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The Ron Swanson Guide to Content Marketing

“You had me at Meat Tornado.”

Brands committed to content marketing follow a core set of first principles.

They’re timeless.

Helping you better understand these first principles is a primary goal of my work. It’s why I wrote Content Warfare.

The Wisdom of Ron Swanson

It’s easy to get lost in the battle for attention online. We all want to grow our business. Sometimes in doing so, we get deep in the micro (tools, tactics, tricks), and lose sight of our macro goal: relentlessly delivering value.

In doing so, we take our content marketing work a little too seriously. I know. I do.

Today is not one of those days. Today we’re going to unpack the eternal wisdom of Ron Swanson and apply it to a few first principles in content marketing.

Yes, Ron Swanson, is the fictional character from the TV show Parks and Recreation.


Because he’s hilarious… and that’s a good enough reason for me.

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The Ron Swanson Guide to Content Marketing

“Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”

Translation = Focus.

It’s easy to find yourself trying to take on too many projects simultaneously. Add in family, personal life, and a hobby, and you’re quickly over-extended and distracted.

It is impossible to do your best work with a divided mind.

There are more than a few major thieves of our focus. Three notable culprits I personally struggle with are, social media noise, poor daily routine, and mismanaging my “To-do” list.

  • For dealing with the noise of social media and finding more time for flow state work, I’d recommend reading the book Deep Work by Cal Newport.
  • If you find your daily routine is not setting you up for success, then spend some time with Atomic Habits by James Clear.
  • To get a hold of your “To-do” list, I recommend the Todoist app which connects with Gmail, Chrome, and your smartphone.

“I’m not interested in caring about people.”

Translation = Don’t sweat the haters.

It’s an undeniable truth of publishing content (even business content) in the public space that, eventually, someone will disagree with you.

What you can’t do is allow negativity to impact the quality of your content.

Hate comes in all shapes and forms. Some haters will question your expertise. Others will post unsubstantiated negative feedback.

Then there is the particularly inappropriate and vulgar group, known as Trolls, whose singular goal is to anger and frustrate you and ultimately make you look bad. These people are not your audience. They are not your “True Fans.”

I recommend immediately blocking Trolls from whatever platform they attacked you on and disregarding their comments from your mind.

You live in abundance, that’s why you’ve dedicated at least a portion of your work to content marketing. Trolls live in scarcity and negativity. Time spent engaging Trolls is time wasted.

Remember always, “Grow your audience, grow your business.”

Trolls are not your audience.

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“Well, I’m not usually one for speeches. So, goodbye.”

Translation = Brevity is your friend.

Brevity in content marketing is not a debate over short vs long-form content, but rather the cadence in which you deliver your message.

Brevity in this context refers to run-on sentences, passive voice, and extravagant language.

This type of language strangles your message.

For those struggling with wordiness, consider using the Hemingway App.  The Hemingway Apps online platform allows writers to condense and strengthen their message.

Brevity is a weakness in my writing game, and I’ve found the Hemingway App useful.

The trick I use most often is to speak my articles out loud. Listening to each word out loud helps expose clunky sections, which become simple to fix.

I call this “Finding Your Cadence,” which is a big part of authentic writing.

“When I eat, it is the food that is scared.”

Translation = Enthusiasm wins.

There are few things as infectious as enthusiasm. Why would your audience be if you aren’t excited about what you do?

We pass our mood through and into our content.

Anxious? Angry? Sad? Excited?

Your audience is going to know.

Especially the audience members that give a crap about you and your work (i.e., your clients and prospects near the end of your buying decision).

When you create with a sense of abundance and focus on relentlessly delivering value, there will be a natural enthusiasm for the content.

This is a good thing. Content containing emotion is more enjoyable to read. Emotion adds humanity and authenticity to your work.

The one emotion your audience will not abide by is apathy.

If you don’t care, do not begin to hope your audience will.

They won’t.

The moment your audience senses you’ve “Mailed it in,” they’re gone. Forever.

Harness enthusiasm, and your audience will feed off it.

“Skim milk is water that is lying about being milk.”

Translation = Never pretend to be something you are not.

Seth Godin can write 20 words blog posts because that’s who he is as a creator.

Gary Vaynerchuk can spit wine into a Jets helmet because that’s who he is as a creator.

Marcus Sheridan‘s speaking style has energy few can pull off. That’s why Marcus is a creator.

James Altucher’s interview style mixes enthusiasm and curiosity like few are capable of because that’s who he is as a creator.

My point…

Do the thing you do the way you do it.

Do not do what Seth, Gary, Marcus, and James’ do and expect the same results. They’ve each found their own unique voice and committed themselves to it.

