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The Ultimate Guide to Storytelling

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The Ultimate Guide to Storytelling

Storytelling is an art.

Not a process, method, or technique. And — like art — it requires creativity, vision, skill, and practice. Storytelling isn’t something you can grasp in one sitting, after one course. It’s a trial-and-error process of mastery.

Sounds like a lot of work, right? It is, and rightfully so because storytelling is a crucial part of the most successful marketing campaigns. It sets vibrant brands apart from simple businesses and loyal consumers from one-time, stop-in shoppers.

It’s also the heart of inbound marketing.

Storytelling is an incredibly valuable tool for you to add to your proverbial marketing tool belt. That’s why we’ve compiled this guide, to help you discover and understand storytelling and weave gorgeous, compelling tales for your audience.

Pick up your pen, and let’s dive in.

Because storytelling can take so many forms, it can be a challenge to create a good story. Here are some quick do’s and don’ts to get you started:

Storytelling Do’s and Don’ts graphic

The Art of Storytelling

Art of Storytelling graphic

Since the dawn of human language, storytelling has been how cultures pass on shared beliefs and values. Some of the stories told today come from stories our ancestors were sharing over 6,000 years ago.

Every person has a story, but the art of storytelling can make a story transformative. There are a few qualities that can push a basic story into the art of storytelling.

Narrative

While the setting will influence what a story can be, all great stories have a narrative, a spoken or written account of events.

For example, stand-up comics sometimes tell stories during a set. The structure, setting, and details of this narrative may not feel the same as they do in a Shakespeare play. But both storytellers are sharing a narrative.

Attention-Grabbing

But it’s not enough to just tell the story. The storytelling that resonates with people grabs their attention. There are many ways to grab and keep an audience’s attention in a story.

Creating suspense is one option. Stories that are full of mystery are interesting because of their unanswered questions. Surprising your audience is also a great way to pull readers in.

Another way to captivate your audience is to add details that bring your story to life. A popular way to describe this storytelling technique is “Show. Don’t tell.”

For example, say your company is launching a new product. In your story, you can share details about the moment your team came up with the idea. This is more exciting than telling your customers that you’re about to release the best new product. Talk about the roadblocks and small wins that led up to launch. This makes your audience feel like they’re part of your process.

Interactive

Storytelling isn’t just the story that you tell. It’s also the way that your audience responds and engages. Some kinds of storytelling require the reader to take part in the story, like the Netflix interactive film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

But with most stories, the interaction comes from the relationship that the audience builds with the storyteller. Your audience might be a fan group for the latest Harry Potter movie. And your favorite storyteller could be a TikTok influencer.

That feeling of connection and interaction is essential to storytelling.

Imaginative

Many movies come from popular books. And it’s not unusual for viewers to rate the quality of a book-based movie on its ability to match what they imagined as they read the book.

When someone listens to storytelling they often run a picture show in their mind. This picture show can be incredibly detailed, including characters, setting, and events.

These imaginings often pull up memories for individual readers, or they might see their qualities in one of the story’s characters. No story is complete without the listener or reader adding these imaginative details on their own.

Telling a story is like painting a picture with words. While everyone can tell a story, certain people fine-tune their storytelling skills and become a storyteller on behalf of their organization, brand, or business. You might’ve heard of these folks — we typically refer to them as marketers, content writers, or PR professionals.

Every member of an organization can tell a story. But before we get into the how, let’s talk about why we tell stories — as a society, culture, and economy.

Why Do We Tell Stories?

There are a variety of reasons to tell stories — to sell, entertain, educate or brag. We’ll talk about that below. Right now, I want to discuss why we choose storytelling over, say, a data-driven PowerPoint or bulleted list. Why are stories our go-to way of sharing, explaining, and selling information?

Here’s why.

Stories solidify abstract concepts and simplify complex messages.

We’ve all experienced confusion when trying to understand a new idea. Stories offer a way around that. Think about times when stories have helped you better understand a concept. Maybe your favorite teacher used a real-life example to explain a math problem. Maybe a preacher illustrated a situation during a sermon or a speaker used a case study to convey complex data.

