Act Like a Content Marketer, Think Like a TV Exec

Some of the principles that underpin great television also make a lot of sense for content marketing.

Here’s a truism that I accepted and made peace with a long, long time ago: There is nothing new under the sun.

While we spend a lot of time fetishizing ideators and big thinkers, the truth is that a lot of what determines success, in content marketing and in life, comes from a combination of strong execution, focus, talent, timing and luck. It does not come from having a thought or idea that “no one” has ever thought of before.

I found myself reflecting on this as I sat in on Andrew Davis’s excellent presentation at Content Marketing World called “How brilliant brands create less content and deliver bigger success.”

I was particularly struck by this thought as Davis encouraged the attendees to think about their content marketing like a TV network executive and “create a hook.” His examples of creators/brands who created successful hooks included a Dutch man who built a successful Instagram/YouTube brand by snagging users with “the shortest cooking show in the world” and a middle-aged midwestern woman who built a YouTube and e-commerce empire on the back of her how-to quilting videos.

Cooking shows have been around since Julia Child made them a thing and quilting has been making appearances in women’s magazines since the 1960s. So again, what made these two brands that Davis highlighted successful had nothing to do with their originality. It had everything to do with them honing in on a niche, applying the right context and nailing or improving on their execution and timing.

You don’t have to do it first. Just do it right and at the right time.


At first blush, the idea of following the lead of TV executives might seem crazy. After all, isn’t Netflix totally “disrupting” the traditional television model and obsoleting it? Didn’t NBC’s Olympics coverage flop because TV executives are clueless about how modern audiences crave content?

The answer to both of those questions is yes. Television is changing right now, but it doesn’t mean the concepts and formulas behind it aren’t worth holding on to. Especially if they’re applied in a different arena, such as content marketing.

Andrew Davis speaking at Content Marketing World

Davis highlighted several laudable tenets behind his “think like a TV guy” philosophy during his Content Marketing World session. Here are a few that stuck with me most:

  1. Find a content hole and fill it

  2. Divide and subdivide your audience

  3. Make an appointment with your audience

  4. Attach talent your audience trusts

  5. Create a hook

  6. Find and own a format

To be clear: When Davis says “create a hook,” he doesn’t mean reinvent the wheel. He just means find your own angle. It can be your take on a concept someone else tried but failed at. After all, Apple flourished with the iPad well after Microsoft’s initial tablet, the original Surface, went kaput.

For Rachael Ray, who was once a rising buyer at a grocery chain, the hook that worked for her was an idea for a 30-minute cooking show on local broadcast television, Davis pointed out. That “how to cook in 30 minutes or less” format has worked out quite well for her many, many years after she started with it in the late ‘90s.

I think this obsession with being “the first” to do something comes from an unnecessary pressure to be everything to everyone. That’s precisely the kind of thinking Davis rejects.

“What if we stopped trying to be everything to everyone and just tried being something to someone?” asked Davis during the session.

Indeed. If you’re hitting a targeted and defined audience, you can take ideas from other industries, audiences or eras, find the right format and serve it to your audience successfully.

We see examples of this in media all over the place. Jimmy Fallon is riding high on Facebook and YouTube by borrowing religiously from the variety show concepts of yesteryear. Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey may have flopped terribly with their pre-YouTube variety show back in 2004 — which was chock-full of singing, games and skits just like Fallon— but they were merely ahead of their time and lacking YouTube’s inherent clip-friendly sharable platform. Who’da thought?

Ready to create your hook? Davis offered up a punch list of hook types:

  1. The Gimmick: Davis’s example involved a woman who did videos while wearing funny quotes on t-shirts.

  2. Micro Dayparting: Best example of this is Rand Fishkin’s Whiteboard Fridays.

  3. Mash-up: Debates + CFOs. Sound like a good combo? Deloitte thinks so.

  4. Visual Hook: Venn Fridays by Say Media.

  5. The Challenge: Optimize Press challenged the crowd to tear down and build versions of successful webpages.

  6. The Quest: F-Secure sent an employee to track down the first PC virus inventors.

So there you have it. Next time you find yourself racking your brain for that killer content idea, think of Davis’s hook types, fire up that wayback machine and reflect on his definition of a hook:

Hook: a simple twist on a simple theme designed to ensnare or entrap your audience.

Sometimes, it really is that easy.


Want more on Content Marketing World? Be sure to check out what Manifest is up to at the show by visiting manifest.com/cmw.