What chess can teach us about content marketing

Here’s something that many people don’t know about me: when I was a kid, I was asked to play chess for England.

At the age of 6, I picked up a book with knights and swords on the front from my school library, thinking it was about battles. As it happened, it was an introduction to chess. Within a few weeks, I was able to beat my dad. Teachers and chess club members soon followed, and before I knew it, I was playing in chess tournaments most weekends. I stopped aged 11 to focus on school because my parents didn’t want to travel so much, but even as an adult I still retain a fondness for the game.

Let me introduce two fundamental chess concepts:

  1. Having a plan

As a chess player, you are taught that a bad plan is better than no plan. To put it another way, if you make moves without a plan behind them, you are setting yourself up to be beaten by a player whose every move is a conscious tactical decision. Expert chess players often spend days learning entire openings, allowing them to have a pre-prepared plan as deep into the game as 30 moves!

2.   Tempo

In chess, we talk about tempo. Tempo refers to the gaining or losing of time to make moves. Moves that gain tempo, such as checks or attacking valuable pieces, are generally good ones — you’re forcing your opponent to lose tempo. And the opposite is also true. If you make a move in two moves that you could have made in one move, or play a piece back and forth between the same space multiple times, you will waste time and often lose the game.

So what does any of this have to do with content marketing?

The marketing of most businesses could be compared to the beginner chess player, who makes moves willy-nilly without a predictable plan behind them. It happens more often than you might think. These businesses hand out random flyers, or send out random emails in the hope that someone, somewhere, will want to work with them. I say this without judgment — I used to market this way myself.

Sometimes it works — assuming the good fortune that someone who needs your services happens  to read your marketing at a time when they need your services. You could compare this to a beginner chess player who coincidentally makes moves that happen to coincide with a deeper plan or established opening theory.

But most of the time, such marketing activities fall on deaf ears. Unsurprisingly, businesses that market without a plan are outcompeted by those who do. If you’ve played an opening thousands of times, you’ll be familiar with all the different nuances that can occur in the possible variations that arise out of the position.

The same applies in business. If you have created a marketing system that has predictably created warm leads hundreds or thousands of times, you are better placed than someone who is putting out marketing materials at irregular times in the hope that someone might read it. If a lead doesn’t respond, feels buyer’s remorse or leaves your website, you will likely have predictable strategies at hand to deal with such eventualities.

One might even take this analogy further by arguing that businesses that market willy-nilly are losing tempo in relation to those that have a predictable marketing system. To be clear: random marketing is not a complete waste of time and can constitute valuable learning — this was certainly the case for me.

But business owners who market in this way are not gaining time by creating cashflow so that they can work on the business, instead of in it. Instead, they are losing time by investing in something that generates little to no results. In both cases the outcome is the same: the beginner chess player loses the game and the beginner business owner goes out of business.

The joy of content marketing when compared with other marketing activities is that it is relatively easy to build marketing assets that constitute a predictable system. If you build a library of engaging content that adds value to your chosen niche, and create a system that shares that content with your target market, you will generate interest in your products and services. A marketing email can only be sent once — but a good blog article can work for you 24/7 for years to come.

It’s time to stop marketing randomly and build a system that generates results again and again. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be a marketing grandmaster.