5 Keys to Content Marketing Mastery in 2023

5 Keys to Content Marketing Mastery in 2023

Reader Comments (86)

  1. I have to say thinking of the 10,000 hours it would take to “make it”, is exhausting and intimidating.

    Sonia, you have brought a very nice concept, never heard about it before like this, doing something deliberately will certainly make one perform a task when they are more involved and present,I love to write and I deliberately write a minimum of 750 per day, using the 750words website app, and like you say I just need to outrun the other guy who’s getting chased by the bear 🙂 and it’s a good way to spend my time… thoroughly focusing on the right type of work.

    About your new favourite blog…Cal is definitely well informed indeed!

  2. I really like the concept of deliberate practice.

    I would say it is akin to practicing for athletics, anybody who was actively involved in sports back in school (or even right now) knows all about this: you can play basketball 2 hours a day everyday, but if you’re not actively working on improving, you probably won’t.

    I think of it like being your own “coach”, practice with a coach is very deliberate and focuses on the drills that work, not just shooting the ball around for 2 hours everyday.

  3. Thanks for writing this article and introducing me to the concept of Deliberate Practise. I think it’s something that can be applied to all areas of life both professionally and privately and I’ll be trying to take this in board starting now, rather than adding it to the new year’s resolution list!

  4. Wow. I went over to Cal Newport’s site and I think I learned a lot from just browsing his blog. Thanks for giving me another good blog to follow Sonia.

  5. Provocative article Sonia. I checked out Cal’s blog post and it dawned on me that few elite players would ever stumble onto the path of deliberate practice. They have mentors and coaches to guide them along.

    A story from basketball executive Pat Williams comes to mind… When Michael Jordan first broke into the NBA, he was unquestionably talented. But he was undisciplined, flashy and tended to breeze through practice sessions. The day before a game against the league-leading Boston Celtics, his coaches took him to the Celtic’s arena to see something special.

    In the empty arena, they found one lone person diligently working on fitness and skills.

    It was Larry Bird. The best player in the game at that time. Also the hardest working player.

    This was a defining moment. One legacy passing a silent message on to a future legacy of what it takes to be great. Michael Jordan recognized what it took to achieve greatness and rose to the challenge.

    Joe 😀

    • Great point. Very few (although they’re out there) have the discipline & perceptiveness to come to deliberate practice on their own. Usually there’s a coach or a mentor in the background.

  6. Deliberate practice really is an amazingly powerful concept.

    When I was in high school, I worked at a call center answering questions for an internet service provider. I put in a lot of hours at this job, but after a year of working at it, I didn’t get the slightest bit better at talking to customers, or even at internet troubleshooting.

    At the time, this really bothered me. Was I technically handicapped? Mentally delayed? Just incompetent?

    I tried to get better at troubleshooting, but nothing seemed to work. I tried working more hours, taking notes on my performance, and reading books about internet connectivity. But because I ultimately didn’t really care about customer service or internet connectivity that much, going through the motions with these little educational routines did nothing for me. Eventually I quit the job, and decided that I just wasn’t cut out for internet troubleshooting or customer service.

    I may not have had much luck with customer service when I was in high school, but I did have a fair bit of luck with learning to play guitar. I didn’t practice guitar that much in high school, maybe three or four hours a week, but I got better every time I practiced. In fact, within a year of picking up the guitar, I was good enough to get a position with my school’s jazz band… even though I only practiced a few hours a week.

    That in and of itself can illustrate just how much difference there is between different types of practice, but the story doesn’t end there.

    While I was pretty good at playing guitar, there was one skill I couldn’t master: figuring out songs by ear. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t get it. Eventually, I moved on to other interests, and more or less gave up on guitar completely. However, I still loved music, so I moved on to singing. I sang at every chance I could: in choir groups, in bands and at a karaoke bar.

    Eventually, after years of singing and not playing guitar, I tried picking up the guitar again. My technical skills had definitely declined, but to my amazement, was able to figure out just about any song I wanted by ear! This after a 3 year hiatus!

    I can’t be sure why, after a three year hiatus, I suddenly had a skill that I could never get when I was practising regularly, but my own belief is that by learning to sing in tune in choir, I activated a part of my brain that enabled me to pick out tunes on the guitar. In other words, as far as figuring out songs on guitar went, practising a completely different skill did more for me than practising the skill itself. I’ve talked to other people who’ve mentioned having similar experiences of passively improving at something by really focusing hard on a related aspect of something different, and I think this effect is similar to that of deliberate practice in that it turns on the key aspects of practice rather than the time spent at it.

