Tips for Content Marketers Ripped from Role-Playing Games
Tomorrow, I will sit down with six friends and dive into a fantasy world filled with dragons, dwarves, and (zombie) dinosaurs. It may sound silly, but I’ve found Dungeons and Dragons to be a welcome respite from my average day-to-day, a chance to flex my creative muscles outside of the bounds of client work.
I’ve always been into speculative fiction, from Dune to Harry Potter to Dhalgren. As a youth, it helped me expand my horizons. As an adult, it helps me escape a 24-hour news cycle that represents the horrid addiction of the average social media professional. Science fiction and fantasy help me reset my mind and nurture my creativity.
How D&D Made Me a Better Content Marketer
So, why Dungeons & Dragons? About two years ago, I found out that my friends were running their own games – way before Stranger Things aired. I was aware that some leading creatives and storytellers play or used to play, including Stephen Colbert, Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, Terry Pratchett, Steven Spielberg, and Robin Williams. (Apparently, a lot of Stephens are into it.) In fact, Fast Company did an article on a writer and director who plays: 4 Lessons In Storytelling From a Screenwriter Who’s Also a D&D Dungeon Master.
I set out to try a game of Dungeons and Dragons. I figured playing an arrogant elf would mask my impatience if I hated it. Turned out there was no need to pretend to be interested. I had a great time!
The Power of Telling Stories
Humans are natural born storytellers. Our use of language lets us collaborate and share information, but it also allows us to set up shared narratives of the world and how it works.
In tomorrow’s game, I’m serving as the Dungeon Master. As the DM, I will be running the game as the ultimate arbiter of the rules. More importantly, it’s my job to set the stage and encourage the story to take off. My players count on me to keep the story entertaining – and I better make sure it is if I want them to come back. I play with one of my long-time best friends, and I’ll know if I become boring – even if she’s too polite to say anything.
Before our game, I put in a ton of time on research – from locations to plot elements to turnspit dogs – and plan how I’d like things to go. There are maps to pore over, monster stats to familiarize myself with, and scenario-specific rules to brush up on. Players on the other hand create back-stories for their characters, developing behavior patterns, overarching ideals, and personal ethics. Some come to the table with binders full of information. Others have some baseline established in their minds and make everything else up off the cuff.
All of this planning is just background. Just like in life, nothing ever goes as planned.
Dungeons & Dragons keeps you on your toes. A poor dice roll can mean the difference between a bullseye and shooting yourself in the foot. My players always throw a wrench into the works, whether it’s by taking a direction I didn’t anticipate or successfully talking their way out of situation that I expected to end in a fight. Improvisation is crucial – and it happens to be a worthwhile skill for any content marketer. It keeps your reflexes sharp.
The story becomes a cooperative work between players, the DM, and the available sourcebooks and rules. In fact, it's much like your own brand's story: a collection of personal feelings, product features, and customer service interactions.
Whether you’re just starting out or have been running content campaigns for years, it’s critical to nurture creativity, research your competition, and stay on the bleeding edge of your industry. Say, you’re marketing a new toothpaste start-up and need to find an interesting, unique way to stand out among competitors who have budgets 100 times more than yours. Toothpaste has been around in one form or another for perhaps 7,000 years. What is there to say that hasn’t been said before?
Similarly, D&D plays with familiar tropes of wizards and elves, stories that have been around for centuries and were brought into pop culture by J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. These ideas have been around the block, so to say. The challenge is keeping it fresh and catering to the needs of your specific audience.
So, what do games like Dungeons & Dragons teach us about being better marketers?
5 Content Marketing Tips from RPGs
Get your readers invested – Your audience needs some skin in the game to care about your narrative, so tailor your content to their specific experiences and lifestyle.
Know your audience - Know your audience intimately. Use a/b testing, focus groups or industry research when your narrative isn’t working.
Entertain – Your brand may be an established bank, but the average consumer will be reading your content for information and entertainment purposes. Stodgy is rarely a good brand attribute.
Brevity is beautiful – Say in 300 words what you could say in 1,000. Everyone will thank you.
Don’t forget your CTA – Calls-to-action remind readers what you want from them and keeps your content focused.
Content continues to be king, whether it's word-of-mouth or interacting through the latest virtual reality platform. D&D isn’t for everyone. What is important for every content marketer is finding inspiration in places outside of the echo chamber of your industry, honing your skills outside of the 9 – 5.