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Tech content marketing: The best of them don’t talk product – they tell stories

GE Reports goes viral. Cisco takes on Mr. Robot. This is storytelling for the digital era.

GE and Cisco are giants of the tech world. Both are top of the game when it comes to imaginative tech content marketing too. Leaving self-serving product talk behind, their strategy comes from engrossing audiences through insight-driven storytelling.

Jet-packs. Hoverboards. Electric cars. Holograms. Robot helpers. Life is increasingly resembling a sci-fi flick and the pace of technological change is only increasing. So why does so much content about tech seem dreary, a droning repetition of phrases like digital disruption, innovation, big data and smart everything?

The best players in content marketing are those which cut through the noise. Coming forward with an utterly distinctive voice, identity and opinion, whatever their audience engages with – blog post, video, podcast or report – it’s immediately clear who’s talking.

Just as importantly, premier tech content marketing isn’t interested in talking product or service. Why? Because most audiences aren’t interested in hearing about them. Instead, it couches itself in what both centuries of civilisation and modern science tells us is best for engagement and passing on knowledge: storytelling.

Here, we profile two global leaders who are killing it in the imagination department, spinning intriguing stories for their growing legions of tech-curious followers.

Case study: GE Reports

tech content - ge reports

At over 125 years old, GE is more fresh and nimble than ever. Going from a power industry focus to a multinational conglomerate with a business portfolio spanning healthcare equipment, aircraft technology, radio, networks, they’ve excelled in their growth journey by ensuring that business complexities never translate into complicated messaging.

“You need to pay people something for their attention,” says GE Reports Editor-in-Chief Tomas Kellner. “You need to give them something of value. Something they want to know or use somehow.”

Alongside a suite of branded content like seven-part podcast series The Message, a segment on Jimmy Fallon called ‘Fallonventions’ and documentary series Breakthrough, its GE Reports newsroom is a David and Goliath of the content marketing world. With hundreds of thousands of dedicated readers, its stories are known to go viral on community forum Reddit, and journalists have learnt to hover about it as a trusted waterhole of intriguing leads.

Along with an in-house writing team, the blog regularly features guest posts from university professors, researchers, industry experts and even 2017 mayoral contenders, who bypass easy-to-ignore media releases to bring their insights and perspectives to a wide and engaged audience. With bold, knowledge-backed takes on subjects like “Robots are disrupting (too few) jobs”, and ample publishing space given to the corporation’s new investment, 3D printing, the content hub has established itself as the place go for readers to get on top of the best in the field.

Case study: Cisco’s Anatomy of an Attack

Arguably, USA Network’s TV series Mr. Robot did a lot for the cybersecurity industry. Starring an introverted vigilante kickstarting social revolutions one hack at a time, the show was successful in dramatising the act and implications of cyber crime – the human faces behind it, and the havoc it can wreak for business, politics, economies and (not least) individual lives. With real-world businesses hit the world over in the recent spate of malware (including Hobart’s own Cadbury factory), what could’ve once been labelled paranoia is now seen as pragmatic urgency.

Just a few weeks before season two of Mr. Robot wrapped up in September last year, Cisco released ‘Anatomy of an Attack’. A three-minute YouTube video shared across social media, it presented its own character profile of today’s hacker (young, impersonal, smart) to show how easy companies can be manipulated, penetrated, trapped and crippled from the inside-out by totally anonymous individuals. “I was paid to a job, and I did it well,” the video’s character says with testy pride. “That’s what’s expected of anyone, isn’t it?”

Aside from high production quality and a great costume designer who favoured for the hacker character dyed red pigtails and floral blouses, there’s something else about Cisco’s video worth pointing out: not once do they talk about product. Only when the story arc is complete does the audience go from visuals to text, with the words “The FBI says the ransomware market will be a $1 billion market this year” appearing on screen. The call-to-action that follows takes up just three seconds, and is only two words (“Learn more”) with a hyperlink to Cisco’s website.

By making its sales pitch implicit in the story, rather than overt, the video communicates subtly yet straightforwardly why a robust cyber protection system is more critical than ever.

Product lists? They’re just a chore in decision-making for would-be consumers. Relevant tech content stories: they’re what resonates.

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