Content strategy has been one of the hottest topics of conversation at SXSW. Guest writer Erica Swallow is director of community at Contently, a marketplace for connecting brand publishers and writers. She is also an international speaker and journalist, with works appearing in Mashable, CNN, Forbes, Entrepreneur, USA Today and Business Insider. We asked her to keep an eye on this conversation and report back. Here’s what she learned.
What does content strategy have in common with the movies? At first glance, not much. Hollywood is all about red carpets, premieres and red carpets – and content strategy is about analyzing performance data and tweaking strategies to optimize success rates.
In her SXSW presentation, Social Media and Content Strategist Carmen Hill explained how content strategy and the movies are actually quite similar, though. In fact, she went as far as to say that content strategists could learn from Hollywood screenwriters by obeying the rules of the classic narrative arc.
Content marketers tend to focus on the sales funnel, a systematic approach to sell a product or service. The funnel illustrates a consumer’s path of discovery, consideration and decision-making in the buying process. Instead, Hill says that content marketers should be thinking like screenwriters, taking consumers through the classic narrative arc, in which a story or movie incorporates the setup, a conflict and a resolution.
In these stories, there is always a hero, or protagonist to go on what is known as “the hero’s journey” through these three levels of storytelling. In “The Wizard of Oz,” for example, Dorothy is the hero. The setup is where all of the main characters of the movie are introduced. The conflict takes up the bulk of the story, and is invoked by a catalyst, or inciting incident. In this case, a tornado takes Dorothy’s house flying through the sky to Oz. Dorothy and her crew go on a mission to see out the Wizard of Oz during the conflict section of the movie. And finally, the resolution of the story comes when the hero saves the day – in this case, Dorothy discovers that she has had the power all along to return to Kansas, and everyone lives happily ever after.
So, where do customers come into play here? Customers are the heroes in the content strategy story. Hill explains that Hollywood heroes have a call to adventure, accept that call, seek knowledge, face their fears, overcome challenges and, in the end, become the masters of their worlds.
Consumers follow this same path, says Hill. They have a call to action when they discover that something is missing in life. They must then commit to making a change and research options, consuming content along the way. They face challenges, such as finances, in justifying and making their decisions. And finally, they acquire the good or service that helps them solve the problem, thus becoming the master of their world.
Brands, then, need to understand who their heroes are. They can figure this out through character development exercises. Much like a screenwriter spends time figuring out the personas behind his characters, a content strategist must figure out the persona behind his audience members. Are they decision-makers? Influencers? What do they care about? Where do they live? Understanding the main characters of the story is a step in the right direction towards telling a provocative and meaningful story.
Just remember, unlike in the movies, the audience is in control of the story when it comes to your brand’s content. While content strategists may try to create the perfect script incorporating the narrative arc with absolute accuracy, the story will always be reshaped and influenced by its readers.
Look for part 2 of Erica’s recap tomorrow, when she’ll discuss how to get customers addicted to your content.