Life & Career Advice Learnt From A Brain-Dead Game

I used to hang out at the arcade for hours on end, back in the 90s (and the early 2000s).

But then I grew up. 

It's sad what "growing up" does to people. 

The only thing that (just only barely) belongs to the "game" category that I have some interaction with these days is Cookie Jam - a simple match-3 game that features colourful graphics, big buttons, and a slightly creepy panda who supposedly bakes. It's sort of like Candy Crush. It's easy to understand, easy to play. Addictive. Simplistic gameplay (with a genius in-game sales strategy). Brain-dead. Massive timesink. It's like a fantastical candy-coloured amusement park in which you lose yourself one cookie at a time. 


I've been playing it almost everyday, since early 2014. 

That's roughly 15 months.

But it's not all for naught. This even-a-two-year-old-can-play game has taught me many valuable lessons, which I can apply in life, career, love, and almost everything. And today I want to share these with you.




We all know the feeling. 

There is always something that we really want. A better job. A bigger paycheck. More responsibilities. Becoming an expert at something. Learning a new skill. Popularity. Our names in light. A successful venture. Etc.

So we give it a shot. 

and then another shot.

and then another.

Rinse and repeat.

Nothing seems to work. 

We feel dejected. We feel like a massive failure. We start to doubt ourselves, our abilities, our capabilities, and eventually we start to doubt our dreams. 

This has happened to me many times. When I first learnt English in high school, it seemed that I could never be as good as a native speaker. When I came to Australia in 2008, I doubted my ability to keep up at uni. Even when I graduated top of class at the top uni in the country, I kept getting rejected at job interviews. 

I'm 26 now, and I haven't seen my name in lights yet. 

Some days things get difficult. I feel that I am nowhere near where I am supposed to be at this stage. 

But then I play Cookie Jam for 5 minutes, just mindlessly moving and matching colourful blocks.

And it hits me:



This is how Cookie Jam works: you get 5 lives to play, if you lose them all, it takes around 30 minutes to replenish.  

Everyday I open the game, play for 5 minutes, lose all my virtual lives. Again and again and again and again, day after day. It becomes a routine. For most days, I just do it out of habit. I quickly play and lose 5 of my daily allotted lives, and then I go take a shower and make dinner. I can't make dinner unless I have spent all 5 lives. (It sounds a bit OCD, I know).

This game starts easy, and then it gets more and more difficult. You have less chances to clear the stage, and with each passing stage, the request seems to get a little more impossible. For many of these stages, I have to play each of them for - literally - more than 200 times. And it is exactly what it sounds like. I do the same thing again and again and again. After the 20th time or so, I don't even look what I'm matching anymore, I just play it automatically, one eye on the game screen, one eye on something else. I know it's hard to pass the stage, I don't really expect to pass the stage. 

After the 200th time or so, I start saying "well. this is CLEARLY impossible." 

I start thinking that the game designers just want to fuck with people.

Sometimes I stop playing for a week or two, because I've lost my interest and motivation to try again.

But I come back, and keep on playing.

And then one day, out of nowhere, the stars align in some way, and I win. 

I've passed the impossible stage. 

I've cleared it. 

This is obviously not to say that Cookie Jam is my goal in life. But so many times, it has given me the immense satisfaction of winning, of achieving something (especially after a long time persistently trying to do just that). The hard slogging only makes the win so much more rewarding. It feels damn good when you finally succeed, and that feeling becomes the fuel that motivates you to do more. You’ve worked and worked and worked to make this thing happen. Now that you’ve actually seen its fruition, there is satisfaction, and then there is also comfort. 

It comforts me to be reminded that no matter how impossible something seems at first, persistence will always pay off. 

It tells me, absurdly, that if I can do this, I can do just about anything

  Jack Ma, Alibaba's CEO, on failure.

Jack Ma, Alibaba's CEO, on failure.

Everyone has to deal with failure and rejection at some point in their life. You have to put in at least 10,000 hours to acquire a new skill. Jack Ma was rejected by 30 companies before he founded Alibaba. Airbnb was rejected by 7 (out of, well, 7) investors when they first started out. Michael Jordan said, "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games, 26 times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

Knowing all these stories makes it kind of easier to accept that you've failed at something, but not really, because at some point you go "But that's them! They are extraordinary people, the exceptions, not the norm! It happens to them, doesn't mean it will happen to me."

So winning at Cookie Jam is a much more relatable experience for me, because instead of a famous person, it has happened to me before. And I have the confidence to say "I have played this game for more than 800 levels, and for more than half of that I have failed miserably multiple times. But I always cleared them eventually. So I know I can do this.

And that is some sweet motivation. On hard days, it gets me back on track and keep hustling. 

That being said, Cookie Jam also taught me that not only you have to work hard, you have to work smarter, because:


2. You learn from your magnificent failures. 

After playing the same level a few dozen times, I start noticing patterns. 

I notice that if I match things in a different way, I win the game faster. 

I notice that if I avoid certain movements, it will result in a more favourable situation later.