Stories help solidify abstract concepts and simplify complex messages. Taking a lofty, non-tangible concept and relating it using concrete ideas is one of the biggest strengths of storytelling in business.

Take Apple, for example. Computers and smartphones are a pretty complicated topic to describe to your typical consumer. Using real-life stories, they’ve been able to describe exactly how their products benefit users. They use storytelling instead of relying on technical jargon that few customers would understand.

Stories promote and shape ideas.

Throughout history, people have used stories to promote cooperation and influence social behaviors. And there is scientific evidence that stories can change our behavior.

This is because stories engage our emotions. So, even if you’re stressed out and overwhelmed, you can still connect with a story. That connection might lead you to be less critical about facts, less defensive, and more open to changing your ideas.

Data is powerful. But data without storytelling can result in confusion, frustration, and conflicts of opinion. This is because listening to stories engages different parts of the brain than data does.

When you tell a story, you’re asking someone to see a series of events from your perspective. The person listening to that story believes in the truth of what you’re saying.

If you’re good at storytelling, you might influence the future behavior of that person. And cultures often honor skilled storytellers. They appreciate brands that tell stories to promote wider societal values too, like this Ben & Jerry’s example in support of the People’s Response Act.

Storytelling example: Ben & Jerry’s

Stories bring people together.

Like I said above, stories are a universal language of sorts. We all understand the story of the hero, of the underdog, or of heartbreak. We all process emotions and can share feelings of elation, hope, despair, and anger. Sharing a story gives even the most diverse people a sense of commonality and community.

In a world divided by a multitude of things, stories bring people together and create a sense of community. Despite our language, religion, political preferences, or ethnicity, stories connect us through the way we feel and respond to them. Stories make us human.

Storytelling example: TOMS

TOMS is a great example of this. By sharing stories of both customers and the people they serve through customer purchases, TOMS has effectively created a movement that has not only increased sales but also built a community.

Stories inspire and motivate.

Stories make us human, and the same goes for brands. When brands get transparent and authentic, it brings them down-to-earth and helps consumers connect with them and the people behind them.

Tapping into people’s emotions and baring both the good and bad is how stories inspire and motivate and eventually, drive action. Stories also foster brand loyalty. Creating a narrative around your brand or product not only humanizes it but also inherently markets your business.

Few brands use inspiration as a selling tactic, but ModCloth does it well. By sharing the real story of their business, ModCloth not only makes the brand relatable and worth purchasing, but it also inspires other founders and business owners.

Storytelling example: ModCloth

What makes a good story?

Words like “good” and “bad” are relative to user opinion. But there are a few non-negotiable components that make for a great storytelling experience, for both the reader and teller.

Good stories are:

  • Entertaining: Good stories keep the reader engaged and interested in what’s coming next.
  • Believable: Good stories convince the reader of their version of reality and make it easy to trust and engage.
  • Educational: Good stories spark curiosity and add to the reader’s knowledge bank.
  • Relatable: Stories remind readers of the people and places they know. They help their audience recognize patterns in the world around them.
  • Organized: Good stories follow a succinct organization that helps convey the core message and helps readers absorb it.
  • Memorable: Whether through inspiration, scandal, or humor, good stories stick in the reader’s mind.

How to Tell Great Stories

According to HubSpot Academy’s free Power of Storytelling course, there are three components that make up a good story — regardless of the story you’re trying to tell.

1. Characters

Every story features at least one character, and this character will be the key to relating your audience back to the story. This main character is often called the protagonist.

Your characters form the bridge between you, the storyteller, and the audience. If your audience can put themselves in your character’s shoes, they’ll be more likely to follow through with your call-to-action.

2. Conflict

The conflict is the lesson of how the character overcomes a challenge. Conflict in your story elicits emotions and connects the audience through relatable experiences. When telling stories, the power is in what you’re conveying and teaching. If there’s no conflict in your story, it’s likely not a story.

