17 August 2022 |

Embrace the chaos

By Tracey Wallace

Content marketing is chaos––that’s just fact. You can’t workflow that away. You can’t plan it away. You certainly can’t SEO it away. 

You can, of course, plan 4-6 months ahead. I certainly do. 

Even then, content pieces will drop.

  • Urgent requests will come through that take up all of your team’s time.
  • Your company will shift direction entirely, and everything you’ve ever published will need a refresh.
  • A new vertical will be introduced you never saw coming, and you need content to support it near immediately.
  • A big client who once agreed to be a part of an integrated content campaign just backed out (their legal team said no), or the partner who promised to co-fund that new $60,000 research report says their new CFO axed it. 

All of those things have happened to me, and far worse. 

On the verge of publishing my 200+ page book about Selling on Amazon, Amazon––the actual company––said they needed to send it through their legal review process. 

I knew it wouldn’t make it. 

I’d spent a year working on this damn book. At least an hour, if not more, every single day for 365 days (well, the working days) was spent on interviewing for this book, editing for it, writing for it, designing for it, planning for its launch and release. And then, BAM. 

In one second, Amazon could pull the rug out from under me. Worse, I knew they would if they read the whole thing. 

One of the chapters offered substantial, experiential proof that Amazon used the data they collected on their platform about what was selling best, to create their own cheaper version of that product. It was the main reason small businesses at the time were wary of Amazon. 

Today, Amazon has now spoken to Congress about this practice. But back then, it was just hearsay, a nasty rumor, something they’d never do, according to them. 

This book said otherwise. And it did so because I interviewed several sellers to whom this exact thing had happened. I interviewed a man who was one of the first employees at Amazon Marketplace, who all but outright said it happened (He wrote an entire chapter on getting the proper legal protections for your business prior to selling on Amazon so that you’d have some legal recourse, for instance). 

So, I went to my legal team at BigCommerce. They couldn’t make me do this, right? They couldn’t tell me I couldn’t publish a book about how to sell on their public platform? After all, we were in the final stages of publishing. Not only had my team put in so much work on this, our design team had spent so much time designing the print version, perfecting the drafts when they came back from the printer. Our CEO knew this book was coming. We’d told the entire company! 

Amazon couldn’t just tell us that we couldn’t publish something that was important to our customers, to our prospects, to our industry…just because they didn’t agree with the way they were presented, right? 

Oh, of course they could. BigCommerce had a partnership with them. And depending on how seriously they took this project, the partnership could fall through because of it. The truth knows very real bounds in the face of capitalism. 

So, I sent them the damn book. For two weeks, I lost sleep. Some days, I’d finger through the draft print book from that printer (which was also Amazon, ha) just staring at it all. The culmination of so much time and so much work––and it may never see the light of day. 

I was an English major in college. I knew this exact thing had happened to so many writers. Hell, I have a tattoo on my arm that says “Anonymous was a woman,” as a reminder that women didn’t always have the right to publish––and the brave ones would just hide their name. Countless others’ work were simply lost to time for no reason but sexism. 

This wasn’t that extreme, I’d told myself. It was just work. Just one content project. It wasn’t that big of a deal.

Still, I poured red wine heavier for those two weeks, complained to my friends far too much about something none of us had any control over. I relished the days of working in media, where I fantasized that something like this could never happen. 

But this does happen. It happens everywhere. All writers are eventually told what they can and cannot publish, in one way or another. Because when someone else pays you to write for them, well…you write…for them. 

Nonetheless, two weeks later, we got an email back from the Amazon team (whom by the way were some of the best folks to work with, this situation notwithstanding). The book was too long. The legal team didn’t have time to review it. Instead, they wanted to know if we thought, honestly, that this would help convince more small businesses to use Amazon. 

This was their primary concern at the time. Amazon had long been so focused on consumers, arguably they still are, that their new marketing team put together to focus on merchants was still trying to figure out how to talk to brands in the right way. 

I firmly believed, and still do, in the power of that book to convince brands to sell on Amazon. It shed light on the good, bad, and ugly of what the Amazon marketplace could offer, and when you added it all up at the end, it still made financial sense to do it––strategically, of course. 

That was the conclusion of every brand I had interviewed, of every consultant who had seen all the ins and outs of the platform and everything that could happen, even of the lawyers who had worked with brands to get them out of bad situations. 

“It’s a third party platform, you can’t control everything,” was how the general message began, “but it’s where millions of Americans go to shop on a daily basis, and you’re missing out on sales if you aren’t there in some form or fashion.”

So, the book was published on time. We sent copies to our colleagues at Amazon. We sent the book to prospects. We brought it to conferences where it flew off the tables. The feedback was always the same: “This is so insightful, this is so in-depth, this is so honest. Thank you!”

This is why you plan content far ahead––so that you can create projects like this: the ones that take a year to come together, the ones that drive organic search results not necessarily because you targeted a specific keyword, but because the content and its presentation enchants the reading audience. 

Every content template, every content philosophy, every content tool aims to give you more time back in your life to better plan bigger, better, more ambitious and more helpful content pieces, because the good stuff doesn’t come out of that urgent request, or that new, previously unknown direction. 

The good content, the great content, comes from long planning cycles, tons of interviews, and a meticulous dedication to the presentation of information to help people draw the conclusions that are right for them. 

Can these projects fall apart at the last minute? Oh, absolutely. So many of mine have. 

But those failures to launch teach you how to more strategically build programs that can work, that can make it through the legal reviews and the long approval cycles, the ones that can cut through the noise of Twitter or TikTok and get what your audience needs in their hands to tell a story only your business can tell. 

Content marketing is chaos. Every piece of content has its own je ne sais quoi, and you can rarely predict what that will be. 

Embrace it. Plan for it. Build your muscle memory so that the chaos never knocks you off balance, and teach your team to do the same. 

Walking, they say, is controlled falling. Great content marketing is controlled chaos. 

Good luck!

A note of this advice you’ve solicited by signing up:

You do you! 

One content marketer’s best practices aren’t always right for another one, though I do try to distill out the main concepts and core practices I believe everyone can benefit from. That said, you must use good judgment when deciding whether to take advice given from folks on the internet. I am an expert, and this advice comes from my direct experience, but I am not smarter than you, and I have nothing to gain or lose because of what you do. 

That’s it for this week!

I’m about to go on a long walk with my wife and enjoy a day in which I currently only have two meetings scheduled. These are rare! Embrace them when you can!