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Field Notes

Field Notes #54: The Bandwagon Isn’t the Best

The bandwagon isn’t the best

The premise of “don’t reinvent the wheel” is, “Why start from scratch when there’s already a solution available?” Valid point. But: 

  1. Is a wheel the right solution? 
  2. If so, what kind of wheel do you need and why? If not, what do you need instead? 
  3. Do existing options fully meet your needs? If not, what adjustments could you make to compensate? 

Whenever we have a problem or need, we tend to immediately gravitate toward solutions we’ve seen others use. In marketing, this manifests in many ways. 

An example our founders at Omniscient point to is trying to copy HubSpot’s content marketing strategy without considering why it worked for HubSpot initially, why it still works for them now, and why it probably won’t work for you.

Another example is common among SEO content writers. When assigned a blog post, many immediately Google the topic, mash together H2s found in the content on page one, remix the info, and hope to rank.

In both cases, the need is filled… at least seemingly. You’re able to implement a strategy or publish a new post, both based on proven successes. But neither solution really serves you. And ideas that could lead to better outcomes—ideas based on an intimate knowledge of your business, industry, and audience—aren’t even considered.

Start with nothing

While you probably don’t need to reinvent the wheel, in many cases, you shouldn’t start with the wheel either. 

  1. Define the situation. Outline your challenge or goal. Say your problem is an underperforming sales page. You need to figure out the root cause so you can fix it. To start, record everything you do know. For example, you may have triple-checked your targeting to ensure that it matches up closely with your ideal customer profile (ICP). If that’s not the problem, what is?
  2. Identify and remove blind spots. Next, note what you don’t know. Continuing with the above example, you realize you haven’t done any message testing on your sales page. There’s a chance the copy isn’t right for your ICP and that’s why it’s not resonating. This is a blind spot, which you could resolve by gathering feedback from individuals who mirror the characteristics of your ideal customer. Doing that will give you a more complete picture of the situation and help you make informed decisions in the next step. 
  3. Brainstorm solutions of your own. Before you decide to implement solutions suggested by people who aren’t in the trenches of your business, think through your options. Specifically, consider what solutions would work best based on the current situation of your business, your target market, and the state of the industry. So, instead of riffing off of a competitor’s messaging on their sales page (even if it appears to be working), what could you do? Use fresh insights from your research—voice of customer data, for instance—to make your sales page copy more persuasive.

With some custom, well-thought-out solutions in mind, you can then compare alternatives and see clearly where the most potential lies. 

The challenge is: Sometimes we don’t fully understand the nature of our circumstances or where the goalposts should be. Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know.

In these situations, seek expert input. Emphasis on expert. But this doesn’t necessarily mean asking point blank, “What should I do?” and taking whatever suggestion you receive. That can result in:

  • Recommendations made based on incomplete context
  • Bias that unduly influences your decision-making
  • Stifling of your own innovative ideas and viewpoint

Seek education, so that you’re more capable of determining which ideas are viable—whether they’re yours or someone else’s. 

What this looks like in practice

I’m a writer, so I apply this three-step process most often when outlining content. For me, defining the situation is two-fold and involves: 

  1. Painting a mental picture of the audience based on their role(s), jobs to be done, awareness stage, and so on
  2. Reviewing the client’s topic-related POV, how their products are relevant, their goal for the content, and how relevant conversion assets and use case pages could work together to accomplish it

I jot down important H2s and H3s to cover and fill in what I already know about the topic, including client points of view and differentiators. Next, I write down my knowledge gaps and work to fill them, such as by listening to client webinars led by internal subject matter experts. 

This equips me to come up with solutions, i.e., stronger angles and additional outline subtopics that make the content more unique than competing pages. Not to mention more authoritative since a lot of what’s in search results is written by folks with no firsthand topic knowledge who’ve done bare minimum research and brainstorming, and have all copied each other.

I challenge you to apply this process to your work, whatever it may be. 

Want more insights like this? Connect with me on LinkedIn

  1. Today’s Design is Shaped By Likes. And That’s a Problem. – Today’s Field Notes was inspired by this post I love and reflect on often. It speaks about our tendency to emulate what others consider to be “good work” in lieu of applying the fundamental skills and principles that make our work useful. 
  2. Building a Second Brain: The Definitive Introductory Guide – To build the muscle of first consulting yourself over automatically copying others, build a second brain. I use mine to store inspirational content from others and to explore the unique thoughts and ideas they spark within me via systematic notetaking. (If you’re short on time, read from the heading “Drill Down to the Essence.”)
  3. Field Notes #050: Why We Choose to Focus on Fewer Metrics in Link Building – This is worth a read if you missed it and continues with today’s theme. My colleague Mason explained the concept of surrogation where metrics replace strategy (and why it’s valuable to get back to prioritizing strategy).
Nia Gyant

Nia Gyant is a B2B SaaS content writer at Omniscient Digital. With an affinity for martech, she specializes in writing product-led content that generates leads and revenue. She also loves tackling thought leadership projects on rapidly-evolving topics like AI and lives in San Diego, CA.