3. Resolution

Every good story has a closing, but it doesn’t always have to be a good one. Your story’s resolution should wrap up the story, give context to the characters and conflict(s), and leave your audience with a call to action.

If you’re new to storytelling, there are a couple other elements you’ll want to think about as you build your first story.

4. Structure

Your plot is the structure of your storytelling.

A blog can have great writing and relatable characters. But if you don’t create a natural flow of events, your blog will confuse your reader.

Your “About” page on your website can run through the story of your business. But if you don’t break it into clear and useful segments, your site visitors might bounce before they get to the good part.

Plots don’t need to be in chronological order. There are many ways that you can experiment with the structure of your story.

But your story should have a beginning, middle, and end. This structure is familiar, so it makes your audience more comfortable and open to new information.

5. Setting

The context of your storytelling impacts how your audience takes in your story. The setting is more than where a story takes place. It’s how you can:

  • Share the values and goals of your characters
  • Shift the tone of conversations and action
  • Make it easier to show instead of tell

For example, say you’re creating an ad campaign that features two main characters. One runs a small startup and the other works for a large enterprise. Where would it make sense for these two to meet up? How could their location impact the conversation?

Now that you know what your story should contain, let’s talk about how to craft your story.

The Storytelling Process

We’ve confirmed storytelling is an art. Like art, storytelling requires creativity, vision, and skill. It also requires practice. Enter: The storytelling process.

Painters, sculptors, dancers, and designers all follow their own creative processes when producing their art. It helps them know where to start, how to develop their vision, and how to perfect their practice over time. The same goes for storytelling – especially for businesses writing stories.

Why is this process important? Because, as an organization or brand, you likely have a ton of facts, figures, and messages to get across in one succinct story. How do you know where to begin? Well, start with the first step. You’ll know where to go (and how to get there) after that.

1. Know your audience.

Who wants to hear your story? Who will benefit and respond the strongest? To create a compelling story, you need to understand your readers and who will respond and take action.

Before you put a pen to paper (or cursor to word processor), do some research on your target market and define your buyer persona(s). This process will get you acquainted with who might be reading, viewing, or listening to your story. Understanding who your story is for will also offer crucial direction as you build out the foundation of your story.

2. Define your core message.

Whether your story is one page or twenty, ten minutes or sixty, it should have a core message. Like the foundation of a home, you need to set up your core message before moving forward.

Is your story selling a product or raising funds? Explaining a service or advocating for an issue? What is the point of your story? To help define this, try to summarize your story in six to ten words. If you can’t do that, you don’t have a core message.

3. Decide what kind of story you’re telling.

Not all stories are created equal. To decide what kind of story you’re telling, figure out how you want your audience to feel or react as they read.

This will help you figure out how you’re going to weave your story and what goal you’re pursuing. If your goal is to:

Incite Action

Your story should describe how you completed a successful action in the past and explain how readers might be able to create the same kind of change. Avoid excessive, exaggerated detail or changes in the subject so your audience can focus on the action or change that your story encourages.

Tell Your Story

Talk about your genuine, humanizing struggles, failures, and wins. Today’s consumer appreciates and connects to brands that market with authenticity. Your storytelling should reflect your authentic self.

Convey Values

Tell a story that taps into familiar emotions, characters, and situations so that readers can understand how the story applies to their own life. This is especially important when discussing values that some people might not agree with or understand.

Foster Community or Collaboration

Tell a story that moves readers to discuss and share your story with others. Use a situation or experience that others can relate to and say, “Me, too.” Keep situations and characters neutral to attract the widest variety of readers.

Impart Knowledge or Educate

Tell a story that features a trial-and-error experience, so that readers can learn about a problem and how you found and applied a solution. Discuss alternative solutions too.

4. Establish your call-to-action.

Your objective and call-to-action (CTA) are similar, but your CTA will establish the action you’d like your audience to take after reading.

What exactly do you want your readers to do after reading? Do you want them to donate money, subscribe to a newsletter, take a course, or buy a product? Outline this alongside your objective to make sure they line up.

For example, if your objective is to foster community or collaboration, your CTA might be to “Tap the share button below.”

