Freelancers become what our jobs need us to be. We must be adaptable and flexible, but still maintain consistency in the quality of the work we produce.
I’ve learned a lot about consistency during my time as a content producer. Besides maturing as a person, I’ve also matured as a writer and entrepreneur. You have to when you’re producing the majority of several clients’ content.
I’ve also learned that entrepreneurs don’t always know what’s best for their company when it comes to content.
That’s not to talk poorly about any of the people I’ve worked for. I have great respect for people who can start a business from nothing and grow it into something sustainable.
The problem has to do with human nature and our aversion to long-term commitment.
AKA we tend to get bored of things after a while.
Take every new year, for example. January 1 is the day when everyone turns the page and “starts fresh.” We all set resolutions to change our bodies, diets, media consumption, jobs, relationships. We want everything to be new.
A lot of the time for entrepreneurs, the new year is a new opportunity to press restart on their businesses. New logos, new content, new products, maybe even a new name.
In theory, redesigning your content to reflect changing times and your business’ changing value sounds great. While it is a lot of work and a lot of back and forth with designers, the end product can be invigorating to you and your team. When you’re given something shiny and new, you’re more interested and more excited to play with it.
But just because you’re bored with your brand, that doesn’t mean your customers are.
The Case Against Constant Rebranding
Your business depends on your brand more than anything else. Your brand represents who you are and what customers are getting when they give you money. Therefore, brands are one of the very first elements established when starting a new business.
Unless you have precognition, you won’t be able to fully predict how your business will grow and change over time. A logo you choose for the first incarnation of your business might only be as good as your small startup funds can buy. Not everyone can start out with professional grade content. Not everyone can afford an editor.
There are also the legal hiccups that might pop up when you decide to trademark your business. Did you choose a name that you can register or does it already exist? While these considerations should be taken care of before launching your business, things happen. Not everyone checks.
The point is, evolving your company is a natural and understandable step in your business’s evolution. Here at Craft Your Content, we’ve thought long and hard about what our mission is and what kind of content we want to build our brand around. We’ve even gone through a rebrand before. So putting your business through a rebrand isn’t a bad thing. But doing it “just because” isn’t a great reason.
Your content is a critical part of your brand. So, just like your logo, if you change the content you produce several times with no warning, no (good) reason, and no consistency, you will lose the trust of your customers. They won’t know who you are or what you stand for, and they will look elsewhere for a company that does.
When to Refresh and Rebrand
The rebrand that you can (and should) do is best done around the time you acquire some loyal clients who trust you and your business, but before you acquire a larger base. The change will be most effective when you have the funds to invest in growing your business, but prior to the time people recognize your services by a specific name or symbol.
Rebrand when you have the insight and the capital to foster a brand that lasts. Because it needs to last.
Think of some popular brands. Coca-Cola started as Coca-Cola. You can get antique merchandise from the early 20th century and the branding will still look recognizable.
In April 1985, Coca-Cola leaned into the culture of the time and briefly rebranded as “Coke.” It changed the drink’s formula, the can, and updated its name for the first time in 99 years…and successfully shocked the world who had come to know the soda by one image.
That lasted all of three months.
Customers were not happy with the change, and the company suffered for it. So they went back to the classic Coca-Cola. If Coca-Cola had rebranded earlier in their history, their customers might have come to accept a new formula — but they did it too far into their life cycle.
On the more successful scale, as newspapers and print media started to become obsolete, media giants have had to regroup and figure out how to change their business with the changing times. The way they published articles and news stories evolved; even the way they wrote changed.
To keep up with the shift, media has had to change the type of content they create. Especially in the current political climate, many news sites started pushing more editorials in order to show different perspectives and try to make people on opposite sides of a religion, political party, or culture more sympathetic to those who wish to demonize them.
Sure, if they had just adapted their news for the web browser it might have been fine, but they were able to find a gap and fill it with their content, convincing their readers to adapt with them.
When and if you see a gap that you can fill with your brand and your new form of content, that’s a good indication of when you should make the shift.
Fads and Trends Are the Death of Your Content
With the Internet having become a permanent part of life, humans are less patient and less willing to stick with something long-term when there are newer and better options available.