    • More on Practicing Guitars and Content Marketing:

      Just last night, I was watching a Youtube video titled “The Most Important Guitar Lesson You Ever Need” by justinguitar.com. He said to be great, you have to listen to music and learn how to play it. Learning by the “internet tab method” will not make you great.

      Learning an instrument or Content Marketing by rote instruction (the “just play these chords”, method) is not only boring, it’s artless.

      Justin points out elsewhere that 1) playing the same songs over and over does not help much (you have to push yourself into new areas). You also have to 2) slow down 3) use a timer 4) make note of what you do 5) focus on one thing at a time and finally 6) recognize that playing and practicing are not the same. (BTW, this video is called “Make the most of your practice time (Guitar Lesson)

      All of this applies to Content Marketing, the thing I’m learning to do.

      When I read a copyblogger post, I “listen to it then try and play it”. I watch how they are being helpful, but also how they connect it to sales.

      Now I just need to get over my stage fright with both playing guitar and Content Marketing!

      Thanks again Sonia, and also Andy for the guitar idea prompt.


      • Cool stuff, David.

        And at first, playing by rote is probably the best deliberate practice we can do. It’s totally ok as a starting point. A lot of copywriting classes have you start out by copying (by hand) some of the most effective sales letters ever.

        But that’s just the starting point. As soon as that’s comfortable, you need to give yourself a little shove to the next thing.

  7. “Your practice needs to be hard enough to get you out of your comfort zone, but not so hard that it’s totally out of your grasp.”

    Excellent point. If you set a goal that is too high, it’s easy to get frustrated and give up. You want to keep aiming for something that is just out of reach. This forces you to get better but doesn’t destroy the faith that that you actually can.

  8. Sonia,

    This is a couple posts in a row (I must admit that I’m a relatively new copyblogger reader so you’ve probably been killing it for years) that I have been completely blown away by the quality of your thoughts and timeliness of the content.

    Seth Godin also wrote about The Journey today in unique brief style. If you don’t love it and aren’t practicing it and don’t appreciate the time spent… Then there is no hope to reach Master Level. Because you’ll give in to the temptation of excuse.

    This is a great article and here’s to the first 9,999 hours…

    Ryan H.

  9. I’ve read all this information before, but today it helped light my fire. It is so easy to be discouraged in blogging.

    I’ve already put in my 10,ooo hours in a couple different fields. I guess there is a cumulative gain, but you’re right, the determination to be a master–instead of just an average blogger–requires “deliberate practice” and “critical examination.”

    In critical theory, they would also say you need a “critical friend,” a mentor and guide.

    I think your “smart series” opens the door. But there is so much “insider” information you need to actually cross the threshold and enter the house.

  10. Thank you Sonia. This is one of the most helpful and inspiring posts I’ve read in a long time. My husband and I always work hard on our site — and love the work, most of the time — but need the reminder to deliberately work toward mastery. You guys rock. Love your podcasts, too.

  11. Thanks for this great kick in the butt. I think one of the main problems is that feeling of overwhelm and lack of time that many of us experience, that push us to accept mediocre. I’ve learned that it’s important to actually schedule this kind of practice in my day – just like when I was a kid learning to play the piano. The time has to actually go into your calendar!

  12. Thanks for the perspective and advice Sonia. There is a difference between active and effective. Just because you are doing something doesn’t mean it is the right thing. If you are going to spend the time you might as well make it worthwhile.

  13. One of your best, Sonia, and that’s saying something. I’d add the point that pushing past your comfort zone gets considerably harder as you get older and are successful at what you do. It’s so tempting to just rest there, wherever “there” might be. But to keep pushing at 60, 70 and beyond is so rewarding. It’s what keeps me eager to get to work in the morning.

    • Thanks so much, Jean.

      I agree — the more we achieve, the harder it can be to bust back to beginner’s mind and get uncomfortable again. But that’s what keeps it interesting, what keeps us active and growing.

  14. Sonia – Excellent article and along the same thinking as David Shenk’s excellent book “The Genius in All of Us.” His point is very similar: there are few true geniuses, but almost anyone can master a task if they practice in a way that really changes them and are consistent with it. Thanks for the great article.

  15. Hi Sonia,

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about it in the way of putting in “practice time” that’s moving me in the direction that I want to go compared to putting in effort that’s all over the place and not moving forward towards a particular goal or target.

    To that end, do you have any advice on how to pick a target and how to choose a goal that’s worth investing the right kind of practice time so you arrive at a destination? Any advice is appreciated. 🙂

  16. It’s really about finding your passion or one thing you love doing and becoming great at it.

    Failure is also one thing that is good to acknowledge and learn from.

