Since the beginning of time, brands have been confounded by social content strategy. What do my customers want to read? How do I effectively market my products to a generation with no attention span?
Unfortunately, a lot of content strategists are young, cocky ex-journalists who love to spout buzzwords like virality, engagement potential, and the Internet of Things.
I get it: nobody likes being lectured by some smartass millennial who is barely past puberty and uses content creators like Taylor Swift, Gary Vee and Grumpy Cat as case studies, so here I am to explain the same concepts using the irrefutable wisdom of ancient Greece dressed up in millennial slang.
I am Aristotle, and I was a student of Plato until he died in 347 BC. I’ve extensively researched the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and my bae Homer, and written a whole crap-ton of works that you might have heard of, like Poetics, The Art of Rhetoric, and Metaphysics.
So that pretty much makes me the ideal guide to show you how to engage the modern world’s content-thirsty audience.
Content strategy basics
Why do you need content?
“All human beings by nature desire knowledge.”
This was true in ancient Greece, and this is true today and it will still be true when we colonize Mars and Zeus starts spreading his seed to the Martians. People always crave content and will consume it wherever they can find it, be it for entertainment or education.
Back in my day, we used to pack amphitheaters with amazeballs plays, but the advent of social media has made Facebook and Instagram the primary sources of content for everyone with an internet connection. That’s 51% of the world, if you haven’t seen the reports.
If your brand is not at these platforms with stories to satisfy their thirst for knowledge and you stubbornly insist on marketing your product by handing out clay tablets, then you really have to ask yourself: “What’s your damage, Heather?”
A proper plan and structure
“Plots ought to be constructed dramatically; that is, they should be concerned with unified action, whole and complete, possessing a beginning, middle parts and an end.”
I wrote this to help poets structure a tragic poem, but the tenets here apply to marketing plans too. All too often, different marketing departments are given basic and unconnected briefs, leading to a disorganized campaign without proper direction or consistent messaging.
I’ll admit I’m totes obsessed with structure when it comes to telling stories, but honestly you need structure and a plan for your marketing campaign. A poem’s beginning, middle and end represents the ordered structure of the story, leading to the resolution and release, or as I like to call it, katharsis. In an ordered structure, every event needs to be connected.
Likewise, so must every action in your marketing campaign. Instead of beginning, middle, and end, let’s think of the structure of your campaign as hype-building, launch, and sustenance.
During the hype-building phase, every EDM, social post and banner ad should build anticipation for your launch. Tease the audience with just enough to get their attention. An EDM now with pricing details and the full list of features of your product is too premature; nobody cares enough yet, or the hype will die down by the time you release.
Back in the day, Devlin/Emmerich movies were masterful at building hype and properly phasing their campaigns. Look at this early teaser of Godzilla (the 1998 version).
The big monster was the one thing people wanted to see, and they didn’t show it. Instead, they teased a foot and the tail, contrasted against a T-Rex. This is a cheeky reference to competitor blockbuster Jurassic Park but also to convey that sense of massive scale.
The filmmakers took a niche Japanese mascot and made it an event the whole world wanted to see. Ultimately, the movie was sadly quite forgettable, but this campaign was not.
Keep messages aligned
“(Plots) should not be organized in the same way as histories. If the presence or absence of something has no discernible effect, it is not part of the whole.”
Throughout all this, every element has to be connected and focused on the main story you’re telling. History books will include every detail and event in chronological order because they want to capture all the facts, but that isn’t what we do.
Let’s look at my bae Homer and what he did with the Odyssey. He didn’t include every little detail and event Odysseus went through; he only told the things that were relevant to the story he wanted to tell. Bae left out entire chunks of Odysseus’ travels because they distracted from the main event.
This is why Bae is a talented poet with stories that will blow your mind, not a simple biographer.
If you’re hype building about the incredible surfing experience at a new resort, then you make sure all the elements are telling that story. If CRM released an EDM with animated GIFs of the sick waves but the digital team has retargeted banner ads of the breakfast menu… then that’s poor planning.
I’m sure the breakfast menu is really nice and I like Belgium waffles as much as any other ancient Greek philosopher, but if your story is about surfing then I don’t care where you sourced your organic maple syrup from.
