to edit. No one spits out final drafts or final takes.
The need for you to edit your way to juicy content marketing does NOT make you the exception. It’s the rule.
Leading up to my 12-minute sermon, my fellow classmates and I were like teenage girls in a junior high hallway. We were chirping back and forth to each other. Worried about the pimples on our sermons.
Have you memorized yours yet? How long is your intro? What are you doing for application? Did you time yours again?
No one said, “I’ve only got 10 minutes of sermon material.” No one!
We weren’t freaking out over what to say. We were flipping out over what NOT to say.
#7. Editing is a developed skill you practice, not the fortunate talent of a few.
Yes, everyone has different gifts and talents. But editing your content marketing is a skill you can learn, and must practice.
Remember our personal branding mantra:
justas important for content marketing ROI as writing!
Listen to any successful copywriter or author and you’ll hear the same advice about writing.
Author Stephen King says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
Editing your content marketing works the same way. It’s a skill you develop by doing it a lot.
I started learning how in grad school and I’m still learning today. The main thing is to believe in the power of editing, and get to it!
#8. A lab is a young marketer’s best friend (far better than reading another marketing or copywriting book).
Books are great. But they’re not enough. You need a place to practice content marketing and some people to practice with.
I’ll never forget the first time we had to show our work in class. The small classroom stage had three items placed centrally atop carpet worn the color of dirt. On the left was a plain, wooden stool. In the middle sat an overhead projector. And to the right of that, another matching stool.
The professor sat…or maybe floated just above the stool on the left.
One by one, we each took our place on the empty stool. The first few seemed almost excited. They walked up, handed the professor their transparency, and took their throne.
Then it happened. In front of all your peers.
The professor draws a circle with his red marker on the first line of your outline. Without so much as a glance up, he asks, “Here you say ‘purpose’. But down here you say ‘reason’. Which is it? Is the author giving us the reason or the purpose?” (Gulp.)
By the time he was done, your transparency looked as if someone bled out. And it felt like that someone was you.
As the fourth and fifth classmate took the stage, the demeanor had changed. Less excitement. More ‘lamb led to the slaughter.’ A shameful apology accompanied each transparency handoff. “I already know it’s wrong,” followed by nervous laughter from those of us still awaiting our turn.
Those transparencies felt like stone tablets.
But man did it make me far better at editing before etching final content in stone.
You can do this too! (Not the transparency on the overhead part, but the lab part.)
Grab two business friends. Give yourself an assignment. Write a 1000 word article or shoot a five-minute video. Help each other edit out the chaff. Then publish your results and go do it again.
#9. Everybody needs help from others to get better…everybody.
Yes, this is kissing cousins with number eight. You need help from others learning to edit down your content marketing. It’s not like the lottery where you hit the jackpot by luck.
Get outside help, especially if you’re a beginner.
The president of my graduate university was legendary. He was an alumnus, and several of my professors taught him when he was a student.
One professor after another said this about him, “He was the hardest working student I had.”
Now when we heard the president preach, it sure didn’t seem hard for him. He was so smooth, so conversational, so polished. It seemed inherently natural. Like the kind of natural skill that makes you mad. Because you don’t have it.
But he came to grad school, worked hard, and ‘learned from the experts’ like the rest of us.
Every content marketer needs help, even you.
#10. Cadence is a feeling, NOT a formula (and a FACT that can make or break your content marketing).
When you edit, you’re checking cadence. I’m talking about the dance between information and entertainment. Like pairing a good wine with a mouth-watering main dish.
You must know when to turn off the firehose of information and share an example, illustration, or story. You must develop a feel for when its time to pull your audience along. Or re-engage them.
I’ll never forget my preaching professor’s response to the question we asked him a thousand times.
“How long should our introduction be?” we’d ask. (Looking for a formula.)
“Long enough,” he’d say.
He never fell into the trap of giving us a time.
