Father, Forgive Me: I Failed to Provide Value

Father, forgive me. It has been 24 years since my last confession*. These are my sins: 

  • I created content solely for the purpose of creating content;
  • I distributed useless content; and
  • I failed to offer value to my readers.

Childhood Excuses: Sharing my professional blunder throws me back to my youth, when I knelt in the confessional, trying to remain anonymous before Father Ciaola, though I was fairly certain he could see through the dark linen cloth.

To ensure a light penance, I relied on the same three sins every kid my age did: I lied, I fought with my brothers and sisters, and I disobeyed my parents. (If you weren’t raised Catholic, just ask someone who was.) Anyway, like I said, I knew I would get off with a light penance if I admitted to these three rote, somewhat-acceptable sins.

A Teenage Error in Judgment: One time – one time, mind you – I told Father Ciaola the truth. What I had done was a bad thing for a 14-year-old girl (I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t THAT bad). Anyway, I confessed it, thinking my honesty would create a sense of mercy in Father Ciaola. It didn’t.

He told me what I already knew, “You shouldn’t do that!” Then he gave me a harsh penance and sent me on my way.

The Shameful Blunder a Professional Content Writer: I didn’t have to confer with Father Ciaola, or anyone for that matter, to know that I had gone astray. All I had to do was look at what I’d written and say, “I shouldn’t have done that!”

I’m a content professional, and I believe I’m good at what I do. When it comes to sharing a business message, I guide my clients in the following practices (which are also detailed in The Archery of Good Communications: 4 steps to convey value).

  • Figure out who needs what you offer.
  • Respect your own expertise; believe that you have knowledge worth sharing.
  • Share valuable ideas and useful, concrete tips.
  • Don’t write to sell.
  • Write well.
  • Give your audience something worth remembering or something worth doing.
  • Find out how your audience wants to receive information, and follow their lead.

Takeaways: The takeaway here is that professional blunders come with a cost, and that cost can be a lot more than a light (or even harsh) penance from Father Ciaola.

We should always think about what we have to lose before we push ideas or content or products or services that provide no value to our audience. We could lose:

  • Relevance
  • Credibility
  • The patience of a faithful audience
  • Our place as a trusted expert

Even worse, the failure to provide value to our audience can and will eventually result in a loss of business. So, whether we are delivering knowledge, services, or products, the onus is on us:

  • We must always put the needs of our audience first.
  • We must always respect the time of our audience.
  • We must, to the best of our ability, always deliver value and quality.

Sometimes the hardest lessons come in the form of failure, and that’s something even Father Ciaola could not have instilled in me.

*This content should not be construed as a religious or doctrinal statement; rather, it is a sarcastic bit of self-deprecating fun.

Double your audience with relevant content

Would you like to double your audience? You can do it with content that is buoyant and fluid – content that keeps on giving.

To get the most of this conversation, we need to begin with one premise in place: Content is an asset. For a little background on this, read Content Marketing: Fairly Tales or Business Sales.

BUOYANT CONTENT is relevant and worth sharing. 

Every minute of every day, gobs of content are tossed into a virtual Mariana Trench. Some content sinks immediately, never to be read or retrieved. A smaller percentage of content is read and absorbed. This content is buoyant; it remains relevant and worth sharing.

Shark Tank-investor Mark Cuban said in an interview with Business Insider that every entrepreneur should read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. What’s interesting about this piece of advice is that Rand penned The Fountainhead in 1943. The book started off with slow sales, but eventually it reached 6.5 million print copies sold. Instead of sinking into oblivion, the content remains buoyant; it is relevant and worth sharing, even today.

Buoyant content remains relevant, visible, and worth sharing.

Your content is unlikely to reach an audience 6.5 million, and that’s to be expected, and probably even preferred. Few businesses are prepared or capable of serving a million-person audience.

It’s more likely that you are trying to reach a community, a list of top-ten clients, a selection of mid-sized companies, or some other targeted market. The only thing that matters is that YOUR content is relevant to YOUR target market.

Buoyant content has greater lead potential.  

A client who received 117 initial LinkedIn views within one week of sharing content had 451 LinkedIn views six weeks later. The numbers aren’t high, but the lesson is valid. This client experienced a 400% increase in audience touch with a single, brief blog.

FLUID CONTENT remains visible and worthwhile.

The Fountainhead was initially available in print only (no surprise in 1943). Its audience continued to grow, however, for two reasons:

The Fountainhead has intrinsic value that makes people want to share it. There’s no way that a book authored in 1943 would continue to grow a modern audience if it weren’t relevant. Something had to be significant enough about the work to make a splash on the Internet, some 75 years after it was written. It’s buoyancy results from its relevance and its appeal to its target market.

