Content Marketing 101

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Content Marketing 101


Hello everybody, my name’s Jon Norris, I’m the Head of Content here at RocketMill. Today, I wanted to walk you through some real content marketing basics, so I’ve called my talk today: ‘Content Marketing 101’.

Not a lot of people know this, but when you go to content marketing school there are three – it’s a real school – there are three key areas and three key texts that you have to study. These are distribution, inspiration and messaging, these are the texts that I’m going to be referencing during this lecture. If you want to go back and study them a little more fully for yourself.


So let’s get right to it, number one, distribution. One of the key tenets of content marketing. You can’t win at content marketing if you don’t know how to distribute your content. So, I will begin with one of the best distributions of all time, can anybody name this film?

There you go, Armageddon obviously, and can anybody name the title song from this film?

There you go, it’s: ‘I don’t want to miss a thing’ by Aerosmith. Beautiful, and that is our first key text that we have to study at content marketing school, Steven Tyler 1998.

You may not know, but this was actually Aerosmith’s first number one single in the US, it sold over a million copies in the UK and the US. It was actually Oscar nominated. Yeah absolutely.

It still hangs around today, I’ve heard this song many times in the last few months and I’m sure probably many of you have as well. You might be puzzled as to its longevity because it’s not really that good a song.

So, it’s worth studying Aerosmith’s method of distribution here to kind of unpick what they’ve done and learn from it. If you think about the primary way that you receive songs, they’re usually bundled up in playlists. Some examples of playlists might be karaoke favourites, classic rock, movie soundtracks, power ballads, love songs, 90’s hits. Where does, ‘I don’t want to miss a thing’ sit in this Venn diagram? It’s right in the middle, they have absolutely nailed the distribution of their song.

Probably 75% of all playlists out there, if you go far enough down this song will be in there. That is why it so persistent, because they’ve absolutely mastered the distribution for their song. Whether they did that intentionally or not I have no idea, nonetheless they have done it and that is why it is one of our sacred texts of content marketing.

If you understand the distribution methods of your content, if you understand how your users share and consume content, you’re going to be set up for long term success.


Moving on, inspiration, who can name this bass line?

Scott nailed it, ‘Under Pressure’, by?

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?

A scrub. That is our third key text.

Jon: Lopes 1999. The seminal hip hop song of 1999 if you ask me. It had the most radio airplay of any song in 1999. It won Grammy’s, it won MTV awards, Billboard awards, NAACP, pretty much everything going. Written, of course, by Chilli, T-Boz and, RIP, Lisa Left Eye.

Now, TLC wrote the book on messaging and copywriting, so I’m just going to review this fantastic work quickly to show you how they did that.

“A scrub is a guy that thinks he’s fly.” What they’ve done there in the very first line of the song is offered us a definition of a Scrub. Bear in mind when the song was released, the concept of a Scrub was not in the public realm, nobody knew what they were talking about, so they had to establish this concept really, really quickly.

“And is also known as a busta.” What they’ve done there is they’ve offered us a synonym for a Scrub. They’re speaking our language, you may not know what a scrub is but you certainly know what a busta is.

“Always talking about what he wants and just sits on his broke ass.” So now what they’re doing is they’re giving us an example, they’re giving us some tips on how to recognise a Scrub in real life if we come across one. They’re putting it in context for us.

Now what they do is really clever, they make it idiot proof, if you’re still not sure at this point what a Scrub is, they’re going to give you a checklist:

  • If you don’t have a car and you’re walking
  • If you live at home with your mama
  • If you have a shorty but you don’t show love
  • You want to get with me with no money
  • If you can’t spatially expand my horizons
  • If you don’t have the G’s to please me and bounce me here to the coast of overseas
  • And, of course, if you’re hanging out the passenger side of your best friend’s car, trying to holla at me

If you fulfil any of those criteria, you sir, are a Scrub. There is no way that you can finish this song without knowing what a Scrub is. In three and a half tight minutes, TLC have taken a completely unknown concept and they have launched it into the public lexicon. They have given us examples, synonym’s, usage and very clear yes, no conditions as to what constitutes Scrub-like behaviour. So it is absolutely no wonder that this word and this term and this concept has endured to this very day. This is a level of clarity that I think all of us should aspire to.

So, in sum, if you want to get into content marketing, or if you just want to study it a little more please see our three key text. Distribution by Aerosmith, inspiration from Mr Vanilla Ice and, of course, messaging from TLC.

Thank you.