Content Marketing, Muppets, and the Key to Keeping People Engaged An Interview with Andrew Davis
Andrew Davis is a bestselling author, filmmaker, and internationally acclaimed keynote speaker. Before building and selling a thriving digital marketing agency, Andrew Davis got his start in the Television industry. He has produced for NBC’s Today Show, worked for The Muppets in New York and wrote for the late great Charles Kuralt. He’s appeared in the New York Times, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and on NBC and the BBC. Davis has crafted documentary films and award-winning content for tiny start-ups and Fortune 500 brands and he is also the author of ‘Brandscaping,’ and ‘Town Inc.’
Recognized as one of the industry’s “Jaw-Dropping Marketing Speakers,” Andrew is a mainstay on global marketing influencer lists. Wherever he goes, Andrew Davis puts his infectious enthusiasm and magnetic speaking style to good use teaching business leaders how to grow their businesses, transform their cities, and leave their legacy.
We were fortunate enough to interview Mr. Davis where he talked about his roots in the television industry, his content marketing insights and his thoughts on the future of the industry. You can listen to the audio version here:, read the transcribed version below, or both! Share your thoughts in the comments below and let us know what content marketing influencer you’d like to see us interview next
When did you know you wanted to get into content marketing?
Davis: I came out of the television business. I used to work for the Today show in New York and I wrote stories for Charles Kuralt who was a television journalist and I also produced some local television programming and before I got into marketing I was focused on great storytelling and when I got into marketing I didn’t know any other way to do it except to tell stories that inspire people to buy something they didn’t know they needed. At the time, in the late 90’s, they weren’t calling it content marketing so I just happened to be doing it when content marketing became popular. It was something I identified with immediately because we’d been doing it for a long time. I kinda happened into calling it content marketing. Before that it was called custom publishing or just great storytelling or even advertising. So I guess I’ve been into content marketing since 1999 or 2000 when I first got into marketing and have been doing it ever since.
You come from a pretty diverse background. You’ve worked for the Muppets in New York, at the Today Show, you’ve written books and produced a documentary film, you’re an internationally acclaimed keynote speaker and well the list goes on and on. How have your past experiences working in film and the media influenced your career in content marketing.
Davis: I think I learned everything I needed to know about marketing when i was working for the Muppets actually because the Muppets are an interesting brand. They make most of their money by selling products they’ve licensed to other people. Let’s take Sesame Street for example, which isn’t a profit making enterprise, it’s actually a non-profit. Audiences fall in love with characters like Elmo or Big Bird and then they want to buy a Big Bird blanket or a pillowcase with Oscar the Grouch on it or Grover and that’s where they actually make their money. I realized a long time ago in the television and film business that the money is really made on the merchandising of the products that come out of great content and so instead of trying to market and sell a product, can you inspire someone to buy something they didn’t know they needed by actually creating content that sends them on a journey they never expected so I kinda feel like my entire career has been focused on telling stories that create a moment of inspiration.
What influencers have influenced you (content marketing or otherwise)?
Davis: The influencers on my list are generally people that are big thinkers, people that I think force other business people to think very differently about the landscape we live in and the approaches that are successful and help really work through the problem themselves instead of giving people tips and tricks. People like Ann Handley have influenced me very heavily in the way I write by forcing me to think about how I write and there are people like Michael Brenner who have challenged me to think about the way I lead a team or inspire people to change their organization. There are also people that I don’t know on a personal basis that have changed my life from the content they’ve created like the author of a book named ‘the Wizard of Ads,’ his name is Roy Williams. That book is a staple on my shelf and has really forced me to think creatively at every turn, especially when I’ve challenged myself to come up with a new idea. There are a lot of people who are not considered ‘influencers’ in the marketplace but have influenced me. My first boss, a guy named Claude Pelanne, heavily influenced the way I thought about television and storytelling and really forced me to be a better storyteller. Working for people like Charles Kuralt who are master storytellers forced me to really up my game and really challenged me to be a better storyteller. There’s a wide range of people who have really influenced who I am today.
Technology is always changing and one of the latest trends that content marketers are just starting to explore is virtual reality and augmented reality. Do you think this type of tech will stick?
Davis: I think we should caution against too quickly trying these technologies, like virtual reality and augmented reality which have been around for a long time, without really thinking how to make the best use of the technology. I think marketers are very good at turning the technology into a novelty for the consumer, meaning they just do fun, stupid stuff with it that doesn’t show how powerful it is. If you’re gonna try virtual reality or augmented reality, make sure that it really has some utility to the audience; make sure they really see the power of the technology itself instead of turning it into a novelty. Lego has done that with augmented reality and their Lego kiosks are a really great way of showing people something you can’t see on a physical product and building it in the store in front of you and animating it, that’s really powerful. Mini Cooper used augmented reality very early on to just put an ad on the back of a magazine and pop up a virtual reality version of the Mini Cooper, and it was pretty silly really. Stay away from being silly and stay focused on the value it adds to the content consumer’s life and you’ll make a big impact.
