There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages. —Mark Twain
If Mark Twain was convinced that there were no original ideas over 100 years ago when he first published his autobiography, I have to imagine that, were he resurrected and introduced to Twitter, it would be a matter of mere minutes before he found himself right back in the hole he came from.
For as much good as global connectivity by way of social media has done us, it’s also made it harder than ever to formulate and publish an original thought. Our Twitter feeds and LinkedIn streams and news aggregating apps seem inundated with the same old stories—the same old pieces of colored glass, just switched around into slightly different positions.
This is a hard reality for companies to contend with, but it’s one they must come to terms with if they want any chance to succeed online in the long run.
I don’t believe that it’s impossible to come up with new ideas—that everything there is to be said in our lifetimes has already been said before. I do believe that too many companies fall victim to the content trap: they know they need to publish in order to be found, but they don’t want to dedicate the time or resources to do it well, and so they tell the same story other companies are telling and hope that their readers will care enough to pay attention.
News flash: this is a horrible strategy. We’re being bombarded from all sides by information. A person who follows 300 people who tweet an average of three times per day will have 900 tweets to go through in the few minutes they spend on the platform every day. Why would they bother to click through and read your content if it’s something they’ve seen and experienced before?
A favorite branding test of mine is to remove your name and references to your company from your marketing materials. If your name weren’t there, would customers still be able to tell the marketing materials belonged to you? If they could, congratulations: your brand is distinct and uniquely identifiable. If they couldn’t, I have bad news: you’ve fallen into the trap of taking part in the same old dog and pony show as every one of your competitors.
For as much work and money as companies put into making their brands stand out, they too often neglect to do the same thing for their content. I’m here to tell you now that it does you no good to tell the same story as your competitor. No one wants to hear the same thoughts regurgitated from a different perspective. Is blogging about “5 Ways to Make Your Content Great” or “5 Signs You’re Looking at Client Relationships the Wrong Way” really driving your brand forward, or is it just contributing to the noise?
Coming up with content that truly stands out, that’s uniquely you, is difficult. But it’s becoming more necessary by the day.
As you write your content calendar and brainstorm ideas to get your business noticed online, I encourage you to put yourself in the shoes of Mark Twain and think hard about what your content is doing. Are you rearranging the same pieces of glass into the same old kaleidoscope, or scrapping them entirely and suggesting that looking through a telescope could give people a different view of the world?
Image credit: CC by Mike Beales