This was everybody’s favorite joke at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics:
What did one Kerouac grad say to the other?
Do you want fries with that?
Everybody knew the punch line: They learned it their first week of grad school. The words were just part of a staged narrative, and someone would invariably follow with:
You’ve got to have some career. Some plan for retirement.
The response: Your novel is your retirement plan.
It’s been 20 years since my tour of duty at the Beat poet writing program started by Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman in the early 1970s. While I haven’t yet discovered how to make a living from my creative writing, I have found ways to apply the creativity of my writing to my vocation as a content marketer.
What I learned from the Beats—how to write a story to create visceral feeling in your reader—is the same craft I practice today when I build content marketing programs. The Beats’ mindful approach to writing—to represent things at their core, as they truly are—provides a novel opportunity for how to create authentic content marketing success.
“Something that you feel will find its own form.”
A Beat perspective on content marketing makes the prospect feel something at the point of engagement by tapping into core themes and values. The Beat content marketer seeks to create a connection with the prospect by exposing the true heart of each story.
At Wake Forest Innovations, where I promote scientists and their newest discoveries, I look for stories that have at their heart one of two central themes: hope or better data.
Our scientists’ breakthrough discoveries in therapeutics, diagnostics, vaccines and devices offer hope for new cures for diseases. We help pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device companies get better data to inform their discovery programs.
When we tell the story of a program to develop a better vaccine for whooping cough, we offer hope that we will be able to phase out this potentially fatal disease.
When we share perspective on why industry should consider the sex of cells in drug development, we help them get better data to inform their therapeutic pipeline.
“Poetry’s role is to provide spontaneous individual candor as distinct from manipulation and brainwash.”
My prospects—smart enough to make their own informed purchasing decisions—don’t convert after seeing an advertising message. They convert after doing their research. Today, nearly 60 percent of the buying process is completed without any human-to-human interaction. This gives content marketers a distinct opportunity to transform how buying occurs.
A Beat perspective pitches brand value through content created with spontaneous individual candor. “It comes from the bottom of the heart,” Ginsberg says. “It expresses what is known universally and privately.”
Focus on your brand’s distinct and unique tilt on its area of expertise. Share your perspective unfiltered by the coercive approach of traditional advertising. Don’t convince; instead, command attention.
If you develop products that help people sleep, develop content with tips about how to sleep better. If you help the dairy industry promote milk consumption, publish dairy-based recipes on your website. If you help the pharmaceutical industry assess the value of its drug pipeline, offer your prospects best practices for designing exploratory drug studies.
Your prospects care about your products and services because they offer what your prospects need. Give them the same when you decide how to write your content. The historical, advertising-based approach to marketing purposes content to sell a product, but creative content should be considered a product in itself.
“The only people for me are the mad ones … the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
I work in a place called the Innovation Quarter, alongside hundreds of scientists dedicated to changing the landscape of global health. As a content marketer tasked with promoting these scientists, I seek out the mythical and the critical, even though 99 percent of basic science is boring bench research: tests repeated in beakers ad infinitum and data recorded in spreadsheets with tables and tabs that stretch to forever.
But I don’t write about pipettes and Western blots; I write about finally putting an end to the bubonic plague. I don’t write content about the nutritional components of omega-3 fatty acids but about hybridizing algae to become a new sustainable source for omega-3s.
Seek distinction. Find the extraordinary about your subject matter experts and stake your claim on their peculiarities. Avoid common ground; instead, proudly build your online brand with your own personality and point of view.
Have courage and take risks. Be as wild as Kerouac and Neal Cassady crisscrossing the country in borrowed Cadillacs. Be as strange as Burroughs’ Interzone version of Tangier. Be as driven as Ginsberg’s “angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection.” Be your best and most honest brand.
And be memorable.