“Give people what they want. When they want it. In the form they want it in…”
With those words, part of his late August keynote to the Edinburgh International Television Festival, House of Cards star Kevin Spacey gave a huge boost to the best principles of content marketing.
And when Content Marketing Institute founder Joe Pulizzi cited the video in an August 31 blog post on corporate storytelling, he largely affirmed a content strategy that we’ve been trying to encourage, cajole, and beg clients to think about for the last five years.
Listening to Audiences
I’d better admit it: I have an aversion to laying claim to an idea that an A-list celebrity is now popularizing. Decades ago, one of our housemates had a friend who was not at all convincing when he insisted that he could’ve been a famous rock star—really, he could have—if only John Lennon hadn’t come up with all his ideas first.
That’s not what I’m saying here.
But even though he’s talking about TV storytelling, a closer look at Spacey’s speech points to an audience-centred approach to content that has been sorely lacking in marketing, in conference reporting, and in the top-down approach that characterizes most organizational communications. The brilliance of the presentation—apart from a style that had so many of Rep. Francis Underwood’s mannerisms, but neither version of his accent—was the powerful reminder that content marketing is about listening, not just messaging.
“Clearly, the success of the Netflix model, releasing the entire season of House of Cards at once, proved one thing: the audience wants the control. They want the freedom,” he said.
They’re rooting for us to give them the right thing. And they will talk about it, binge on it, carry it with them on the bus and to the hairdresser, force it on their friends, tweet, blog, Facebook, make fan pages, silly gifs, and god knows what else about it. [They’ll] engage with a passion and an intimacy that a blockbuster movie could only dream of. And all we have to do is give it to them.
Beyond Short-Form Content Marketing
In his commentary on the Spacey video, Pulizzi echoed the importance of “epic brand storytelling” that will rise above the content clutter on social channels. He urged readers to ground their content strategies in sound data, and made a strong pitch for long-form content.
“As Spacey details, some of the best stories in the world take time to play out. They simply cannot be told in one blog post, or one video, or one tweet,” Pulizzi wrote.
“When it comes to content marketing, producing long-form, consistently shared storytelling efforts has always been, and still remains, the best way to build lasting relationships with customers.”
Lasting relationships, yes. Consistent storytelling, definitely. But with different audiences at different stages in building their relationships with an organization, content marketing campaigns must also offer the widest possible range of content formats and levels of detail.
One Degree of Separation from Kevin Spacey
In 2008 and 2009, when we first began talking to clients about nested content, we’d never heard of content marketing and had barely begun to build a social media presence. We just knew that different audiences needed different content, in different formats and at different levels of detail, for different purposes, at different times.
As it turns out, by offering shorter and longer text summaries of the same material, combining text with video, and linking shorter social media content to longer source documents, we were practicing the essence of Spacey’s pitch: Give audiences what they want, and give them control.
If you aren’t sure what they’ll want, or if you know their needs will shift and change, err on the side of giving them as many options as possible.
And if you’re producing conference content, don’t take Pulizzi’s argument for long-form content as licence to rely on verbatim session video to tell your story. Long-form is longer than a Twitter tweet, but that doesn’t mean anyone has the time or inclination to watch a 60- or 90-minute online video. Unless the product is a smart, slick production with the likes of Spacey and co-star Robin Wright onscreen, you can count on most audiences to tune out in five minutes or less.
What to do you do to give audiences more control over the content they take away from your site, and how do you learn from the choices they make? Let’s get some conversation going on Kevin Spacey’s talk and what it means for content marketing.