The story behind The Big Rock

The Big Rock started out as a principle for living a more meaningful life – and that’s why it’s such a powerful idea for content marketing

February 8, 2018

The story behind The Big Rock

If you’re a regular reader of our blog, then you’ll be familiar with the concept of The Big Rock. This is the monumental piece of content on which you can build a content marketing strategy for months – or even years. It’s your definitive take on an issue that matters. It’s your home run – the greatest and most important piece of content that you can conceive of creating at a particular point in time.

The concept of the Big Rock has been a staple of my keynotes for a few years now. It’s helped to inspire a lot of B2B content marketers to get content moving and delivering results for their businesses. It resonated particularly strongly back in 2016 – when the main question that I found marketers asking me was how to create a consistent flow of quality content. The Big Rock works because it makes balancing quality and quantity far easier to achieve.

There’s one downside to the success of a concept like The Big Rock, though: the phrase becomes so familiar that people start to lose sight of where it first came from. It still holds a great deal of meaning – but some of that meaning gets lost over time. That’s why I wanted to write this post – and share the story of where the Big Rock idea actually originates. I think it helps to explain why this concept matters even more today than it did a couple of years ago.

It was during my time at Marketo when the co-founder of the company, Jon Miller (no relation by the way) took me to one side and suggested I watch the video below. It’s a simple story that’s both inspiring and empowering. It emphasises the importance of knowing what matters to you and having the conviction to prioritise your life accordingly. Sharp-eyed observers will note that this is not a film about content marketing strategy. And that’s probably why it’s one of the most important films ever made about content marketing strategy:

I’m grateful to Jon because he shared an idea that’s helped me to feel fulfilled in life ever since. And I’m just as grateful for him sharing an idea that shows how to deliver real meaning through content. Because that’s the real significance of the Big Rock as a content philosophy. It’s not just a way to make producing content more efficient; it’s about focusing your efforts around what matters most to both your business and your audience. If you have limited time, attention and budget (wait a minute… if?), then the way that you get most value from that budget is prioritising the content with the greatest value to add.

As I mentioned in my post on content marketing strategy earlier this month, content marketing is inherently strategic in a way that other marketing tactics might not be – because content marketing is about the exchange of value. The Big Rock philosophy captures the process of identifying the most meaningful content that you can create as a business – the content that has most value when you exchange it. At a time when we’re experiencing the full impact of ‘content shock’ and more content is the last thing any audience will tell you they need, that’s hugely important.

It’s no coincidence that the first great example of Big Rock content that I ever saw was produced for Marketo by Velocity Partners, the agency co-founded by Doug Kessler. It was Doug who wrote the legendary Slideshare ‘Crap’, which warned of a coming content deluge: businesses churning out generic, repetitive content that eventually causes audiences to tune out their attention altogether. The Definitive Guides, which Velocity Partners produced for Marketo were an early antidote to this. They just exuded quality and value. To somebody like me, figuring out how content marketing ought to work, they were an inspiration.

Doug’s words of warning have been borne out since then. Brands are churning out content so fast that their audiences can’t possibly have a chance to consume it all. In fact, data from Buzzsumo shows that most brand content which is posted on social media is never shared – not even by the people who created it. If they don’t value that content enough to share it with their networks, what’s that say about the level of quality, craftsmanship and originality involved?

That’s why this is such an important moment to rediscover the story of the Big Rock. It’s not a concept that exists to help you produce content more easily (although that is a very useful side-effect). It’s a concept that exists to help you think about the content you create more meaningfully. I’ll leave you with a quick thought from Seth Godin on The Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast that I think sums up why the real story of the Big Rock is always worth revisiting:

What you’re really seeking is to be trusted, to be heard, to be talked about, and to matter. And if we look at any brand that’s succeeded, that is what they have done.”

Here’s to your next Big Rock!

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