Punk is one of those genres that constantly refuses to be easily defined. Its sound changes from one decade to another. The best explanation of punk rock that I ever heard was credited to Billy Joe Armstrong of the band Green Day and it comes in the form of this tasty little anecdote:
“A guy walks up to me and asks, “What’s Punk?” So I kick over a garbage can and say, “That’s punk!” So he kicks over the garbage can and says, “That’s Punk?”, and I say, “No that’s trendy!”
Everybody Wants to Be A Punk, Even Corporate Content Writers
I read this recently and thought to myself, “This sounds like my industry.” There are a very, very small handful of people online who are out there creating wholly unique content. Content that follows its own set of rules and, as a result, creates a trend and attracts a million copycats. Content that covers unique topics with a unique perspective.
As case in point, I Googled “How to sell on Etsy”. Google reported back with 91.6 Million results. The ones on the first page were almost identical and offered slightly different worded versions of the same advice. Odds are that if you had a page on that topic, you wouldn’t be on the first page for it. If you were, you spent a lot of time and effort to get there.
Assuming that the original creator crosses their T’s and dots their I’s in terms of web best practices (as well as UX best practices), the imitators aren’t likely to keep up. Especially if the original creator commits to produce unique and valuable content on a regular basis. The original will always be in the lead. I think a lot of writers and producers out there know this, but their bosses don’t or it goes against company culture. The trick then is to convince the higher-ups that its the best strategy. To do that, you’ll need a plan and something that will convince them that your plan will make a positive change.
How do I Make My Content More “Punk”?
Being punk is about self-realization with disregard for the established processes and rules. In terms of content, that might be a site like Buzzfeed saying, “We’re not going to publish content that looks like other people’s content. We won’t do articles and videos. We’re going to post GIFs and pictures and lists with witty commentary.” (Sure, they do post these videos and articles, but that’s another story). Their success has been such that they’ve spawned an army of imitators.
In addition to formatting and types, think about the content itself. Let’s say you’re in a market where you have a broad customer base that requires you to appeal to everyone. You think you’re boxed in because if you have to worry about offending one group or another, there’s a lot of good ideas that go unpublished. Don’t let that stop you! You should never let a good idea go to waste. Do you think posting videos of people doing stupid things will improve your brand recognition in the 25-35 demographic, but might alienate older viewers? Circumvent the older viewers. That’s why God invented targeted ads and “noindex”! Capture audiences you know you can capture with content you know they’ll consume. Break a few rules in the process. Just because something is industry standard doesn’t mean it has to be YOUR standard.
Punk culture also has a very strong DIY ethic. Why be a consumer when you can create? What skills do you have at your disposal and what can you do with them? Be original. Don’t feel bound to a channel or a campaign. Marketing is full of concentric circles. Again, if you have a good idea, see it through!
Be willing to be unpopular. Yes, you read that right. Un-popular. You can actually achieve your goals by intentionally going the opposite direction of popular thought. It takes some skill and fine tuning and lots and lots of oversight, but in the end you can make your point by using the opposite point. Sometimes the smartest defense is a good offense.
Fight the power. Or, get them to read this. At some point the higher-ups are going to have to be on your side. This is a chance for you to stand out in your organization by delivering results that don’t derive from the tired corporate culture or industry “common knowledge”. Test things out, get some solid footing, then be ready to make a case for why your crazy idea is going to help your company stand out.
Know Your Limits
Being punk and creating unique content will help you stand out from the crowd–but you gotta know your limits. You have to stay true to the core elements of your brand. Things like brand voice can and should be altered according to your audience. The idea that these brand elements are set in stone is wrongheaded. The spirit of any brand should be consistency and adherence to core values. Even some visual elements may be manipulated to generate greater appeal to a subset of your target audience. If your brand is so strictly and rigidly constructed that you can’t pull off bending its elements to work for smaller audiences, then perhaps it’s time to discuss creating one or more sub-brands. If, at the end of the day, your main objective is to gain customers and complete sales, then you’re going to have to give in somewhere.
Being Original is Tough
But it isn’t impossible. You’re going to struggle to find something that works and stands out. But when you do, you’ll really be on to something. Along the way, pay attention to your process and your sources. Nail down a system or process that you can reproduce because a one-hit wonder won’t prove your case.