As a writer in the world of NDAs and C-suite bylines, I rarely get the chance to cite my best projects directly. This portfolio includes testimonials from colleagues whose areas of expertise span major technical and strategic marketing initiatives in Seattle, followed by two bylined pieces first published in a client blog.
“Yvette is one of the few writers in Seattle that really understands cybersecurity. Not only what it is but what it does and why it is so vital. Her writing is crisp, relevant, exciting and to the point. More importantly, (as our downloads and dwell time data demonstrate) people really love reading it. She is also a Microsoft alumni and a compelling presenter to all levels of client stakeholder. A true pro.”
— Jaime Diskin, Creative Director and Head of Content
“Yvette has tackled a number of complex writing assignments for us at Intentional Futures. From ghost writing articles to making sense of massive technical reports to interviewing subject matter experts, she approaches her work with organized and thoughtful care. Her writing skill is admirable and she’s a joy to work with. I’m happy to recommend her for content strategy and writing projects.”
— Shelley McIntyre, Leader and Strategist (via LinkedIn)
Co-published as “Content marketing is like doing outdoor Shakespeare” on the Y&RG Seattle blog, December 2014.
Lately I’ve been thinking about why our interesting memories—the stories we tell over beers with friends—often come from those moments when something didn’t go according to plan. How do we as storytellers take advantage of that?
“So there we were, in the middle of The Winter’s Tale, and this stray dog wanders onstage and starts sniffing the young lovers during a romantic scene… At the same time, a drunk guy was trying to get into the costume tent…”
Many of my own beer stories come from the half-dozen summers I spent stage-managing Shakespeare plays in parks around Seattle. It’s tremendously rewarding to create shared community experiences with these classic stories. And it’s hard work. We performed where noise and distractions and logistical challenges—not to mention Pacific Northwest weather—were par for the course. Our shows were free (though donations were encouraged!). We never knew the size or makeup of our audiences in advance. And there were instances of just plain crazy shit.
“There was a moment in our production of Julius Caesar (set in the modern day), where a character pointed a prop pistol at the sky while vowing to uphold the Roman republic. At one park, a few people sitting at the back of the crowd pulled out real handguns and waved them too! I guess they were feeling solidarity with Rome. But all’s well that ends well… Right?!”
See where I’m going? Content marketing is like doing outdoor Shakespeare. We engage with audiences outside of brands’ traditional (read: transactional) contexts. We have less insight and control around who our audience will be, or how they will interact with the stories we tell.
Even under the best circumstances, touring a theatrical production is a pioneer endeavor. Making great brand content is similar. You have to tell a good story. You have to be smart about planning your route, rehearsing your players, and packing for the road. And you try to forecast and prepare for contingencies. For example, the famously viral Oreo tweet during the power outage at Super Bowl XLVII found its greatness in a moment of risk. They were able to capitalize on that moment because their team had assembled the necessary players and resources, they’d rehearsed the brand story, and they were ready to adapt opportunistically.
Lessons from Shakespeare-in-the-parks
Focus on the story no matter what. Hit the high notes, regardless of venue or circumstances.
REHEARSE. Good improv takes practice.
Adapt to the space you’re in. If the ground is muddy, go half-speed in the sword fights.
Conflict is the essence of drama; memorable stories come from overcoming risk.
Embrace spontaneity; the unexpected can make your story greater than what you intended.
“One of the parks was in the flight path of landing jets. We were using a thundersheet sound effect to indicate a ‘will of the gods’ moment, and a Boeing wide body jet swooped low overhead right at that instant. No one could hear the thundersheet. Best. Effect. Ever. The audience loved it!”
As a stage manager, I learned quickly that my job was about tackling unpredictability. Brand storytelling is not so different. It’s a style of marketing that requires careful preparation, and then tremendous flexibility in execution. The risks are real, but they are manageable. We invite audiences to share and participate in the stories we tell because the rewards—in reach and in affinity—are so great.
So create your stories, and then go find some parks to tell them in.
