Actually, more than you might think! The actor (Yes, that Kevin Spacey), director, producer and screenwriter, perhaps better known for his Oscar winning performances as Lester Burnham in American Beauty and Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint in The Usual Suspects—gave the closing keynote address at Content Marketing World 2014.
I’ll admit, I went in thinking, “nice high-profile celebrity, great headliner, but…”. Turns out, we were both thinking along the same lines! His opening remarks began: “Good afternoon. I know what you’re all thinking. What the hell am I doing here? What exactly am I doing at a Content Marketing Institute event?” I was expecting Spacey to be more entertaining rather than adding much substance to the content marketing conversation. Turns out, I was wrong. He is, as you might expect an articulate, entertaining and dynamic speaker—but his address was also relevant, insightful and engaging.
“I could give you 45 minutes on the ROI of effective SEO. THAT’S RIGHT! I know your f#%*ing terms!” he said, much to the amusement of the audience. He then went on citing Homer’s “Odyssey, Ronald McDonald and The Sopranos“ to illustrate the key takeaway of his address. “It has always been about the story. The story is everything, which means it’s our job to tell better stories.” Content marketing is about storytelling, and he shared the three factors he believes are inherent to great storytelling: conflict, authenticity and audience.
“Conflict creates tension and keeps people engaged in your story. The best stories are filled with characters who take risks,” he said. “Our stories become far more interesting when they go against the settled order of things.”
He cites authenticity as essential to storytelling, stories that ring true in today’s environment of spin and manufactured experiences. “I think it’s essential to keep in mind, ‘What is it that makes something feel genuine?’ We turn off when something doesn’t feel authentic,” he said. “There’s no better way to overpower a trickle of doubt than with a flood of naked truth,” quoting the Frank Underwood character in his Netflix hit show, House of Cards.
Audiences crave genuine, authentic stories, which is what has given rise to hit shows like “Weed, Homeland, Dexter, Oz, Mad Men, House of Blues,” shows he noted would never have passed the networks’ wholesomeness filters in years past. He says, “Audiences have shown they want complexity.” He explained how he successfully navigated around inflexible network practices by simply delivering on those audience desires—without producing pilot programs for his highly successful House of Cards and Orange is the New Black series on Netflix.
“Stay true to your brand voice, and the audience will respond to it with enthusiasm and passion.”
Finally, it’s about the audience. Citing the “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” philosophical thought, he asks, “What is a film shown to an empty room? Give them content worth sharing. The audience wants control. Give people what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it at a reasonable price and the chances are they won’t steal it”—a lesson he lamented, the music industry learned the hard way. “What content marketing has embraced better than anyone is that the audience doesn’t care about the platform, they care about the content. The audience has spoken. They want stories. They’re dying for stories!” he said. Give them what they want and they will talk about it and share it.
Content Marketing Institutes’ Joe Pulizzi shared these thoughts in an earlier blog post, Corporate Storytelling Lessons from Kevin Spacey. Spacey’s address to Telegraph UK contained a road map for brand storytelling for global enterprise brands.
- Your customers are desperate for stories. Epic corporate storytelling will always rise to the top, as customers covet truly unique insights. Helpful and informative content is now the rule, not the exception.
- Long form content has never been more powerful. Producing long-form, consistently shared corporate storytelling efforts has always been, and still remains, the best way to build lasting relationships with customers.
- Use behavioral data to plan your content strategy. Capture and leverage data to create stories that position your business as the go-to resource in your content niche.
In closing, Kevin Spacey noted the Internet’s democratization for flipping the conventional formula on its head. “Anyone with an Internet connection and an idea can develop an audience. There has never been a better moment for folks like us.”
Not that Kevin Spacey’s Hollywood credentials aren’t enough, but you can add entrepreneur, brilliant strategist, innovative marketer and best supporting actor at a content marketing conference to the list. It was an uplifting, inspiring and surprisingly relevant presentation!