Episode 52

Is Content Marketing Dying?

with Adam & Carlton

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In this Friday special, Adam and Carlton dive into the dark side of content marketing by unpacking historically misused creation methods and how you can use the same methods for good. From pure content creation to performance marketing, they discuss how you can provide value and effectively tell a story in a modern way that attracts attention.

Episode Notes:

Highlights from the conversation:

  • The dark side of content (1:17)
  • Content negatives throughout history (8:43)
  • Using content marketing methods for good (13:18)
  • Societal shifts from technological change (15:48)
  • Elements of an effective story (18:52)
  • Who’s doing this well (22:22)
  • Tweet of the week (24:44)

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Transcription

Transcription generated by Otter.ai

Adam

I hope you’ll enjoy this episode if you’re listening because it very well may be our last. Carlton Riffel has declared, content marketing is dead.

Intro  

Put that content down. Content. The close is over. What’s your name? Content. That’s my name. You know why, mister? Because you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight. I drove an $80,000 BMW. That’s my name. Content Is for Closers.

Adam

Are we’re back with another episode, Carlton. That was a pretty dramatic intro. Can you explain yourself? What’s going on? Why did you declare content marketing dead?

Carlton

Well, yeah, so we had this episode the other day and Adam kind of ended on a negative note and he said, “Promotions are for closers.” Made me smile, but I also thought, what if we just took a little bit of the negative and played the devil’s advocate when it comes to content?

Adam

Not hard for you.

Carlton

I started thinking about it. Yeah, I like to poke Adam. I like to kind of see what will get him going and I riled up. Sometimes he doesn’t know what I’m doing and sometimes it’s obvious. So I’m on the fence, honestly, because you see these trends come and go and there’s been this huge trend with content marketing where people are spending so much of their time giving away value, trying to create something that builds an audience, leaning into their story, and talking about how they need to spend all their time not actually doing the business but creating the content. And sometimes I start to wonder, is that bad? Are we competing with people who are using these kind of dark trends or dark patterns in their content to make people watch their videos or see their ads, whatever it may be, by using some of these kind of like sketchy advertising methods?

 Adam

Yeah. Okay. Well, let’s unveil that a little bit. So within content marketing, I’d say there’s probably maybe three pillars. I don’t know, you might add to it. But there’s a content or pure story element, which I think is where my mind goes when you say “content marketing is dead.” That’s what gets a visceral reaction out of me. There’s the performance marketing side of it, so it’s more so based on the data, the analytics, the science of actually reaching people (and I mean that in a positive way). And then there’s the third, which is what you called dark patterns. That’s essentially brain hacking and using things like that to drive addiction and trigger responses as opposed to being authentic through story. So of the three, you’re saying the third one is becoming so overwhelming that it might deem the other two implausible? Is that what you’re saying?

 Carlton

Yeah, or that those are weaker in some way. And I’m not saying that I’m totally over the fence. I just sometimes like to play out these thought experiments where we kind of create these questions. As my wife says, I’m better at creating questions sometimes than I am answering them.

 Adam

We to have Julia on here. I feel like that would be very enlightening.

 Carlton

It would just open up some things.

 Adam

Yeah, she and I could commiserate on some of these things. Okay, so give us— You mentioned the dark— I want to say dark web. That’s not what it was. What’d you call it? Dark pattern.

Carlton

It’s dark patterns. That’s mainly a term that’s used in like UI UX. The way that I think of some of those things is you’ve got information that people are giving and then in the middle you kind of have this idea of inspiring or encouraging, it’s like a little bit emotional. And then you’ve got just pure entertainment. This isn’t really giving you information or giving you anything, this is just a this might be humor, this might be something that’s interesting, but in a kind of in that whole span, there’s all of these things that people do, whether that’s clickbait, maybe it’s like crazy pranks, you’ve got kind of this idea of, of playing to the seven deadly sins that’s been talked about before. So pride playing the envy, wrath, even gluttony, lust. That’s a huge one that people see everywhere. Sloth and greed, like I want what they have people use dumb filters to get attention. They use urgency or exaggeration trends are a big one. Even things that are like more like ASMR, the voice that’s like weird in your ear or things that are oddly satisfying.

Adam

Yes, I do know about that.

Carlton

Adam’s favorite, which is pimple popping videos.

 Adam

Okay, no. I don’t like that…at all.

Carlton

So you just got these like weird things that are getting attention and taking away from people spending their time learning or using content forgotten. So that’s kind of some of those things that I wanted to dive into.