’Tis the season in content marketing for making lists. You know the kind: top memes of 2013. The year in films. Most shared baby animals. Fads we’ll be happy to see go away (looking at you, twerkers). The turn of the year is also time to look forward, swirl a few tea leaves, and prognosticate about what we’ll like and share, what we’ll buy, whom we’ll follow, and how we’ll do all of it in 2014.
Content strategy is not so much about predicting or managing trends as it is about leveraging tried-and-true principles to tell the stories in those trends. Delight in a story comes from the sense of gestalt, the perception that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Creating that delight means focusing on the principles of storytelling that remain true, regardless of the topic, the medium, or the measures of success.
So as we recover from holiday excess, renew our gym memberships, and resolve to deliver crazy-awesome work on time and under budget (ha!), now is a good time to focus on some constants in content strategy.
Constant #1: Relevance. Shaping stories for relevance to the target audience is the heart of content strategy because storytelling is all about the experience of the reader, the viewer, the listener. To develop effective content strategies, we must understand who and where our audiences are, and then we must empathize with them.
Know your audience. Start with demographic segmentation, yes, but then look deeper. Do the work to develop audience profiles or personas. Get a clear view of your audience’s amusements, challenges, and aspirations.
Remember who is not in the room. What a public audience thinks is relevant is not always the same as what your stakeholders care about. In the rush of project development and among multiple stakeholders with often conflicting or unarticulated messaging objectives, it’s sometimes easy to forget this. Keep your audience front of mind and advocate for them.
Think outside of your experience. Draw story inspirations from the lives and cares of your audience, rather than only from business or product objectives.
Constant #2: Context. Where, when, and how your audience experiences your content affects its impact at least as much as relevance does. In today’s mobile social world, environment and circumstances in the moment of discovery can strongly affect how audiences take in and react to a story.
Consider daily life contexts. Think about how environment and circumstances—outside, inside, alone, in a crowd, on public transportation, with kids, at work, traveling overseas, etc.—might disrupt or enhance audience reaction to your content.
Select channels that serve the story. The communication channel(s) you choose should serve the needs of your content, not vice versa. For example, you might decide on social only to land a whole story that needs only a few moments, but which social platforms make sense for the type of content, the nature of the message, and your audience’s habits? Or perhaps your content requires more time investment and undistracted attention from your audience—which medium or venue, or even time of day, is most likely to enable that?
Think mobile first and social always. Because that’s where the people are. As a corollary to channel consideration, take advantage of opportunities in social to show more humanity and a unique voice in your interactions.
Constant #3: Emotion. Any creative work—be it a painting, music, film, play, ad, game, site, CRM experience—exists to elicit an aesthetic reaction from its audience. To a content strategist, audience indifference means your content flopped. Some emotional impact is preferable to none at all.
Be empathetic. To create emotional impact, think deeply again about your audience. Emotions are subjective. What are the likely aesthetic frameworks in people’s lives? Look for emotional hooks in your audience’s existing experiences that can serve the story you need to tell.
Resist the cheap LOLz. Consider whether it make more sense, according to your strategic objectives, to enforce or disrupt your audience’s emotional expectations with your story. Stick to the genuine (i.e., don’t try to manufacture emotion when it doesn’t fit the story). Don’t let your audience get ahead of you.
Be bold—intentionally. Craft stories that invite your audience to feel amusement, pride, joy, satisfaction, compassion. A negative emotional response, such as anger, revulsion, or schadenfreude (i.e., satisfaction in the misfortune of another), can be desirable too, though obviously this type of storytelling must be handled with care.
As you dive into planning and prognosticating for the new year, remember that no matter what the platform or topic, successful content relies on constants: a surprising context, a relevant subject, a strong emotion. Just one outstanding factor can drive content marketing results, but the smart blend of these constants offers something more, the meta effect that I’m calling delight.
Delight in content—its gestalt effect—comes when relevance and context and emotion blend together to create aesthetic alchemy. Delight is not the same as simple amusement. Delight is what separates a Buzzfeed meme, viral for a day or a few hours, from the really great stories. We remember the stories that delight us, for good or bad. We share them, and we return to them too. What delights becomes viral.