Illuminating Your Content Marketing Strategy: Lighthouse or Search Light?

How to become a blogging beacon of light | KOTAW Content MarketingAn abandoned puppy imprinted herself on my soul last week. And taught me a lesson in content marketing strategy.

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.

A lighthouse.

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


  1. This one brought a tear to my eye. You are all guiding lights, Katherine & Co.!

  2. I know what I said on Facebook – that I had to be somewhere and I would read your post later tonight. But I also KNEW what my heart wanted – to be HERE and devour your hopeful tearjerker RIGHT NOW!

    It’s funny that you wrote about an abandoned pup today because I spent two hours last night reading about the atrocities that are inflicted by humans upon our furry friends. I watched several videos of dogs being abandoned – one of which actually sprinted behind his owner’s car for 10 minutes before realizing that he could never catch up! :-(

    How do people find the heart to abandon their pets?

    Anyway, I don’t care about hovering lights. I care about that one light, which shines above all – steadily, constantly, unswerving. That light gracefully beckons others to honor their dreams and find happiness in the mundane moments of life.

    That light is YOU – and I LOVE YOU, my lighthouse! #HUGSSSSSSSSS

    #HUGSSS to you KAT…thank you for making that pup so happy before he left us :-( He died knowing that his memory is now ‘imprinted’ in your heart – love you, dear child #HUGSSS


    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      I am honored, Kit, that you delayed your “thing” to read my words. I wanted to scream and curse the heartless owners who left such a sweet animal to die, but I knew my time with the puppy was short and she deserved love and gentleness. And I am thankful that I was able to give her a bit of both.

      And if my words inspire you to find happiness in life’s mundane moments, I know there’s a tiny white puppy in heaven that’s wagging her tail with joy.

      And know, too, Kitto, that your words inspire me to keep writing.

      Hugs and love,


  3. Brian J Wood says:

    I was sorry to hear your story about the abandoned puppy and am sure you were pretty upset about the whole thing. You did the right thing only it didn’t work out the way it was supposed to. Our dog Bella was abandoned as a puppy in a dangerous environment, was found by a good samaritan and had a great foster family that couldn’t keep her permanently. Luckily we were given the opportunity to take her into our home. How people can abandon their pets on the streets is beyond me. These four legged animals deserve so much more from us as a society …so keep up the heroism!

  4. Alisa says:

    How do they fiiiind you??? Some critter instinct that says, “Katherine will help me!” I’m sorry you had to go through this, but I’m so glad the poor little thing had someone who cared. What a difference you made in that little life. Hugs!

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      I don’t know how they find me. The neighbors must think I line my fence with steak and tuna to lure them.

      But I think the word has spread through the critter kingdom and so they come. I’m still mourning that poor puppy, but I’m glad she knew some kindness in her life.

      (You’re on critter radar, too, so there must be some animal equivalent of mobile phones, and we’re on puppy and kitty speed dial.)

      Hugs to you, too!

  5. Toni Bullo says:

    Text for all your fantastic friends:

    Dear all,
    Why a lighthouse?
    Kate, has the gift to describe small details about everyday life, like light rays …this is one of her powers. She transforms all, small, big, simple and complicated events into light.
    Her gift is so potent that she can turns into light also the weaknesses.
    For this her words are inspiration for the lucky people that can read them.

    I am sure that for her this sentimental/chemical process is not forced but natural….natural for a lighthouse.

    She, with the puppy on her arms, moved me so much but at the same time this scene has a special light, that transform the tragedy.

    With this text, she has really shined and lit up our dark night.

    Dear Kathe’s friends, my words cross the ocean without fear because they know the route…..They simply follow the light of that little lighthouse

    Hugs for everybody

    sorry for my english :((

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Awww, dear Toni, you write far more gracefully in English than do most for whom it’s their first language.

      And whether it was light, fate or some magical alignment of the stars that brought us together, I am immensely happy and grateful that we now share the same orbit.

      Much love, my dear friend,


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