    Without failure we would be blinded by success. Continuously doing the same kind of blog posts over and over yield the same results. Exploring new types of headlines, body paragraphs, and styles will improve ourselves and our craft.
    This is a great article, Sonia.
    Comfort zone is hugeeeee. That’s one thing I’ll be focusing on for my eBook. People shrivel up just thinking about leaving their comfort zone. It’s absolutely necessary to get out of it to explore, learn, and experiment.
    Good insight. Enjoyed this very much.

  17. So true, and so often taken for granted!

    I’m a designer handbag addict. And…I’m also somewhat of a handbag expert, a badge I wear proudly, borne from at least 10,000 hours’ worth of handbag study, scrutiny, purchase and education. I can spot a Balenciaga City from a mile away, and I can call out a fake Gucci with my hands tied behind my back.

    Not sure how this expertise will fuel my copywriting career – but the handbag journey has proven that if you focus your attention, put in the hours, study the industry, align yourself with leaders in the field, and just keep working – you will establish a level of expertise that is unrivalled.

    It also has made me aware of the fact that you are more inclined to put the 10,000 hours into a field of practice about which you are passionate! Needless to say, I’m not an expert in meat packing…

  18. Great advice… like the advice given by other great copywriters to hand-copy the work of other greats that you admire.

    How many copywriters consistently do that every day?

    Just an additional thought…

    John Gilger

  19. Illuminating – I red about it but up to now i didn’t realise that the five points of Delibarate Practice are the core of any succesful spiritual practice like meditation and the likes.
    It sounds and feels like ancient wisdom ready to be applied .. eh … NOW.
    Thank you.

  20. I’m not sure about the 10,000 hours rule either. Seems that having the right guide, blog, or coach, can shave off quite a few hours to achieve at high levels. If we can learn from others (like this blog), then we might avoid many of the same mistakes in our own writing. If it is only Deliberate practice, then we must learn from other Masters what that deliberate practice is. This blog is one of those places.

  21. Wow, your work above has me digging into what is Deliberate Practice for a CEO? In this age of corporate malfeasance, so few are truly great at it. As Steve Jobs explicitly told Tim Cook, don’t think how Steve would do it, just do the right thing, always. Today, as I guide my tiny company, I *know* how hard this is. Now, how do I make this a Deliberate Practice?
    Wow and thank you Sonia,

    • First place I’d go for Deliberate Practice for a CEO would be the Jim Collins material. There are very specific practices and disciplines there, plenty for you to chew on. 🙂

      Best of luck with your company!

      • Sonia, Did you see Jim Collins interviewed on Charlie Rose recently? It was great, especially how he describes Scott and Amundsen’s race for the South Pole. He uses it as an analogy which captures the essence of the research study documented in his new book, Great by Choice: how two leaders (and their teams) on a quest, in the same environment, can have two completely different outcomes. Here’s the interview: http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/11983

  22. Sonia,

    Great post. What Gladwell also points out is the The Beatles didn’t just happen to explode on the British music scene. They spent their 10,000 hours in nothing clubs outside of London playing cover songs and the occasional original piece (the latter of which nobody in the audience really wanted to hear). They played endlessly to the point of strain, but that experience made their later success possible.

    Consider any of the lasting rock bands (I like rock, but this could apply to any genre). U2, the Rolling Stones, Green Day,… they all play a ton. You learn by doing, studying, and asking for feedback from anyone willing to offer it. (Hear it for what it’s worth and listen for any kernel that might help you.)

    I sell real estate. It is a brutal market. When things are slow, I am a sponge looking to any industry for ways to improve my skills. There are always paths to improve. Copyblogger is among those. Thanks for your hard work.

    Jason Allen-Rouman

  23. It IS more fun to be a master than average, and these are some great tips to get there. Thanks for sharing!

    I’m wondering how much mastery can be cultivated and how much it’s inherent? If you have the predisposition to be an expert marketer, you’re much more likely to read marketing blogs for fun, for example. So I think another important thing to note is that you should be aligning your chosen field with your natural skills and inclinations.

  24. Sonia,

    Have you read Cal’s “Pyramid” article? It’s all about setting the context that you want to succeed in, like a framework for your deliberate practice. Turns out, once you put your head down and get to work in that context, success spills over into other areas too.

    Good stuff!

  25. I don’t think it’s more fun to be a master than just average for everyone – otherwise we’d all be striving for perfection. The fact is, the majority of people are happy to hit that plateau and stay there. It takes real ambition and determination to constantly be pushing yourself to be better.

    Good article Simone!

  26. Sonia,

    Your post does address one of the key fundamentals of improvement. We need to be challenged regularly to continue to grow. What I have observed is that when I am not challenged I tend to become bored. This leads to sloppy performance and then ultimately to a complete breakdown in morale.

