Queen and David Bowie. You may also recognise it from?
A song by this gentleman, Vanilla Ice. That song, not ‘Under Pressure’, is our second key text of content marketing. Mr Robert Matthew Van Winkle, 1990. One million copies sold in the US, the first hip hop song to top the US charts, also the song that almost made Eminem give up his rap career – because he was so saddened and ashamed by it – also Grammy nominated. He did quite well Mr Van Winkle, which is Vanilla Ice’s real name in case you weren’t following that.
So, what can we learn from this song? I think this is one of the core tenets of the web and content marketing as a whole, which is everything we do is built on borrowed ideas. There’s very few things that happen on the web that are entirely new or innovative, or massive step forwards. This is how software development works, things are built on top of projects that people have done before. This is how scientific research work:, research is published, it’s then built upon in further research. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach and I’ll give you a really great example of how this is kind of panned out in the content marketing world.
Does anybody know what this is?
It was a real watershed moment in online publishing, this was a story called ‘Snowfall’ published by the New York Times in 2012, and it was really the first interactive immersive story telling-type piece that was ever published. If you just kind of watch it go there, you’ll get a feel for what I mean. Remember this is in 2012, this was six years ago, this cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars to make. They won a Pulitzer Prize, they won a Peabody Award for producing this. It weaves together text with video, with pop ups, with really nice presentation. It’s done in chapters, it’s a really formidable piece of online content.
This was one of those moments of great innovation, it was a huge step forward and everybody kind of recognised it at the time. But obviously then what happened after that is that everybody wanted a piece, so before long we had Snowball, a WordPress plugin, which let you make kind of the same thing. We had the AESOP story engine, which is an open source platform, which lets you build those kind of para lac scroll interactive type elements.
We also had this platform called Shorthand, which is a slightly more enterprise approach, which lets larger publishers create these sorts of things at a larger scale. Worth noting that the Telegraph went absolutely mental and published a similar story about Tunnock’s Tea Cakes. I have no idea what they were thinking there but they obviously thought we need to get a piece of this and that was the subject that they logically went to.
The thing to remember here is that progress is always incremental, good ideas are always built on top of other good ideas. There is one slight caveat to that, which is that you must remember that Vanilla Ice was sued by Queen and David Bowie and he did lose. It cost him quite a lot of money. So, if you are leaning on … Yup there he is. If you are leaning on the ideas of others, it’s important to get their permission, or at least credit them.
So now onto our third lesson, messaging. We’ve nailed the distribution, we’ve nailed the presentation, what about what actually goes on the page? What about the words? Important core principle of content marketing and indeed marketing as a whole, the more simply you can explain your product or service, the more likely people are to buy it.
People want snappy slogans, they want emotion, they want something that they can really get behind. A teacher of mine, not at content marketing school, as you may have guessed that’s not a real school, but at a university, once told me that nobody will ever complain if you explain something to them too simply. That’s kind of something that stuck with me, I think it’s a really good kind of value to keep.
When we’re keeping things simple there’s a couple of basic rules that we follow. For copywriting but also for more general marketing work, keep it short; don’t say more than you have to. Use language that customers understand; don’t make your customers do any work, use words that they know, use concepts that will be familiar to them. Give examples; put things in context for them, help them understand what it means in the real world. Last but not least, make it idiot proof; make sure that anybody can buy what you’re selling.
So, I’m going to give you one example of incredibly successful messaging and use of these kinds of tenets. I’ll start with a quick question: what do you call a man who doesn’t have a car but walks instead? Lives at home with his mum? Has a shorty but doesn’t show love? Wants to get with me with no money?