I went birdwatching last weekend.

Now, I’m not an avid birder. In fact, it’s been a few years since I last hiked into the woods with a set of binoculars and my Peterson’s Guide to Eastern Birds. But my father is a lifelong birder, and he recently moved to our area. So, I decided to lead a small group that included my wife, youngest son, Dad, and mother-in-law (who is also a big fan of our winged companions) on a short day trip to Ithaca’s Sapsucker Woods, a beautiful bird sanctuary maintained and overseen by Cornell University’s renowned Lab of Ornithology.

Upon our arrival, I immediately regretted the span of time since my last visit. Sapsucker Woods is a treasure, with beautifully maintained grounds teeming with wildlife of all varieties. Unfortunately, the lingering pandemic crisis meant that the impressive visitors center was closed to the public. Sweltering late May heat pushed the midday temperatures up over 90 degrees. Yet as we headed out on our easy hike around the Wilson Trail, the thick canopy of trees kept us well shaded and relatively cool.

One of the most important keys to a successful birding trip is timing. Unfortunately, our timing left a lot to be desired on this outing. Due to a packed weekend schedule, our intrepid group didn’t make it to the sanctuary until mid-afternoon. This is generally the worst time for birdwatching. The best times are early morning and around dusk, when many bird species are most active.

Despite our late start, the unusually hot and humid late-spring temperatures, and an active mosquito population, we had an enjoyable and successful trip. We identified several less-common species, including a Pileated Woodpecker and Baltimore Oriole, along with the more familiar redwing blackbirds, robins, jays, Goldfinches, and Canadian geese. Our favorable outcome ultimately depended on our adherence to the other three keys to success in birding: listening, seeing, and patience.

First, we stayed very quiet (or as quiet as my 10-year could be) and listened for bird calls. Then we would track them visually up into the treetops and down into the brush, seeking out the tiniest movements. Once we spotted the bird on a branch or a log, we would get a closer look with our binoculars, making sure to capture any unique identifying characteristics, like a crested head, coloring on the wings and breast, the shape of the tail and beak, and markings around the eyes.

Birding is a bit like sleuthing – piecing together all the small and seemingly meaningless clues, like colorings, profile, size, song, habitat, and behaviors into a story that identifies the individual right down to species, age, and gender.

The toughest part was remaining patient. Often, we heard a single beautiful bird call, or a symphony of song, but we couldn’t locate the birds high up in the trees. Sometimes, if we stayed really still for just a few minutes that seemed like hours, the bird would reveal itself— fluttering between the trees— and our patience would pay off.

Such skills don’t only come in handy for identifying our planet’s feathered co-habitants. These techniques are valuable in content marketing, as well. Listen – to your target audience’s needs, challenges, priorities, and preferences. See – past surface characteristics to identify deeper indicators that signal where the market is headed. Have patience – don’t rush to put out mediocre content just for the sake of getting something – anything – out there.

And timing. Always timing. When developing a content marketing strategy built on thought leadership, it is important to think strategically and stay ahead of your competitors. Seek to offer value to the market through compelling insights that may be counterintuitive to many, but resonate strongly with those willing and able to think differently. Don’t just follow the flock – take a bold stance on the latest issues and trends, and don’t be afraid to publish and promote your innovative ideas. This is how you will stake your claim to the future of your industry, and soar above the trees.