On the afternoon of July 20, 1969, as Neil Armstrong was about to attempt the first-ever lunar landing, the mood at Mission Control in Houston was tense. Nails were bitten, shoulder muscles were rigid, and all eyes were riveted on individual video consoles in the otherwise dimly-lit room. Every one of the flight controllers—from its director on down to those responsible for specific aspects of the spacecraft’s hardware, software and communications systems—watched the bright flicker of numeric data streaming across small screens while monitoring several audio channels via headphones. Everyone awaited Armstrong’s confirmation that he’d safely touched down. And every man held his breath.
At 3:18 pm, Armstrong’s words came, filtering through waves of static on the air-to-ground communications loop: “Houston, Tranquility Base Here. The Eagle has landed.”
These words have become famous. They have come to stand for American progress, technological achievement and individual heroism. For turning a nation’s dream into a meticulously engineered reality.
Famous, too, are the words of capsule communicator Charlie Duke’s response: “Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”
Why had the flight controllers collectively stopped breathing? They were about as well-funded and well-prepared as it’s possible to be. NASA had already invested more than 15 billion dollars into the Apollo project. Thousands of America’s finest engineering minds worked on it, producing innovations and discoveries in fields ranging from geophysics to ballistics along the way. And MIT mathematician Margaret Hamilton coined the term “software engineering” to describe the process of creating the ultra-reliable computing systems powering Apollo’s onboard flight software. Countless hours had been spent performing simulations, and specialists had memorized the minutiae of the Eagle’s electrical systems.
A Vitally Important Mission
The flight controllers were nervous, of course, because the stakes were so high. On an earlier Apollo mission, less than three years prior, the space capsule had caught fire on the launch pad, and three astronauts had died. Everyone knew that Armstrong could suffer a similar fate, should their calculations be incorrect or their attention waver. They knew lives were on the line.
At stake too was America’s reputation on the world stage. It was engaged in a battle for technological and military supremacy with the U.S.S.R. If the Russians won the space race, they would end up with better rockets and a better understanding of the physics involved in launching them. Such technology could also be used to build inter-continental ballistic missiles delivering nuclear warheads. Should the Cold War ever heat up into a nuclear conflict, all Americans would have good reason to fear for their lives.
But the flight controllers were also holding held their breath because they didn’t know how the landing was going to turn out. Despite the best preparation possible, despite drawing on the most advanced technologies available at the time, and despite massive investment, they could not simply be certain of success.
The technology was too new, and there was no precedent for the endeavor.
Are you a new business blogger, just entering into the realm of content marketing? What you’re facing is—essentially—the same situation.
Ideally you will already have done a great deal of preparation—you will have gathered data, so you have concrete evidence that blogging benefits businesses. And you will have calculated a favorable cost/benefit ratio. But you cannot know in advance that your blog will succeed. Today’s businesses are spending more than ever before on tools to help them analyze how their websites are being used, but the data gathered are always retrospective. You can’t be certain what’s going to get clicks until you’ve made it live. And even the best data metrics on web usage aren’t a perfect measure of your customers’ attention. Though you can tell what they’re clicking on, you can’t know what they’re thinking or feeling about your business.
Apollo 11 has become legendary. It has been immortalized in Hollywood films. Dozens of books—some of them bestsellers—tell its story. It is still described as the greatest engineering accomplishment of all time. From a marketing perspective, it was—and continues to be—a resounding success.
What can you do to give your new blog the best chance of becoming just as successful? Content marketing is an emerging strategy. It’s attractive to businesses for many reasons, including its relatively low cost, its ability to foster beneficial long-term customer relationships, and its highly personal appeal. But despite all the buzz that content marketing has recently generated, launching a brand new blog remains a foray into the unknown. Like any such endeavor—whenever you plan to travel to a new world—it’s important to be as well-prepared as possible.
Here’s how you can plan for your own blogging success:
- Be clear on your objectives. You can’t tell what you’re achieving unless you’ve defined concrete measures of success. Do you want to boost your ranking on search engines, so that new and potential customers have an easier time finding your business online? Or enhance your relationship with existing customers? Blogging can help you do both, but they’re not exactly the same. Brand awareness is nebulous and its effectiveness is notoriously difficult to assess. People might become “aware of your brand” years before they actually buy anything from you. To become a household name, or just to be better known in your niche industry might be your business’s version of “shooting for the moon.” Set goals that are quantitative and actionable to help you get there. Each objective should serve as a stepping stone on the path to brand awareness.
- Make sure the writing is good. NASA employed the finest minds of its generation to work on the Apollo project. You need to use a strategic thinker and skilled writer to ensure that your blog is the very best it can be. Content marketing demands skills from many fields. It is an art, but it draws on the conventions of copywriting and sales. And it is data-driven and results-oriented, but resembles journalism and creative nonfiction writing. Providing truly excellent content will set you far ahead of most of your competitors.
- Commit to the long haul. NASA was founded in 1958, but didn’t acquire significant national attention (and funding) until 1961, when President Kennedy announced that landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade was America’s goal. And Neil Armstrong’s moon walk didn’t take place until 1969. Similarly, brand engagement is a long-term process. It involves building relationships, trust, and a reputation. Readers expect that you’ll publish new content on a regular basis. If you don’t, you cannot expect to retain their attention. Few acts of neglect will harm your business’s online presence more than abandoning your blog. It makes you seem incompetent or uncaring when customers are looking for personal engagement. Once you start blogging, plan to stick with it.
- Budget time and attention to your readers. Quality content is an investment into your business’s future, as well as a tool for increasing your sales today. But a blog requires updating and maintenance. If you are publishing words just so that you can say you are “posting regularly”—or if your writer’s main purpose is merely to fill a word count—your audience will notice this, and vanish. Your business’s expertise, your proprietary data, your customer’s unique stories—all these can be transformed into content that is authentically valuable, creative and engaging. Don’t produce junk.
- Do the research. Neil Armstrong spent thousands of hours practicing—in a simulator—everything imaginable that might happen to him in space, from ejecting from the capsule of the launch pad to planting the American flag in the moon’s dusty soil. You can practice beforehand, too. Know what’s likely to make a blog successful before you launch—elements like social media support, audience profiling, and simple but robust web design can make all the difference. Have a plan in place that includes these elements from day one.
Are you counting down to your own blog launch? What are your best ideas? What kinds of content will send your conversion rate into the stratosphere?