 Adam

Yeah. Okay, I want to dive into them. My argument is that this has been happening forever and the dark patterns stuff has been happening forever. I’ll give some examples, but I can’t think about anything else until you explain this pimple popping thing. I can’t even say the words without cringing.

 Carlton

Yeah. Okay. So it’s just one of those things, people, there’s certain people that like to see something released and I don’t know, we’re going to gross out our entire audience. I know. There’s, there’s people listening that are like, ashamed. But they’re those people that want to watch that.

 Adam

Why are you interested in this?

 Carlton

I’m not experiencing that.

 Adam

But what made you come up with the topic in general?

 Carlton

So Adam’s hinting at a story. I guess I’m telling the story, even though it’s a little embarrassing. Okay, circa seventh grade, our English teacher, Mrs. Plonk. I’m sorry, Mrs. Plonk. To this day, I feel bad about this. She gives us a writing assignment. It was a group writing assignment so we like find our clusters of three or four people. And in seventh grade, of course, we go to our little group of boys that like to laugh, have fun together. And it was basically to come up with store a story. And that was the whole assignment was right and original story that uses personification. So we basically, were finding anything, anything in this whole world that could have a character or be personified. And guess what a seventh grade voice shows we chose to personify a zit. That’s right. We named him Zeke the Zit. And this was in tears. They already heard. It was hilarious to seventh grade boys. But it was absolutely terrible if you have any sense of decency. So of course, we come up with this elaborate storyline, where there’s two sets that meet on the faces of this boy and this girl. And let’s just say like, I’m trying not to make this too graphic, but—

 Adam

You made a romantic story about the two zits as only seventh grade boys can do.

 Carlton

Absolutely, yeah. And so at some point in the story, the couple is going to kiss and you have this whole pimple popping thing happen and it ends up in somebody’s— Yeah, I don’t want to go all into it, but let’s say, when our teacher got this story, she was so upset that she pulled our group out into the hallway. And she was like crying as she told— was just so upset that we would write something so disgusting and so gross. And this poor woman. So anyways, that’s the story about personifying, using story in a new way. Now the problem we got into was we didn’t consider our audience. Our audience was our teacher. I should have been a little bit more aware, put brakes on that before we got to its being popped into—

Adam

Your audience—if it wasn’t that teacher—any human audience would have been brutal, but seventh grade boys are not fully human. There’s some other species and so I understand. Yeah, it makes sense. But with that, I don’t know how you couldn’t believe in the power of story. I mean, that you told me that yesterday, I haven’t thought about much else. Since it’s been front of my mind. I wish I didn’t hear the story. But I have. Absolutely. But ya know, it’s a great example. And to go back to where it’s at now. So the dark patterns and using different methods different, essentially bits of science in order to trigger responses in humans, it’s essentially what you’re talking about. It could be the pimple popping videos, it could be the ASMR. It could be prank videos, like they’re gonna get a given response because of the way that they’re designed. And I’ll be the first to say that’s super dangerous. And I’m not advocating for that and eat at an anyway. But I would say, to the question of is content marketing becoming less effective? My point is, no, because this dark pattern hacking has been happening throughout history, just using whatever technology is available at the time. I’ll give you an example. Have you ever heard of Edward Bernays before?

 Carlton

Yeah, yeah, but fill us in with who he is and what he did.

 Adam

Okay, so Edward Bernays is kind of known as the father of PR the father of spin, he is the nephew of Sigmund Freud. So many of you probably heard of Sigmund Freud, Sigmund Freud, famous psychotherapist psychoanalysts, psychologists, whatever, and Freud comes up with the idea of trigger and response to Freudian dogs. You rang a bell? Their mouth starts watering.

 Carlton

I think that’s actually Pavlov’s dogs.

 Adam

Oh, yeah, right.

 Carlton

There was Freudian aspects to it.

