Doug Kessler: cowardice is crippling to any content marketing program

Doug Kessler
Doug Kessler

There is a lot to be said about Doug Kessler. His content marketing views are great. His writing is amazing. His SlideShare presentations are…

Doug Kessler was a speaker at i-SCOOP’s Content Marketing Conference Europe in our ‘home country’ Belgium in 2014. An interview with one of the smartest content marketers out there.

Your roots as a copywriter and love for visual storytelling, shown in your famous SlideShare presentations, shine through in the numerous Doug Kessler interviews I’ve read (like this one). Short answers, to the point, with a view. Period. Wish I could do that too. Tell us about the power of words, images and being to the point (and please don’t answer in one word).

Doug Kessler: Writing is the heart, liver and lungs of content marketing. Way too many companies use a ‘good enough’ policy for writing instead of aiming for insanely great.

For me, great writing grabs you by the lapel and doesn’t let you wriggle free until the call-to-action. It’s clear, muscular and tight as a an E-string.

Great design is right up there too. Great design delivers great writing like a hypodermic delivers heroin (or, um, good drugs).

I’m quoting Joe Pulizzi from a round table report I happened to read again in the first “Europeanized” version of Chief Content Officer magazine: “It is not about what one sells but about what one stands for. That is the way to differentiate oneself.” You call upon brands to take a stand. It’s an essential part of your keynote in Antwerp, and you’re very passionate about it. I’m dumb and don’t know where to start and how to do it. Please help me.

Doug Kessler: Too many brands are scared to take a stand. What I hope to get across in Antwerp is that this cowardice isn’t just a missed opportunity, it’s actually crippling to any content marketing program.

Taking a stand simply means finding resonant issues and being clear about where you come out on them. Not hiding behind analyst reports or third-party opinion but daring to have your own views.

To me, taking a stand isn’t the risk. Failing to take a stand is the risk. It guarantees mediocrity.

Pleading for a strong brand vision and narrative is not the same as having a company-centric attitude. On the contrary: you advice (content) marketers to be obsessively empathic. How do they get there and how do they make that cultural change – which it often is – happen in their organizations?

Great content happens when the people making it are enjoying it - Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler: Some people seem to be naturally empathetic. To others, it’s a real effort. But content can only hit the spot if it comes from an intimate understanding of the reader (or viewer) – her goals, problems, challenges and biases.

As a writer, I need the reader to be in sharp focus before I even start an outline. Without that, I’m typing with boxing gloves on. With it, I’m having a great conversation. Persona work is important but it can also be an excuse for not getting out there and talking to the target audience. Marketers (and especially writers) need to meet their market, face to face.

“Content marketing will be just marketing”. It’s what I see many experts saying in interviews lately. Of course it is marketing but, in your view, what makes it different? As a self-confessed content marketing addict, do you share that urge I notice to use the term less?

Doug Kessler: Content marketing is the worst term in the world — except for every other one. So I’m sticking with it. To me, it may be dissolving into general marketing, but it’s still a distinct subset.

There is marketing that is clearly NOT content marketing (the Coke hoarding at the football match; the supermarket discount ad…) and there’s marketing that clearly IS content marketing (GE’s 6-Second Science Fair).

Just because it goes mainstream (which it is) doesn’t mean it’s losing all meaning. Content marketing is a strategy and a tactic. It won’t go away. It can’t go away. But its’ role in the mix will certainly change.

I’m thrilled to welcome you one June 10 at the Content Marketing Conference Europe. What should people who don’t know you yet absolutely know (anything at all and “nothing” is not an answer) and what will they miss if they don’t attend your keynote?

Doug Kessler: I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a great line-up and a cool city.

People should know two things about me:

  1. I play the banjo.
  2. I promise not to.

If they miss my talk, well, they might as well just give up any hope of success in content marketing. They’ll just spin their wheels, repeating the same mistakes over and over again. Then the downward spiral starts. the self-recrimination. The drinking. The loss of bowel control. And it’s all so avoidable.

One of the questions you probably get thousands of times: what are some of the ingredients that make your SlideShare presentations go viral? And do share the juicy ones as well.

Doug Kessler: I could post-rationalise and make all our lucky moves sound like strategy, but — what the hell, I will:

  • Grab a timely issue that your target audience really cares about (it helps if you ARE your target audience. WE write for fellow content marketers).
  • Focus on one story within that issue. One angle. One spin.
  • Give it some attitude and energy.
  • Have fun.
  • Do a dozen or so rewrites to tighten it up.
  • Get a great designer to make the story leap off the page.
  • Most of all, treat SlideShare like a medium not a place where decks go to die.

Too many brands are scared to take a stand - Doug Kessler

I’m not going to ask you more questions (thanks for the best event pitch ever by the way) as there are plenty of interviews with you (like here, here and here) so let me ask you to complete some sentences:

  • As a “displaced yank”, Doug Kessler has learned to write evangelise instead of evangelize by… classical conditioning using electric shocks and strawberries.
  • In his spare time Doug Kessler…collapses. Sadly. And maybe has a cheeseburger with his wife and kids. Or sees a movie. Then collapses.
  • Content marketing success is a result of…a relentless dedication to fun. Great content happens when the people making it are enjoying it. Lousy content happens when people approach it like a prostate exam.
  • The benefit of running a content marketing agency with a focus on B2B and to some extent technology is… Focus means you can become experts. And charge more.
  • During his career as a copywriter and later a content marketing pioneer Doug Kessler has been inspired by…Bill Bernbach, David Ogilvy, Rosser Reeves, Steve Trygg (old boss), Pete Liguori (old boss), Vladimir Nabokov, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and later by Ann Handley, Joe Chernov, Joe Pulizzi…
  • Storytelling is…patterned cognitive play. (Says Brian Boyd, author of “The Origin of Stories“, which I loved).
  • The first step any company wanting to start with content marketing or improve it is… aim for one home-run piece. One great piece. One thing that is the definitive take on an issue.
  • A good content marketing strategy…always starts with goals.
  • This interview…has been a hoot. And is now over.