Halloween is right around the corner. Now feels like the best time to look at some sage advice by the horror world’s great writers, directors, and producers. It’s advice marketers, or anyone interested in writing, can take with them. Let’s dive right in.
Content marketing involves a lot of writing. Most content marketers come from journalism backgrounds, so they’re already comfortable with writing, and likely big readers. If, however, you’re interested in content marketing and you come from a more technical background, you should probably take the advice of horror writer, Stephen King. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut,” King says in his book, On Writing.
For those of us who choose to be content marketers, we do it because—yes, it’s our job—but also because we enjoy creating content. Jordan Peele, who won the Oscar for his horror film, Get Out, has some insights for us here. “That’s my advice with dealing with writers block. Follow the fun. If you aren’t having fun, you are doing it wrong,” Peele says. And he’s got a point. If you’re finding the content you create is a bit dry, so will your audience. Remember that you’re not creating content solely for an algorithm. You’re creating content for people, who want something that is enjoyable to read, watch or listen. And this goes for those who are in the B2B space, which is notorious for creating content that ends up zoning readers out.
Whether content marketers are working on a story, or they’re developing a marketing campaign, there’s always the possibility your content won’t be well received, or that your campaign may fall flat. Don’t sweat it though. “By the time I was fourteen (and shaving twice a week whether I needed to or not) the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing,” King says.
Part of being content marketers entails taking risks, and that means using an array of storytelling techniques. Some may work for your audience. Some many not. What’s important is that you continue creating content as needed and not let failing stop your momentum. Besides, content marketing is a long-term game. You never know when that blog post that was collecting dust on your website two months ago may hit the algorithm lottery.
Shirley Jackson is one of the horror genre’s greatest writers. Her horror novel, Haunting of Hill House, is still considered one of the best haunted house novels written to date. The late writer offered advice that content marketers can take to heart. A big part of the content marketer’s role is to develop a calendar of stories that get published out in a regular cadence. But that means you need to constantly be on the lookout for story ideas.
Here’s what Jackson had to say about that. “A writer who is serious and economical can store away small fragments of ideas and events and conversations, and even facial expressions and mannerisms, and use them all someday. It is my belief, for instance, that somewhere in the back of my own mind is a kind of storeroom where there are hundreds of small items I am going to need someday, and when I need them, I will remember them,” she said.
As content marketers we need to have our notebooks handy for jotting down ideas when they come up, whether in meetings or during a daydream. Jackson believed in the power of being observers, and that can be immensely helpful for content marketers pumping out valuable content for their audiences.
The Halloween movie franchise is one of the most influential in the horror genre, and beyond. Even if you don’t watch horror, you may have seen Michael Myers rear his masked face in memes or GIFs.
Halloween was first released in 1978, but the franchise continues producing more films, with one out this year, and another one slated for October 2022. Moustapha Akkad produced the original series of Halloween.
The late producer and director understood the importance of the audience when it came to creating content. “For four years, we didn't do any 'Halloweens,' ... But I believed in it. It's not a genius creation or anything. But whenever Halloween season comes around audiences want something like this,” Akkad said.
Akkad knew that audiences wanted something that would give them a good scare around Halloween time. And he delivered with the first Halloween movie. The film cost around $300,000 to produce, and it made more than $70 million at the box office when it was first released in 1978. To date, the Halloween film franchise has grossed more than $640 million worldwide. Akkad understood his audience’s insatiable appetite for horror and the success of Halloween is proof of that.
What we can glean from this as content marketers is recognizing how important it is to understand what your audience wants. If you can figure that out, your content has a high chance of being successful.
Halloween is big business.
In 2021, The U.S. National Retail Federation estimates consumers will spend more than $10 billion on Halloween decorations, candies, and costumes.
And there’s one retailer that is murdering it during spooky season.
Spirit Halloween is a seasonal shop that you may have seen pop up in one of those abandoned big box stores.