So, if you’ve been writing about one topic, on one website theme, with one logo for a long time, you’re bound to get bored of it and look with envy to the fads and trends that are going viral.
Naturally, you want to capitalize on those trends to boost traffic. Many companies do it and are able to make viral waves of their own.
However, if what you’ve been doing with your content doesn’t line up with the trend, then you could get yourself in trouble.
A couple of years ago (and still, to an extent, now) listicles became a major style of content creation. These lists are easy to read, appealing to the eye, oftentimes clickbait-y, and pushed sites like Buzzfeed into the mainstream.
Many content creators followed the trend and created listicles of their own, making quick, visual blogs about simple concepts in their industry.
We here at Craft Your Content sure thought about doing a listicle or two, but Elisa Doucette had the right mind not to. Why? Because it didn’t fit with our brand.
We noticed that a lot of these listicles were not the quality content that we dedicate ourselves to at this agency. They were superficial and relied on a lot of Gifs. So we vowed to not give into the trend of listicles and instead focus on positioning ourselves as an authority.
To really become an authority in your field, you need more than just memes; you need original thoughts, opinions, and proof that you’ve done your research. And you need to prove that you can do that over and over again.
But you also need to stay relevant.
How to Evolve Your Content While Staying Consistent
While fads and trends are temporary, they do point to an overall evolution of culture and preference.
Short and gif-y listicles may not have dominated every form of content forever, but it did reveal the ways in which audiences prefer to consume content.
From the popularity of listicles, CYC learned that audiences don’t like big blocks of text, that they like visual companions, and that they like numbers or bullet points that draw their attention to what is important.
While we didn’t give into the trend, we did use it to learn. Before listicles, our content wasn’t as refined. After listicles, we fell into a groove that represented Craft Your Content without letting go of what made us, us.
Here are a five ways you can rebrand and refresh your content while staying consistent to what you do best.
1. Have your voice and vision written out
It’s one thing to “know” your business and have an idea of where you want your content to go. It’s another thing to actually put pen to paper and spell it out. One of the biggest problems I notice when it comes to brand and content inconsistency is the lack of a clearly written mission statement or style guide.
The problem with not having your goals and intentions written down is that you might forget or change that goal/intention over time. And while it is okay to make slight adjustments, having a roadmap makes the process easier.
There is also the fact that having a concrete statement instead of something that exists as forms and figures solely in your head makes it much easier to communicate to others. You may think you know what your business is, but if you can’t put it into words – then it’s not something actionable or sustainable.
Plus, a written out style guide will help your employees maintain consistency with your vision.
At CYC, we have a Voice and Vision document as well as a Style Guide for our company. We also make clients fill one out before we start working with them. These foundational documents put everyone on the same page in terms of branding and give everyone something to refer to if anyone becomes inconsistent, especially when you’re in the process of changing things up.
2. Find writers who have similar tones
This type of consistency is especially important when you produce a lot of written content. Having a solid team of writers or content producers who share a tone, but still maintain a unique style, will keep your content consistent yet engaging even when rebranding.
Putting together the perfect team of writers is probably akin to curating a modern art museum. It takes time, luck, and maybe some money. But it is possible.
Have the writers you interview submit writing samples or complete a rewrite of a given passage to see what their tone is and if they can adapt to the kind of writing that represents your business.
A written voice and vision or style guide will help keep your tone consistent, too. It will provide a standard baseline for your guest writers to meet (if you don’t have an inhouse team), and you can encourage them to expand their unique voice from there.
At CYC, we’ve spent a lot of time curating a team of writers with spunk, snark, and skill. With the help of our style guide, and monthly pitches guided by the managing editor, our content has maintained a unity while also changing when needed.
For instance, in 2017 we tried to move away from the content marketing world. We decided to position ourselves as an agency that would work with clients on quality and meaningful writing, and not so much how many SEO keywords they could fit in one article. So, when calls for pitches go out each month, the team is given words to focus on. Some choice topics have been: learning from writing masters, adjusting to feedback, and being exceptional or creating something exceptional.