5. Choose your story medium.

Stories can take many shapes and forms. Sometimes people read stories. Other times they watch or listen., Your chosen story medium depends on your type of story as well as resources, like time and money.

Here are four different ways you can tell your story:

Writing

Written stories take the form of articles, blog posts, or books. They’re mostly text and may include some images. Written stories are by far the most affordable, attainable method of storytelling as it just requires a free word processor like Google Docs or a pen and paper.

Speaking

You tell spoken stories in person, like in a presentation, pitch, or panel. TED talks are an example of spoken stories. Because of their “live”, unedited nature, spoken stories typically require more practice and skill to convey messages and elicit emotions in others.

Audio

Audio stories are spoken aloud but recorded — that’s what sets them apart from the spoken story. Audio stories are usually in podcast form, and with today’s technology, creating an audio story is more affordable than ever. (For great story-driven podcasts, check out The HubSpot Podcast Network.)

Digital

Digital storytelling comes in a variety of media, including video, animation, interactive stories, and games. This option is by far the most effective for emotionally resonant stories and active, visual stories. This is why they can be expensive to produce. But don’t fret: video quality doesn’t matter as much as conveying a strong message.

6. Plan and structure your story.

You have an idea of what you want to include in your story, how you want to organize it, and what medium is best. If you were doing some creative writing, your next step might be to jump right into writing and work on the structure of your story later.

But while storytelling in marketing is creative, it also has a goal in mind. This means it may need a more structured process because every step from intro to CTA needs to meet a specific goal.

Your storytelling should ignite imagination and emotion no matter where you share it. But marketing storytellers are also tracking metrics once their story goes out into the world.

With this in mind, you may want to create a detailed outline of your story. You might develop storyboards, wireframes, or a PowerPoint presentation. These can help you stay focused as you craft your story. They can also help you keep your original vision of your story as you move through the approvals, meetings, and pitches that often come with business storytelling.

7. Write!

Now it’s time to put pen to paper and start crafting your story.

You’ve done a lot of work to get to this point. For many storytellers, this is the fun part. It can also be the hardest part because it can be tough to create on cue.

As of this writing, there are over 215,000,000 links on Google for the search “writer’s block.” If you feel stuck, you’re not alone. But help is on the way.

You might want to check out some quotes about storytelling to get inspired. And these excellent tips for writer’s block can get you writing again if you feel stuck.

Remember, you’ve got this. Every person is a storyteller, and audiences aren’t just waiting for any old story. They want to hear from you.

7. Share your story.

Don’t forget to share and promote your story. Like with any piece of content marketing, creating it is only half the battle — sharing is how your audience can complete your story.

Depending on your chosen medium, you should definitely share your story on social media and by email. Promote written stories on your blog, Medium, or by guest posting on other publications. You can share digital stories on your website, YouTube, or a mobile app. While spoken stories are best conveyed in person, consider recording a live performance to share later.

The more places you share your story, the more engagement you can expect from your audience.

Storytelling Resources

Storytelling is a trial-and-error process, and no one tells a story perfectly on the first try. That’s why we’ve collected these resources to help you fine-tune your storytelling skills and learn more about the different ways you can tell a story.

For Writing

For Speaking

For Audio Stories

For Digital Storytelling

Start Telling Your Story

Storytelling is an art. It’s also a process worth learning for both your business and your customers. Stories bring people together and inspire action and response. Also, today’s consumer doesn’t decide to buy based on what you’re selling, but rather why you’re selling it.

Storytelling helps you communicate that “why” in a creative, engaging way. You are a storyteller. So, pull together your ideas, find the right channel and tools, and share your story.

This post was originally published in November 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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Top 3 Strategies for Success

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Top 3 Strategies for Success

With the advent of e-commerce, manufacturers have unprecedented opportunities to expand their reach, streamline their operations, and enhance profitability. Amidst this digital revolution, adopting Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) is pivotal in optimizing production processes, quality control, and resource management.

