So, over the weekend, I went back and re-read Seth Godin’s All Marketers Are Liars (it was subsequently retitled with the words “tell stories”). Also, like I’m sure a good many of you, I watched the NFL playoff games. But something struck me as I watched the Denver game, the coverage and the steady stream of Facebook posts, Twitter updates and overall restaurant conversation over the weekend.
Tim Tebow is a damn good content marketer.
Marketing As Storytelling Is Powerful
So, big shock – I believe in this wholeheartedly. Now, Seth Godin said it much better in his book than I ever have (he says just about everything much better) when he wrote in the forward:
If you think that (more expensive) wine is better, then it is. If you think your new boss is going to be more effective, then she will be. If you love the way a car handles, then you’re going to enjoy driving it.
That sounds so obvious, but if it is, why is it so ignored? Ignored by marketers, ignored by ordinarily rational consumers and ignored by our leaders.
Once we move beyond the simple satisfaction of needs, we move into the complex satisfaction of wants. And wants are hard to measure and difficult to understand. Which makes marketing the fascinating exercise it is.
Okay, so – at this point, I’m watching the Denver Broncos get decimated by the New England Patriots – and I see the discussion about Tebow start to roll in – both pro and con. And there’s no wavering here – you’re either “thank god he got his come uppance” (pun intended) or “okay, he’s not winning, but I still think he’s still amazing”.
By some estimates, when he and his team surprisingly beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime, brand Tebow generated more than 9,000 tweets per second. Now, they’re getting creamed – but even in defeat there’s something joyous about Tebow. It’s inspiring some – and annoying the shit out of others.
So, what has Tim Tebow done to create such a viral brand with so many brand subscribers so quickly? It’s simple: he’s telling a powerful story that has an emotional connection.
It’s Not The Real You – It’s The Amplified You
See here’s the thing. People aren’t engaged by the real us – or the reality of our brands. No one buys the shiny gadget that is produced a million times over by guys in white coats in China. They buy magic held in the palm of Steve Jobs hands and set to a funky beat. This is true for personal brands as well and Brian Clarke over at Copyblogger said this extraordinarily well back in August.
It’s the same with content marketing and storytelling. People don’t want real stories. They are vey much like Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire when she says: “I don’t want realism, I want magic! Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be truth.”
Think about your favorite crime drama for a moment. You know the scene – they’ve just found some obscure picture of the perp or sub-strand of his hair. Then through the magic of one of the coolest and most beautiful computer interfaces you’ve ever seen, the computer flashes through thousands of faces, and automatically finds exactly who they’re looking for.
The real truth of that scene won’t engage. Can you imagine watching a real computer – someone typing command line searches into an ugly green screen interface – and then sitting back as it grinds through a minutes or hours long search through a mainframe computer database. No, in real life we don’t catch crooks that way. But, dammit – it oughta be that way!
No – the truth is real – and real is rarely engaging.
It Ought To Be The Truth
But (and this is important) – real doesn’t mean it’s not genuine. A genuine story is what “ought to be truth”. We’re not trying to trick our brand subscribers. We are simply being an amplified version of our unique selves – because otherwise we’re just… well…. just like everyone else.
Tim Tebow is telling a genuine story. Whether you love him or hate him – he’s passionate about the story he is telling. And, as I discussed in the “secrets from Hollywood” piece – he really knows what he does. He’s got a much bigger story that he’s telling – and football is just simply one channel to tell it. As he has said himself “‘I’m using football as a platform for bigger and better things.”
It would be easy for Tebow to keep that “real” and undifferentiated. He could avoid painting John 3:16 or Ephesians 2:8-10 on his eye black (pictured). His dramatic, and now famous, pose could have simply been him thumping his chest twice and pointing to God (as many athletes do). He could have gone the traditional post-game interview route of saying “it’s a team sport and we came together as a team” and left it that. But he didn’t.
He is an amplified version of his genuine self. And love it, hate it – or think it completely irrelevant – it’s generated a nationally recognized consumer brand and generated more discussions about the story he’s trying to tell than I’ve seen in years. The night he and the Broncos beat the Steelers “John 3:16″ was the most searched for term on Google. It didn’t hurt that he actually threw for 316 yards – and because he threw 10 completed passes – his average was 31.6 (mysterious ways alright).
Our Lesson As Content Marketers
I deal with many clients – especially in the B2B and technology space – that don’t believe that their brand is particularly interesting. Their stories commonly rely on just relaying facts and figures and speeds and feeds. In short, they are relying on “the simple satisfaction of needs.” And the “wants” of our customers are where the emotional connections can be made.
As Seth says: “wants are hard to measure and difficult to understand.” And here’s the thing – when we can connect to them, well that there is some powerfully magic stuff. If you want to see how Tim Tebow has done this in six months – here’s a great article on ESPN that I think captures it well.
As Joseph Campbell says in Hero With A Thousand Faces: “The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with nature.”
It doesn’t matter who we are – and what we’re selling – using the stories we tell and the way we market to connect emotionally with our constituencies is what will make us successful. And in telling stories.. Well, it just might be our Tebow time…