The social media team usually gets it bad in this area. Because of the perceived low cost of generating social content, noob-cake sales and marketing directors will ask you to put up posts about everything from promo packages to lists of hotel room amenities.
The more the merrier, right? It doesn’t cost much to repost some promo images on Instagram, right? False!
The cost comes when your marketing message is diluted, your audience is confused and turned off by your disconcerted posts, and then they disengage and no longer want to be a part of your narrative. And then you complain about millennials with low attention spans.
If a certain post doesn’t do anything for your key brand or campaign message, then it’s totes extra. Don’t. Do. That.
“The four things to aim at for in a character: Goodness, Appropriateness, Likeness, Consistency.”
I wrote this about developing characters, but if you think about it, your brand really is just a character to your audience. If you can nail the following four traits, you’re in a good place.
Nobody likes a genuinely evil character, just as nobody can get behind an evil brand. Just look at brands like Shell and how quickly consumers will turn on them for being a big evil corporation hellbent on exploiting our natural resources for a quick buck.
If you want people to like you, your brand must be painted as coming from a place of goodness. You might be selling a product with intent to make money, but the deeper motivation must be good.
Take Amazon for example: under different branding, their retail empire might be perceived as one of monopolism and faster cash grabs, but they’re painted as pursuing greater customer satisfaction — to be the most customer-centric company in the world. Who wouldn’t get behind that?
Look, I get it. Some social trends really spread like wildfire, and the very mention of the word “virality” sets marketeer loins on fire. But before you get all turnt and jump on the trend like Nero on Poppaea, think carefully if it’s really appropes for your brand. How does this trend relate to your brand values?
Imagine that awkward moment when you realize that you shouldn’t have done the Mannequin challenge because you’re marketing a funeral home.
“Human beings are by nature prone to engage in the creation of likeness, and to respond to likeness with pleasure.”
In my writings, likeness stems from the word mimesis and I use that to talk about how accurate a portrayal is of a character. But for you, marketing fam, take it to mean authenticity.
People want authenticity because it keeps things real. They want to see content that they can relate to. If they perceive your content to be just trying to sell them something and it rings hollow, guess what? Dead. You are going to be dragged.
Don’t make things up or latch into trends just because they’re popular. Think about who you are, and be true to yourself and your world. Watch any Disney movie if you don’t understand this.
A follow-up concept from Likeness, Consistency is key to establishing a connection with your consumers. In plays, once a character is established, the audience has an expectation of how that character will behave in certain situations.
Achilles is supposed to be this god-like warrior and to touch his abs would be TD, right? Imagine if he was suddenly depicted being scared of a snail — the audience would be like WTF?
Same with your social feed. If you’re all like memes and animated GIFs one week, and educational videos the next, it’s a jarring experience for the audience and you will not be perceived to be keeping it 100.
Evoke an emotion
“The construction of the best tragedy should also be an imitation of events that evoke fear and pity.”
Successful content makes you feel something hundo. Seriously. When we were interested in writing tragic stories to make people cry, we focused on scenarios that made people feel fear, pity, sadness.
If you want to make people connect with your content, then you have to evoke emotions too. Maybe something like joy, sadness, or if you’re a political campaign manager trying to sell a tyrant to the unsuspecting masses, then you play with fear and anger.
Think of situations that mean something from your own memories. A happy childhood memory, a bitter breakup… use these as fuel for your content creation.
Featuring team members or customers
“Tragedy is not an imitation of persons, but of actions and of life.”
With the success of the Humans of New York Instagram feed (and the spin-off books and Facebook show), it would be lit AF to use a similar format for your social feed and feature some team members or customers to humanize your brand. But you can’t just take some random person, have them say something random, and then just put that up wholesale. Where’s the planning in that?
Therefore, a good piece of content isn’t just a direct replication of a person, it has to be about how it conveys brand values or what it represents.
In the example below, it’s a nice sentiment, but it’s also conveying the hyperlocal neighborhood and community values that the brand is pushing for.