As the lines between traditional brick-and-mortar sales and online commerce continue to blur, manufacturers increasingly realize the need to adapt and thrive in this new digital landscape. This article explores the top 3 strategies manufacturers can employ to succeed in e-commerce.

Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES)

MES (Manufacturing Execution System) is specialized application software designed to solve the tasks of synchronization, coordination, analysis, and optimization of production output within any production. MES systems belong to the class of shop floor-level management systems but can also be used for integrated production management at the enterprise as a whole.

MES collects and analyzes production processes, product demand, and inventory data. This allows manufacturers to adapt more quickly to changes in the market, reconfigure production to meet current requirements, and closely monitor trends. As a result, manufacturers can more easily predict and meet customer needs, which helps increase online sales.

MES helps in maintaining accurate inventory records and managing inventory turnover. This avoids overstock or shortages, which can affect a company’s ability to meet online demand and maintain customer service levels.

Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) enhance transparency and automate operations, reducing human errors and operational costs. Integrating Manufacturing CRM streamlines customer data, allowing manufacturers to tailor products, respond to market changes, and offer competitive prices in online stores. The synergy between MES and CRM creates an agile manufacturing environment, optimizing efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Content Marketing

Kapost’s research shows that companies in the B2B segment that blog get 67% more leads on average than companies that don’t. However, it’s worth remembering that content marketing requires a lot of resources to prepare and regularity in publishing it. This content can be, for example, brand identity and E-commerce logo, articles and videos, webinars, research, and interviews.

The content should help solve a specific problem to create the image of an expert and thus influence the decisions of potential customers. The topics discussed should not be chosen randomly. A little research in Google Trends will help select the main topic, discussion areas in the video, phrases, and words that should be included in the article. Publishing content based on such a prepared analysis allows you to achieve high positions in search engines. It provides a good user experience for customers looking for answers to product/service questions, comprehensively covering the subject matter.

The benefits of this e-commerce strategy are free traffic, increased user confidence, and the creation of an expert image.

Content marketing is a form of promotion that requires patience and time. Its effects will also depend on the quality of thecontent itself, its optimization, and promotion methods. No specific terms can be specified here.

YouTube channels as a form of content marketing

You can discuss your production process and show and test products on your YouTube channel. If someone is looking for information about a product and is unsure which brand to choose, they will likely find your video and maybe make a purchase. Remember to choose a title that matches the search query and prepare a video description with product links. You can send out an email to announce when new videos are released. Whenever you have particularly compelling videos, you could also promote them via texting notifications to drive even more traffic.

Utilize user-generated content and social media

Not utilizing the content that your users generate is a huge issue. This is because it’s not easy to refresh an e-commerce website and keep it alive. But photos and videos taken by real customers are great for this purpose.

Adding a “widget” that connects your online store’s website to its official social media accounts brings significant benefits. These include revitalizing your social media accounts, increasing your credibility as a manufacturer, inspiring other customers to buy, and encouraging repeat purchases.

Snapchat Planets

Snapchat’s “Planets” feature provides a unique and interactive way to engage with your e-commerce store’s audience. Here are some creative ideas on how to leverage Snapchat Planets to create engaging content:

  • Virtual Store Tours: Use the AR feature to create a virtual tour of your store. Each planet can represent different sections or categories of your store. For instance, one planet could showcase your latest collection, another could highlight bestsellers, and another could offer exclusive deals.
  • Product Launches: Announce new product launches by creating a cosmic journey. Users can travel from one planet to another, each unveiling a new product with engaging visuals and detailed descriptions. This creates a sense of excitement and discovery around new arrivals.
  • Interactive Shopping Experience: Create interactive shopping experiences where users can explore products in a fun and engaging way. For example, users can navigate through different planets to find hidden discounts or special offers, making shopping more interactive and rewarding.
  • Customer Rewards and Loyalty Programs: Develop a loyalty program where users earn points or rewards by exploring different planets. Each planet can offer unique rewards, such as discounts, free samples, or exclusive access to new collections. This gamifies the shopping experience and encourages repeat visits.
  • Themed Campaigns: Align your marketing campaigns with planetary themes. For instance, during holiday seasons, you can create a holiday-themed planet where users can find special holiday deals, gift ideas, and festive content.

