Managing Content Marketing: The Real American Hustle

Pictured: an unfortunate flashback to a low point in American follicular history.

Pictured: an unfortunate flashback to a low point in American follicular history.

I saw American Hustle in a jam-packed theater, and the laughter in the room was irrepressible. Proud and pompous beer guts, wavering British/New Joisey accents, and a cast clearly enjoying the hell out of themselves, made for perhaps the most uproarious cinematic experience I’ve had in a long time. But it also reinforced a sobering reminder: the hustle is real.

Filled with characters cashing in their right to reinvent themselves, American Hustle is a story about the real American Dream: “survive and thrive.” You want people to think more of you, to see you in a different light? Take a red sharpie and cross out who you don’t want to be. Use the margins to scrawl in the details of who you do want to be. Behind the bouffants, drunken fights and slit-to-there ensembles, this film is a fairy tale of renewal.

Except in this case, the Wicked Stepmother wears some serious curlers to bed.

Except in this case, the Wicked Stepmother wears some serious curlers to bed.

Content marketing with the stars

Of course, reinvention isn’t just a cinematic tool. The central tenet of content marketing is figuring out what customers want or need, and giving it to them. Sure, it’s more time-intensive than slapping on a fake mole and a hazy British accent, but it’s almost infinitely more powerful. It’s a shift in identity that isn’t a shift at all — it’s merely pinpointing the most compelling traits your company possesses, and recalibrating to capitalize on them.

In their book Managing Content Marketing: The Real-World Guide for Creating Passionate Subscribers to Your Brand, Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi outline how companies can benefit from the storytelling techniques used by Hollywood and novelists, to rewrite their brand’s narrative. As the authors put it:

…developing the content in our content marketing strategy is developing the stories of us. It’s the big ideas that we represent. It’s the differentiated experiences we want to create. It’s what we REALLY do for a living.

The Hero’s Journey

Rose and Pulizzi also point out how “follow your bliss” author Joseph Campbell’s concept of monomyth, or hero’s journey — which is a narrative structure at the center of most movies — can be adapted to help companies develop effective content marketing strategies.

Based on Campbell’s steps, they developed the following self-audit for companies looking to rebrand, or reinvent themselves.

10 Steps to Start Your Content Marketing Hero’s Journey

   The Ordinary World

  • What does the market look like? Where are competitors situated? What is the reality for customers?

   The Challenge

  • What would the world look like if you could actually accomplish the audacious goals you’ve set?
  • What’s your product’s call to adventure? What’s the big promise?

   Rejection of the challenge

  • Why hasn’t the big challenge been tackled before? Why haven’t you done it yet?

  Appointment of the Sage

  • Who inside (or outside) the company can help you take this adventure?
  • Who will provide guidance on this journey?

  Crossing into the Unfamiliar

  • What is your brand’s differentiated point of view?
  • How will you communicate this crossing into the new idea?
  • How will you lead your audience into the unknown with you?

  Map the Road of Challenges

  • What tests to your brands legitimacy will it face in the unknown?
  • Who will be the naysayers?
  • What tests and challenges can you plan for?

  The Final Challenge

  • What will you ultimately achieve?
  • What new skills or attributes will your organization take into the final challenge?
  • What will the final challenge be?

  Looking Back

  • How is your brand different now than it was previously?

  The Final Renewal

  • What ambush could – or will – your brand face now that it has undergone this process?
  • What will the competition have to say?
  • How will you overcome new and unexpected obstacles?

  The Celebration

  • The final part of the narrative. The celebration. The rager.

Love the Player, Love the Game

Taking time to deeply consider the answers to each of these questions can help you organize your reinvention over an extended period, as well as pinpoint gaps in your brand narrative. In other words, “survive and thrive.” It’s what all true content marketing hustlers do.

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  • Robert Rose February 26, 2014  

    First and foremost thank you so much for that shout-out. I’m so glad that the story chapter resonated with you….

    For me, what is so great about American Hustle as a lesson (and I actually didn’t LOVE the movie – but I did like it) is that it violates so many expectations. From the hero (and his gut and combover) to the Bradley Cooper with his curlers, and the dialogue (the scenes with Louis CK in particular) and the ending (no spoilers here) – there are so many times when our expectations are twisted.

    This is what’s missing so much of the time in our marketing. We’re afraid to twist our audience’s expectations into something else. That’s the real magic of storytelling – and it’s what makes good marketing content great.

    Thanks again for reading the book. Cheers,


  • Daniel Rogers February 27, 2014  

    Wow, thanks for taking the time to read the post, Robert! I’m a little too busy fangirling over your comment to say much else.
    I will say this: the screwball nature of the movie was both its biggest strength and its biggest liability. I think that’s part of the reason it wasn’t able to break through to become a masterpiece.
    That’s one area I think content marketing can get it over on the film: the process you outline allows you to refine your message and your strategy so you can be both unexpected and polished.

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