I learn to avoid the stupid mistakes.

I learn the tips and tricks. The tactical moves, and the strategic ones.


Some of this learning happen organically, and some of it only happen because I ask myself "why" and other questions: what were the assumptions? what was the situation? did anything change? can I apply what I've done previously? what would happen if I try it this way?

Similarly, at work, when a campaign flops, I try to quickly move on to a more constructive mindset: let's look at the data and see what it tells us. Did people see but not click? Could that be a CTA problem or could we target the wrong audience, or could it be the art direction? Let's do some testing. Let's poll a small sample first. What can we learn from this? 

There is no point in shielding your eyes from failures. 

There is even less point in crying over them.


You've tried something. It didn't work. Ok, what can we learn from this and how should that be applied in our next try? 

Fail fast, learn, try again. Hopefully with a little more smart this time. 


But also,

3. Sometimes it's all being at the right place at the right time. 

There is nothing that teaches me about the value of luck like Cookie Jam. The cookie pieces are generated randomly, and sometimes you get a lucky combination - in which case you win with ease. You can keep trying and trying and trying, but sometimes nothing seems to work, until the stars align.

In life, this also applies. You apply for a job but don't get it. Your campaign doesn't work as effectively as you want it to. It could have nothing to do with you, actually. 


Sometimes it's just not the right timing.

Sometimes you don't meet the right people.

Sometimes it's an anomaly. 

Sometimes it's just pure dumb luck.


For someone like me, who is always harder on herself than anyone ever should, being reminded about the element of luck is a much-needed dose of encouragement. 




Success = idea + work x luck



Before you know it, you might have invested 15 months of your life playing a brain-dead game. You think it’s just 5 minutes a day, but it adds up.


Routines are hard to shake.

Live responsibly.

7 Reasons Why Your Content Marketing Is Not Working

We all know that content marketing can bring significant success to a business, but alas, that’s only the start of the story. In recent years, numerous brands have tried to crack the “branded content” code, but not many have got it right. Surprisingly so, even marketing agencies struggle to produce high quality content that yields positive ROI. If I get a penny for every time I come across some "content marketing" work produced by my peers.. 

Anyway. Today let’s take a look at the most common foxholes in producing and promoting branded content. Or, in other words, why that piece of content – which you spent so many hours to craft - is not getting any views.

Starting with Mistake #1..


Mistake 1.    Defining “branded content” incorrectly

Let’s get this straight.

Branded content is any content that can be associated with a brand in the eye of the beholder (according to this research project). Thus, it’s not limited to just a blog article, a downloadable checklist, a 60-second spot, a native ad, or a promoted tweet.

Branded content could be anything, produced by anyone, at any point in time. As Peter Minnium, IAB’s head of brand initiatives, put it, “from a consumer’s perspective, they are going to care less who is behind the content. Instead, they will apply the filter of quality”.

Content should be considered as the essence of your marketing. It drives the right people to your website, it keeps them engaged, it motivates them to share and to come back, and ultimately it sells your products and services. There should not be a line between “branded content” and “content”.

I set this to be a separate point, but you will come to see that in many cases it can be the root problem that causes mistake #2 and mistake #3.


MISTAKE 2.    Great premise, terrible execution

This is possibly the biggest let down of all branded-content promises. Your audience is drawn in by a great topic, a great headline, and even a great opening. You have pointed out an issue that they are facing, you have set up to assure them that you have a solution to fix it, and then.. they click through to see a 400-word article with a 300-word byline and call to action. SAD FACE! 😢

You are not delivering. You attract people here solely to do a sales pitch, and that hurts your brand. People want to be educated or entertained or both, and not to be sold to.

This is extremely disappointing for your readers, as they are not getting what they have come here for. Granted, we are in an attention economy, but brands need to understand that by producing these low value, clickbait-type pieces of content, they are doing more harm than good. People can smell a sales pitch a million metres away. 

How to fix it: add more substance. I know, right? Research have then and again shown that long form is the best way to go about content – as they are so useful, people not only share it but also bookmark it for future reference. 

You can still do bite-sized content (which, by the way, is the perfect choice for social media) but each of these pieces still has to be a gold nugget. Case in point: see the fantastic work by VaynerMedia.  Something that actually adds value: you are giving them tips, advice, or a unique perspective.

The 80/20 or 90/10 rule should apply here: 80% or 90% of your content should add genuine value and only 20% or 10% should be self-promotioned.


MISTAKE 3.    It’s all about you.


Brands do this all the time. They go on and on about their new features, about their solutions.. I’m not saying that these are not needed (they are useful, at the right stage of the buying process), but unfortunately, the readers at the top of the funnel don’t want to hear about you – they are here to hear about them: about their problems and challenges, about how they can save time or money or effort.

Instead of:

this is what we do.

Start with:

what does our audience want?

what would they find really useful?

Because it is not about what you want your audience to want, it is about what they actually want. Great brands create content that delivers ample value from the customer’s perspective. Create something that your audience wants to consume.

