When I first heard that the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) tabbed Kevin Spacey as their keynote speaker for their 2014 conference in Cleveland, I was intrigued. Spacey is one of my favorite actors and, in my humble opinion, one of the best—of this or any generation. And he is, after all, in the business of professional storytelling, serving as the living medium through which the creative vision is conveyed. But what advice could he possibly give to content marketers?
From the vitriol-spewing Buddy Ackerman in Swimming with Sharks, to the menacingly tranquil Verbal Kimt in The Usual Suspects, to the enigmatic Lester Burnahm in American Beauty, Kevin Spacey infuses a roguish likability into his roles. He is known for playing sleazy, quirky, and often tragic characters, offset by the realities of life and thrust into compromising situations. Spacey’s current alter ego, Francis Underwood, the conniving congressman in the Netflix web television series, House of Cards, enables him to explore new depths of slime, an opportunity that I can clearly tell he relishes.
Is There Anything that Kevin Spacey Can’t Do?
He is a two-time Academy Award winner, a Tony Award recipient, and a performer with astonishing range and versatility. He is also an accomplished song-and-dance man whose musical talents are showcased in the Bobby Darin biopic, Beyond the Sea, which he directed and co-produced. Additionally, the man can do some of the most spot-on impressions of celebrities that you have ever seen. (Watch his appearance on Inside the Actors Studio and you will see what I mean. His Johnny Carson is off the charts.)
Unfortunately, I could not attend Content Marketing World 2014. But through the miracle of live streaming, I was privy to Spacey’s talk, the timing of which could not have been more propitious. There are some noticeable sub-movements within the Digital Era that are intensifying the need for strategic differentiation. I certainly feel it in my business. These days, in order to separate from the pack, we are encouraged to become superior storytellers. Although stories are what unify us as a species, there are some members that are just not cut out to tell them. Good, compelling storytelling is not easy.
During his hour-plus keynote, Spacey was fun, vigorous, and consummately engaging. He gave me a gluttonous feast for thought, the inspiration to sally forth into unchartered territory, and a few good chuckles. I was secretly hoping that he would break the fourth wall, stare me down and, as Williamson in Glengarry Glen Ross, insist that I “go to lunch! Will you go to lunch?”
“Tell better stories. Connect with your audience.”
So, Mr. Spacey, how do we do that?
He identifies three elements of successful storytelling:
In order to compel, one must create tension. Tension keeps people engaged and makes for better story. Often, the conflict itself becomes the story. As Spacey states, “Great storytellers take risk, court drama, and push the envelope.” And so, with the information available to me, I grant myself the autonomy to take calculated risks, and tap into my own unfulfilled desires. I am the protagonist of my own story. From conflict, I approach the best possible version of myself.
Now more than ever, the story has to ring true. An evangelical Spacey encourages us to concentrate our creative power where it matters most—that is, in ourselves. “You build loyalty by being authentic,” he asserts. “Be mindful and stay true to your brand and audiences will respond with enthusiasm and passion.” As a storyteller, I have to extract something from my life, something that could be construed as truth, and something that will feel genuine to my audience. My conviction will make it real. I will not dilute or contort my story.
Acknowledging the new digital frontiers for storytelling, and how technology gives us greater power and control of information, Spacey concedes that the heat is on for brands to innovate. It is not always about views, clicks, impressions, and conversion ratios. “The audience cares about the content, not the platform,” he allows, emphasizing the democratization of the Internet as the key to boosting engagement. As a storyteller, I must realize that audiences are changing in real time, which compounds the need for fresh content and its timely delivery.
♦ The immediacy of information and the ruthless innovation of technology have upped the ante in the battle for attention. Our stories, and the manner in which we tell them, are what differentiate us.
♦ In story, nothing comes easy. Nothing is as it should be. The manner in which you respond to adversity defines your life and your business.
♦ Telling stories that compel, rather than merely trying to squeeze new relevance out of clichés, is what sets the tone and builds an audience.
Kevin Spacey changed my perceptions about brand storytelling and content marketing. I walk away more motivated to spin a better yarn, take on new challenges, and to go against the settled order of things to achieve something unique and unexpected. Here, Spacey is more than a credible source. He is a true thought leader in content marketing.
Since 2006, JD Gershbein, CEO of Owlish Communications, has helped advance the collective awareness of LinkedIn and inspired opportunity-oriented professionals in all walks of business to step up and achieve on the site. His ability to spark others to action has earned him the moniker of “The LinkedIn Catalyst.” JD is considered one of the world’s top thought leaders on LinkedIn, and a pioneer in the design and delivery of LinkedIn education. He is also a globally acclaimed social business psychologist, keynote speaker, and frequent broadcast media expert on LinkedIn for business. Additionally, JD is adjunct professor of marketing communications at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Stuart School of Business, where he is advancing social media marketing as an academic discipline. In addition to his blog, The Wisdom Zone, JD is a contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Forbes.