Content Marketing

6 Reasons to Make Your Big Idea Small

Brad Van Orden is the most interesting man in the world. It’s not the Dos Equis guy, it’s Brad.

Sheena Navigates the Market in Nebaj, Guatemala

A former product engineer for WL Gore & Associates, Brad is an expert telemark skier, mountain biker, mechanic, cook, humorist, and explorer. I got to know Brad and his wife Sheena when I lived in Flagstaff, AZ (where they’re from). I met Brad and helped him with some Web strategy when he took an interest in sustainable energy (as a hobby) and taught himself C++ and a bunch of other programming languages to build a company called Sunwind Solutions that would automagically figure out the best solar or wind equipment for your home, based on a massive database that mapped wind and sunshine patterns against GPS data. Exactly the same way I spend my free time, if you swap “drinking tequila” for the “teaching yourself how to program” parts.

Not content with their baseline level of intrigue, Brad and Sheena decided to quit their jobs, buy a VW van, and spend three years driving across the world. This is no hippie quest, it’s a methodical embrace of a new life that simultaneously requires extensive planning, yet none whatsoever.

Their VW van is named “Nacho” and Brad is documenting their adventures with terrific blog posts and photos at Drive Nacho Drive. Brad is a gifted travel writer in the mold of  Tim Cahill (my second favorite travel author, and founder of Outside Magazine). Instead of posting a couple times a week, Brad could have instead held off and released a killer, long-form tome when the trip ended.

But Brad Van Orden thinks small. And so should you.

Charles Dickens Was a Hell of a Content Marketer

Serializing your work used to be the standard practice. Dickens published every one of his novels in a serial form, experimenting with weekly and monthly episodic fiction. It made his work cheaper (in the short run) and thus more accessible. Publishers loved it too, because they could include ads in each part. In short, it worked.

Somewhere, we got away from this notion and started to embrace a “bigger is better” philosophy with regard to publishing (and now content marketing). We need to swing the pendulum back the other way, and start atomizing our content (hat tip to Todd Defren for coining that).

Deconstructing Your Big Idea

When I talk about atomizing your content, I’m not advocating more ideas, or even a tremendous amount of additional work. What I’m imploring you to do is take your big idea and turn it into several smaller ideas. You have to disavow yourself of the natural inclination to create the “mother of all” whatever, and instead embrace the propagation of a larger number of less massive (but still meaningful) content executions.

My friends (and clients) at ExactTarget have a fine example of thinking small in their Subscribers, Fans, and Followers content. This is a very large research project that uncovered many important behaviors and data points related to social media and email marketing. Instead of releasing it as an omnibus study, they deconstructed it into 14 separate parts and released a new piece every few weeks, increasing overall impact considerably. See the whole series here.

The 6 Benefits of Thinking Small

Atomizing your content in this way has six advantages over the “mother of all” approach:

1. Atomized Content is More Searchable

When you break your content into multiple pieces you get more bait in the water to attract your most important customer….Google. Producing disparate pieces of content gives you the opportunity to emphasize a wider number of search terms, cross-link your content, acquire more inbound links, and increase your total number of ranked pages.

2. Atomized Content is More Findable

This is especially valid when you repurpose and reimagine your content while also atomizing it. What will get more exposure for your company, a blog post or a blog post + a podcast? How about a Slideshare presentation or a Slideshare presentation + a blog post? Every presentation you make should be at least one blog post, and each blog post you write is the untapped nucleus for a presentation. This findability principle is the reason we have full written transcripts of every video interview and every Social Pros episode here on Convince & Convert.

3. Atomized Content Gets Consumed More

In a world where 140 characters equals a fully-formed thought, what will get consumed more – a 90-second video, or a 32-page eBook? Typically, it’s the former. Face it, Johnny Don’t Read. Every trend in social media and content marketing is toward brevity and showing rather than telling. YouTube. Pinterest. Socialcam. Viddy. Instagram. Tumblr. Infographics. Will I still write this blog in two years? Will anyone still read posts as long as this one?

