If you haven’t heard of INBOUND, it’s one of the largest marketing conferences in the world, hosted by HubSpot each year in Boston. Like many events similar in size and subject matter, it’s a nearly week-long spectacle: Big names, big screens, big crowds — and lots of color and bright lights. Kind of like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, only for marketers.

What you get at INBOUND is far more nutritious than chocolate, however. I attended this year’s conference hoping to learn new techniques for growing Torrent’s content marketing strategy, and I came away with enough notes to fill an eBook or two. Now that I’ve had a few days to sort through my many Google docs — not to mention the notes and photos on my phone — I thought I’d share some of my top content takeaways.

3 Key Content Marketing Takeaways from INBOUND 2018

Takeaway #1: Always Tell the T.R.U.T.H

Melanie Deziel is the founder of StoryFuel, a brand storytelling firm, and the former editor of branded content at The New York Times. So, yeah, I was pretty excited for her breakout session at INBOUND.

Deziel’s presentation focused on the ways marketers can channel the skills and strategies of journalists to create better brand stories. Structurally, the session was built around a five-letter acronym meant to delineate the essential qualities of great content — so here’s your spelling lesson:

  • Timely — your content should be relevant to today’s readers.
  • Reputable — your content should be based on trustworthy sources.
  • Unique — your content should stand out from the crowd.
  • Tension — your content should have stakes.
  • Human Connection — your content should be relatable on a human level.

At the time, these indeed struck me as important elements of great brand storytelling, and they still do. But I think it’s that second ‘T’ that stands out most for me now. Novels have tension, movies have tension — in other words, great stories have tension. So if we want our marketing content to be good, if we want people to actually read it, why wouldn’t it need tension too?

And that’s not to say tension has to come from some great mystery you’re investigating. As a brand storyteller, you can generate tension by asking a question, presenting a struggle, generating a debate, relaying an achievement, etc. Anything that gets the reader (or viewer, listener, etc.) wondering about what might come next.

50 Terms Every Marketer Needs to Know

Takeaway #2: Build Up Your Network of Contributors

Gail Axelrod is Director of Marketing at OpenView, an expansion stage VC. She’s also 50% of the company’s entire marketing team. So how is it that OpenView is able to publish daily content, including blog posts, videos and podcasts?

According to Axelrod, it’s all about building up a network of contributors. Seek out experts in the field, especially those with large social media followings, who are already writing on the topics you want to cover. See if they’re interested in providing your organization with some original content in exchange for the visibility. As your audience grows, you’ll be able to land contributions from bigger and bigger names.

But your network shouldn’t consist solely of thought leaders outside the company. You should also be tapping into internal resources — like leadership. Whatever your industry, these people are at the top for a reason (well, hopefully). They know a thing or two that would be worth sharing with your audience, and it’s your job to get that knowledge out there. If time is an issue, as it’s likely to be, consider capturing a quick video — talking takes a lot less time than writing — or hiring a ghostwriter to craft someone’s rough notes into a polished post.

Once you’ve got a consistent flow of content coming in from your newly built up network, you’ll be responsible for editing, scheduling, publishing and promoting all those great posts. This will still take up a lot of your time, but it’s actually possible — unlike creating everything yourself.

Takeaway #3: Know Your Place in the Storytelling Matrix

Gabriela Pereira is an author, speaker and entrepreneur, and the founder of DIY MFA, an organization designed to help writers realize the benefits of a graduate degree program without the challenge and disruption of actually returning to school. As her session made clear, she brings a book lover’s passion for storytelling to the world of marketing.

She began by introducing us to this matrix (apologies for the potato-quality photo):

As you can (maybe) see, Pereira’s storytelling matrix is based on the axes of “desire” and “character type.” Most characters fall into one of two categories, Pereira says: Regular Joes/Janes and larger-than-life heroes. Similarly, most characters want one of two things: To preserve things the way they are, or to change the status quo.

A regular Joe/Jane who wants to change something is an underdog, while a hero who wants to do the same is a disruptor. A regular Joe/Jane who wants keep things the way they are is a survivor, while a hero with the same goal is a protector.

Pereira’s challenge to marketers? Figure out where your company fits in the Matrix, and deploy content/stories accordingly. If you’re part of a small organization that’s trying to do things that are big, bold and new, embrace your status as an underdog. On the flip side, if you’re an established brand that’s trying to maintain something meaningful, consider leaning into that protector identity. When the stories you tell represent the kind of company you want to be, you’ll start reaching the right audiences.

So what do you think? Which practice will you put in place first? Let us know in the comments!

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