Computer graphic representation of the brain


  • Changing minds. That’s what we do and it’s a lot to ask.
  • When you show up, you’re triggering the “fight or flight” response.
  • The public, and their brains, have mastered filtering out what you’re trying to force on them.


You know that in content marketing, you’re in the business of changing minds, right? Or at least steering minds in a direction they weren’t necessarily going until you came along.


Take a minute to appreciate how difficult it is to achieve such a thing. Now, more than ever, we as human beings seem to be gorilla glued to our existing beliefs tighter than ever. To such an extent that we flare up, go on the defensive, and adopt a fully antagonistic posture toward anyone who dares try to make us contemplate an alternative point of view.


That’s you. You’re the threat to existing beliefs, practices and habits. When you show up with your content marketing, you trigger the fight or flight instinct that causes prospects to run away/hide from you/avoid you at all costs, or to aggressively resist everything you’re trying to tell them.


The verdict of content in 2019 was the creation of a firestorm of noise and clutter. Just to say we did.

To make matters worse, into this environment come the many marketers who have crafted their content without appreciating the real task at hand. It is largely self-serving, pleasing mostly to internal stakeholders, packed with marketing-speak and jargon, unnecessarily complex in its messaging, non-captivating, unhelpful, and selling hard via feature details.


This has sadly become the norm, not the exception. The verdict of content in 2019 has been the creation of a firestorm of noise and clutter. Just to say we did. 2020 will not support that. Just as the public artfully developed the coping skill of ad blindness, they are now well down the road in developing instinctive content filtering. Human brains are making lightning fast assessments. Will reading or watching or listening to this add value to my life, or is it a threat to my time and status quo?


Statue "The Thinker"


We are marketing to human brains. We are communicating with human beings. So if the task of content marketing is to change or steer the thinking of prospects, maybe we should get serious about learning how “thinking” works.


Why limit ourselves to being left brain analytical or right brain creative?

For instance, do you consider yourself left brained or right brained? If so, you’re selling yourself short, because we’re all whole-brained beings. Our brain hemispheres are connected by a corpus collosum and info flies back and forth and gets processed on both sides. Yes, there are differences in how we prefer to think, but both hemispheres are at work. Why limit ourselves to being left brain analytical or right brain creative? The most effective users of the brain are open to tapping into both.


Lesson: In our content marketing, there is no valid excuse for leaving out the creative in deference to the logical argument you’re trying to make. Likewise, there is no valid excuse for leaving out clear and convincing messaging in deference to overly vague and esoteric design. Generate sound arguments delivered in compelling and entertaining ways. You are capable of both.


Next, there’s the belief that emotional people tend to not be as rational as cool or unemotional people. As any Spock fan knows, emotions are seen as a primitive trait in need of overcoming in pursuit of pure logic. As with our brain hemispheres, it’s a mistake to approach this as an either/or proposition. Emotion and reason actually team up frequently and effectively. Think about the last big, important decision you had to make. You had facts, but they weren’t enough to give you total peace, were they? Why not? Because your gut was giving you anxiety about the choice ahead. We have instinct for a reason.


Lesson: It’s a frequent, colossal mistake to think content marketing doesn’t need to move people emotionally. Everything we’ve ever done in our lives was influenced to some degree by emotion. That’s why storytelling was such a buzzword in 2019. Often misunderstood, storytelling isn’t about writing the About tab on your website. It’s about putting people in an emotional state of mind. You can give prospects the facts, but that’s less than half the game. The ability to trigger emotion is what lights the fire.


Children working together on a project.


Lastly, we’ve heard many times that we all have a method of learning that suits us best. Maybe you regard yourself as a “visual learner,” or an “auditory learner,” or a “tactile and kinetic learner.” Do boys learn differently from girls? Do girls learn better when separated from boys? Is a male or female teacher best? Structured vs. unstructured learning? What time should school be? Should there be more than one recess? We’ve been having these debates for decades, mostly in pursuit of the best “one size fits all” approach possible, knowing that “one size fits all” is absurd.


Your job is not to just make “something,” check the box and move on. It’s much more difficult than that.

