Does that subject line sound familiar to you? Well, it should. It’s a homage (read: blatant rip off!) to a rather famous book, something that everyone (be they a business owner, or not) should read: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. Despite it being published in the year of my birth (1989. Yes, I’m still a baby) I only started reading it last week… and only finished it yesterday.
Upon finishing, I had the same realisation I imagine most people had: “why, on earth, didn’t I read this before?” It really is that good a book.
But this isn’t actually a blog about how good the book is. This is a blog about something my colleague Alex pointed out to me when I mentioned I’d finished reading it today.
After emphatically agreeing about how good it was, he went on to point out how clever Covey’s use of positioning was in terms of the content, and how this is something else people could learn from it.
I’ve spoken about the many and varied rules of content before. Another, which it always pays to remember, is: there is no such thing as original content. Unless it’s fiction in its purest form, everything is adapted from or, at the very least, influenced by something that was created before it… and usually by someone else.
What’s usually different is the positioning of that content:
– The angle its presented from
– A new use for the same things
– Other ideas it might be tied into (yours, or others)
– The audience its intended for
In the case of Covey, the “character ethic imperatives” which form the basis of the titular “7 Habits” are adapted from “universal and timeless” principles, i.e. notions which have existed for as long as there have been people to ponder them. Had they ever been applied in such a way before? Highly unlikely. The content is in itself entirely original, yet is built upon an ancient and sturdy foundation. All via the magic of positioning.
Here is a picture of a lizard on a rock.
The rock is as old as time. However, the lizard sitting on the rock is what makes this picture an interesting and engaging one. If the rock wasn’t there, the lizard wouldn’t be there. If the lizard wasn’t there, then the rock still would be. However, it would still just be a picture of a rock, and probably wouldn’t be quite so engaging.
That is positioning, 101. A new perspective of some sort (lizard) on an established foundation (rock). So never be afraid of dragging up old adages when creating content, or new products. What really matters is the positioning. After all, when you first looked at the picture above, did you first see a rock, a lizard on a rock… or just a lizard?
(It’s actually a bearded dragon, but I digress.)
When it comes to positioning old ideas in a new way (i.e. the way the vast majority of content is ultimately created) there is no right way to do it, however there are ways of doing it well. Seven of them, in fact. Let’s just call them habits to stick with the overarching theme.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Positionings
This can apply to anything content based. Marketing videos. Training literature. Content pieces (like this one). Books. Basically, anything in which information is communicated from one party to another… which is actually most things, if you think about it.
#1. Acknowledge Your Influences
This is probably the most important of the habits, and should go without saying. Whether you use a formal citation, or simply make it a cheeky nod (as I have done with this particular piece) when an idea is not your own, it’s good practice to say as much. It won’t detract from the impact of your message. If anything, it will add to it.
#2. Consider Your Audience
Only you know your clients and customers, and only you know what they’d benefit from. One thing you quickly learn as a writer is how everything is indeed relatable to everything else. Best of all, the links don’t necessarily have to be tenuous. As long as you can connect the dots and make something relevant and, ultimately, beneficial to your audience, you have an effective platform through which to communicate your message.
#3. Keep it Simple
It’s all too easy to get tied up in knots when connecting the dots between old and new ideas, especially when the subject matter isn’t directly relatable. Keep it as simple and as straightforward as you can, and don’t be afraid of taking a moment out to summarise. In fact, doing so is a hugely effective way of keeping your audience engaged and well-informed.
#4. Project the Purpose
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: every piece of content – regardless of what it is – needs a purpose. If you chose to position your content around an old, established idea, it needs to be projected towards your desired outcome and polished off with a call to action.
#5. State The Obvious
Never assume that your audience know anything. As far as you’re concerned, they only know what you tell them. So tell them! If you’re putting a new spin on an old idea, say that’s what you’re doing. If there’s a link that requires an explanation, explain it.
#6. Know Your Subject Matter
If you are referencing a book, make sure you’ve read the book. If you’re referencing an old business philosophy, make sure you know it inside out. While it’s dangerous to assume that your audience knows things, it’s equally dangerous to assume they don’t know anything. Knowing your subject matter, old and new, will only strengthen the positioning of the content, and you.
#7. Check For Duplicates
Can you be sure this hasn’t been done before? If you’re referencing something old and well known, even with a very unique take, it pays to spend some time making sure you’re not regurgitating something which your audience will have already seen. And if it has been done, chose a slightly different angle. Google, as always, is your friend.
A great deal of the above is common sense, but it’s worth repeating. Remember that information does get reused (as standard), repeated and reiterated. In fact, it should be! Good ideas need to be shared, and it’s often the third party that reaches the most minds. Just make sure you practice good habits when doing do. Oh, and read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It really is very good.
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