Pulling Yourself Into Your Future

Last week at Content Marketing World, I realized a lifelong goal when I met and interviewed John Cleese. Today it hit me: I had planned it all along. I’ll come back to this in a moment so that you can see how that dream fulfilled fits with a talk that I gave at Content Marketing World and a conversation I had with a CMO afterward.

My session at the event was about return on investment and its place in both campaign marketing and content marketing – hardly a place to get all wooey wah wah about esoteric things like creativity and visioning. My point was that we often look in the wrong place for a return on investment in the content we create. The value (the investment), which increases over time, comes from the collection of the content – not from any one piece. A white paper or blog post isn’t nearly as valuable alone as it is in context with the other five or ten or hundreds that make up the whole experience of an industry-differentiating thought-leadership resource.

One brick in a pile is just a brick. One brick in the wall of a house is a key piece of a valuable building.

Want your content marketing strategy to start out on the right (measurable) foot? First, understand what house you’re building. Then – brick by brick – pull yourself toward that future, supporting the other short-term-focused parts of the business (brand marketing, demand-gen marketing, customer service, etc.)

After I finished the session, a CMO came up to me afterward and said that the interesting thing that she’d found was that the “house” that they had built turned out to be very different from the one they had originally planned. They had reached success – but it wasn’t in the form that they had envisioned.

It was a wonderful moment because we got to talk about the real value of that planning. The value is not (necessarily) architecting and executing against a granular to-do list but rather envisioning the function of success – and then creatively trying to realize that function day by day, allowing for surprises along the way. As things change, we adapt – even as we keep the function of our future in sight. That’s the real skill of creating successful content-driven experiences. And this is, of course, what is classically represented in the quote by the Dwight Eisenhower quote “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

This conversation came back to mind as I was on stage with Cleese. As he was talking about how he navigated his career through multiple iterations – physics, law, writing, producing, performing. He talked about how his idea of what he wanted to do (work creatively) never changed, but the form did.

His future, realized self pulled him into the future.

Only after the event, as he and I chatted backstage and found ourselves telling jokes and giggling, did I realize that the same thing had happened for me. That vision I’d had as a teenager – of performing with Monty Python – had been realized. It just took a different form from what I’d originally pictured. You might say that the form it took was, well, now something completely different.

Author: Robert Rose
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS. Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.