The most powerful brand publishing strategies work well because they harness the raw power of chaos and the stability of order — while avoiding the extremes of both.
Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu once proclaimed, “in the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” When it comes to brand publishing, this wisdom rings true: for a truly successful publishing strategy, order and chaos must coexist. Elements of order serve to establish authority, while elements of chaos help to unearth previously unknown sources of traffic and interest.
Of course, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing: an overly chaotic strategy will be unfocused and inefficient, while an excessively orderly one will be boring and rigid. So, how can you get the balance just right?
Order vs. Chaos
Order, classically, refers to a state where people follow the rules and understand what’s expected of them, within an environment that’s stable and predictable. Pure order is stasis, with little change or innovation.
Chaos, meanwhile, is a state of uncertainty: people disregard the rules (or there are no rules to begin with), people are unsure of their responsibilities, and the environment is volatile. This state presents the opportunity for great change and innovation — for example, during the economic downturn of 2008, Apple released the very first iPhone.
What Is Order in Publishing?
Order is the foundation of a meaningful publishing strategy and many successful, authoritative publications. Why do people read the New York Times? A significant proportion of them do so because they can count on the paper to, issue after issue, deliver high-quality reporting on relevant topics (news, business, politics, etc.). To deviate too significantly from this standard would be to undermine what it means to be the New York Times.
The same applies online. I wrote, in my most recent article, about the concept of a beat. In short, this is the process of choosing a topic or cluster of related topics and writing about them dependably. Do this, and highlight your body of work by interlinking the relevant articles, and Google is pretty sure to take notice — essentially, you are demonstrating your site to be a trustworthy and well-organized source of information in a particular field.
Too much of this sort of order can be damaging, however, if it excludes variety, experimentation, and novelty from the mix. Readers will grow tired of your publication if every article is on a similar topic and within the same format, and may seek a bit of novelty from other sources.
On a longer term basis, your industry changes — as does people’s understanding of it. Thus, so must your publishing strategy.
What Is Chaos in Publishing?
If all this talk of order makes you want to shake things up a bit, be warned: pure chaos in publishing is disastrous. Usually, chaotic brand publishing happens when there is no leadership, little agreement on strategy, and scant attention to objectives. You can recognize it easily: corporate blogs publish sporadically (three articles in a day then nothing for a few months, or publishing stops altogether), the posts don’t stick to recognizable themes, the voice is not consistent across articles, and there’s no standard aesthetic for imagery and graphics.
From the perspective of the audience and Google, a publication like this carries little authority.
However, a little chaos will supercharge your content. Put it this way: every year, 15% of the searches Google processes have never been typed in before. This means that you can never fully know what information people are searching for in a given moment — and even if you could, this knowledge would be valid for about five minutes.
Essentially, you can only know what works, what converts, and what people enjoy by testing. Every now and then, take a shot in the dark and write about something that you can’t guarantee will drive meaningful results, and on which you have no data — this is the only way to chart unknown regions.
The Black Swan
In his book Black Swan, author and trader Nassim Taleb claims that rigid strategies don’t work effectively within complex systems in the long term. His system was the stock market: the performance of a particular company’s stocks is entirely deterministic, but the system is so complex that it functions with significant randomness and unpredictability.
The search market, like the stock market, weathers fluctuations, randomness, seasonality, trends, and fads.
So: imagine potential traffic to your site as a “territory” — each time you test a relevant keyword for effectiveness, you map part of this territory. Then, picture the void in the map, which represents topics for which you have no information on viability or ROI. This space could contain the next great opportunity for your business — your very own 2008 iPhone, if you will.
Ultimately, Taleb claims, our approach to complex systems like this should be to combine a lot of safe bets with tinkering — i.e. experimenting with some unknowns, trying things out, and generating new information (and the benefits that come with it). This is the only way to continually expand your map and turn unknowns into knowns.
The most effective brand publishing strategies will incorporate elements of order and chaos. This combination allows your approach to be both authoritative and experimental, consistently increases your access to information, and allows you to adapt to change.
To borrow again from Taleb: your publishing strategy should not be rigid, but antifragile. This is to say that it should not suffer from the randomness and occasional volatility of search — rather, it should thrive under those circumstances, benefiting from new opportunities offered by unpredictability.