Content marketing: Different ways to tell the tale

While a lot of people are finding it hard to contain their excitement over the new Star Wars film opening this month, for me the current source of cinematic excitement is a whale. A really big whale.

A good friend and I have long been fans of a literary genre we refer to as Tales of Incredible Hardship. Books about mountaineering ventures gone bad, ill-fated polar expeditions, sea journeys that failed dramatically—we can’t get enough. So it was with some degree of excitement that I first saw the ads for a film adaptation of one such tale, Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea.

The book tells the unfortunate story of the whaling ship Essex, which sank in 1820 after being rammed by an angry (and massive) sperm whale. It’s the real-life event that inspired Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Philbrick’s book, though less well known than Melville’s, is also a great read.

In content marketing, as in art forms such as book writing and movie making, there are many different ways to tell a story. Melville’s and Philbrick’s perspectives are just that—a view on a shared scene. In the case of the upcoming movie based on Philbrick’s work, will the film prove to be a successful telling of the story? We’ll see.

Since the earliest days of motion pictures, filmmakers have been turning books into movies, and it’s fairly common for fans of the books disappointed in the adaptation. In fact, such adaptations aren’t exclusive to literary works. I have on this very blog expressed my fondness for the Who, in particular the album Quadrophenia. That album was subsequently translated for the screen in a great film directed by Franc Roddam. While I loved Quadrophenia the album from the very first listen, I was less keen on the film on its initial release. Over the years, though, I’ve watched the film many times, and my appreciation of it has grown immensely. Maybe time brought some needed perspective on teenage angst and identity crisis, making me a better audience for the film.

So the point remains: there are various ways to tell a story, and different media or techniques might be the right choice for different audiences. A particularly interesting example of a business adapting its message to a different medium is seen in a video series called “Leap Year,” created a few years back by the insurance firm Hiscox. Over the course of two “seasons” of 10 roughly 10-minute episodes, the comedy explores the experiences of 5 friends who lose their jobs and decide to start their own business.

The video series seems a perfect choice of medium for a target audience of young, would-be entrepreneurs, most of whom are likely familiar with binge-watching streaming video entertainment. Aside from “presented by Hiscox” messages at the beginning and end, the episodes never mention the insurer. What is conveyed in the series content, though, are the various stresses, concerns, and insecurities associated with starting a business, all presented in an entertaining and engaging way—and, by association, making the point that Hiscox is familiar with entrepreneurs’ stresses, concerns, and insecurities. The series also significantly boosted brand awareness of a Bermuda-based insurance firm expanding its business in the United States. Not surprisingly, Hiscox is continuing to use video as part of its efforts to reach small businesses.

There are a lot of ways to tell a story, so when you’re getting ready to tell yours, think about your audience and the medium that best suits them. It might wind up being one you hadn’t considered before and, who knows, the movie might turn out to be even better than the book.

Rodd Zolkos

Rodd is an editorial director at Leff Communications. Prior to joining Leff, Rodd spent more than 35 years as a working journalist, including time with daily newspapers, community journalism, and the business press. Follow Rodd on Twitter @RoddZolkos.

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