If the name Brian Clark doesn’t resonate with you when talking about content marketing, then you missed out on some good stuff. I learned a lot from Brian over the years. Sadly, however, we lost him last week at the age of 46 after a brief battle with cancer.
I was fortunate enough to be the creative director for GMD Studios, and work directly with Brian on an alternate reality game (ARG) called “The Art of the Heist.” The client was Audi, The agency was McKinney & Silver. The partner experiential firms were Haxson Films (known for their breakthrough film “The Blair Witch Project”) and Steve Wax’s Chelsea Pictures – later to become Campfire NYC.
It was 2005, and social media had not yet created a solid footing. Content marketing relied on “classic” digital tools such as email, websites, forums and communities, and most of all – content. That’s almost funny to say now. But back before we could construct a social graph, we used whatever technology was available.
The construction of an ARG, and any inbound marketing campaign worth its salt, requires three basic pillars:
1) A Compelling Story
I intended for this post to be an homage to an old friend. But as I started to write and think about the many lessons I learned from Brian, I discovered that “story” was the seed of all things.
Every marketing and advertising agency team sits around talking about “story.” But the truth is most of them don’t practice what they preach. They fall back on tactics the vast majority the time. Tactics are the fun and tangible elements you find in campaigns. Things such as contests, live events, registration components, and swag, just to name a very few. But story is hard. Story requires you to really think about core fundamentals.
For example, at what point in time do you place the audience into a story? It doesn’t have to be at the beginning. It could be at the end and you could be telling it in retrospect. Nevertheless, this is one of the countless things you need to think about.
Now that you’ve dropped your audience down the “rabbit hole,” you need to immediately give life to your vision with compelling atmospheric information they can sink their teeth into.
Then and only then can you really kickstart a story that will have high retention and an avid fan base.
“But how do I do that with social media, Justice?”
Herein lies the absolute need for a content calendar. Think about how to construct this information in such a way that it is not only digestible to your audience, but compels them to keep coming back. As you begin to understand this concept, you will become a practitioner of “transmedia.” In a nutshell, this is the utilization of many media sources to tell a story across multiple touch points.
2) A Rich Treasure Trove of Experiential Content
So what is the difference between content, and experiential content? If I put a photo gallery and some videos in my posts, then my audience is “experiencing.” Correct?
Yes and no.
Yes, they see a visual attribute that might extend some base message. But can you do more with it? Can it be part of a larger story?
You might start thinking of your content calendar like a video editing system. Create clips in a linear fashion and connect the viewer to different experiences. Thus telling a greater story.
So what does that mean for your next campaign? It means you need to challenge not only the content of your storytelling, but the visual experiential elements you intend to use. In the case of Audi’s “The Art of the Heist,” we used message boards, email, live events, hidden real-world objects, “Easter egg” films, chat rooms, blogs, blog ads and online media.
If you only utilize one or two social media channels and post only photos, then you’re doing it wrong. Think about what other channels you can utilize, what other types of content you can create, and how you can take standard marketing noise and fold that into a story worth following.
3) A Willing and Participatory Audience
In the end, it doesn’t matter how many social media likes, followers or subscribers you amass if that audience is not engaged or participating. If you are not familiar with the “1,000 true fans” positioning, you should be. When social media professionals tell you not to get consumed by the numbers, they are not doing this to diffuse their efforts. They are trying to get you to understand that your ROI is in the things you have – not in the fans you don’t have. This cannot be stated enough.
People always want “word-of-mouth” marketing for their brand, product or service. But which would you prefer – a small group of influential people willing to endorse your brand and influence others, or 10 times that many people who talk about your business in a vague, uncommitted way?
Now think about who is running your inbound marketing. Do you have someone who is knee-deep and understands every nuance of your brand? Or do you have an intern a couple hours a day, cutting and pasting client testimonials and making up hashtags? Is there any engagement with the community? If not, why? If so, at what level?
Only you really have your finger on the pulse of your inbound marketing activity and audience engagement. So revisit the plan periodically to determine whether or not you’re being most efficient with your time, energy and money.
What Brian Clark Taught Me About Content Marketing
When the content marketing community learned Brian was running out of time, dozens of them posted tributes on his Facebook wall while our friend was still well enough to digest the kind words.
In a beautiful and viral digital ceremony, transmedia and experiential storytellers crawled out of their comfortable hobbit holes and shared their thoughts about what they learned from Brian.
And this, my digital friends, is my list:
- Your audience is always going to be smarter than you are.
- You cannot force a story to work. It’s organic, you must work with it.
- Don’t worry about budgets – make a great story first. The client will find money for it or we will do our best to retrofit a solution around what they have.
- Never talk about what you’re doing, only what you learned from what you’ve done.
- Empower your audience – they are all you have.
Farewell, friend. You are missed, but your legacy lives on in the stories we share.