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Letters Issue #2 | 9-3-2020
 
Real Content Marketers Have a Mission

I love Duolingo's podcast. I never thought I'd say that. My team knows I am allergic to tech platforms intended for adults but wrapped in infantile, neon cartoon mascots. But Duolingo won me over.

I tried the app as I attempted to resurrect my Spanish (and perhaps finally find my local biblioteca) and didn't love it. But during a move, I needed to go hands-free, so I tried the podcast and was converted instantly.

 

The Duolingo podcast logo

Let's pause. Based on that above image, what might you think the Duolingo podcast is like? Just a high school foreign language class on tape, right? A bunch of emotionless people stringing together meaningless phrases for you to repeat? But it's not. It's powered by journalists and the reason it's so great is it has a mission that makes the parent company's look positively pedestrian.

1. It's got that 'marooned in Russia for 45 years' feeling

Each season, the Duolingo podcast selects a theme and invites journalists to submit real stories in which they interview a Spanish-speaking person about a true and fascinating tale. The interviewee speaks slowly and the narrator chimes in with context. The first story I heard was about a Chilean student on a study abroad who was trapped in Russia for 45 years because of the Pinochet regime. It's not the journalist recounting the story. They actually interview Víctor Yáñez. It's him speaking. That's the podcast. All the episodes are like that.

In another episode, a Guatemalan kid with no prior interest in coffee wins a world barista championship. An Argentinian woman helps children of parents who were "disappeared" by the brutal dictatorship find their true parents. In the final episode of the first season, the founder of Duolingo tells the story of why he moved to the U.S.—his aunt was held for ransom. They pay the money and live in fear.

This podcast is grounded in a complex reality I would expect from a newspaper. It asks uncomfortable questions and rivals NPR in storytelling swagger. I am hooked.

As a happy side effect, I learn Spanish.


2. Does your content have a thrilling mission?

Now back to B2B. If your content program's mission has the word "leads" or "revenue" in it and isn't published on your site, I would argue that you don't have a real content marketing program. It's more of a demand generation program putting on airs.

It takes true fortitude to throw off the shackles of short-term thinking and establish your content marketing program as a truly independent storytelling institution within your company. It requires a vigilant defense and occasional hand-slapping. But if you do that, you can give it a mission that transcends the company and wins over skeptics like Duolingo did me.

What's especially powerful, is you can do this even if the rest of your company isn't ready. You can publish a content mission that transcends the company.

Someone at Duolingo (or perhaps an agency) did:


Duolingo's mission: Personalized education
Its podcast mission: To help you learn and expand your view of the world

Is it any wonder that the latter ensnared me while the former repelled me? Says the Duolingo podcast host at the start of each episode, "These aren't language lessons. These are life lessons told through language."

And you know what? People aren't dumb. They know who creates the content. They can see your silly green logo and look up your website. You don't have to bludgeon them with CTAs. But if you do the hard thing and create great, audience-first content that people love and share, you will hit those lead generation goals nonetheless. We at Fenwick are finding that in our own work. 

Our writer & strategist Riviera conceived and launched a newsletter for a data startup called Data Superheroes that tells the stories of people wrestling with bad data. Our other writer & strategist, Carina, is writing customer profiles for a time-tracking software startup where instead of focus on the software, she writes about fighting for a more human internet.

These aren't about the product. But they generate leads. I would argue they generate leads because they aren't about the product.

Like Duolingo's podcast, they tell true stories people would pay to read. They know what journalists know: Stories sell. As a happy side effect, readers 'learn a little Spanish' along the way, visit the site, and start down the funnel.

This is what real content marketing looks like. It has a thrilling mission.

This week: Would you post your current content marketing goals publicly on your blog? If not, rewrite them until you would.
Chris Gillespie
Editor in Chief
Letters by Fenwick

Letters is a group effort by the Fenwick team: Carina, Riviera, Morgan, Eve, and Caroline.
 
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What we're reading

Microsoft, visualized in numbers. The loading graphic creates a lot of intrigue for me—it's the key statistic from each section.

Goldman Sachs released a font, Goldman Sans, and was skewered.

A founder's guide to writing well by First Round Capital. A primer for teammates who say they hate to write. (For the literary, it's a little basic.)

A brief history of typography and protest


First impressions and misspelled names

"It writes like a human"

 

Word of the day

Insipid

adj., /inˈsipid/
1. Without taste, tasteless
2. (Re: people or things) Uninteresting and vapid

The logo glowed an insipid neon green.


One specific writing tip

End where you started
If you begin with an anecdote about how a language learning app had a profound impact on you, end the article with it too. It serves as a callback, jogs the reader's memory, enhances their understanding, and ties everything off neatly with a bow. 


Careers

Pinterest, creative strategy writer, NYC

PartnerStack, content strategist, Toronto

Later, director of content and brand marketing, Vancouver

Optimist, head of Optimist Labs, remote


Editor's quote

"Good stories surprise us. They make us think and feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that a PowerPoint crammed with bar graphs never can."

- Joe Lazauskas and Shane Snow
 

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