 Adam

Yeah, Freud was the one that you can’t control your mom. Yeah, you can’t control yourself, a triggering response. So his nephew has grown up in Austria hearing all these theories from his from his uncle comes to America and decides to employ those theories for the practice of advertising. And so he builds a really successful career, essentially using the science of all these things. And what kind of a gun for hire. So the one of the more famous examples of his work is, he is employed by a cigarette company to show why the company Lucky Strike is not a healthy or good brand. So he does this whole campaign showing opera singers and their voices are deteriorating, because they’re smoking like he strikes Well, lucky strike eventually acquires that company. And so now he’s employed by Lucky Strike, and they want him to help make smoking, okay, for professional women. It was okay for men, it was okay for the Cowboys. And the Marlboro Man, that idea, but when it came to women, it wasn’t seen as being okay to do that in public society. So Bernays does this experiment, this campaign in which he takes several of your deadly sins, right, he identifies a bunch of very attractive women who work in the advertising industry, he he does some things with, so that would be kind of like tapping into lust a little bit, some of the the other things like pride, ego, etc, he taps into those by approaching them, having them do essentially a walkout. So at that time, there were people were doing walkouts across the country for bigger issues, like racial equality, or fair employment, things like this. He got this group of high society, women to do a walk out down Madison Avenue for women and women’s empowerment was kind of the idea behind it. But they all all of them, were smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes, and that kind of became the symbol of their empowerment, their freedom, as women. And so it became huge. It exposed all of these women across the country who were looking to New York City at the time as the signal for fashion and what’s right, et cetera, trends, and unlucky strike becomes a behemoth in the space as a result of it. My point in telling that story is, he knew exactly what he was doing from a scientific perspective, given his his connections with his uncle. And there’s a bunch of other campaigns he did as well. But he just used the technology at the time that was available, which was like newspapers in order to do this. So that that negative, I guess, has been happening for a really long time.

 Carlton

Yeah, and just a quick copywriting tidbit: the title for that campaign, or one of the titles they used, was they said these cigarettes were “torches of freedom.”

 Adam

Oh, I forgot about that.

 Carlton

It’s incredible how, yeah, he’s using some of these— I guess now we can look at it and we can say this is an unsavory tactic because it was used for something that wasn’t good for people, and I think that’s where we have to go back is we are the ones that are responsible for using story content, any of these methods for for good, right? So you’ve got different ways that these can these things can be used. And I think, at the end, if your client does not benefit, then you’re going to end up being viewed historically, as someone who was not good, or was not taking care of your customer or taking care of your audience.

 Adam

Okay, but how would you define good? Because I mean, obviously, everyone had—

 Carlton

Yeah, obviously that’s the struggle this whole good versus evil thing and kind of—

 Adam

No, I just mean as it relates to content. Like, what are the elements of good content or quality content that we can sort of measure ourselves to? Not not just like, pure good and evil, but when it comes to what we’re talking about here?

 Carlton

Yeah. So Well, I think there’s a couple pieces here because even too much of a good thing can be bad, right? And we’re seeing that with like, the entertainment aspect of of content right now is like it’s okay to put out fun videos, it’s okay to entertain your audience. But if that’s all you ever do, and you don’t provide value that’s ever helping them make sense of of your brand or help them in a way that’s informational, or help them in a way that helps them connect some of the dots for their own use or their own purpose, then I think that’s kind of where it starts to get blurry. And that’s where things start to fall into that you’re you’re preying on if you’re taking advantage of their natural proclivities, then then you start to prey on your audience instead of help them.

 Adam

Yeah, there’s a lot of tension there though because the platforms that we used to tell stories on or or inform On have essentially all become entertainment platforms. I just this morning read this tweet by Mickey Cloud, who is the Executive Director of the Sasha group, he was talking to someone else at their company. But he said, we just had this conversation in the Sasha group slack yesterday. And he then he said, “Social media has turned more into social entertainment these days as opposed to social network.” And I think that’s 100% true. I also think it changes entirely, the strategy for creating, if you’re trying to build an entertainment platform or trying to feed an entertainment platform, as opposed to a social networking tool. And I think that is part of the tension as well.

 Carlton

Yeah, and I can play both sides of this to some degree because you look historically at any technological shift and there’s always been cultural uproar, whenever that shift has has changed, especially with media. So if you look all the way back at there was this is pre printing press, you’ve got kind of this oration in these plays, and these, these poets that are basically using their voice to pass along stories, and doing it in such an eloquent way. And then once the printing press is invented, there’s people that had concern that that the articulate person was going to go away that then we would just be able to record things down and kind of just copy information. And then there is this whole upward that like, information is now too cheap. And you can just spend all day reading all these books and not developing the connection that you would if you had a person telling it to you, and then there’s people once printing gets really cheap, and newspapers come along, like oh, this is too fast. This is too, quick. So there was an uproar about that, and like this is ruining society. And then once obviously the silicon chip— or I guess radio would have been next. Once radio comes, people have the same problem with that, even though it’s swinging back to that idea of audio in the voice. And then visuals come along. And there’s another wave of frustration with society of saying that this is going to ruin society. So and then obviously, you’ve got the technological change, and that, that pace, and that speed keeps picking up and our attention spans get shorter and shorter and shorter, and our media consumption is modified as a result. So I do think there is areas of concern within this and how we do it in a way that’s like responsible. But I do think that, that by and large, we tend to get— I’m trying to think of appropriate expression. We tend to get a little bit concerned or a little scared and sometimes that’s for good reason qnd sometimes that’s just because that’s what society does when technology changes.

