Published December 12, 2020 It was almost like a dream: Creating content to inspire + transform

It was almost like a dream: Creating content to inspire + transform

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“God help and forgive me, I wanna build something that’s gonna outlive me.”

Usually it’s Star Wars quotes that inspire some of my best content, but 2020 has been a year of drastic change, and this line from Hamilton won me over. I’m not sure how many times I watched the musical, but am keenly aware of why I did so repetitively: it was a coping mechanism to remind me that some things are worth fighting for, that a small but mighty group of people determined to change things can, and that it’s the greater good that matters most.

It’s also no coincidence this post is being published today, another day in my life where I’m heading into an another operating room. Not being a believer in the odds has served me well, but as my doctor at the Yale Cancer Center told me earlier this summer, though I’ve survived the average life span for a woman with MEN1 by over a year, there’s also a time to begin to allow space for likelihood to grow – not the pleasant kind of likelihood or growth – but rather the sort that’s nearly impossible to sit with, let alone accept.

In summary: There are two possible outcomes. One is optimal and allows for options. One isn’t.

My heart (which – in full disclosure – is mostly an idiot) tells me all will be well.

My mind has me doing things that nobody wants to think about, and has me writing things nobody wants to write (like letters to my children, friends, family, spouse for future days when I won’t be there).

And that’s why I’m writing this post today – it’s my letter of sorts to those who’ve played a role in the success of what we’ve been able to build here on this site, and hopefully an inspiration for anyone who is dreaming a crazy dream that everyone else says is impossible.

Here’s to the crazy ones: Creating great content requires getting back to our creative roots

In 2015 when this site was imported into WordPress, it was garnering 688 views a day. Today we’re averaging over 4,000 views per day, all completely organic – there’s never been a paid media or promotional effort behind the site. The premise has always been a focus on authentic and engaging content that’s also evergreen and SEO-optimized; that idea within itself is sadly radical within the business world.

As any creative in corporate knows, the challenges of bringing to life content that will genuinely resonate are many.

Often what started off as a lightning bolt idea will end up a jargonized, brand-voiced, and watered down shadow of itself before you can say, “Let’s loop in so-and-so and see what they think.” There are, of course, many good reasons for this, since the more you gain and grow, the more you have to lose.

This year has altered our perceived realities – in some cases pulling away the curtain to reveal Oz, and in others to reveal a galaxy that most of us hadn’t imagined yet.

We’ve re-entered an era where we’re not just talking about being the crazy ones – we’re actually transforming to become the thinkers and doers and dreamers who inspired all our talk of engaging content to begin with.

I know that if you’re a creator, you’ve already seen the below ad, but when’s the last time you actually listened to it again?

Before 2020, there was a lot of talk about trust being crucial to earning business, but concepts are tricky beasts in corporate.

We’ve become a people obsessed with instant results, KPIs, and ROI – as though we’ve focused so much on mimicking the motions that we’ve forgotten the actual ability to move.

The world turned upside down: For many, this year was a chance to deliver the holy grail of hard data to the rest of the organization

The tremendous growth we’ve experienced this year can be directly correlated to trust. On a hunch, I wanted to create an orphan page for our content around COVID, suspecting it would be relevant for some time to come, but not wanting to disrupt our usual content. Since there was no messaging formed for what was to come, I used links to the John Hopkins tracker and other resources that focused on where to find help as the initial calls to action.

Our first piece published on March 10, 2020, resulting in a 98.80% increase in page views. In April, that number jumped to 145.17%. But the most fascinating data of all: Pre-2020, 93% of our views came from search engines. Today approximately 70% come from search, and 30% from bookmarks.

By providing resources to help, we gained loyalty, and could directly attribute that loyalty within the customer journey. When all eyes were suddenly on us, we didn’t have to change our strategy; instead we doubled-down on content that we knew resonated.

We were able to do so because our written content had already inspired other creatives and strategists to explore what was possible – from podcasts to vlogs to SEO, the growth of the site is connected to each person who saw what we were doing and thought of new ways to leverage our work.

An idea transformed into a reality, then inspired others to dream bigger.

You can talk about authenticity and emotional connection all you’d like, but if there isn’t genuine passion and sincerity behind it, when it matters most people will either turn to you or from you – no amount of money can overpower the human instinct, and it’s humans who run businesses.

Words really can change the world, and those who create them bear a responsibility for how they’re presented

The site had already begun to see significant growth after focusing on the importance of diversity, inclusion, and purpose.

We could tie engagement to being intentional with our images and range of topics that we covered. Little did we know what else 2020 had in store. As the racial inequities of our existences were lain bare, we could also see new engagement on the topics we’d already been discussing, authentically, for years.

“Legacy, what is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see”

(Yep, going to keep going with the Hamilton theme.)

We too often want short, precise answers to problems that make things feel safe and predictable. The hard answer – and the truth – is that a lot of time, energy, attention to every single detail, and love goes into what happens here.

The work of showing up every day becomes the legacy we build and leave behind.

And to make a difference, we must learn the distinction between listening and deferring; between holding the door open and yielding ground. We must believe in what we do, and live that belief even when nobody is watching.

I’m in the fortunate position to speak often about our achievements, but it’s the people behind the scenes who make it possible. Because of their innate abilities and creativity, we’ve been able to grow in ways that I’d have never fathomed – and this should be our hope as creators and messengers. This isn’t “my” strategy; it belongs to each person who has been inspired to take this idea and make it shine brighter.

It’s not one person, and it’s never one person – behind any success, there’s always someone else, who in some way affected the foundation, formation, and trajectory, and in my case, so many people that I cannot keep count.

If I were to dispense the most important lessons of what’s been built here, it would be the following:

Keep creating.

Keep pushing boundaries.

Keep ignoring the naysayers and be a doer.

Remember what’s at the core of who you were and wanted to be before slowly sacrificing those ideals to conform and fit in.

Dig through the things that inspired you so much that you tore the pages from magazines or painted their words on ceilings.

Remember these wise words:

“I would say that there exist a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else, and that our dignity and our chances are one…we are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together. We are each other’s destiny.” – Mary Oliver

And these:

“It’s moments like this – you can feel it happening – that you grow transformed partly into something else strange and unimaginable— so when death comes it can only take part of you.” – Charles Bukowski

And, above all, do not throw away your shot.

Purpose powers the future of business.
Learn more HERE.

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Jenn Vande Zande

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