By leveraging Snapchat Planets, you can transform your e-commerce store’s content into a captivating and interactive experience that keeps your audience engaged, entertained, and coming back for more.

Use newsletters to captivate your target audience

Newsletters can strengthen the connection with the consumer and demonstrate that shopping with you is safe and profitable. Remember that the more personalized the message, the more effective it will be. It should contain a call to action (CTA), such as a button that redirects to products.

Don’t forget to put a box to check for consent to process personal data when subscribing to the newsletter. Also, add an option to unsubscribe from the newsletter in each email.

A regular email account is not adapted for the newsletter, so do not use your everyday email address. This way, you risk being blacklisted by spam filters. The benefits of newsletters are optimizing advertising costs, increasing loyal audiences from different channels, and building mutually beneficial relationships with partners.

Print and PDF Channel

1716522964 432 Top 3 Strategies for Success

In the digital landscape, the significance of Print and PDF channels cannot be underestimated for manufacturers engaging in e- commerce. The tactile experience of print offers unique psychological advantages, enhancing comprehension and retention, which are vital for technical manuals and complex product details. PDFs merge this benefit with digital accessibility, ensuring wide reach while maintaining format integrity. This dual-channel approach not only caters to diverse consumer preferences but also bolsters marketing efforts, making technical content more engaging and understandable. Utilizing catalog software further streamlines the integration of Print and PDF channels into e-commerce strategies, enhancing product presentation and distribution efficiency.

Contextual advertising: Google Ads

1716522964 713 Top 3 Strategies for Success

If you want the advertising you invest in to have an immediate effect, it’s worth turning to Google Ads. Google displays paid ads in search results and on Google’s network of partners (on-site ads in the form of banners).

You bid when you search for a keyword for which advertisers have set up a campaign. The search engine determines who will appear in the search results and at what position. When assigning bids, the quality of the landing page, the quality of the ads, and the stated maximum bid per click are all considered.

To start setting up your campaign, simply login to your Google Ads account. Using the service is free, and you’ll find plenty of online tutorials on creating a campaign. However, you may find that it won’t generate valuable traffic if you don’t set it up optimally. Your budget will be wasted on clicks that won’t lead to conversions. This is why most companies resort to the help of agencies, including specialized agencies.

There is probably no industry in which Google Ads campaigns cannot be used. However, advertising can be moderately profitable if there is a lot of competition in the industry and margins are low.

The benefits of this e-commerce strategy are large audience reach, the ability to get the target audience as accurately as possible, and very detailed statistics on results.

The effect of launching a campaign should appear almost immediately. A properly set up campaign will increase traffic to the website. By systematically optimizing the campaign, you can achieve much better results.

You also can use paid Facebook Ads post promotion. It is important to pinpoint your target group, but how do you do it? A popular way is to draw up a customer portrait, that is, to make a collective image of your customer.

This considers age, gender, income level, location, interests and hobbies, and online behavior. Such a person will display a group interested in your services or goods.

Implement personalized product selections

Recommended product block and cross-selling are very powerful internet marketing strategies. In addition to the recommended product block, which shows the analogs of the product being viewed, it is worth paying attention to the website’s functionality.

As a rule, the products in the “You may also like” block are selected based on the pages previously viewed by the customer, his previous purchases on the website, as well as what was purchased by other customers with similar tastes. If this functionality is implemented technically sound, it can lead to additional items added to the shopping cart. “You may also like” block partly acts as an alternative to the advice of a specialist or consultant.

With blocks for cross-selling related products is a similar situation. Usually, in them are placed products from the same product line, collection, or simply those that perfectly match the product being viewed. You can use AI-powered live chats to proactively engage in customer conversations and suggest products based on their behavior.

Conclusion

E-commerce for manufacturers is a vast field, and in this article, we have presented the most popular and most effective forms of selling online. Remember, no effective e-commerce strategy exists. Each industry and business will have specifics. Try combining the above mentioned e-commerce strategies to maximize your chances of success and increase your profits.