    By focusing on deliberate practice I benefit by keeping myself engaged in the task at hand. My results improve greatly and my morale is always upbeat!

  27. Bookmarking this article. This is EXACTLY the kind of inspiration I hunger for. I love the concept of “deliberate practice”. I tell my kids all the time, “What you practice, you perfect” – but I hadn’t thought of “deliberate practice” before. It is so profound. So genius. So simple. I LOVE IT!! Will be checking out the other resources that you and your commenters referenced.

  28. Saying this for the second time today..yes, yes, YES! No one gets to be a great writer by not putting in the hours of working on the “tough stuff”. Case in point, I have always been terrible at writing prose, but people like to read it. So, on my blog, I force myself to write it into my nonfiction posts in order to get better at it. You gotta improve your efforts in order to get better results. Another great post!! 😀

  29. Sonia

    As you probably know (thanks for retweeting my post btw!) I’m very interested in Deliberate Practice and have been writing about it and studying it for a couple of years. (I wrote a book on Deliberate Practice specifically for the bass guitar in 2009).

    There are two fundamental reasons why Deliberate Practice is so important to content marketers in general, and the ‘Copyblogger’ tribe in particular.

    The first is that although it’s true that you need to apply 10,000 or so hours of Deliberate Practice to become a virtuoso, the principles of Deliberate Practice can be used to get better at ANYTHING. And as you point out in the article, you don’t have to be world class to gain a significant competitive advantage over your rivals, you just have to be better than them.

    The second reason understanding Deliberate Practice is important is that a big part of (what I perceive is) the Copyblogger tribe are engaged in some form of education – through copywriting, or content marketing. (And let me know if that perception is wrong). And if understanding the principles of Deliberate Practice helps you learn anything….of course it stands to reason that you can use those principles to form the skeleton of any teaching you do. And again, you stand out from your competition because just as very few people are employing Deliberate Practice in their own efforts to improve, even fewer TEACHERS are using Deliberate Practice to teach their students.

    Geoff Colvin’s book is a great starter to gain an understanding of Deliberate Practice. Anders Ericsson (the ‘Seth Godin’ of Deliberate Practice) has written a ton of stuff that’s worth diving into as well. Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code is also worth a read….a take from a different angle.

    Those will get people started…



    PS – would you like me to post a thread on Deliberate Practice and teaching in the Teaching Sells forum?

  30. As someone who has played guitar for over 10 years but is still no good I couldn’t agree more. I am going to spend the next 10 years doing the right practice!

  31. I love this article. It articulates what I know mentally, but it is outlined here in words. Thank you so much. I am going to visit Cal Newport’s site now! Have a great day.

  32. I always say that getting started with the job is 95% of the difficulty in getting it done. The rest is a breeze, because once you get stuck in the reward starts to set in already and only grows up until the point where you can sit back and gaze upon your masterpiece with that awesome feeling of accomplishment!! (I’m a designer btw 🙂 ) So, naturally I LOVED the part of the article that states that we should never assume there’s “nothing to be gained between hour 1 and hour 10,000”!!

  33. 20 hours a week! All those biz op sites out there say we can make money out of thin air! Now you say 20 hours a week? 🙂 (sarcasm)

  34. What a great post! This really struck home with me because coincidentally for the past ten years I have been playing chess seriously. What I have found out is that most of the time spent playing, unfortunately, was not deliberate practice. So I did get better, but not in comparison to the past year when I really took interest in breaking down games of great players and examining ‘why’ they made moves. I noticed a significant spike in my rating when I did this. I don’t know how many people looking at this post play chess, but if you are on the fence, let me say that chess has increased my intelligence across all other areas of endeavor. As my level of strength in chess went up, I felt that my ability to make decisions and develop strategy for all other areas of life increased as well. Thanks again.

  35. Of course, you really need to love what you are doing. If you are only halfway dedicated, or simply do it because you have to, you are never going to become a master. Excellent article!

  36. Sonia,

    Loved the article. I learned about the book and this idea a few years ago (as applied to my athletes), and as soon as I did, the first thing I thought was, “how can I take and apply this to my business, marketing, relationships, and everything else.” As I’ve been building my business I’ve been quite deliberate in what I’ve been doing, particularly my writing, seeking feedback, and constantly trying to figure out how to make it better. It takes a bit longer at the beginning, but I know my skills are also advancing much more rapidly now that I’m intentional about it.

    Kudos for taking this idea and bringing the concept into this space!

