One unfortunate side effect of the dramatic way things have sped up over the past decade is our failure to create room for anything.
Because we can send messages instantaneously, we do. Because we can generate content 24/7, we do. Because we can publish things to platforms with theoretically available bajillions of eyes and ears at any moment the urge strikes—or our Inner Taskmaster whips us into doing—we do.
And do. And do. And do. It is like each of us has washed up on the shores of our own, digital New York City—a place where anything is available any hour of the day or night, if you only know where to look—and we are so determined to have every last bit of it, we don’t bother with booking ourselves a digital hotel room, grabbing a digital hot dog, or even parking our frenzied, depleted bodies on a digital park bench for a digital breather. It is no wonder that we end up neither enjoying the pleasures of New York we seek or being someone others want to spend a lot of time around.
For a host of reasons, the time has come to advocate for margins.
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Back in my misspent youth as an advertising copywriter, my art directors, creative directors, fellow writers, and I spent roughly 2% of our time coming up with commercials and print ads and radio spots, and 98% fighting clients (and too often our own account people) to keep them from voting against their best interests.
I get it; I do. If I were paying all that money for a full-page spread in Sports Illustrated or 30 seconds of network primetime, I’d want to know why you couldn’t cram another selling point/product shot/47,000 mentions of the brand name in there, too. We did our best to explain to these heathens who’d never set foot in a creative writing class or art school why making the logo bigger was not necessarily the way to get more people to notice it. Alas, more often than not, the best we could do was some sad compromise we’d commiserate about together over late-night beer and Chinese food, working on the next thing.
But you, o lover of imagery, o student of divine proportions and the necessity of breathing room. You know how a shot needs to be composed and/or cropped so that attention is brought to the right things in the correct order (or not); you have an intimate acquaintance with the credo of “Less is more” (except in those rare, rococo-proving-the-rule cases where it isn’t, and even then, you know those rules, too).
We creative types get white space. So why, oh, why do we refuse to accept it as a rule in all our endeavors?
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Think for a second of a Facebook friend whose updates you’re always happy to see in your stream—someone you’ve never even been tempted to hide. Chances are, their posts fall into a few very general descriptive categories: they are:
- useful, about ideas or events or items you find not only informative, but shared in the spirit of service, rather than self-promotion, and possibly even entertaining;
- reasonably specific to that person’s areas of expertise and/or interests; and
- nice. (Seriously, if you learn just one thing from me, it’s that jerks and naysayers get attention in the short run, but end up eating alone a lot of the time.)
These three things—being useful, specific, and nice—form the pillars of my theory on what makes for a strong brand or marketing platform. They work for marketing in general and social media particularly. Do these things reliably and regularly, and you almost cannot fail, provided the actual work you’re performing or selling is also of quality. It’s a theory that’s worked for me and for countless other creatives and civilians alike, both over the five years I’ve been talking about it and the millennia that humans have roamed the planet, doing business with one another. (As you know, all of the best ideas are really old, really simple ones.)
What’s different in the past couple of years is how high the bar has been raised. “It doesn’t look like that to me,” you’re probably saying. “I see more crap than ever, everywhere I look!”
Exactly! As the bar to entry has lowered, more and more people have jumped in the pool, and—well, the metaphors are already hopelessly mixed. Suffice to say that the more junk (and good stuff) there is out there, the better your stuff has to be to stand out and gain attention.
So the magic, fourth thing your hypothetical Facebook friend’s posts have to be is fewer. There’s simply no way to generate more and more without it becoming less and less noteworthy.
Doing more with is a scary proposition, I won’t lie to you. It requires an enormous act of faith to focus on quality when it seems like quantity is the only way to stand out. But if you can create a name for yourself as an oasis of sanity, space, and quality in a world of crazed noise and clutter, you will not only become a go-to brand, you’ll endure as one.