I heard Ivy barking, crying – hyperventilating – in the backyard and some pitiful noises I couldn’t identify. I went out to investigate and found a tiny white puppy on the other side of a brick wall that outlines our property.
She was shaking and scooching along on her belly. As I crouched down and stroked her coarse fur, she quieted. But Ivy’s urgent appeals grew louder. And Lucy joined the fray.
Were Ivy and Lucy, two dogs that had left their homes for ours during the past year, welcoming a third canine into the KOTAW household? Or just stridently insisting that I do something for the poor animal?
I picked up the puppy, held her to my chest and brought her into the yard to meet our furry family members: Ivy, our sweet red nose Pit Bull and KOTAW’s Brand Ambassador; Lucy, an 11-year-old poodle mix whose Adopt Me NOW! campaign included threatening to jump off the roof of her old home, and Doosis, a kitten-cat that waited for us to come home one night last summer, followed us into the house and stayed.
And to my two daughters, of course. Bri and Kelsey have never met a stray they didn’t want to save. But they’re happiest when we can return the animal to its original home. They’re reluctant to open their hearts to a new family member. They know that the timeline between loving and mourning a pet is measured in years, not decades.
And, sometimes, in months, days or hours.
The family meeting was brief and solemn. There was something wrong with the puppy, I said, and she wasn’t lost, she’d been dumped. She couldn’t have traveled to our house on her own – she lacked the strength and muscle coordination. I said I would take her to a veterinarian to get her examined.
We live less than 500 yards from a vet’s office, so I carried the puppy there. She was happy, content in my arms. I was miserable. And, for a moment at least, I cursed the fact that I am a lighthouse.
From Italy, With Love
Toni Bullo, KOTAW’s Creative Visual Director, dubbed me a lighthouse a couple of years ago, when I asked him why he wanted to lend his name and talent to my company, which was still in the embryonic stage. Toni lives in Milan and we’d never met in person. And his credits include designs for Apple, HP, Lindt and Ferrero. He wasn’t hurting for work or recognition.
Toni said there was something about me that shined above the rest, a strong and steady force of energy, a welcoming light, a safe harbor. And he wanted to help KOTAW become the lighthouse of the content marketing world.
I am often slow to comprehend people’s assessment of me. It took me 15 years and three readings of Out of Africa to figure out why a New York Times editor compared me to Isak Dinesen. And, for about a year, I dismissed Toni’s comment as playful praise. But, as I sat in the waiting room at the vet’s office, trying to reschedule a client meeting that now conflicted with the puppy’s appointment, I realized that “lighthouse” was a good way to describe my content marketing strategy.
And why some of you may want to adopt it as your own.
Lighthouses Last a Century
I always think long term. I don’t rush to count up the number of clicks or shares a piece gets when first published. What matters to me is how well an article or post aligns with my far-reaching goals. Does it attract the audience I want? Does it invite readers’ comments or elicit their emotions? Is it something I’ll still be proud of in a year or 10? Is it good enough to deserve the lighthouse label?
I have a lot of goals, some directly related to KOTAW, the company and some to Kotaw, the person. If I wrote content specifically targeted to each goal, I wouldn’t have time to do anything else. I’d have fans for this and followers for that but for what purpose? Strategy is meaningless if it doesn’t get you anywhere.
And I intend to go somewhere. To several somewheres. I want KOTAW to attract top talent and terrific clients, to become the content marketing agency known for turning storytelling into branding magic. I want KOTAW to become a company my daughters will be proud to call their own one day. I want to pen more books. I want to write a screenplay. I want to help produce Bri’s movie. I want to launch a foundation that will improve the lives of battered women and abused animals.
What Lola and Kotaw Want
Pretty lofty goals, yes? But I usually get what I want. Because I never stop thinking about how I’ll get there and taking steps in the direction I want to go.
That’s why I take a lighthouse approach to my content marketing strategy. I will never be the most prolific blogger nor command the highest blog readership. But what I strive to become is a shining constant, a writer worth your time, a writer whose voice doesn’t get lost in the cacophonous sea of digital marketing.
Search for Today, Not Tomorrow
This approach won’t work for everyone. (There are times when it doesn’t work for me.) You may not currently enjoy the luxury of gradually building an audience. If you’re launching a mass market product or need hundreds of clients to make payroll, you’ll put your company at peril with the lighthouse approach. You can’t always wait for customers and clients to “see the light.”
Sometimes a search light strategy makes more sense. If you need fast and far-reaching exposure, go ahead and distribute your content through press releases and paid media. Hire a publicist and social media expert. Buy the best advertising you can afford.
But keep the limitations of this approach in mind. Every few weeks I see a search light circling over the Hollywood Hills, and I idly wonder what movie premiere or awards show is taking place. When I don’t see the search light, such events slip off my mental radar altogether. I don’t need prompting, though, to seek out the movies and stars who’ve reached lighthouse status. I’ll go out of my way to find them.
Take the search light approach when you must. Just be certain of its reach and aim so that your money and efforts are well spent. But strive for lighthouse status. Become an attractive beacon, a guiding light.
Prepare yourself for some bountiful opportunities, amazing relationships and occasional heartbreak.
Safe Haven/Fragile Emotions
By the time the vet called my name, I was pretty certain I knew what he was going to say. The puppy’s problems were neurological, probably congenital. A specialist could run some tests, the vet said, “But I don’t know if anything can be done for your puppy.”
“She’s not my puppy,” I protested weakly as I picked her up from the examining table and let her rest her head on my shoulder.
“Happy New Year,” he said, a dismissive comment that was three weeks late and wholly inappropriate. But, in fairness, I think he had no idea what to say. Neither did I.
For an hour or so, I sat with the puppy, telling her about my family and dogs I had known, including the ones that would greet her in heaven if that was her next destination. My daughters, meanwhile, were making some phone calls, searching for a happy outcome.
I took the puppy to a local shelter, which had recently received funding for special-needs cats and dogs and had a reputation for putting animals in foster care for years at a time.
The vet called me the next day.
“We can do a lot here, miracles, really and I personally rescued a cat with neurological deficits. She can’t get on the couch without help, but she purrs, she’s happy. But your puppy…”
She delivered the sad news and asked me what I wanted to do.
“She’s not my puppy.”
“But if she were?” The vet talked me through all the steps of the puppy’s abandonment, looking for the legal loophole that would make the decision mine.
I’m not sure she found it, but I answered anyway.
“If she were my puppy, I’d want you to make the decision that was in her best medical interests. And I’d ask you to kiss her goodbye for me.”
A Light Falters, Grows Stronger
Life is a little sadder, but a lot richer because of that puppy. She left this world knowing she was loved and I continue in it worrying less about life’s timelines than its moments.
And knowing that, even if it weren’t a good content marketing strategy, I’d still be a lighthouse.
What is YOUR content marketing strategy? How do you measure the success of your content in the short and long-term? What do people say about your content? What do you wish they would say?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And, if you want help with your content marketing strategy, give me a call or drop me an email.
The lighthouse is open.
Photo credit: Ashley Ella Design