Along comes Dan Willingham and people like him whose research consistently showed that while we all have preferences for how we like to get info, that doesn’t mean we learn less if info is presented in ways we don’t prefer. In fact, we learn different things from the many ways that info can be presented. Maybe I picked up something in the audio version of a book I didn’t catch when I read it. Maybe I highlighted something in the book that escaped me while listening to it.


Lesson: One content marketing format does not fit all. Scale your material and present it across formats and channels so your audience can choose their preference. Or better yet, they will experience the information several ways for deeper understanding and retention. Help them maximize what they can learn from you. And – as mentioned before – different formats can be used to drive emotions in different ways.


Your job is not to just make “something,” check the box, please the boss and move on. It’s much more difficult than that. Your job is to court human beings, make them feel something, don’t be a threat, make your value to their lives obvious, give them a great show in many different ways, and allow them to willingly want you vs. being talked into you. This is what content marketers who take time to understand how our brains work and how humans really behave pursue.  

Hand of a man reading a newspaper in the park


  • There’s an odd reluctance to admit there’s no content plan or that content isn’t “working”
  • Powerful content requires vision from an internal leader
  • There are numerous gains to be had from getting clarity around content
  • No one expects you to be staffed with entertainers and journalists, so there’s no shame in reaching out to some


Still haven’t contemplated bringing on a content strategy & production resource? Maybe it’s because you’ve got it totally figured out, you’re firing on all cylinders, everyone knows the plan and messaging, and your content has your audience doing exactly what you want them to do. Or…it could be the fog is so thick around the issue of content you’re just groping around trying to get by another day.


Circle the items below to see if your brand has anything to gain from getting clarity around content.


  • There’s not a company-wide understanding of what is meant by “content”.


  • There’s no knowledge of who in the organization or which department is in charge of content.


  • Content is run simultaneously and in different ways in different departments.


  • There is no C-suite executive who understands the importance of content or is championing it.


  • Content is placed in the hands of multiple ad-hoc agencies who frankly, are most invested in securing larger engagements.


  • No one is sure how to get content made.


  • Nobody seems to know, or care, what kind of content customers and prospects want to get.



  • All content being made is safe, sterile, corporate, and compromised to satisfy a cast of executives instead of the customer.


  • There is no documented content strategy. You’re winging it and hoping to get lucky.


  • There is no serious budget for content. You still think it should be free and magic.


  • There is no acceptance that in 2017, content IS communication. So if you’re not dealing in content, you’re failing to communicate externally and internally, with all the chaos that brings.


  • For some reason, all the truly creative employees you have are deeply frustrated and unhappy.


  • You don’t think video is a modern-day business mandate. You’re waiting for those YouTube and Facebook Video fads to just go away.


  • You don’t believe that content can be made cost effectively at scale .


  • You don’t believe that “less and more effective” is better than “make lots more lame stuff.”


  • You don’t know WHY you should make content; that there should be a specific mission and purpose behind every asset.


  • There’s no understanding of how to tell if a content asset is successful or not.


  • You have a generalized anxiety that your competitors’ content is much better than yours.


  • Nobody knows who your execs are because they have not put themselves out there via content as leaders in their space.


  • Staff does not retain or react to a great deal of the internal comms pushed to their inboxes.


  • The business press isn’t covering you.


  • You’ve actually been pretty happy with your content efforts, but there’s a next level you’re not quite sure how to get to.


  • You throw your customers and prospects into FAQ, Knowledge Base hell instead of quickly responding with a content asset(s) that directly addresses what they’re looking for, and in their preferred format.


  • All you’re doing is listing your features and selling stuff. You’re not crafting or telling your story…which is what humans connect to.


  • You’ve invested big money in marketing technologies and platforms, but it’s just sitting there collecting dust because you don’t have the content strategy or production to power it. You’ve got the veins but no blood.


  • Your social media channels are sharing others’ content, because you don’t have much of your own.


If you’re seeing circles even when you close your eyes, don’t feel bad. Like any other business function, content creation and emotive storytelling is a specialized craft. Unless you’re staffed with entertainers and journalists (and few brands are), it’s not fair to expect a lot of entertaining and informative output. What you can expect is MORE ad hoc marketing material. So whether it’s us or another qualified content strategy and communications planning consultancy, it’s healthy to at least have the conversation about your current content state of affairs . 


In a bad fog, seeing even a little light can be pretty encouraging.