The pop-up retailer has 1,400 locations across the U.S. and Canada, and it is expected to surpass $500 million in sales this horror season, according to The Hustle.
While Spirit Halloween conducts business in brick-and-mortar locations from early August to Nov. 2, it sells Halloween-related goods all year on its website.
But why is Spirit Halloween killing the horror business game? Certainly, one factor is that the seasonal store produces terrifyingly good horror-related content on its many channels. Spirit Halloween uses several social media channels, including Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube, to keep audiences engaged with all-things horror.
From a Beetlejuice makeup tutorial to a spotlight on Pennywise the Clown during his day off, Spirit Halloween knows what content keeps its audience engaged.
The brand was a relatively early adopter of social media, sharing its story on social starting in 2009.
Off season, when pumpkins on front porches may seem out of place, Spirit Halloween remains active by hosting contests, presenting awards, or doing good in the community to keep its brand in the minds of people.
Spirit Halloween launched in 1983 in California. It’s founder, Joe Marver, was first in the business of women’s clothing. But after seeing how well a neighbouring Halloween business was doing, Marver decided to pivot to Halloween, too.
Today, Spirit Halloween is arguably the leader in the Halloween retail industry. And while the store’s pop-up business model helps with its net income, it’s hard to miss that great content plays a key role in Spirit Halloween’s success.
Robert L. May’s dream was to be a novelist. Instead, he ended up being a marketer.
Between carrying debt at the age of 35 and paying for his dying wife’s cancer treatment, May had no choice but to remain pragmatic in his career choices.
But it was through his career as a marketer that May became one of the most well-known storytellers to date.
He’s the author of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, a holiday classic that was first published in 1939. The book came to life after May was handed an assignment by his boss at Montgomery Ward, a department store in Chicago.
May was asked to write a cheery book that inspired people to go shopping at the department store.
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer was never about Montgomery Ward. It was about creating joy for the customer and helping them feel engaged through storytelling.
As content marketers we need to remember that our products should not be our story. Our stories are about people, specifically the audiences we cater to.
No corporate centric messaging needed. Yet many companies do this because they’re excited about the products and things they sell. But again, our stories are not about our products. The subject of our stories is the customer, the audience. They are who we need to centre our stories around.
This is why Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer is an exceptional piece of content marketing. It caters to the emotions and needs of the customer. When the book was first published in 1939, World War II was just beginning. The world was in a dark place.
But Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer offered audiences an escape from the harsh reality of a global war and subsequently served Ward Montgomery the department store.
For those who don’t know the story of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, it’s about a deer who is born with a nose that glows red. Other reindeers would make fun of Rudolph, leaving the young buck in a state of disillusion.
But it was this bright nose that help Santa navigate his sleigh through a foggy night, in turn, saving Christmas.
As Ann Handley pointed out during her keynote talk at Content Marketing World 2021, we should view the story through a content marketing lens. In doing so, we can create a guide on how companies can bring to life their own stories. Here’s an outline Handley created as seen through the example of Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.
1. Once about a time there was (your product) RUDOLPH
2. It has the capacity to (your product’s superpower) LIGHT UP A ROOM
3. Some people doubt it because (what detractors claim) HE’S NOT LIKE OTHERS
4. But one day, (why now) THERE WAS A HEAVY AND DANGEROUS FOG
5. Which means (people now need this) SANTA NEEDED HIM
6. To help (whom does your customer serve?) SANTA DELIVERS GIFTS TO CHILDREN
7. And that matters because (how your customer becomes the hero) CHRISTMAS WOULD OTHERWISE BE CANCELLED
8. Which brings together (the larger market you serve) A COMMUNITY OF MISFITS AND NORTH POLE ELVES
This is a great way for you to understand your organization’s story. Handley recommends sharing this rubric with everyone throughout your company so they can get a better handle of your company’s story.
The lesson in all this is that stories add context and value to your organization. And that marketers can also be great novelists.
I help companies grow by telling their stories.