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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

Did you follow the Apple iPad Pro content debacle?

Here’s a quick recap. A recent online ad for the new iPad Pro showed a large hydraulic press slowly crushing various symbols of creativity. A metronome, a piano, a record player, a video game, paints, books, and other creative tools splinter and smash as the Sonny and Cher song All I Ever Need Is You plays.

The ad’s title? “Crush!”

The point of the commercial — I think — is to show that Apple managed to smush (that’s the technical term) all this heretofore analog creativity into its new, very thin iPad Pro.  

To say the ad received bad reviews is underselling the response. Judgment was swift and unrelenting. The creative world freaked out.

On X, actor Hugh Grant shared Tim Cook’s post featuring the ad and added this comment: “The destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley.”

When fellow actor Justine Bateman shared the Tim Cook post, she simply wrote, “Truly, what is wrong with you?” Other critiques ranged from tone-challenged to wasteful to many worse things.

Actor Justine Bateman shared Tim Cook’s post on X, which featured the ad, and added this comment: "Truly, what is wrong with you?".

A couple of days later, Apple apologized and canceled plans to air the ad on television.

How not-so-great content ideas come to life

The level of anger surprises me. Look, the ad does show the eyeballs on an emoji-faced squishy ball popping under the plates’ pressure, but still. Calling the ad “actually psychotic” might be a skosh over the top.

Yes, the ad missed the mark. And the company’s subsequent decision to apologize makes sense.

But anyone who’s participated in creating a content misfire knows this truth: Mistakes look much more obvious in hindsight.

On paper, I bet this concept sounded great. The brainstorming meeting probably started with something like this: “We want to show how the iPad Pro metaphorically contains this huge mass of creative tools in a thin and cool package.”

Maybe someone suggested representing that exact thing with CGI (maybe a colorful tornado rising from the screen). Then someone else suggested showing the actual physical objects getting condensed would be more powerful.

Here’s my imagined version of the conversation that might have happened after someone pointed out the popular internet meme of things getting crushed in a hydraulic press.

“People love that!”

“If we add buckets of paint, it will be super colorful and cool.”

“It’ll be a cooler version of that LG ad that ran in 2008.”

“Exactly!”

“It’ll be just like that ad where a bus driver kidnaps and subsequently crushes all the cute little Pokémon characters in a bus!” (Believe it or not, that was actually a thing.)

The resulting commercial suffers from the perfect creative storm: A not-great (copycat) idea at the absolutely wrong time.

None of us know what constraints Apple’s creative team worked under. How much time did they have to come up with a concept? Did they have time to test it with audiences? Maybe crushing physical objects fit into the budget better than CGI. All these factors affect the creative process and options (even at a giant company like Apple).

That’s not an excuse — it’s just reality.

Content failure or content mistake?

Many ad campaigns provoke a “What the hell were they thinking?” response (think Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad or those cringy brand tributes that follow celebrity deaths).

Does that mean they’re failures? Or are they mistakes? And what’s the difference?

As I wrote after Peloton’s holiday ad debacle (remember that?), people learn to fear mistakes early on. Most of us hear cautionary messages almost from day one.

Some are necessary and helpful (“Don’t stick a knife in a live toaster” or “Look both ways before you cross the street.”) Some aren’t (“Make that essay perfect” or “Don’t miss that goal.”)

As a result, many people grow up afraid to take risks — and that hampers creativity. The problem arises from conflating failure and mistakes. It helps to know the difference.

I moved to Los Angeles in 1987 to become a rock ‘n’ roll musician. I failed. But it wasn’t a mistake. I wasn’t wrong to try. My attempt just didn’t work.

Labeling a failed attempt a “mistake” feeds the fears that keep people from attempting anything creative.

The conflation of failure and mistakes happens all too often in creative marketing. Sure, people create content pieces (and let’s not forget that there are always people behind those ideas) that genuinely count as mistakes.

They also create content that simply fails.

