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Content Marketing Strategy: Lessons from Good (and Bad) Comedy

comedy writing By profession I’m a marketing strategist, and much of my work is focused on content marketing execution for small businesses. From time to time, my stunted middle school sense of humor gets the best of me and I write for the website Funny or Die.

These very different worlds haven’t overlapped until now, but I’ve come to appreciate that there are lessons I’ve learned from years of comedy writing that absolutely apply to content marketing strategy.

Never start with tactics

comedy slideshow

You might not think of comedy writing as being a product of strategies and tactics, but essentially it is. For example, I once had this idea for a concept (strategy): It could be funny to parody a Men’s Health type relationship advice piece by gradually revealing the narrator to be totally unhinged. To this end, I naturally chose to write a numbered list for Funny or Die (the tactics) to execute the strategy. (You can view the finished piece here if you are so inclined.)

If I had approached it the other way — “Numbered lists are funny, so I’m gonna make one about something that has lots of ‘lolz’ ” — I’d be jumping into a tactic with no clear strategy, thus running the risk of throwing my resources at something that might lead nowhere.

Taking a tactic-first approach is also a common trap for content marketers, and it’s easy to see why. Need more convincing? Look at this infographic from CMI and Direct Marketing Association UK:

social media platforms-UK

Now, if your content marketing strategy doesn’t include LinkedIn, you might have looked at this and thought, “Huh, maybe I should start using LinkedIn more, eh?” (Also, you’re Canadian here, for some reason.) It’s a natural reaction — and LinkedIn may very well be an effective tactic for your company. But, just as with comedy writing, effective, purposeful execution will only result when it’s built upon a sound strategy. When you build a desk, you never say to yourself, “I’ve heard a lot of people are using hammers; I need to find a way to use a hammer for this.” The same goes with marketing tools — form always follows function, never the other way around.

Before moving forward with any content marketing tactic, always consider the following:

  • What are your content marketing goals? (Be as specific as possible; don’t stop at “to drive more traffic”)
  • Based on thorough market research, where and how are your customers consuming content?
  • What are common questions or challenges among your customers?
  • What types of content do your customers respond to?
  • What searches are your customers performing?
  • What type of unique content are you able to provide that will engage your customers?

With concrete answers to these questions, you’ll be much less likely to waste time on dead-end tactics.

Unoriginal content isn’t just ineffective — it’s dangerous

Comedy writers have been stealing jokes from each other since the first caveman got laughs by making fart noises for his friends. (Don’t look that up — we’ll just assume it’s true.) Successful content creators are able to put a new spin on their work — even if it’s based on an old idea. On the other hand, if I were to spin other writers’ work and try to pass it off as my own, I’ll probably be ignored. Worse yet, I could attract the wrath and ridicule of other writers, editors, and comedy fans who notice my quasi-plagiaristic incompetence and (rightfully) dismiss me as a fraud of a writer.

Similarly, if you’re writing beginner-level lists like “10 Reasons Why Content Marketing is Important” or spinning the same blog posts again and again, you can’t expect an explosion of engagement. Furthermore, Google has recently hinted that it could start cracking down on links from duplicated and low-quality guest blogs — which tend to appear on sites that don’t filter out unoriginal content.

As more and more people jump on the content marketing train, brands and agencies that aren’t making efforts to really stand out will get lost in the noise.So what can you do to make your content stand out? Here are a few options:

  • Specialize in your chosen tactics: Rather than spreading your content marketing resources among blogs, white papers, articles, videos, etc., focus on one tactic and get really, really good at it. Yes, you may be sacrificing some audience share by narrowing your approach, but if you can become a master in a channel that fits your core audience, you’ll have a greater chance of standing out than if you were to distribute average content through more channels than you can handle.
  • Produce original research: Another way to grab attention — and attract some links in the process — is to conduct rigorous research and make your findings openly available. To be credible, the research should be initiated or funded with the goal of discovering useful knowledge in your field, and should not be at all self-promotional.
  • Define your niche: Where tactical focus speaks to a specific channel, defining your niche has to do with tone, voice, angle, and attitude. This one is crucial enough to get its own section… 

Define your niche

Comedy writers who have turned their craft into lucrative careers tend to have one thing in common: They are considered the go-to writer for their niche. If a writer can establish him or herself as the one person who can write a certain type of content better than anyone else, they are likely going to be in demand.

In the content marketing world, it’s tempting to gloss over this part and commit to a niche along the lines of “providing content that’s relevant to our industry and useful to our clients.” This is really an area worthy of more thorough consideration. For example, are there any issues, trends, or approaches in your industry that your business can really “own” by establishing itself as a leading influencer? Can your business create content that goes against the current, putting a new spin on a common topic that’s starting to feel overdone or dated?

There are several routes to go when defining a niche; the important thing is that you pick one your audience will appreciate and stick to it.

Want to see the connection between content marketing and comedy in action? Don’t miss William Shatner, who will be delivering the closing keynote presentation at Content Marketing World 2013.

Cover image via Wikimedia commons