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What Every Content Marketer Can Learn From Russell Wilson

Content marketing that is relevant and helps build your brand’s reputation is the ultimate strategy for building a business that lasts, and just like playing in the NFL, you can’t cut corners. Russell Wilson, back in the divisional round of the playoffs for a fifth straight season with the Seattle Seahawks, knows it takes dedication, patience and tenacity to make it in professional football. Here are few lessons content marketers can learn from Russell Wilson about limitations, the value of grit, and why the details matter.

1. Win local, then go global. 

Russell Wilson played football for many years in high school and college, and even played baseball before moving into the NFL. Content marketers have to do the same; play for the local team first, and start by creating great content for 200 people, not 20 thousand or 20 million. Any financial services firm would love their website to rank for the keyword, “best 401k plan,” but they’re not going to rank higher than Schwab or Merrill Lynch, at least in the beginning. However, if they can find the perfect niche locally, “best 401k plan for dentists in WA state,” they can rank the highest there, for starters.  Dominate your local market and do that really well – then move your way up.

2. Keep at it.

If you’re serious about building a sustainable brand, you have to commit; you can’t do it overnight. Just like Russell practices or goes to the gym every day, content marketing takes daily repetition. When you build your marketing strategy, you can plan things that have immediate impact, but you need to balance it with long-term strategies; after you build your personas, you have to think, “what am I doing to still be relevant for this audience a year from now?” You have to keep learning, testing, grinding away, and just like athletes have to be benched sometimes, you have to fail, so you can learn from it and produce better work.

3. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Russell Wilson knows you likely don’t get to the Super Bowl in your first year (although he almost did…).  Most of the players who make it are in their late twenties or early thirties – they’ve spent decades honing their craft. One of the challenges content marketers face is that CEOs and other managers often want to see immediate results, the kind they get with PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns or big events. But PPC is like steroids; you may see temporary growth, but nothing can substitute for building a foundation and understanding who your audience is. It’s a bit like letting your NFL Quarterback use everything his body can produce in his first season, at the cost of longer term development and upside. Think about what happened to Washington Redskins Quarterback RG3 and where he is today, vs. Russell Wilson. Relying too much on paid, short term marketing levers can have the similar effect of short term results at the cost of long term growth.

As you can see in some of the growth charts below, getting organic traffic to grow with these companies took time. You also see that the results of the work often come in leaps, not very different from the NFL where wins and turnovers also often seem to come in “bunches.”

Your audience isn’t just a group of statistics to appeal to – they’re real people with real challenges, and the more quality content you can create for them, the better the results will be in the long run.

4. Compensate for limitations.

No athlete is good at everything. Russell Wilson is not the tallest quarterback, but he’s an accurate passer and moves quick, and he capitalizes on those strengths.  In content marketing, we can’t be experts at every topic, or every medium (some excel with podcasts, events, blogs, long form versus short form, etc.), but we can pick what we’re best at and hone those skills. Content marketing isn’t about trying to please everyone, but about pleasing a smaller group really well. Find your strengths and capitalize on them.

5. It’s a level playing field.

There is no better place for David to fight Goliath than the arena of content marketing.  Nobody can prevent you from writing great content that can be seen, ranked, and shared.  Fortunately for Russell Wilson, the Seahawks’ head coach, Pete Carroll, has a similar philosophy. Carroll embraces everyone and believes everyone should get a chance, which is why Russell could succeed as a low-round draft pick who was deemed too short by many, and why he was allowed to compete for the job instead of sitting on the bench. The same level playing field exists for content marketers in the eyes of Bing, Yahoo and Google. Every rookie has a real shot of making it on the field in the first year. Everyone is allowed to compete.

6. The details matter.

Russell Wilson is disciplined when it comes to details. He focuses on improving specific parts of the game, like practicing 3rd down conversions, or his own mechanics and knowledge of the game. With content marketing, there are thousands of things you can improve on. SEO for  example.  Your audience isn’t always going to be human; it also includes algorithms.  Just like our eyes view a magazine cover, Google has digital eyes that are judging if your content is credible, has the right format, the right metadata, etc., and you can’t outsource the important stuff.  Do the SEO work. All of it, especially the boring but important stuff. And build audience personas. Understand the “why” part of your messaging and value proposition, not just the “what” and the “how.”

Just as Russell Wilson would never ask a lineman to make the audible during a 3rd down, content marketers should never substitute understanding the client and what they are interested in, with hiring someone to do the work for them.  Knowing your client matters. Just like many other basics. No time to sleep. There is always more to improve and test.

7. The sky is the limit.

Russell Wilson wasn’t initially seen as someone who would be successful; he had to prove himself time and again. Content marketers are often up against the same “believe it when we see it” mentality, and that is often made extra difficult because it takes time for content marketing to get going. But as time has shown, there’s no limit to success if you maintain your course, and believe it can be done.

There’s a lot content marketers can learn from Russell Wilson.  The star quarterback has won more games than any other NFL quarterback in his first four seasons, and as you can see, companies that embrace content marketing create lasting benefits with real, measurable results.