 Adam

Yeah, yeah, 100%. But I do think, it’s interesting to hear you say that. All of those fears were not wrong. And I’ve come more true over time, like maybe the printing presses, and what made people’s memories less valuable. But like, for sure that’s true today, nobody knows anybody’s phone number. Nobody knows how to get anywhere without without technology. So I think it has kind of deteriorated. It just changed when we focused on and how we use our brain capacity today.

 Okay. So the three things, like we said, was pure content creation, performance marketing, and then the dark patterns. We’ve kind of talked about the dark patterns a little bit. I would say performance marketing is kind of its own category in the sense that it lives in both worlds, it’s using some of the scientific measures that dark patterns expose or take advantage of, but it’s reliant, still on quality story in order to attract attention. So maybe we could just spend a few minutes talking about— we’ve talked about this before, but what in your mind are the elements to an effective story without taking advantage of the brain patterns of those kinds of things?

 Carlton

Yeah. Some would say that story is taking advantage of how we’re wired. Like story inherently is how we interpret the world and how we assign meaning to things. And so we do that through seeing a character. That character might be ourselves, that character might be somebody else that we’re learning about, or we’ve seen, and that character in their story goes on a journey. And there’s some sort of path that they take that leads them to a transformation. And usually we think of a climax being in there, maybe that climax is in more in the middle, or towards the end when something is finally resolved. But that’s, that’s really we’re designed to see things in a narrative context. And we’re designed to see things in a way that assigns meaning through story. Yeah, so I think basically how just taking that and applying it.

 Adam

But those are helpful, if we outline those real quickly: it’s a character, journey, climax, transformation. Some order of those. I think those are helpful when thinking through, am I doing something that—due to your question earlier—is valuable and helpful to my audience, my end customer, or whoever this is going to affect (my student)? Or is it something that is detrimental? If you can identify the character, the audience, whatever, the journey that you’re going to take them on, what the climax is, the fact that there is a climax (and I’ll talk about why that’s important in a second), and the fact that they’re transformed, then you can look at it and say, okay, well, what are they transforming to? Am I doing something that’s going to better their lives? Am I getting them addicted to a new cigarette? Lucky Strike. I think it’s easy to go after cigarettes now because those are out of style, but whatever. Is it something where I’m getting them to become addicted to a new social media platform? Listen, curmudgeon guy. This is why I don’t have TikTok. Because that is to me Lucky Strike. It’s the mental Lucky Strike. So what are you transforming them to? I think that’s a really important question to ask.

 The other one is, what is the climax or the apex of the story? And the reason I say that is because inherently, if a story has a has an apex or a climax to it, it has an ending. And I think that’s a really important thing because it’s not then just a cycle or a continual thing that the audience is hooked on and has to continue watching over and over again. For example, to take your pimple popping interest, to me, that obviously doesn’t have a transformative effect necessarily for the positive, but there’s just a sequence, a visual sequence (ending with ASMR) in which I want to just continue to see it more and more and more. There’s not a tipping point in which I am now better or worse as a result. I think that’s a really dangerous cycle to get into. And as a creator, sometimes it can be easy to make things—I’m not saying it’s always wrong—that drive people into that cycle, but I think it’s something we have to be careful of.

 Carlton

Yeah, absolutely. And like you’re saying, it’s deploying some of these tactics in ways that are balanced with the message and the content of what you’re trying to get across. We’re trying to bring it down and land the plane a little bit, but for those of you that are doing content marketing and thinking about your topics, it’s thinking not just about, what will make people view my video? It’s thinking about rather, what will help people that view my video? And what will give people the most benefit?

 Adam

So who’s doing this effectively? Who’s got who’s striking this balance, in your opinion of providing value telling story effectively, but doing it in a modern way that attracts attention?

 Carlton

Yeah, I think like a popular— I guess. I don’t know how many people that in our audience overlap with with listening to him. But Shane Parrish, the knowledge project, I think he does a pretty good job of balancing hard hitting content that’s really quite interesting. He’s got a newsletter that comes out as well. That’s really good. That’s one example from my end. How about you? Do you have an example?