I’ve seen classmates do all the work and check all the boxes. Passion? Check. Character and integrity? Check. Command of the material? A+. Clarity of subject? On point. Overall sermon grade?…D.
They would begin with an introduction. Then transition to the meat of the sermon. And just keep giving us meat. You could see the food coma descend over the class. The only guy in the room oblivious to the coma was the guy causing it.
Pro Tip: Ask a spouse or a friend to check out your content marketing. They’re likely not your target audience. If they approve, they are saying, “I understood AND I felt entertained.” That’s a win!
Even better is when they read it unsolicited and throw you a compliment.
11. Listen close…but far away.
Weird lesson. Here’s what it means.
Every beginner to the content marketing game faces the same temptation. Mimic a seasoned pro. I see it all the time.
I can point to several examples from my social media feed this week. I watch uber-talented friends parroting the words of some other marketing powerhouse.
Nothing wrong with a good quote. But exercise your own muscle. Get your own ideas out there! Quote yourself.
I learned the listen close…but far away lesson in grad school. Every young preacher has a hero. You can tell which hero by listening to 5 minutes of a sermon.
To avoid this, find someone who is great…but far enough away you can’t mimic him or her. For example, I listen to an older retired preacher based in London. His sermons are from three decades ago. His delivery and style are high-society. He’s thoroughly British. But he’s killer. And I have zero temptation (or ability) to copy him.
Find some old amazing copywriters and listen close. Or find someone in a completely different industry and study his or her stuff. Listen to other content marketers you can’t copy and copy them.
12. Turn your hero up louder than your resume or your experience.
Wait, didn’t I just say ‘Don’t carbon copy your hero’?
Let me share a grad school story. This will make perfect sense.
Plus it’s filled with inspiration for you.
Chase was different from the rest of us. You could tell a few minutes into our first spiritual formation group meeting. The group was a collection of five first-year students and a leader. None of us knew each other. But we all shared several things in common. We had ministry experience, albeit basic. We were immersed in the world of ministry. (Sexy, I know.) We all had family support. They were proud of what we were doing.
Not Chase. His decision to come to grad school involved two truckers and a CB. (And that’s NOT a metaphor.) A ‘CB’ is like the 8-track of Spotify or iTunes. An ‘8-track’ is…oh, forget it. Chase’s “family” could care less of his whereabouts. He had NO ministry experience. He never taught a class or even volunteered for a summer VBS.
And guess who Chase’s preaching hero was? Guess!
The super smooth preaching machine and president of the university. Chase’s hero was The Godfather of our ministry neighborhood.
One day we’re all sitting around chewing the fat and the topic of preaching comes up. Preaching classes don’t even start until year three. But it’s why most of us are here.
Chase chimes in.
“I’m gonna win the senior preaching award.”
Chase was not laughing. Me? I was cracking up. A little Mr. Pibb came out my nose.
“I’m gonna preach in chapel like [insert Godfather’s name] and he’s going to be there listening,” he said staring into the distance.
Zero experience. Hasn’t taken a single swing at the plate. And he’s declared himself the winner of the coveted preaching award.
Our astonishment bounced off him like bullets off superman.
Three years later, I’m listening to Chase preach during senior sermon week. He’s one of four seniors chosen to preach in chapel and compete for the award. Everyone is there. The Godfather is listening from The President’s Chair, six feet over Chase’s left shoulder.
And come Friday, the last day of chapel before graduation, The Godfather presents Chase with the Senior Preaching Award. The flash of a camera captures Chase holding the award in one hand, and shaking The Godfather’s hand with the other.
Hey friend, find some heroes who inspire you and encourage you. Turn them up louder than your self-doubt or self-criticism. Create your own content marketing. Use your voice. Share your ideas. Work hard and chisel them down. Spend half your time creating. Spend the other half editing.
Content marketing works. Great content marketing works even better.
So for all you personal brands out there, get to creating and editing.
Chase your personal branding dream.