This is why even though I’ve delayed my next book project, when I get ready to jump back in, I’ll be working on a short, small, easy to digest book. Seth Godin has this trend nailed with his Domino Project.

4. Atomized Content Gets Spread More

The potential virality of smaller content supersedes larger content in almost every case. This is partially related to consumption, as we are more likely to recommend via tweet, share, +1, buffer, email forward, etc. something we have actually read or watched. But it’s also just a factor of mathematics. If you have one terrific eBook it will definitely be shared. But if you take that same eBook and release it in 8 parts, the collective shares for those components will be higher – and given the inclusion of sharing behaviors in search results, this also impacts #1 above.

5. Atomized Content Gains More Mind Share

One of the big successes of the ExactTarget project is media coverage. Thousands of blog posts and media mentions have been made of the Subscribers, Fans, Followers research. It’s very good information, and packaged well. But the fact that there have been 14 possible bites of the media apple instead of one makes a big difference. Thinking small gives you more opportunities to create and sustain mindshare among media, prospective customers, and even current customers.

6. Atomized Content Generates More Leads

One of the often overlooked benefits of thinking small in content marketing is that each time you deconstruct or reimagine your content, you have another opportunity to include calls-to-action. Remember, you’re in the behavior business not the eyeballs business. An 8-piece series gives you 800% more calls-to-action than a “mother of all” program. Further, when your content is smaller, your call-to-action competes against fewer words, pictures, and other content elements, which could provide additional attention and conversion (your results may vary).

Be an Amoeba

Remember learning about cell division in school? A single-celled organism becomes two, then four, then eight? The next time you’re brainstorming a content marketing execution for your company, think like an amoeba. How can you take your big idea and make it two, or four, or eight? That’s Thinking Small. Go do it.


Facebook Comments


  1. says

    Hi Jay
    “think like an amoeba” – some would say that I already do.
    A couple of weeks ago I read a piece about compendium posts, the idea being that the compendium post is at the hub and around it are lots of associated posts.
    The associated posts are then optimised for their own particular words and phrases and hence you have much more searchable content than if you had produced one giant post.
    Your atomized content idea sounds like a similar thing, but you have highlighted a good number of benefits.

  2. BradvanOrden says

    Hi Jay!  I told one of Sheena’s friends what you said – that I was the most interesting man in the world.  She suggested that perhaps you don’t know very many people.  Whatever.  I thank you, regardless of the negativity of Sheena’s friends!  It will be a long time before I stop pulling the “most interesting man in the world” card.  Thanks for that!

  3. connectyou says

    Thanks for sharing this insight!
    When I look at the tweets and posts I put together today, I know my high school teachers would have sent me back to my desk and said, “More.”  “This is not complete.”  And I would go.
    I think there was this period of conditioning where the most thorough conveyer won.  And, so, we have all had to work to adjust.  When I first started blogging, I had a hard time limiting my words.
    Now, I’m happy to “think like an amoeba.  In fact, I think we’ll all get more done too! :)
    Looking forward to your #SMSS12 session!

  4. gregverdino says

    Great post Jay. I figured that when I wrote a book about “Thinking Small” a few years ago, the idea might catch on. 😉

  5. says

    There is so much to the concept of thinking small… 
    I’m sitting here thinking about all the Epic blog posts I have sitting in my draft folder unpublished that could be broken down chopped up and Rocked out…
    I love when I get a mindset change on a Monday.  Makes for a very productive week.
    Ryan H.

  6. says

    I’m thrilled that you used Charles Dickens as an example for this post, Jay! He was far ahead of his time, and didn’t even know it. :)
    Let’s face it, with the “TLDR” mentality in the world today, your reasons are more important now than ever!

  7. accountinator says

    This is so true.  People want to write the Great American Novel without realizing that to do that, they just need to write one chapter at a time.
    “Keeping it small” allows you to take more chances and risk losing less.  You can make smaller investments in an idea, and wait to see what happens before you invest more.  For example, instead of risking it all on one big product, try experimenting with four or five less ambitious products.  Instead of one big blog, try a few different ideas, and see which one takes off.
    Thanks, Mark

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