 Adam

Yeah, I’m gonna be pretty predictable. I think Ben Wilson, who we’ve had on this show and is the creator of How to Take Over the World. I think that is really an ingenious execution. When you think about you think about combining that like impulse that that Freudian impulse to want to own to want to dominate. And the way that he’s executed that show, which is, here’s how the greatest conquerors in the world did it, it just naturally, it’s still very good story. It’s a still follows all of the elements of story. And there’s definitely a transformative transformative effect at the end, whether you’re a business builder, a creator, an investor, something complete a teacher, something completely else. But it taps into a Maslow’s hierarchy of need that we may or may not understand we have, but react to viscerally. And I think that combination is so hard to strike. But when you do it well, it’s really powerful.

 Carlton

Yeah. And his his stories, particularly borrow on some figures that we’re already familiar with, who already have an understanding and a knowledge about, but then one is hearing some of the details of those stories and filling in the gaps. That’s super interesting. And that’s that that kind of keeps our attention, but then also making some applications to where we see how that connects with business and with some of the other things that are relevant interests. So that’s kind of another takeaway for our audience: thinking about, how are the stories that you’re telling, how are the things that you are giving your audience, how do they connect with some of the things that—maybe the story is about somebody famous or somebody that you’re interviewing—how does that connect with the details of what applies to the things that you’re working on as an audience member?

 Adam

All right, we got to get out of here. Before we do Carlton, you have your tweet of the week queued up?

 Carlton

Yeah. So another person I was thinking about mentioning just a little bit ago was Sahil Blum. He’s got some interesting, another interesting newsletter that I follow and a good a follow on Twitter. You’re as well. So he his his tweet that I favored here that a bookmark this week was do one hard thing on Monday morning, that makes the week easier. So he listed out a few for him 30 minutes of reading and writing, or five minutes of cold exposure, which is a little bit of a interesting method, their 30 minute workout, eat a nutritional dense breakfast, complete a task that you’ve been dreading build momentum and carry it on to the week. So I thought that was interesting tweet. A lot of people know that, but actually doing it is the hard part.

 Adam

What did you… Did you actually do it?

 Carlton

Well, so for me, you know how much I hate working out. That’s one of those things that I’m like a social exerciser. When other people want to exercise, I like to socially do it with them. So that was one that day.

 Adam

Okay, so did you do it?

 Carlton

No. I read this on Tuesday.

 Adam

Oh, okay.

 Carlton

I read this yesterday.

Adam

Oh, okay, so it only applies to Mondays.

 Carlton

He tweeted on Monday and then I read it on Tuesday. Got it. Got it. Okay, so it’s too late. I just had an editor with them next Monday.

 Adam

We’re checking in next Monday.

Carlton

Okay, cool.

 Adam

Mine comes from Matt Ragland, @MattRagland. And Matt is actually coming on the show in about two weeks, two or three weeks. So excited to have him for that. But he he put, he tweeted yesterday, I have at least a million dollars worth of templates, sales pages, email scripts, and product designs on my Google Drive, excited to implement, launch and share them. But for what it’s worth, you, whoever you are, probably have at least six figures of the same start sharing. But that was really interesting, because he’s talking about their like, the byproducts of his other work. He’s a he’s a creator, YouTuber course creator used to work at ConvertKit for many years and lead content there. And so he has all of these templates, all of these systems, all these things that he’s used to help drive productivity or to make content over the years, and he’s saying those byproducts themselves have inherent value if racked correctly. And so that just got me thinking because we have specifically your work, Carlton, we have so much of that within our company and so much is that within my personal, just fought catalogue that you don’t really think of and you don’t have to monetize everything, but it has value. And I thought that was an interesting thought exercise to go through.

 Carlton

Yeah, that’s a great place to start when you’re looking for content.

 Adam

Cool. Well, hopefully, you haven’t given up entirely on content marketing. Hopefully, we can continue this show. Otherwise, I’m looking for another coach. This might just be you wriggling out.

 Carlton

Yeah, that’s where— if you enjoyed this, if you like the more psychological and I guess it gets philosophical to approach to our episodes, let us know because that was that was definitely a deep dive into something we weren’t initially anticipating when we were planning this episode.

 Adam

Your boy minored in psychology, so I have to— I don’t know the difference between Freud and Pavlov…

 Carlton

I had to call you out on that.

 Adam

…but I do have a minor in psychology. All right, we’ll see you guys next week.