Don’t let extreme reactions make you fear failures

Here’s the thing about failed content. You can do all the work to research your audience and take the time to develop and polish your ideas — and the content still might fail. The story, the platform, or the format might not resonate, or the audience simply might not care for it. That doesn’t mean it’s a mistake.

Was the Apple ad a mistake? Maybe, but I don’t think so.

Was it a failure? The vitriolic response indicates yes.

Still, the commercial generated an impressive amount of awareness (53 million views of the Tim Cook post on X, per Variety.) And, despite the apology, the company hasn’t taken the ad down from its YouTube page where it’s earned more than 1 million views.

The fictional Captain Jean Luc Picard once said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not weakness. That is life.” The Apple ad turns that statement on its head — Apple made many mistakes and still won a tremendous amount of attention.

I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t criticize creative work. Constructive critiques help us learn from our own and others’ failures. You can even have a good laugh about content fails.

Just acknowledge, as the Roman philosopher Cicero once wrote, “Not every mistake is a foolish one.” 

Creative teams take risks. They try things outside their comfort zone. Sometimes they fail (sometimes spectacularly).

But don’t let others’ expressions of anger over failures inhibit your willingness to try creative things.

Wouldn’t you love to get the whole world talking about the content you create? To get there, you have to risk that level of failure.

And taking that risk isn’t a mistake.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Subscribe to workday or weekly CMI emails to get Rose-Colored Glasses in your inbox each week. 

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute 



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The Future of Content Success Is Social

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The Future of Content Success Is Social

Here’s a challenge: search “SEO RFP” on Google. Click on the results, and tell me how similar they are.

We did the same thing every other SEO does: We asked, “What words are thematically relevant?” Which themes have my competitors missed?” How can I put them in?” AND “How can I do everything just slightly better than they can?”

Then they do the same, and it becomes a cycle of beating mediocre content with slightly less mediocre content.

When I looked at our high-ranking content, I felt uncomfortable. Yes, it ranked, but it wasn’t overly helpful compared to everything else that ranked.

Ranking isn’t the job to be done; it is just a proxy.

Why would a high-ranking keyword make me feel uncomfortable? Isn’t that the whole freaking job to be done? Not for me. The job to be done is to help educate people, and ranking is a byproduct of doing that well.

I looked at our own content, and I put myself in the seat of a searcher, not an SEO; I looked at the top four rankings and decided that our content felt easy, almost ChatGPT-ish. It was predictable, it was repeatable, and it lacked hot takes and spicy punches.

So, I removed 80% of the content and replaced it with the 38 questions I would ask if I was hiring an SEO. I’m a 25-year SME, and I know what I would be looking for in these turbulent times. I wanted to write the questions that didn’t exist on anything ranking in the top ten. This was a risk, why? Because, semantically, I was going against what Google was likely expecting to see on this topic. This is when Mike King told me about information gain. Google will give you a boost in ranking signals if you bring it new info. Maybe breaking out of the sea of sameness + some social signals could be a key factor in improving rankings on top of doing the traditional SEO work.

What’s worth more?

Ten visits to my SEO RFP post from people to my content via a private procurement WhatsApp group or LinkedIn group?

One hundred people to the same content from search?

I had to make a call, and I was willing to lose rankings (that were getting low traffic but highly valued traffic) to write something that when people read it, they thought enough about it to share it in emails, groups, etc.

SME as the unlock to standout content?

I literally just asked myself, “Wil, what would you ask yourself if you were hiring an SEO company? Then I riffed for 6—8 hours and had tons of chats with ChatGPT. I was asking ChatGPT to get me thinking differently. Things like, “what would create the most value?” I never constrained myself to “what is the search volume,” I started with the riffs.

If I was going to lose my rankings, I had to socially promote it so people knew it existed. That was an unlock, too, if you go this route. It’s work, you are now going to rely on spikes from social, so having a reason to update it and put it back in social is very important.

Most of my “followers” aren’t looking for SEO services as they are digital marketers themselves. So I didn’t expect this post to take off HUGLEY, but given the content, I was shocked at how well it did and how much engagement it got from real actual people.

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