What Do You Really Know?

How does content work in your business?

Last month, a frustrated client told me his CMO asked him how content marketing works. He didn’t have a good answer.

It wasn’t that he couldn’t define content marketing. When the CMO asked him how it works, my client started to recite: “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating….” The CMO cut him off. “I know what it is. I want you to tell me how it works.”

He couldn’t.

It’s a wonder any of us get through life knowing as little as we do about how things actually work. We just assume they do – or don’t, as the case may be.

Here’s an example: Without Googling, explain to a child how a zipper works. I did Google it, and the Wikipedia explanation did nothing to help me understand it well enough to explain it to a child. 

How about this: Explain how tides work. You probably know the moon pulls the oceans toward it, but why are there two tides every day? And if a day is 24 hours, why do new tides come every 12 and a half hours instead of every 12? Why are there high tides on the other side of the planet at the same time? (Fun fact: The moon is pulling the earth.)

When we’re stumped to explain something we believe we already understand, we typically blame our memory. We tell ourselves, “I used to understand that.” In fact, we probably never did. Our brains have tricked us into thinking we know more than we do.

Scientists call this the illusion of explanatory depth

Marketers need to be aware of this phenomenon while rolling out new initiatives, ideas, and concepts to colleagues. The new concepts, technologies, channels, and strategies are new to both you and your teammates. 

You may believe you know how things work – until you try to explain them. Just the other day, my wife asked me to explain why she’s seeing an advertisement on Facebook for the brand of a website she just looked at. I fumbled and mumbled and struggled to explain ad retargeting. It was just a mess. She finally gave me the merciful verbal guillotine: “Yeah, honey, I don’t need to know that badly.”

Explaining what you do and how you do it is important – not just for conversations with significant others but also with bosses, colleagues, and customers. To win both battles and wars, you need to put what you “know” in simple, clear language. 

One of the greatest pieces of advice I ever read is that if you want to truly know something, learn how to teach it. When you’re asked to make a case for a cause, or initiative, or strategy – it’s easy to slip into talking about your feelings about it. You can find evidence to support what you like or don’t like about it. 

Instead, challenge yourself to teach it – to explain it. Then you’ll find out whether you really understand it.

Fortunately, my client was ultimately able to answer his boss’s question about how content marketing works in their business. And the exercise helped him create an explanation that worked for many other people at the company, too.  

He ultimately told me, “Now I know what I thought I knew.”

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Robert Rose
Chief Strategy Officer at The Content Advisory
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.
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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.