Do you.

“Honor: if you need it defined, you don’t have it.”

Translation = Ethics and morals matter.

As a content marketer, you have a responsibility to our audience. Your readers, viewers, and listeners are spending their valuable time with your ideas, thoughts, and experience.

Your audience is giving you a gift. The gift of their attention.

Respect this gift.

This might go without saying for most of you, but reminders are good for the soul.

It can take thousands of honest acts of faith to build trust and one dishonest act to destroy it.

Put your integrity and the integrity of your work before all else. Always.

“I like saying ‘No,’ it lowers their enthusiasm.”

Translation = Know when to say “No.”

There is no doubt I have a hard time saying “No.” I love to be part of new projects and work with new people. This is how we grow a greater understanding of our work.

So I say “Yes” a lot.

There is a downside to saying “Yes.” I perpetually find myself in a state of overwhelm.

There is a reason every few months, I create a piece of content addressing writer’s block.

When the mind is spread thin, it is easy to lose focus.

Undoubtedly, a willingness to say “Yes” is vital to personal growth. Yet for some (myself included), saying “Yes” is almost a sickness. We feel like by saying “No,” we will be left out of some great thing.

We all have a right to say “No.”

Say “No” and watch your business grow.

“Stillness: Don’t waste energy moving unless necessary.”

Translation = Be efficient.

To be effective at content marketing, you must be efficient.

Here are five efficiency-crushing actions:

  • Not having a topic when you sit down to write,
  • Perfectionism,
  • Lack of process,
  • Working on too many projects at once and,
  • Not harnessing content distribution tools.

There are more. My point is not the specific actions but rather the need to find efficiencies in our work where we can.

You will find your own unique methods to be more efficient at content marketing. Here are a few of mine:

  • Text myself blog post titles and ideas when they hit me,
  • Use Buffer and Later to schedule and distribute content on social media and,
  • Create social graphics using Canva and Adobe Spark.

Have an open mind toward new methods of efficient content marketing.

“Greatness Itself: The best revenge”

Translation = Set your own goals.

Don’t get jealous. Don’t envy the achievements of others. Don’t allow what others have to dictate your actions.

Don’t try to beat your opponent.

Be so damn good your opponent doesn’t matter.

Cream rises to the top.

Cliche, yes. True, hell yes.

All we can do is work to be the best version of ourselves.

Ask yourself: When do you create great work? What does your great work look like? Who appreciates and seeks out your great work?

Look inside yourself and get better.

Focusing on the work of others, or worse, creating simply to “beat” the competition, will not produce the great work you desire.

“Intensity: Give 100%. 110% is impossible. Only idiots recommend that.”

Translation = Don’t over-promise.

Nothing destroys confidence in your business more than to over-promise and under-deliver. Tell prospects and clients exactly what they will get when talking about your business.

Don’t embellish. Don’t exaggerate. Don’t over-promise.

Why does the Connected Generation hate to be sold so much?

Your audiences’ lives are filled with advertisements promising more than the product delivers. They’re jaded by “The catch.”

Today’s marketing discourse centers around authenticity, transparency, and loyalty.

And whether this is genuine messaging or the same bullshit in a new wrapper is inconsequential, for it’s exactly what the Connected Generation responds to.

Be direct: In price, in benefits, in customer experience.

Your audience will love you for it.

“I think it’s pointless for a human to paint scenes of nature when they can go outside and stand in it.”

Translation = Get out from behind the keyboard.

Gary Vaynerchuk’s message is powerful because he did it. We watched him grow Wine Library TV from nothing to something.

Gary Vee did the work.

Have you?

I’ve performed over 300 keynote speeches in the last ten years. Do you know why I keep getting asked to come back?

I was a salesman. I was a marketer. I was the Chief Marketing Officer. I was the CEO. I did the work.

It’s not all fluffy theory regurgitated from a book I’ve read.

At some point, you must prove you own the material, or the message doesn’t resonate.

Get out from behind the keyboard and live it.

“Cultivating a manly musk puts your opponents on notice.”

Translation = Let your reputation proceed you.

Nobody likes a bragger.

Confidence is sexy. Even a little waft of arrogance can excite.

But you shouldn’t be the one telling me how great you are. Let your resume speak for itself.

They’ll already know what you can do if your competition is actual competition.

Let the quality of your work reflect the community you build around your brand.

We don’t need to brag, we need to do better work.

The Rub

You might be asking yourself if Ron Swanson is a content marketing visionary.

He’s not.

He’s a fictional TV character.

But that does not mean we can’t learn from his incredible wit and stoic philosophy on life.

As students in the Ron Swanson School of Content Marketing, we might all do better.

Thank you,


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