And on that note, it is also a good idea to focus on other happenings in your environment: new legislations, what other people are doing, what your partners and even your competitors are doing,.. A lot of great content pieces can be generated from interviews with other people, instead of just you yourself and you again. Involving your audience in the production of content is also gaining momentum in this space. It’s a smart strategy as not only you make the experience more fun and immersive for people, but it also saves some resources in the production and promotion process as well.

Here are some very good tips on how to take the ego out of your content marketing.


MISTAKE 4.    Keyword keyword keyword content keyword keyword

A common problem, especially if you are outsourcing your content production to an agency that cares more about “SEO performance” than real value-adding content.

I constantly getting pitches from PR firms with articles that go like this: "Topic KEYWORD sentence KEYWORD sentence KEYWORD KEYWORD whatever bullet point KEYWORD". It's irritating, and it doesn't work. This is not how normal human beings speak. We don't keep repeating our full names every single sentence.

Yes, it is important to be found, but when people are at your party, you want to be able to say something intelligent and in their language.

Don't you?

Great content marketers understand that when the content strategy is on point, your SEO will more or less take care of itself. Content is what ranks, not keywords. Keyword research is a crucial part of the planning process. People will search more and more using phrases, instead of a single keyword; and search engines are getting smarter and will be able to disregard the irrelevant flimsy PR article, because these engines are geared to serve people. Stuffing keywords in every single line is not, I repeat, a good tactic.

A great marketer will write for humans, instead of search engines.


MISTAKE 5.    Inconsistency

You send out a newsletter. Then 6 months later, another one. Then a week later, another. Basically whenever you have the time and/or when you want to drum up some new leads. Does that sound familiar?

The idea of content marketing relies on consistently providing extra value to your audience: giving them more information and insights on something they are interested in, in a consistent manner.

Hubspot’s recent research shows that brands that published 16+ blog posts per month received 4.5x times more inbound leads than companies that only published 0-4 posts a month. 

Brands big or small have all face this problem, as it is difficult to allocate the right resources and/or follow a real plan.

The ideal execution of content marketing is supposed to make your audience go: “wow, these guys just want to make life easier for me!”. And not “wow, these guys just want to make a sale!”. So invest some time to draw a well-defined strategy for your business, and stick with it. Don’t let the short-term objective of gaining more email addresses or making sales ruin your hard work.

A robust content plan and an editorial calendar will prove extremely useful in keeping things on track as well. 


MISTAKE 6.    One piece of content gets blasted to a hundred different platforms

I know it took a lot of time to write that article, to film that video, or to make that infographic. But that doesn’t justify why you are Buffer-ing or Hootsuite-ing it on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, and for good measures, Snapchat. It’s actually doing you more harm than good.

Each platform requires a slightly different type of content. Research has shown that the same person has a very different mindset when they are on Facebook compared to when they are on LinkedIn.

Brands need to invest more time in tailoring these content pieces to suit the platform, and refining as they go. Hey, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing PROPERLY.

Additionally, platforms such as Canva are making it easier and easier to produce customised content for different platforms.

A good rule of thumb when it comes to marketing, and especially content marketing, is that less is more: if you have limited resources, focus on only one or a few platforms that work for you, and scale the effort when there are more resources available. 



MISTAKE 7.    Not measuring the ROI of your hard work

Don’t let anyone say that your job is “fun” because “you get to be on Facebook and Twitter all the time” but “it’s not quantifiable anyway”. Earn your seat at the table. The digital era is making our marketing efforts more trackable, testable, and measurable than ever. 13% of marketers in Australia admitted that they simply had no idea if their content marketing worked or not – because they didn’t track the results.

Your SlideShare presentation has 1,000 views in the last month. How did it affect your follower base, number of inbound leads, and ultimately revenue?

Starting with a purpose-driven strategy, brands should be able to develop content that ties directly to different parts of the marketing and sales funnel. Ensure your editorial and content plan is mapped out to show how each piece of content drives transactions and user acquisition – and not just increasing brand equity.



To sum up, follow these steps:

·      Sit down and map your content strategy, based on your goals, your capabilities and capacity, your brand persona, and your audience’s needs

·      Identify the audience personas and stages of the buying funnel

·      Create a content plan / calendar that is mapped to specific ROI measurements

·      Create content with a human voice, for humans

·      Optimise, promote, and repeat

·      Measure and refine as you go

The Business of Blogging, And Involving Your Staff [SLIDES]

This week I guest-spoke (guest-speak-ed?) at a staff training session in Melbourne, talking about blogging. It's actually very tough for a business, even with the best intentions, to keep an initiative like that going for the long run - especially when you want to get all employees involved in content development. I'd say, if you want to get serious about content marketing, you've got to make it a marathon not a 100m dash. 

So anyway, here is the slide deck (obviously edited to suit the general public). Topics covered: the benefits of business blogging, why it matters, tips and examples, etc. I also included examples of myself, Noah Kagan, Neil Patel, Gary Vaynerchuk - you know, the cool folks - to show what worked and so on.