3. Set a schedule and keep to it
Consistency doesn’t just mean with your brand’s message. If you have a consistent publishing schedule, then consumers will trust that you are a steadfast brand and not one who makes promises they can’t keep.
Setting up an editorial calendar and sticking to it is a major part of succeeding as a content creator. Even if you decide to take your material in a different direction, knowing the dates and times that your articles, videos, or podcasts will go live makes it a lot easier to plan out the changes.
We use Trello as the editorial calendar for our team and our clients. We’ve found it to be the most efficient way to always stay on schedule, and we’ve even created a course for those looking to do the same.
Beware, though, what I said about companies making promises they can’t keep. If you don’t have a large number of writers on your team or aren’t willing to write every moment of every day, then publishing a new article daily is an overly ambitious goal.
Start small. One article a week at first, maybe two. Choose a number, day, and time that you can keep to without fail. Once you are confident with your publishing schedule (and can get way ahead of it) then maybe consider adding dates.
A consistent schedule is also important as you change your content, as you will still give your customers consistency in your schedule. The important part is that customers have a day that they expect your content and that they aren’t let down.
4. Keep yourself accountable
While having your voice and vision documented is a great way to hold yourself and your brand accountable, sometimes the little things can get ignored.
Having someone, like a content producer, that sees all that goes on in front of and behind the scenes of your business can ensure that you don’t make any rash decisions in the name of brand evolution. And makes sure that nothing your team does slips by under the radar.
One client I worked with used freelance writers for their content. The site itself had a unique style of images and even employed a single graphic designer to create visuals for every article.
But along came a writer who provided their own stock imagery in place of the styled visuals. If the client had simply published the article without reviewing it or sending it through to me, then the content would have looked like it came from another site altogether.
Thankfully, as the content producer, I had both the knowledge and authority to get rid of the stock photography and call upon the graphic designer to create original imagery. And when the writer complained, I was able to refer to the site itself, as well as the style guide that had the image policy written out.
Get someone who complements you in order to hold you accountable. Are you unpredictable? Find someone predictable. Do you like to break rules? Find someone who always sticks to the rules.
Find the yin to your yang, so that when you want to fly off into space, they are there to tether you back to the ground.
And, if you decided to make a change, your content producer might have some insight on how to do it while keeping what makes your business special. After all, they see the good and the bad. They probably have a good idea what should stay and what should go.
5. Authenticity is key
At the end of the day, I can’t tell you how to run your business. If you want to change your content and rebrand your entire business twice a year, then, by all means, do it. If you never want to stray from where you started, then don’t.
But the utmost important thing to remember is to always stay authentic.
When Coca-Cola introduced their new formula and new brand, they weren’t staying authentic to who they were. At that time, Pepsi was becoming just as popular of a soda brand, and they were very much about being young, fun, and hip.
That was their brand. Not Coca-Cola’s.
Your audience listens to you for a reason. They trust your content, and they find it useful. If you no longer produce the content that delights and inspires them, you might lose those customers who would have stayed with you long-term.
If Craft Your Content had started producing cheap listicles, we would not have been true to our brand. It would have been a fake attempt at popularity, and we would have brought on clients who, in the long run, wouldn’t have meshed with our general strategy.
Whatever you do, make sure that it feels right for your business, your audience, and your brand as a whole. It’s natural to change over time, so don’t be afraid of it. But make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.
It’s About the Journey
Owning and running a business is a mighty task. The work is grueling and oftentimes redundant. However, when you’re so focused on the bright and shiny final product (the ultimate website, ultimate product, ultimate brand), it’s easy to forget why you’re putting the work in in the first place.
Instead of distracting yourself with dreams of the destination, put your energy into making the journey as meaningful and as natural as possible. We didn’t go from monkeys to just waking up one day as humans. If you’ve been creating content one way for a long time, let your audience know you’re going to be making a shift. Post a video, podcast, or article explaining the change so they aren’t blindsided.
There was a slow and consistent change that happened every day, which is still happening every day, that brought us to our final, unique selves.
Remember that when you want your business to be the next great thing.
It doesn’t happen overnight.