Video content is one of the best ways to engage with consumers and it’s always evolving. What video marketing trends are you most excited to see unfold in 2018?
Davis: I think I’m most excited to see marketers leverage video not as a gimmick but as a real tool to bring people along on a long journey instead of a short one. I think video content is so ubiquitous these days we’re all worried about trying to make it the right length for people to consume but the fact is if you create a great video you should be able to get the right audience to watch the entire video even if it’s a 90 minute documentary. Something I learned in the television business is that if you keep the audience chasing answers in the content you’re creating, you can get them to consume content of almost any length, so I’m excited to see video storytelling evolve. Most importantly, things like case studies and testimonials which I think are pretty pathetic when they’re created as video content have a real long way to go. It’s the best opportunity to make the biggest impact in your audience’s life, if you just tell better stories.
We live in a pretty hectic world and it can be hard to find time to sit down and read long-form content or watch 10+ minute videos. How do you keep people engaged in a world that just won’t stop?
Davis: This is a good question, I think there are three keys to keep people engaged in a world that’s overloaded with information.
- You need to make an appointment with your audience: Email is one of the easiest ways to do that but you can do it on any channel. If you’re creating consistent videos instead of just creating one-off videos that you hope get lots of views, what you actually want to do is build momentum over time and make an appointment with the audience so that every Thursday you’re going to create a new video or every Thursday you’re going to send them some new content that’s gonna change their lives or make their business better. Making that appointment really does keep people engaged and it helps them set an expectation of what you’re going to deliver and your job is to deliver on it.
- Make sure the content is from a person: We live in a social-powered world and content from a brand, even if you’re thinking about emails, needs to be personable. If I get an email from [email protected] that’s not building a real relationship but if I get an email from [email protected] I’m much more likely to build a relationship with that person over time and that’s a very valuable piece of inbox time. So having content come from a person is really important.
- Make sure your content is not commodity content. You’ve got to create something of value that’s unique to you and your brand and I think that requires what I call a ‘hook,’ which is what I learned from television. A ‘hook’ is a simple twist on a familiar theme designed to ensnare or entrap your audience and if you create content with a great hook you’re able to really stand out in the marketplace and provide something on a regular basis, from a person that’s really really unique even though the subject matter might be considered something they’d seen or heard elsewhere, the hook makes it ownable.
Those three things will help you really cut through clutter and be part of the information that people want to consume instead of just part of the noise in the chasing of the social stream world
Storytelling and content marketing go hand in hand and I’ve noticed that a lot of brands are focused more on quantity than quality. How can we grow not just as marketers but as storytellers?
Davis: I think the key to quelling this debate between quality and quantity is to focus on quantity over time at a high enough quality to own the audience outright. I really feel like the best content marketing efforts are focused on building a relationship with the audience over time because those relationships build trust and trust is actually what drives the revenue, especially when you’re focused on content. You can’t answer the same questions that have been answered by fifty other blogs already unless you have something new and unique to add to the picture so the quantity game is just answering that question. Again, quality is much more focused on how to really address the biggest issues that are facing your target customer or audience on a regular basis and really help them solve those challenges and along the way create moments of inspiration that really drive them to buy more of whatever it is you sell. On the storytelling side it’s really important to understand that you need to have your audience chasing answers constantly and if you can help them chase the answers and find the solutions, you’re the trusted partner in this space
Creating content can be easier said than done and as content creators, we all get creativity blocks. How can we fight back against these blocks?
Davis: I think having a format for your content and having a smart hook helps you take off the pressure to constantly create. So if you have a simple twist on a familiar theme that’s designed to ensnare or entrap your audience, that hook becomes the creativity that you need to execute on on a regular basis and the barrier is much lower. If i have to open up my web browser in the morning and write an article that’s a thousand words and I have no inspiration that morning, it’s really really hard so for example I write a column for the Chief content officer magazine called ‘Unsolicited Advice,’ and it’s always positioned as a letter to someone and giving them some advice that they didn’t ask for. That’s a hook. I can write the articles very quickly now because I know the hook works and people really resonate with the articles so I don’t have to feel like I’m being creative I can just focus on the subject matter for the content and it comes across as very creative.
What piece of advice would you give to young professionals who want to get into content marketing?
Davis: If you’re a young professional interested in marketing in general, I think you should really focus on learning the keys of storytelling. I keep telling people that video is one of the best ways to understand what makes great stories work so I think if you want to create better content you have to learn to watch and consume content better. I’d want them to look at and consume content with a much more critical eye and start digesting what makes a piece of content work or not work and then boil up those lessons and apply them to what you’re doing yourself. It’s really easy to see the problems in other people’s stuff and if you then apply that to your stuff you’ll sometimes find the same errors or issues. Become a better content consumer and you’ll become a better content producer.
Connect with Andrew Davis on his Website, LinkedIn and Twitter