If your team member just won some award, don’t just photograph them and have them say “Yes, I won this award.” Go a bit deeper and dig out what the award means to them, what it means to the company, why it’s emotionally significant.
Otherwise you’ll just be trash like the really sad imitators that just copy the overall look and feel, but with none of the essence that made HONY successful in the first place.
The importance of context and timeliness
“Chance events are found most astonishing when they appear to have happened for a purpose.”
There’s an old story about the statue of Mitys in Argos. So the guy who was responsible for Mitys’ death was standing around looking at the statue, when it decided to fall over and crush the him.
Was it deus ex machina that caused the statue to kill him? Mitys’ vengeance from Hades? No. It was just a coincidence, but people like to read more into the event than there really is.
By nature, your audience likes patterns and connections. They try to find it in everything they see. Oranges signify death. A lost puppy can symbolize the industrial revolution.
Use this to your advantage by seeding connections between your brand and other events and celebrations. It doesn’t have to be as inane and empty as “Our brand wishes you merry Christmas” either.
During the Christmas season, start posting up some of your CSR work. You don’t even need to mention Christmas and people can make the association of goodwill, and you’ll be subtly connected to all the happy fuzzy feelings.
Look at the Oreo/Super Bowl tweet. Not a single mention of football or the Super Bowl, but everyone found the connection and loved it. That’s your textbook definition of being on point.
Be clear in your messaging
“The most important quality in diction is clarity.”
When actors ask me which quality of speech is most important, I tell them it’s clarity. It’s not how loud or how emotional you are because none of that matters if the audience can’t make out what you’re saying.
It’s the same with social content. Just because you have more than 140 characters to convey something, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to write an essay.
Be concise, reveal only what you need to reveal. Maximize the impact of the key message.
Remember the story of Orpheus, who was allowed by Hades to lead his dead wife out of the underworld on condition that he didn’t look back? As Orpheus navigated the final trench run to the upper world with his wife, Hades was all like “stay on target, stay on target” but Orpheus just couldn’t resist looking back and he lost focus of his objective. He subsequently lost everything as a result.
And please, use a proofreader or online grammar checker. Dumb mistakes make you look basic AF.
Look at all the factors
“In athletic competition the prize is not awarded to the athlete in the best condition, but to the one that actually comes first.”
You know, you could spend a lot of time coming up with the perfect copy, and the perfect visual… and then it just tanks when you post it.
You could get salty about it, or just get woke and realize that there’s more to content planning than just the creative. The time that you post can have a big impact on your performance, because this reflects when your audience is online and hungry for content, and also maybe how many of your competitors are also vying for their attention at this time.
Be aware of all the important factors, such as:
- Time and day of post
- Length of post
- Visual style (graphical vs photo)
- Tone of voice
- Audience targeting
Test the waters
“Nature itself teaches people to choose what is appropriate to it.”
Theories are theories. Philosophers like me are all about trying to understand the truth, but that doesn’t mean we dictate it.
Don’t take anything I’ve written as the absolute truth. Trends change. Consumer expectations change.
No marketeer can predict the future, and even if they do, their clients won’t believe them anyway. Remember when Cassandra tried to tell her stakeholders to GTFO of Troy because she knew the Greeks would sack it?
A/B test your work and let nature build up some data to help guide you.
Write two versions of your copy. Try two variations of the key image. Post at different times. Try an Instagram carousel vs a collage.
See which performs better, and use these results to inform your next post. Be systematic about your approach.
“The function of the poet is not to say what has happened, but to say the kind of thing that would happen. Probable impossibilities are preferable to implausible possibilities.”
As marketing folks we sometimes stretch the truth. We’ll tell some outrageous stories about our product’s capabilities, or have a Greek philosopher reference a Roman emperor.
But the audience will accept that if is done to serve a higher truth and meaning, especially if it’ll entertain them. They’ll more readily accept that over an unlikely truth.
Nobody questions an ad where a vacuum cleaner can lift a bowling ball or elephant, but say a new vaccine is clinically proven to protect you from small pox and you’ll get all these keyboard warriors Googling random blogs to disprove you.
Go out there and serve your audience, and they’ll love you for it. Make a campaign that people will remember like the sight of Achilles’ abs!