The content’s visibility results from the fact that Rand’s story became fluid; it was shared across many channels: magazine interviews, professional testimonials, and Internet searches.


Fluid content is visible in many places, so it can be retrieved and recirculated by many people, long after it was first penned. This is residual value.

Content can’t pick up the same traction in one channel as it can in several. This is a lesson for every business dabbling in content creation. Don’t get stuck in one mode of communication; explore opportunities to share your message in print and in multiple digital channels.

When your content begins to slip into oblivion, it takes only one, two, or more people to revive it, to recirculate it, and to bring its knowledge back into view for a completely new audience.

You might not be Ayn Rand, and your content will likely never reach an audience of 6.5 million. What you might achieve is a 5%, 15%, or 25% increase in audience touch and lead potential, and that’s a worthy investment.


Bitcoin, Block Chain, and Other Things I Knew Nothing About

Five weeks ago, I knew nothing about Bitcoin and Block Chain. Four weeks later, an international firm published my article on the investment potential of Bitcoin and Block Chain.

Why would a company hire a writer who knows little to nothing about the topic they want to communicate? That’s a fair and logical question.

The answer, at first glance, might not seem as logical, but here it is:

Content writing has little to do with industry expertise.

Does that scare you? If you are going to pay someone to convey your coveted expertise to customers, why hire someone who possesses none of that expertise? Three reasons, actually.

Three reasons why you should hire a content writer to convey your message:

Internal technical people have little time to write. What company wants to pay their brightest technical minds to write, when they could be developing new products, driving operational efficiencies, or improving the company’s bottom line? Expecting your engineers or business development people to write is a poor use of your resources.

Technical people aren’t always the most capable writers. I’ve been told this dozens of times by the technical experts themselves or by their managers. Writing is a skill, and unbeknownst to many people, it is a time-consuming and somewhat painful process. Not everyone is going to be a strong writer, and that includes the most intelligent and forward-thinking members of your team. And that’s okay. It’s no different than the fact that only one person on a team is going to be the best goalie, the best three-point shooter, the best salesperson, or the best motivator.

Experienced writers can deliver what you need. A qualified, experienced writer can deliver timely, accurate, and effective content. (See samples of industry-specific content writing.)

There is no magic to content writing. Writers rely heavily on independent research and expert interviews. (For example, I read more than 40 articles and interviewed three people before writing my own Bitcoin piece.)

Writing is a craft that blends technical expertise with the flow of appealing, persuasive copy. Pure technical content belongs in the realm of user manuals and research papers. Marketing content has another purpose, and that is to call a targeted audience to action. Whether you’re positioning yourself as an industry expert, working to stay ahead of the competition, or pushing a particular product or service, a content writer is best suited to speak directly to your target audience.

A writer thinks like a customer. If I don’t understand what you have to offer, it’s likely that your customers won’t either. Your expertise is your selling point, but it’s important to share that expertise without losing the interest of your audience. A content writer gathers, absorbs, and distills information to fit the needs of your target audience through subtly-persuasive content.

Investing in an expert writer is a good call when you’re ready to get results by increasing awareness, positioning yourself as an industry expert, or calling your audience to action. Just be sure to find a writer who can understand your business and translate your message in a way that is understandable and impactful to your audience.

The Archery of Good Communications: 4 steps to convey value

I had six weeks of archery training in eighth grade, so you can trust what I have to say next.

Effective business communications are all about delivering value. To deliver value, you have to know your audience, know your value proposition, and be able to deliberately and successfully deliver your message to an audience that is positioned to receive it.

If any one of these communications components is missing, your efforts will result in wasted resources and disappointment.

Identify your target

It goes without saying that an archer must know his target before he pulls back that bowstring. The same goes with communications. Too many times, businesses and professionals throw out a message without being intentional about the audience they hope to influence. You know the saying, “You can’t be everything to everyone.” Well, in business communications, that means that you’re wasting time and resources if you pitch your business value to everyone you meet.

Carefully select your bow

You’ll never hit a bullseye if you don’t choose the right bow, and choosing the right bow in archery requires two pieces of information: what is your dominant eye, and what will it take to bring down your target?

In business communications, your “dominant eye” translates into your value proposition. I like Kissmetric’s definition of a value proposition, adapted here in part:

a collection of the most persuasive reasons people should notice you and believe that you can deliver what they need

Another way of saying it is a “compelling description of the benefits you provide.”