  37. What a remarkable post Simone – thank you! I’ve been looking at my goals for the next year and finding ways to stretch myself. I’ve been asked why I would going through the pressure of taking on more tasks and this is a timely reminder that “good enough” and “ticking along” ain’t gonna get you the gold.

    Even better was the reminder not to take every day skills for granted. I can hone and improve everything I do, all the time. It’s not taking on “more”, it’s taking what I do to the next level.

    Thanks again!

  38. Thank you so much, Sonia. This is a great post. I’ve been re-reading it over the weekend.

    Maybe we can take the analogy with sports one step further:

    A tennis player will hone his serving skills by practising the perfect ball toss, by trying to increase serve speed and by learning to hide the direction of his serves.

    He’ll practise his slice serves, flat serves and kick serves.

    Sampras is rumoured to have placed coins on the court to practise the accuracy of his serve.

    This would suggest that deliberate practice is more effective when focusing on a specific aspect of our game.

    Maybe we don’t require 10,000 hours to learn to write an awesome how-to-headline. Maybe 100 hours will do when we practise opening our blog post with a bang. And another 100 hours could teach us how to use metaphors more effectively?

  39. Deliberate practice… what does this look like? I’ve found the book The Talent Code to be an easy read which explaining this process, although I am still wondering what this looks like for different activities/professions, such as gardening. John Wooden has also been a fascination, his formula for teaching (which contributed to make him a great coach and leader) was formulaic and very effective, and also mentioned in The Talent Code.

    Paul, thanks for mentioning other sources for where to learn more about this topic, as I feel it is key to reducing the time needed from 10,000 hours to much less. And it’s good to remember that at times you may be called an “expert” without really being a “master.”

    Thanks for the post!

  40. Much of this is new to me, but from the looks of it, Deliberate Practice is just what I’m trying to do. Starting a new blog is always work, but I love it, so Deliberate Practice is now my mantra. I hope it doesn’t take 10,000. but your quote from Cal Newport really puts the “right work” into perspective.

    Thanks for the great ideas, and I look forward to reading more.

  41. Mastery is a function of practice! Every masters have put in the hours to become who they are. That’s what I’m aspire to be. I’m working on it!

  42. I feel like saying that it takes 10,000 hours of work comes with both an up and a down side.

    The upside being that it lets people know that not being the best in the market when they start out isn’t the end of the world. As the article says, you need many hours of deliberate practice.

    On the other hand I also feel like some people may feel like that 10,000 hours is a crushing barrier between them and success. Of course, if they can’t imagine doing something for 10,000 hours then they probably have no business doing that for a living.

  43. This makes perfect sense to me… being a musician (drummer specifically). To learn a new “lick” I have to deliberately slow things down to a pace that I CAN get, and do that over and over and over and over and over and over until I can do it flawlessly at the decreased speed. Then I speed it up a bit (not a lot, a bit)… until I can do THAT perfectly. Then increase again and repeat the process… and again, and again. THAT is deliberate practice that works – and it applies all through life. The problem is we tend to be impatient and somehow think we can get to the desired end without the necessary work. It doesn’t work that way (usually). Natural talent only goes so far… the hard work makes up the rest. Great post!

  44. Thank you Sonia, for this wonderful article.

    We must push our limits to provide the BEST value to our core audience. Your website will NEVER grow by creating mediocre content.

    There are so many AI tools out there that are pumping out thin content in the blogosphere. I don’t think they’ll replace human creativity. Here’s where mastering your content marketing skills come in handy.

  45. That was an amazing article. True that conent marketing mastery is real fun and important. The effectiveness of content marketing depends on how well it is executed. And doing it properly doesn’t include flooding the internet with a shower of random blog posts and web pages. Instead, it involves learning what information your target audience wants to read. In your own special method and voice, you’re speaking to them as a friend. It’s keeping up with modern technological developments, but only so you can better serve your audience.

  46. Anyone who has consumed any of Cal Newports work is a fan. There simply is nobody who doesn’t appreciate and resonate with his work. It’s truly remarkable.

  47. Hey Sonia, I love this article. You hit the nail on the head regarding content marketing mastery!

    What sets it apart from being average is that it takes more effort and dedication, but the results are worth it.

    I appreciate how you focus on making things enjoyable and financially rewarding. As marketers need to have fun with what we’re doing simultaneously!

    I think your advice on Copyblogger is excellent. The masterclasses and advanced training will be very helpful in building a solid foundation for content writers.

    Your new free report also seems like an excellent resource that could benefit many people who want to become prolific writers.

    Overall, I believe that content marketing is an art form that requires thought and strategy.

    However, content writers can achieve great things with the proper training and dedication.

    Thank you for providing such a detailed article with helpful tips and advice; I am grateful to have read it.

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