A Lesson from Stephen Colbert on Content Marketing

Do you watch the Colbert Report? If you’re a fan of Stephen Colbert’s long-running political satire show on Comedy Central, congratulations – you’re likely more informed about campaign finance than those who primarily watch MSNBC, Fox, and CNN. At least that’s true according to this recent University of Pennsylvania survey of about 1,200 adults.

Stephen Colbert will soon be taking over for David Letterman CBS' Late Show.

Stephen Colbert will soon be taking over for David Letterman on CBS’ Late Show. And lots of good content is likely to follow…

While this might sound obvious to some (probably those who consider themselves Colbert fans), think about the larger context – while the cable news networks have turned mostly to partisan attacks and sensationalism for ratings over the past decades, Colbert has found a way to take an extremely dry topic and turn it into top notch entertainment. Not only are Colbert’s viewers more informed because of his approach, but he’s been enormously successful from a ratings standpoint as well.

So what does this tell us content marketers? While your organization’s mission-related message is what matters most, how you package that message is crucial if you want people to learn about and understand the impact your work has on the world.

In the realclear.com piece on the study, lead researcher Bruce Hardy had this to say about the way Colbert packaged the seemingly bone dry topic of campaign finance…

“First was the narrative structure. He walked us through creating a super PAC and every episode was a continuation of that story. And second was the use of humor and satire.”

In other words, it’s all about the packaging. The essential, key message (what you want people to see) can be anything. If you have a brilliant content creator like Colbert dressing that message up in his unique and hilarious way, than anything can be entertaining.

If you want to produce great content that expands your mission to new audiences and reinforces your message with current supporters…

  • First and foremost, consider your audience. Know who they are and what they want. Part of this is art (the intuition of good marketers) and part of it is science (using software to measure your audience’s sentiment and reaction to online content).
  • Then find brilliantly creative content marketers to produce content for your organization. This could be through permanent hires or it might be partnering with an outside vendor. Either way, investing in good content marketing is one of the most important communication-related decisions you can make. If you’re looking to reach anyone under the age of 35, it’s the single most important thing you can do. And you can’t fake it. Creative genius in the content marketing realm is hard to find, but worth every penny.
  • Finally, make sure you have an established presence on social media and across multiple channels (direct mail and media relations, for example) to get that content out to the masses.

Justin Ware is an Emmy-winning and Webby-nominated YouTube video producer. Through BWF_social, Justin helps clients build content-focused online and social media strategies. Click here to learn more.


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