Knowing your value proposition is beyond important, but so is knowing what your audience expects. You can’t deliver buffalo wings to a vegan and expect them to eat just because it is what you served. Think about how your message will (or will not) resonate with your target market. And then decide if your message needs to be adapted, or if you are simply focusing on the wrong audience.

Position yourself in relation to your target

Once you have identified your target, make sure you position yourself for optimal results. And keep your eye on your target at all times. If you get distracted or decide to go after a new target at the last minute, you probably won’t be successful.

The same is true in business communications. Failing to fix your target means that your message will keep shifting to accommodate different audiences. You will lose sight of your value proposition, you will waste time, and you will probably miss your target.

Draw, aim, and release

While draw, aim, and release seem to be three separate steps, the truth is that they are one. That’s because they must be completed in one fluid motion. Otherwise, you will not maintain control or concentration, and your chance of hitting your target will be greatly diminished. (Don’t feel badly if you don’t have this down; it takes lots of practice to perfect your delivery.)

You might not consider the value of “practicing” your business communications, but you should. Now, please don’t jump to the conclusion that this is the same as an “elevator pitch.” The reason I don’t like the reference “elevator pitch” is because it is so you-centered, and too often it is delivered in such a practiced manner that listeners immediately hit the off button.

While I get the theory of downloading all you need to say in the length of time it takes to ride the elevator down a few floors, the analogy is off-target. Let’s face it, your pitch isn’t really intended to be delivered in an elevator to a person you just met who is already uncomfortable being beside you. And think how more uncomfortable that are when you unload your entire business model because they happened to say, “How are you,” or “And where do you work?” The only thing they are thinking is, “I can’t wait to get off of this elevator.”

Your entire communications process should be fluid and second nature. That means that your value proposition must be delivered naturally, in the course of discussion. It has to be more of a give and take than give, give, give.

Caveat: Social skills are a huge factor here. Every interaction is a potential business opportunity, but only if you handle the interaction with class and confidence.

If you’re uncomfortable determining your value proposition, connect with a communications professional who can help you narrow your message and deliver a strong value proposition.

If you recognize that your interpersonal skills are lacking, that you freeze when you do have an opportunity to zero in on a business target, or you know that you deliver a less than best verbal pitch, consider professional groups that help improve communications, such as Toastmasters International. It’s almost a guarantee that you will find a group that meets near you, and your returns will be well worth your time investment.

Remember, your ability to draw, aim, and release is the only way to hear the victory cry, “Bullseye!”


Influence Your Vertical Markets with Industry Content

A strong content marketing strategy helps you become visible within a particular industry. In turn, that visibility helps establish you as an industry expert. The result? Enhanced visibility and credibility pour directly into increased lead generation.

As with most things in life, you have to spend money in order to make money. Before you decide how to spend your marketing and business development dollars, it’s important to consider how you want to influence your verticals.

I’ve never had a business owner say to me, “I want to spend money to market to my competitors.”

Don’t dilute the value of your marketing dollars.
Many companies, unfortunately, waste money by marketing to their own industry. Let’s use this example: you are an IT consultant and you get an article published on a site frequented by other IT consultants. It’s rewarding to get published, but in truth, your voice is absorbed into a black hole, along with the voices of other IT consultants who already know what you have to say.

In this case, you are spending money on good content, and your content is being seen, but you’re not reaching the right vertical market. The result is a lack of influence. This example, by the way, is applicable to every industry.

Invest in a 4-part content marketing solution.
The best approach to content marketing is to write for one end-user niche, or one vertical market, at a time. This vertical approach to content marketing results in a consistent message that makes it easier for your audience to envision how your service is their solution. From my experience, when you focus on vertical marketing content, you will be sharing knowledge with an audience that few others have tapped.

Following are four important components of a successful content marketing strategy:

Identify your vertical markets. A good first step is to target one vertical. This allows you to refine your message and create enough visibility to make an impact. Once you have established a foothold in one industry, you can more easily adjust your existing content for alternate vertical markets.

Repurpose your content. Achieving content visibility through print or online channels is a definite win and a great first step. What you do from there, however, matters just as much. The key is to use that content again and again, through social media, on various blog channels, on your website, as a part of an email marketing campaign, or as a webinar resource. Make sure that your content strategy specifically addresses how the value of your content can be s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d!

Engage a content marketing expert who does more than write well. Partner with a professional who can provide a comprehensive content strategy. in addition to producing top-notch content.

