Blurred Lines

(Listen to this post, here.)

You’ll no doubt be excited to learn that my wife Linda and I successfully moved to a new house last weekend.

Our old house was terrific (we’d been there 11 years) but with our youngest son, Jonathan, off to college this fall, we decided it was a good time to downsize.

And downsize we did.

We moved from a four bedroom, two-story house, to a two bedroom home on just one floor (sorry, too much math?).

And let me tell you, after just a week, I’ve already discovered that having everything in a smaller space and on the same floor is way more convenient.

Not only do we have less stuff than before, there are fewer cabinets, closets and assorted nooks and crannies to put things. It doesn’t take long to find something when there are limited places to look.

That said, I have already unearthed one troubling phenomenon associated with living on a single floor: A lack of clear boundaries.

Here’s what I mean…

Back in our old house, there were things I did upstairs each morning to start the day: brush my teeth, shower, get dressed, etc. Only then, would I head downstairs.

Rope Line

Upstairs activities stayed upstairs; downstairs activities stayed downstairs.

That doesn’t happen anymore, and that’s a problem.

With no clear distinction between the place where you get ready to start your day and the place where you actually live it, everything kind of runs together.

Two days in and I was already getting out of bed and wandering directly into the kitchen.

I figured it was only a matter of time before I’d be out on the back deck, brushing my teeth in my underwear while watering the plants (take a minute to picture that if you like).

So yesterday I made a rule for myself: I don’t leave the bedroom unless I am wearing clothes. (You’re welcome, America.)

When it comes to content marketing, and newsletters in particular, clear lines matter as well.

In this case, the line is between the “useful” information you provide and the promotion of your services. Here, too, it’s important that these don’t run together.

Separation of church and state

Back in the days when print newspapers ruled the earth, news organizations had very clear policies regarding the overlap between news and advertising: There was none.

The reasoning was simple.

If I think the news is being influenced by a paper’s interest in appeasing advertisers, the news (which is what attracts the readers, which is what attracts the advertisers) becomes that much less valuable.

Pretty soon, the whole thing crumbles.

Your content works the same way.

I don’t consume it (at first) because I care about you or your services. I follow it because I believe the information is useful and/or interesting; because it will help me live my life or do my job better.

If you want my permission to keep showing up in my inbox, that’s the bar you have to get over.

But if you blur the lines – if you pepper your content with thinly veiled come-ons for your services or tales of your own business triumphs (in the hope of getting me to hire you) – you’ll pollute the content, at which point I’ll unsubscribe. Uh oh, more crumbling.

“Fair enough, Mr. History of Journalism,” you’re no doubt thinking. “But if we can’t promote our services, what’s the point of creating content in the first place?”

Good question (although there’s no reason to be so snarky).

The point is to demonstrate that you and your colleagues are smart, well-informed, and the kind of people I might like to work with. (Did somebody say Likeable Expert?) None of which requires explicit promotion.

But don’t worry. Just as speaking at a conference gives you great visibility even though you’re not explicitly promoting yourself while doing it, publishing content keeps you top of mind in a very positive way.

And by the way, it’s perfectly fine to have separate sections in your newsletter that promote you and your services. Just keep them distinct from the “real” content.

Here’s the bottom line.
The content marketing game is simple: Share enough of what you know and who you are on a regular basis and the people who value that (and like you) will keep coming back. Some of them will even hire you.

If, on the other hand, you insist on promoting your services at every turn, you’ll be as welcome as a middle aged bald man standing on the back deck in his underwear (you pictured it again, didn’t you?).

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been caught outside in your underwear?
  1. Send photos.
  1. Do you find it difficult to separate content from promotion in the things you produce?

Share your comments below!

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15 thoughts on “Blurred Lines

  1. Alan Steacy

    1. No… but fly down is almost as embarrassing!
    2. You must be kidding.
    3. Still working on honing that skill.

    Your post had me a “Blurred Lines”… almost broke into a raucous rendition of Robin Thick’s tune. You know you want it… but I digress. There’s certainly danger in doing that.

    On another note… thank you so much for the invite your Kimball’s Ice Cream gathering. It was refreshing to meet so many spirited and friendly folks.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Great to meet you yesterday, Alan! Always a fun time; glad you enjoyed yourself (me too).

  2. Susie

    1. Of course, I live on 40 acres in Alaska and peeing off the porch is fully acceptable at our house. (just try stopping the tall guy I live with).
    2. We have some discretion.
    3. I love the content of this post and it meets with the values of my mid-western upbringing and my business philosophy. Staying steady with good work and authentic connection brings on clients.

    Thank you, Michael!

  3. Stacey Shipman

    1. No
    2. See above
    3. Not really. Especially because I’m much more comfortable sharing content than blatantly promoting myself. I’ve found that offering up great info or doing great work is what builds trust and eventually leads to more opportunities.

    I also started singing the Robin Thicke song. Now I need to find another to get me through the afternoon!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I tend to lean the same way on #3.

      And I know what you mean about that song – very catchy and stuck in my head all day too (careful googling the video, though. “Not for office viewing” as the saying goes!).

  4. Rick Siderfin

    As usual, an entertaining, useful, and wonderfully enjoyable read. Thanks Michael!

    1. No. But not for a lack of trying.
    2. Maybe another day?
    3. Maybe a little. Content marketing is what I do for everyone but when it comes to doing it for myself I sometimes get all shy and embarrassed, like a middle aged…wait, must get that image out of my mind somehow

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks Ramon! BTW, did I see that you’ve got Seth Godin speaking at your fall event? I may need to plan another trip to NYC!

  5. Tiiu

    Loved this article and it’s so true. No one should have a problem with someone promoting products when they’re also providing wonderful free advice. But keeping it separate is the way to go. Thanks for yet another great piece and funny read. Best wishes in your new home.

  6. Gina Longo

    1) No, but I did go skinny-dipping in a fountain one night on campus in college. Happily, this was before smart phones and Facebook, so my youthful transgressions weren’t recorded for the world to see! (And now you have an idea just how old I am….)

    2) As far as I know, there are none! Hooray!

    3) Nope, because I don’t promote anything. The only thing I’d ever promote in my newsletter would be my book when it’s finished. 🙂 Otherwise, my newsletter is meant to entertain and educate, and, I hope, inspire people to hit the road and travel like I did.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I’m with you on the smart phones, Gina. Bad enough to remember this stuff; at least nobody got it on camera back then!!

      1. Gina Longo

        Hmmm… about that remembering stuff thing… my youthful college skinny-dipping episode is fuzzy at best. Let’s just say there might have been an adult bevvie or two involved. 😉


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