Steve Pratt — Awesome Over Time: Would Your Content Strategy Pass the Marshmallow Test?

Guest columnist Steve Pratt is Founder and Attention Strategist at The Creativity Business, which creates content strategy for brands and business strategy for creatives. This article originally appeared on the Creativity Business newsletter archive.

You Can’t Earn Attention or Trust Instantly

Earn (verb) (ˈərn)
To come to be duly worthy of or entitled or suited to.

I love the definition of “earn” in the context of creating content.

“To come to be” suggests that you don’t earn anything instantly. “Earning” happens over time because you must first prove yourself valuable.

“Duly worthy” implies that you have to provide value before you can get value in return. You eventually deserve it because you “earned” it. You delivered the goods. You did the hard work. You had the right intentions.

And in the context of earning attention, the best and most desired outcome is to build trust and create relationships.

Trust (noun (ˈtrəst )
•assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something
•one in which confidence is placed

Trust does not happen instantly either. Trust has to be, well… earned. “Assured reliance” is a high bar. And people are generally skeptical. So earning trust means that you have to prove yourself not just once but over and over and over again.

If you happen to be a brand putting content out in the world, trust is even harder to come by. The assumption from most people is that your content is a thinly veiled infomercial or advertisement for your products or services. If you want to earn trust as a brand, you have to create value for audiences by being generous even more consistently.

The Marshmallow Test For Content

Photo by FLY:D on Unsplash

The famous Stanford Marshmallow Test has become a bit of a cliché, but it’s a perfect analogy for content creators looking to earn more attention. The experiment investigated the impact of delayed gratification in young children. Kids were offered one marshmallow immediately or two marshmallows if they were able to wait 15 minutes without eating the first marshmallow. Could they get a greater reward by being patient? Could they focus on the much bigger long-term win over the smaller short-term win?

If you’re making content – as a brand, as a media company, as a creator – do you have the patience to generously put gifts out into the world, knowing that the greatest rewards will come after you have built trust by earning attention?

Or are you in need of short-term ROI on your content investment? If you need to show results immediately, you can’t afford to earn attention or build trust. And so, you must resort to one of two strategies. The first is stealing attention with shortcuts, growth hacks, clickbait, and sensationalism. People might click, but they won’t come back. The second is selfish content that serves your own interests – talking about yourself, your products and services, or your company. People won’t even click on this strategy. Both options are a race to the bottom with no winners. Only one marshmallow for you!

The Best Strategy: Awesome Over Time

If your goal is to earn attention, build trust, and develop relationships, the strategy is obvious. You must pass the Content Marshmallow Test and delay gratification.

You need to make the conscious choice to be Awesome Over Time. That means putting in the hard work week after week. It means setting the bar high and keeping it there. It means putting your audience first with the steadfast belief that if you are amazingly generous to them, they will recognize it and eventually come to trust and appreciate you.

Is there any better example than the guy who invented Permission Marketing, Seth Godin? He has been blogging DAILY for over a DECADE. The result? He has built an enormous and thriving tribe because he shows up day after day, generously. And when Seth has a new book or course, the community supports him generously in return.

In a culture where quarterly results reign supreme, being Awesome Over Time is a big, tough ask. And likely an unpopular ask in many quarters. And yet, it is the only strategy for long-term success.

If you earn attention, build trust, and grow a large audience with whom you have developed relationships, you aren’t starting from zero with every new piece of content. You are welcomed because you are valuable. Double (or 5x, 10x, or 100x) marshmallows for you!

Who has been Awesome Over Time in your life?

What is standing in the way of making your content Awesome Over Time?


Steve Pratt