What Heist Flicks Have Taught Me About Content Marketing

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I love a good heist film or TV show. I love the plot twists and turns. I get caught up in the battle of wits that takes place in order to seize the prize. I love to be surprised and delighted as the protagonist makes his (or her) way through an ever more complex web of allies, enemies, technology, and intrigue. So…what does this have to do with content marketing?

heist content marketing

photo credit: jin.thai via photopin cc

Well, in a way, it’s a little bit like the world of PR and marketing today, right? Things are always evolving, changing, and keeping us on our toes. Things are complex with many players, and everyone has their own agenda—from the bloggers that you might recruit, to the media distributors, to the software companies selling you services. But that’s not what I want to talk to you about today. Today, I want to talk to you about three important tenets of content marketing that you can learn from some of my favorite heist films and TV shows: (*NoteVery minor spoilers ahead.)

3 Principles of Content Marketing

1. Think about their core motivation, not your desired outcome

In the film Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a character who is tasked with planting an idea in a target’s mind. The goal is to have the target liquidate his father’s company, but Leo doesn’t just put up dreamworld billboards screaming: Hey buddy, liquidate your dad’s company! No, he and his team plan to bury a kernel of an idea that will take root and grow, because it pinpoints the target’s emotional motivations. We have to do the same thing in content marketing today.

The old world of advertising was to simply put a big idea in front of your audience again and again, but in content marketing, the ideas have to serve your target audience’s needs. Whether you’re trying to vie for their time or you want to convince them to buy a product, your content needs to reflect their needs and drivers, not just the outcome you desire.

2. Give trust to get trust

I love White Collar. It’s not just because the show stars the ever-dreamy Matt Bomer, but because the episodic twists and turns keep me on my toes. In this show, the main character is a suave con artist and forger, who teams up with the FBI (mostly against his will—but he comes to enjoy it). In an early episode, he tells his FBI handler about how it’s important to give trust to the “mark” in order to gain it back from them. He shares personal things with these targets so that they feel close to him and let down their guard just enough to let him get what he wants.

We as content marketers need to give a little bit of ourselves too, in order to connect and relate to our audiences. Just like I told you about my crush on Matt Bomer, you should let your audience into your own personal spaces. Blog about your personal experiences with your products or clients. Share insights you gain every day. On the company blog I last oversaw, I often shared my own knitwear using the company’s yarn to give credibility and personality to the content.

3. Redirect attention

I don’t know about you, but I really enjoyed the ensemble joyride of Ocean’s 11. Yes, the accents got a little crazy, but the overall shenanigans were well worth the big reveal…in which we learn that the big, crazy heist we saw on camera was, in reality, pre-recorded and simply a diversion tactic used to actually pull off the heist. So what does this mean for you?

In content marketing (and social media marketing too), you have the opportunity to get more out of your audience while their attention is on the flashy happening. When you have a contest, it’s also great way to get sign-ups for email newsletter or conduct a quick poll. If you ask a compelling question of your audience to engage them on a blog or Facebook, you can turn those responses into an awesome follow-up blog post (or even a series of posts!). Not that these original activities are diversions, but they do give you an opportunity to learn and deepen your connection with your audience, and that will serve you well as you create more content.

If you have any great examples of the above tenets or you have some additional heist-inspired principles, share them in the comments! 

*This is a guest post by Zontee Hou. The author’s posts are entirely her own views (excluding the event of being possessed by an alien parasite that controls her mind) and may not always reflect the views of InNetwork.*

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Zontee Hou

Zontee Hou

Digital Marketing & Brand Strategy Consultant
Passionate about communications, Zontee helps her clients to craft the right brand strategy and digital marketing presence to achieve their goals. In addition to consulting independently, Zontee is a strategist for digital media consultancy Convince & Convert and an adjunct professor at City College of New York. She received her BS from NYU’s Stern School of Business and MS in Strategic Communications from Columbia University.
Zontee Hou
Zontee Hou


  1. says

    Haha…great spin! I especially like the part about understanding THEIR motivation. A lot of content on most people's sites just doesn't answer a lot of the core questions that people have. They may rank well in Google, so people click on them. But then, people just go find another page if it doesn't answer the question that they are searching for!

  2. says

    Number one is an excellent point – it's good to keep that in mind with all marketing, but also just communications in general. As they say, "Seek first to understand, then be understood."

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