Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by Kat Amano, a project manager for the email marketing and communications company Emma.
Fighting solves everything. Or so says one of my dad’s favorite t-shirts — one I take quite seriously, in fact, since martial arts were a constant in my childhood home; our perspectives were shaped not by Big Bird and Mr. Rogers, but by Bruce Lee and Mr. Miyagi.
My father was a black belt in multiple disciplines, and he often used parables of warriors and wimps to teach us about real work, honest life and true love. And now, even though I ended up in email marketing instead of professional fighting, it feels completely natural for me to draw inspiration from those who work from the mat, instead of a desk.
So what can fighting teach us about communication? Rather a lot. Because even if you can’t actually triangle choke your Twitter crisis into submission, the principles of hand-to-hand combat — as my dad would surely tell you — are universal.
Technique & conditioning come first
“We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training.” -Archilochus
On my first day of jiu-jitsu, it was easy to tell the veterans from the newbies like me, who were frantic and spastic on the mat — sucking in air, eyes wild with panic, arms and legs flailing as we fumbled to survive.
The black belts, on the other hand, moved like sharks underwater. They were slow and intentional, with occasional bursts of incredible power, but always the picture of utter calm and complete control. Sometimes my instructor, Carlos Machado, even closed his eyes.
It took those guys years to attain that kind of physical and mental discipline. And success at that level, in any field, requires as much work.
It isn’t easy, that kind of effort — even for trainees of social media and email marketing. You see, I’m not talking about checking blogs for quick tips and listening to folks like me. I’m talking about studying real-life black belts in action (like our friends @lindseynobles and @davedelaney), and using their collective experience and wisdom to shape your own technique. I’m talking about building up your conditioning, and that means practicing effective communication every time you open your laptop, every time you open your mouth, every time you decide to say something — these are opportunities to craft stronger, clearer messages, and to learn.
For the record, of course, I say all of this as a student of great teachers, but not as a teacher myself. I see my own laziness glaring at me daily, and daily I try to fight it, to avoid a writing rut. But I lose that battle all too often. The trick, I think, is to show up every day, no matter what, and give it hell — because only then can you learn to move like Carlos, and not even break a sweat.
Share your story
“I’m not the greatest; I’m the double-greatest. Not only do I knock ’em out, I pick the round.” -Muhammad Ali
In mixed martial arts, it’s not just about winning — it’s how you win. Was it a choke? A knockout? Fighters know that a good finish means bragging rights and viral videos, which in turn can deliver new fans, higher-profile fights, and more money and glory on the world stage.
Naturally, those prizes grow exponentially if the win comes in context of a powerful story: perhaps the winner has just come back from an injury, or the knockout was dealt by the underdog. And if a fighter can rack up enough of those moments, then fan-made “highlight reels” start cropping up everywhere — videos made by kids at home to celebrate and share the fighter’s greatest hits — and the fighting world falls in love.
In short, the power of each win, set against the backdrop of a broader story of triumph, will propel fan engagement to new and amazing heights.
Marketing experts often write about the shareability of “emotional content” — and an inspiring, controversial or heartstring-tugging post might up your “shares” indeed. But if you really want to connect with your audience and become indispensable to their engagement on the web, you’ll need to zoom out a bit. After all, a consistent pattern of thoughtful content is what will help build the arc of your larger story — and that, my friends, is your brand.
Nailing your story in an honest, human way (and using your channels to similarly support that story) adds meaning for your readers in a way that only real people — and real time — can impart. And that’s what incites real fans’ excitement about your efforts, mercy for your goofs and evangelism on your behalf.
Be like water
“Do not be tense, just be ready, not thinking but not dreaming, not being set but being flexible. It is being wholly and quietly alive, aware and alert, ready for whatever may come.” -Bruce Lee
Even well-conditioned fighters know they have limited time and energy, so the smart ones learn to recognize a failing strategy before they’ve invested too much in a lost cause.
Several years ago, I lucked into ringside tickets to see Renzo Gracie, a jiu-jitsu master — so his strength was taking opponents down to the mat and then locking in a submission. But against Pat Miletich, a world-class wrestler who knows how to stay on his feet, Gracie just couldn’t get him on the ground.
Then, just four minutes into Round 1, Gracie pulled a choke from above. He leapt on top of Miletich, locked in a flying guillotine choke and submitted the legendary wrestler without even having to worry about going to the floor.
I was stunned, and yet it seemed like such an obvious choice, in retrospect. Gracie knew his strengths and crafted his strategy accordingly, but switched tactics pretty quickly when his first plan didn’t work.
If you’re just starting out, you may not know your audience — or the social media environment — as well as you’d like. But if you’re thorough with your training and conditioning, and you’ve crafted your brand story with care, you should definitely have enough to make a solid guess about what will work, and what won’t.
For real longevity, though, you’ll need to be watchful — and flexible. Your strategy should clearly have metrics and milestones attached to it, so you can gauge your victories and failures in a real and observable way. And if your first guess proves to be wrong, you must be willing to re-examine your approach, and abandon it if necessary. And, hey — even if you’re plodding along just fine, you should still refine and strengthen your story — but you can only do so if you’re paying close attention.
Kat Amano is a project manager at Emma, and she knows her way around color-coded charts, lists and deadline estimates. She loves comics, hot sauce and martial arts, not necessarily in that order. She can be reached at email@example.com.