stories

Frank Underwood as Marketing Mastermind

ROBIN WRIGHT, people! Image cred: Netflix

ROBIN WRIGHT, people! Image cred: Netflix

Hopefully you've managed to finish the third season of House of Cards. But even if you haven't, the snippet of episode five that I'm about to detail isn't much of a spoiler. If you haven't watched any House of Cards... I don't even know what to say. Just... Robin Wright. 

Frank Underwood understands the power of stories. Think of his insistence that Russo leverage the recovering addict angle (lesson: vulnerability can win people over if it's balanced with strength and courage), or the reason he decided Zoe was a valuable ally (lesson: stories act like silver bullets if you manage to shoot first). It's as if he were flexing his marketing muscles throughout seasons one and two only to sink his teeth into the meat of his agenda in season three. At this point, as president, he's desperate to get the public on board with his America Works program in time for re-election. He again turns to the power of stories:

We need to sell America Works.... We need more than ad buys. We need the philosophy behind it, we need something of substance.... We need something that will capture the imagination.

He's talking to the writer who will carry out his next marketing maneuver: a book about the program he hopes will redeem his presidency. His point? Advertising isn't selling. Advertising is a tool people use to establish brand recognition and create buzz. But everyone already knows about his program; that's not his problem. The problem is getting people to buy in--selling the America Works program to the American people. So, what is selling if not advertising? Selling is persuading. You can't persuade people without words, and, as Underwood notes, it doesn't require overt manipulation. All you need is a story that's authentic and personal:

No sales pitch, just your honest curiosity.... I want something different, something unique--your voice.

While Frank Underwood typically demonstrates how political and marketing machines utilize manipulative tactics for persuasion, there's no denying the efficacy of his story strategy. I look forward to justifying my House of Cards binge habit with marketing wisdom again next year.

Content Strategy, a definition

That white goose black sheep knows how to position itself.

That white goose black sheep knows how to position itself.

When I introduce myself at networking events as a content strategist and copywriter, people usually ask me about the writing that I do but not the strategy. A few days ago, I was surprised to meet a fellow content strategist who asked me the question I'd been waiting for: what is content strategy?

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, content is information made available by a website or other electronic medium. For instance, this blog post is considered content. Strategy, meanwhile, is the art of planning and directing. Keeping these definitions in mind, I've concluded that content strategy includes the following:

  • planning the information to be presented (the content itself, i.e. the words that make up the paragraphs of a website, blog post, etc.)
  • planning the execution of content (the context/schedule, i.e. Monday Emailing, Tuesday Tweet, Wednesday Blog, Thursday LinkedIn, Friday Facebook)
  • directing the presentation of content (the design, i.e. the amount of white space, the use of headings, format)

Wikipedia's definition mirrors the above: "Content strategy refers to the planning, development, and management of content--written or other media." The entry cites other useful definitions taken from the mouths of established content strategists.

When I first started this biz, I expected freelance writing to mostly involve typing away on my laptop, reading sources, interviewing clients, and typing some more. I soon realized, however, that writing isn't enough. I could write a marvelous blog post, hand it over to my client, and it might never see the light of day. If you want people to read your writing, you need to handle it strategically--you need to plan how it will appear on a screen and when it will appear on a screen. You need to make sure you're covering SEO and basic human elements, like humor and voice. Obviously, the most important thing is to make sure the quality of the content is mind-blowingly good, but content without strategy is no better than a letter lost to the bottom of your junk drawer.

Next time I introduce myself at a networking event as a content strategist, this is what I will say: "There may be plenty of people who know how to write a decent sentence, but there aren't many people who know how to create stuff that actually gets noticed."

On Storytelling: The Importance of Reframing Reality

I came across a very TML-relevant article today on one of my favorite blogs, Brain Pickings. In it, Maria Popova discusses Phillipa Perry's book How to Stay Sane:

At the heart of Perry’s argument — in line with neurologist Oliver Sacks’s recent meditation on memory and how “narrative truth,” rather than “historical truth,” shapes our impression of the world — is the recognition that stories make us human and learning to reframe our interpretations of reality is key to our experience of life:
— Maria Popova

My latest client contacted me with an unusual, forward-thinking, and therefore especially welcome request: to write her story. Not for a website or a brochure or a stage introduction or a speech... Just for her. She wanted to clarify her story so that she could feel more focused and motivated while moving forward with her career as a motivational speaker. While I was somewhat thrown by the lack of guidelines, the end result, a pseudo-fantasy-editorial feature, really excited me and I found myself feeling more focused and motivated, too. This assignment was storytelling at its best: reframing reality to use for life experience purposes. And, as I network, meet new people, and describe my business, I find that most people don't understand the benefits of reframing reality. As Maria Popova and Phillipa Perry know, stories can be more powerful than facts, more lasting than memory, more real than actual life. That's exactly what excites me about this work. I hope to come across many more clients who are as open to the power of stories as my last.

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