Content marketers may not have cause to shout, “Lights, camera, action,” but in a way, we do work in an entertainment industry, of sorts. As Academy Award-winner and raconteur Kevin Spacey said in his keynote presentation at Content Marketing World 2014, “We’re all struggling to meet the same goal — to make a connection with the audience.”
So do you think about your content marketing job like someone in the entertainment business thinks about producing their next show? Spacey and several Content Marketing World presenters think that perhaps you should.
Have any doubts? Just look at the recent announcement from Marriott that it is creating its own global creative and entertainment studio with the goal of becoming the largest producer of travel content. Of note is that Marriott hired a former Disney-ABC television executive and producer to lead its initiative.
While most B2B, B2C, and nonprofit brands can’t make the level of investment Marriott has, all content marketers can improve their programs by recognizing how the job of a content marketer resembles the work done at a Hollywood studio.
ACT 1: Cast the roles
Even before the movie starts, the screen flashes the names of the leads — i.e., the stars, producers, and directors. At Content Marketing World, Brian Clark and Jerod Morris of Copyblogger Media shared their thoughts on how those roles need to be cast and delineated for a successful content marketing show. (Note: They replace the “stars” with writers.) They say that by looking at content marketers’ roles through the prism of a Hollywood moviemaking machine, you can create clear objectives and understanding, and better shape the vision for your own content production:
- Producers are the strategists, who view content marketing as a big production that must support the business underneath it. A CEO at the movie company wants producers to create movies that audiences will want to pay to see. Similarly, B2B, B2C, or nonprofit CEOs want producers to create content marketing initiatives that align with the business’ goals.
Producers should not handle the actual content creation responsibilities; rather, they are charged with marrying the content marketing vision to the business’ overarching vision for success. “Don’t mix up the roles,” Clark and Morris advise.
- Directors give the content marketing production its context, then communicate, count, and coordinate it. Fundamentally, directors must break the content concept down into manageable steps. Then, they must share the actionable plan with their team so everybody understands the big picture — and what role each plays in making the big picture come to life. Directors oversee the creation and know that its results will be measured and evaluated by executives to determine if further content creation is viable.
- Writers or, to use a more all-encompassing word, creatives, bring to life the story that the audience will read, watch, and engage in.
When the credits roll on your production, who will be your writer, your producer, and your director? Ensure each role (as well as the supporting ones) is delineated and assigned well before your production begins.
ACT 2: Craft the story
For some insight on crafting the story, we turn back to the words of Kevin Spacey. “Good content marketing is not a crap shoot. It’s always been a good story,” he says. “The story is everything… it’s our job to tell better stories.”
Stories tap into the audience’s unfulfilled desires — the desire to be better versions of ourselves, personally or professionally. That’s the central thread of the human experience, Spacey says. When content speaks to that experience, the audience is engaged.
He offered his movie characters as examples, such as Lester Burnham in American Beauty, who threw off the conventions of suburban life. The audience stayed on the journey because they wanted to know what he would do with this newfound freedom. In the advertising arena, it’s the Nike Just Do It campaign, which speaks to the inner voice of people (often as they are sitting on the couch) who want to be stronger, healthier, or faster.
The critical element to any successful story, whether it’s a movie, a YouTube video, or a company blog, is to be authentic. Spacey explains that at least some part of the story must ring true with the audience, or be something that the audience members wish their own lives could be. “We live in a shiny world of spin-manufactured experiences,” Spacey relates. “It’s genuine experiences… [stories should] embody a certain honesty.”
Spacey also related a story of how Volkswagen (through U.S. advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach — now more commonly known as DDB) turned authenticity into a selling advantage. The German manufacturer brought the Beetle to the United States in 1959. The tiny, low-powered car ran in stark contrast to what U.S. manufacturers were selling and the American audience was buying at the time: large cars with high tailfins and wide lines.
DDB took a small budget and created a successful, black-and-white campaign, Think Small. As Spacey says, the agency fed into the audience’s expectations and didn’t try to make the Beetle something it wasn’t. Americans responded, and the Beetle became one of the most iconic cars of the 1960s and ’70s. (In 1999, AdvertisingAge named Volkswagen’s Think Small as the No. 1 campaign of all time.)
Netflix also didn’t try to turn its tent pole original series, House of Cards, into something it wasn’t. Spacey, who portrays Congressman Frank Underwood on the show, says the entertainment distributor was the only one who didn’t demand that they film a pilot in order to convince them to distribute the show. For an in-depth creative work like House of Cards, the arbitrary format of a pilot requires the diverse cast of characters to all be introduced with a cliffhanger at the end of 45 minutes. That formula can strangulate the show’s story, creating an inauthentic experience for the audience. “Netflix gave us enough runway for the characters to develop — we were not forced to compromise or water down,” Spacey says.
Retailer Gary Vaynerchuk was given similar leeway in marketing his family’s liquor store. At CMW, Copyblogger’s Clark and Morris shared the story of the creator of Wine Library TV. In 2006, Vaynerchuk began producing daily video blogs that, rather than focusing on his own store, instead discussed topics that might be of interest to his customers — from what wines pair with cereals to a conversation with hockey great Wayne Gretzky. Before he retired the show after its 1,000th episode, he had transformed his family’s business from a small liquor store with $3 million in sales a year into a Wine Library empire, with more than $40 million in sales. “That’s serious money,” Clark and Morris said.
“It’s media instead of marketing,” the duo continues. “Give people what they want instead of what they don’t want, and even try to fill a void.”
Or, as Spacey says, paraphrasing Frank Underwood: “There is but one rule: Hunt or be hunted.”
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Cover image by delphinmedia via pixabay.com