Trust the process. When a new restaurant doesn’t deliver what you expect on the first visit, you can quickly write it off as a bad spend. The same cannot be said of content marketing. Give your strategy time to work and your audience the opportunity to absorb why you are the answer to their problem.

Ready to learn more about influencing your vertical markets?  Take a look at my content portfolio, and then give me a call at 412-352-4830 or email me at Kathy@KathySerenko.com. I would love to talk with you!

#contentmarketing #verticalmarkets #contentwriting #content #strategy #marketingstrategy #contentstrategy


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Content Marketing: Fairy Tales or Business Sales

FACT: Content marketing drives business growth when you meet the value-to-time tradeoff that your readers rightfully expect.

Imagine Goldilocks without the Three Bears or the Three Little Pigs without the Big Bad Wolf! Who wouldn’t feel cheated by a half-told story?

It’s like the joke told by a guy who always screws up the punchline. Painful and worthless, right?

The Value-for-Time Tradeoff

My husband and I loved to frequent a little community theater. Good quality, cheap tickets, a nice night out. We’d taken friends there and told others about it. At least, we did. Until the night of the “Elton John Tribute.” We listened dumbfounded to the first three minutes of a song before finally recognizing it as Elton John’s four-minute tribute to Marilyn Monroe, Candle in the Wind. It was all we could do to stay in our seats for the remainder of the show. We don’t tell our friends about the little theater any more, and I’m not sure we will ever go back. We just didn’t get any value for our time (or money).

It’s the same for your business. If your story is half-baked or your punchline is poorly delivered, your audience isn’t receiving any value for their investment of time. They will lose interest, and chances are they won’t come return because they expect the same experience.

Quality content development will deliver value to your audience,, and it will keep them coming back for more.

If you’ve never invested in content marketing, you’re not alone. In some ways, that’s a good thing for you. You have an opportunity to become the “disruptor,” the business expert who finally masters the value-for-time tradeoff.

The equation of content marketing is not complicated:

Worthwhile Content + An Engaged Audience = Increased Leads

You can take advantage of the “increased conversion potential of content marketing,” as it is so called in an Inc. com article written by Jayson Demers.

Few doubt the effectiveness of content marketing, yet many companies hesitate to make an investment in this proven method of lead generation. Is your company one of the those? If so, the only question now is, “What are  you going to do about it?”

Content development is the best marketing investment you can make in 2017. It’s time to give your audience the value-for-time tradeoff that they seek.

Learn more about Content Marketing.

Pop-Tarts and the Millenials: A Fair Assessment?

The 18 to 30-somethings…AKA the Millenials, Generation Y, The Lost Generation, Generation C (as in connected). Everyone is trying to figure them out.. the marketers*, the hiring managers, the critics and the fortune tellers.


  • Millenials are unmotivated and entitled.
  • They don’t know how to relate in person, because they’re always on their phones.
  • They aren’t willing to work for the lifestyles that expect to have.

Personally, I’m on the cusp between Generation X and the Baby Boomers. More on one side of the cusp than the other, but that’s not the point now, is it?


Every generation is nostalgic and a bit narrow minded about their own era. We love to reminisce: It wasn’t like that when I was a kid; we never got away with that; and kids today don’t have our work ethic.

Is it possible that our elders said the same things about us? Sure!

Take, for instance, the Pop-Tart Argument.

I had four older brothers between the ages of 18 and 24, so they weren’t around the house much. I was a 12-year old with a bad attitude. One day my dad zeroed in on what must have been the cause of my entitlement. “Your brothers didn’t have Pop-Tarts!” Ouch. You know you’re growing up in a large family when “Pop-Tarts” represent excess.

What I’m trying to say is this: maybe we’re guilty of applying less-than-fair measures that cause us to stereotype the next generation.


I’m going to step out and say with confidence that the millenials are not entitled, lazy, unproductive or any of the other derogatory comments I hear about their lack of work ethic. I see too much of the positive. Other sources agree:

According to NPR.org, “Millenials don’t only use social media; they invented it. Mark Zuckerberg, along with the inventors of Instagram and Tumblr and Snapchat, are all millennials and all millionaires.”

The New York Times points out characteristics unique to the millenials: tolerant, empathetic, health conscious, committed to corporate citizenship and capable of navigating technology that is advancing at a dizzying pace.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing the stories of regional millenials who are improving our world through leadership, innovation and business savvy.

Stay tuned, and at least for now, table the Pop-Tart Argument.


*Why should marketers care? According to Forbes, millenials control $2 trillion in liquid assets; that number is expected to surge to $7 trillion by the end of the decade, before some millenials even reach the height of their careers.