Drama critic John Mason Brown once said of a performance, “He played the king as if afraid someone else would play the ace.” The same can be said for a lot of companies attempting to execute content strategies. Cautious. Oblique. Dull. Anxious. Formulaic. Robotic.
A few columns ago I called out a world-famous blogger on the notion that context had overtaken content as the new king of engagement. Hard to argue that context, i.e., data drawn from how people interact with content, lends a valuable action point following initial engagement. Algorithms, predictive analytics, metrics, data, data and more data, even neuroscience have most certainly nosed their way to the forefront of digital marketing. And as content goes, there’s never been a time when science and art have shared the spotlight more. Science is putting meat on the content bone like never before. The convergence of Athens and Jerusalem?!
More like the king looking over his shoulder for the ace.
With all due respect to data, context and digital gear-heads, nothing has the power to influence or inspire like well-packaged, soulful, useful content—NO.THING. The real rubber hits the road when stories and messaging are crafted with creative imagination, heart, and winks and wows, i.e., those devices that are the difference between a customer clicking away or becoming enraptured by and entangled in a meaningful, supremely packaged message. It’s what makes content king. Too often companies waste their opportunity to play the king by belching out mundane brochure-speak or nakedly blatant product spiels or by getting tangled up in every new social, mobile, or metric bell and whistle that comes along.
Too, companies lack the willingness to invest in what it takes to create compelling and engaging content, resulting in mediocre quality and execution. I encountered a corporate executive recently who said, “It can’t be that expensive; all it takes is a couple of writers.” Makes you wonder what media organization they’re referencing. I can’t think of one.
If you follow content in the social space, there’s still a lot of hand wringing around what works. Blog after blog, post after post scream solutions rooted in the numbers, when the real solutions have everything to do with storytelling, packaging, and the integrity of the engagement.
One really doesn’t have to look terribly far to understand the underpinnings of effective engagement. People have been generating great content for decades right before our eyes, from J.K Rowling to Reader’s Digest in its prime. From Lady Gaga’s tweets to the bible of buzzy-sticky . . . the Bible—a transcendent tale of mysticism, redemption, and miracles, loaded with high utility, the gold standard of storytelling.
The most listened-to radio shows of all time, Paul Harvey and Howard Stern, each captured more than 20 million listeners. One appealed to the decency of people, the other to their prurience, but both resonated at record-breaking levels. Harvey, perhaps the greatest practitioner of human-interest storytelling, was artfully theatrical, his resonant character impeccable. Stern, the vulnerable and coarse voyeur, attracted audiences with raw transparency and talk-porn. Both men: geniuses at engagement.
Roots, the miniseries, successfully nailed the cultural zeitgeist of its time and was watched by the largest audience of viewers in the history of media; so too, Mash, Friends, Seinfeld, Cheers, and the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, with some episodes capturing over 100 million viewers. Why does American Idol dominate X-Factor? How did Good Morning America win the ratings war from the 30-year king of the morning, Today Show? How has 60 Minutes maintained its popularity 25 years later? How do blockbuster magazines like The Food Network (food porn), The Economist (perspective), Game Informer (utility), Oprah (heart), and many others sustain huge reading audiences? The answer isn’t in the science. It’s in the art, the art of storytelling.
For those companies that believe content can win the day, enlivening sales and creating true brand fans, there are lessons to be learned from some of the greatest content kings of all time.