General Manager | Writer | Pioneer | Public Speaker | Financial Literacy & Inclusion Champion | Economic Development Expert

Content Marketing: What Went Wrong?




Throughout my marketing career, I had a passion for content. Today, I still like to think of myself as a writer and storyteller.

As a writer, I learned a lot about the power of words. I saw that, just by altering as little as one word, you could change the entire course of a particular story or article.

As a storyteller and public speaker, I learned that the way you present something, and the confidence you have when saying it, creates an impact. And, as powerful as words are, a picture is truly worth a thousand words.

Content marketing is hard to define. When you talk to different marketing professionals, each one of them will give you a different interpretation of it. They all have different methods of utilizing it.

My definition is: Content marketing stands for all sorts of marketing communications. Most importantly, it is not something new that started with the digital and social media revolution. Yes, digital platforms have helped amplify it and give it a more instant and meaningful platform, but content marketing was there since the very first ad.

With all that in mind, I will list a few dos and don’ts (well, mostly don’ts), hoping it will be a spark that will lead you to create that next viral thing.

1. It is not selling; it is storytelling!

In my opinion, this rule is the most universal of all when it comes to content marketing. Yet it is the hardest to execute!

The truth is that marketing is not usually the only and the ultimate decision-maker in any organization. Between the daily and quarterly pressure of profitability, it is tough to convince everyone that, by telling a great story, it will, in the long run, help you sell, since almost everyone is under pressure to deliver results yesterday.

2. Don’t hesitate!

Timing is everything when it comes to content marketing. Having your radar always on and understanding the pulse of the community, both local and global, will always lead to stealing the moment. I am sure that we all have recently seen and admired the Nike ad, titled “You Can’t Stop Us.” If you haven’t, go and do it now.

3. Don’t be just another voice! Have a point of view.

An expert has something to say. He is not afraid to be controversial but in a fair and positive manner. Don’t be controversial for the sake of being controversial. Only do it when you mean it and when it is going to add value to your brand and your audience.

4. Don’t be dull!

There is a reason we didn’t just stick to silent movies. Yes, watching Charlie Chaplin could still make you laugh. Still, the world is colorful and animated, so whatever you do, try and indulge as many senses of your audience as you could.

In the latest work that brands are doing with experiential marketing, and especially in events, they play with the smell, the taste, and touch, not only the visuals and audio. Get people to travel on a journey of self-discovery, and you will capture their hearts and mind.

5. Don’t just preach! Be a learner!

We all know that one person who isn’t ready to listen, and we are all guilty of it sometimes, but it is a habit to force yourself to do it. With time, it will become natural.

6. Don’t be afraid!

Several years back, we received a tweet mentioning IKEA. It was from a follower of the account and a fan; his name was Dan. Dan has broken some glass and, unfortunately, cut his hand with one of the pieces. The question then was how to react. The same day, we got a set of plastic cups made for children and a bouquet of flowers, with a note delivered to Dan.

Maybe we got lucky that he had a sense of humor, and he appreciated the gesture, which was then reported by the 7-days newspaper. Adding to not being afraid, we also showed that we cared about his well being. Compassion, if I may add, is another essential quality of a storyteller and humans in general.

7. Be original!

You should strive to be unique. One of the main reasons why Apple is such a powerful brand is because of the way they told their story almost since day one. Steve and the people who continued his legacy made unique and sleek products, but their real genius has always been how they utilized everything they could to tell their story.

Look at the ads they created, their product placement, and, most importantly, their unique product launch events that are still highly anticipated, years after the first one.

8. Don’t deny it!

This is one of the first rules in improv, which is valuable to all storytellers. Denial is the number one reason most scenes go bad. Any time you refuse an offer made by your partner, your scene will almost instantly come to a grinding halt.

So, always try to join in the conversation. Another story I remember from my IKEA days was a few months after we opened our Cairo store. A rumor started that a rat was spotted in the IKEA restaurant. Like everything in Egypt at the time, it spread like wildfire. We had two options: write a PR statement or join in the conversation. So, we did the latter.

We brought an IKEA soft toy, which is actually a rat toy, we took a picture of it in the restaurant area, and we posted on social media saying we caught the rat. The incident turned from being a nightmare into one of the most positive stories to date, and it started as a social media incident.

Content marketing is a simple and powerful tool for those who can master these rules. Yet we see that companies fail every day to do it right. Every time I see the epic fails of some marketers, I wonder why?

And I know the answer lies between trying to strike a balance between commercial and creative objectives. Most of the time, it seems that they are at odds with each other, even though they are not. And, as the great David Ogilvy said once:

“Tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating. You know you can’t bore people into buying your product; you can only interest them into buying it”.

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