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[SLIDES] What Old School Hip Hop Teaches Us About Content Marketing

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Bryan Kelly and I presented this session at ASAE’s Marketing, Membership and Communication Conference last week and the feedback we got was phenomenal. Yay! So as promised, here are the slides and rundown for you.


  • WIIFM? Content creation is a grind. Gain an inspirational perspective from this unlikely source to make content creation more fun, authentic, creative and effective.

LISTEN – Obama talks hip hop. We used about the first and the last minute or so of this video, which encompass a lot of the themes we’re talking about.

  • The Origins of Old School Hip Hop – the story: Bronx, late 1970s. DJ Kool Herc creates what we now know as the “break”…  This new form of music takes the best part of multiple songs and strings them together in Merry-go-round fashion.  People love it and the dance parties supported by this new musical form quickly spread throughout the other boroughs of NYC.  Hip hop culture develops 4 elements: DJ’ing, Breaking (Dancing), MC’ing (rapping), Graffiti.
  • In the spirit of these 4 elements, we’ve pulled 4 lessons from hip hop that apply to content marketing: Innovation, Remixing, Authenticity, Storytelling

1.  Innovation: Think Different

  • How this has been used in hip hop: using two turntables that extended the breaks on a record – led to sampling and looping
  • RESOURCE: Deviant’s Advantage by Matthews & Wacker
  • Example: Center for Disease Control’s Zombie Apocalypse – picks up on a cultural theme (zombies) to create really effective messaging around being prepared for a pandemic. All kinds of collateral.
  • Tactical breakdown 1. Research relevant pop cultural references 2. What will make people stop in their tracks and pay attention? 3. Appropriately connect your content’s message 4. Don’t try too hard, but do have fun!

Exercise – in small groups, come up with a fun campaign idea for a member-get-a-member campaign.  What cultural references might you borrow from?  Any internet memes?  Something in the news recently? Come up with an idea that is relevant to your organization, but something that will surprise people.  It can be fun, or serious.

2. Remixing: Steal Like An Artist

LISTEN: – LL COOL J samples. We showed how one record is a compilation of many sounds lifted from many other records and the end result is something completely new.


  • How this has been used in hip hop: blending one or more sources that created something new – vinyl records and crates of records for source material
  • Remixing is not stealing: quote from Remix by Lessig about Walt Disney’s Steamboat Willie and silent film Steamboat Bill, Jr.
  • RESOURCE: Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon
  • RESOURCE: Remix by Lawrence Lessig
  • Example: Expendables movie poster turned into Expendables Body Count poster by Term Life Insurance – but they did this wrong, were slapped with a cease and desist. Pay homage – don’t plagiarize.
  • Tactical breakdown: 1. Keep a swipe file filled with ideas you encounter 2. Regularly go to that well 3. Uncover what could fit with your content goal, relevant to you not just random 4. Don’t just copy/paste, explore your creativity!

Exercise: We’d like you to think like a curator.  Like a DJ, but working with images, and text, and stories, and information instead of samples and sounds. How do you collect interesting things that might be useful in your content marketing?  How do you curate content?  Do we have any bloggers in the room? Are you a marketing person who keeps a swipe file? Anybody use Pinterest boards to collect images? Bryan collects good article headlines in Evernote. Maddie collects links related to themes in her Humanize book on Scoopit and Tumblr.


3. Authenticity: Be Real

  • How this has been used in hip hop: crafting messages that represented truths about ghetto life – resonated with urban youth across the US






  • Tactical breakdown: 1. Immerse yourself in your audience’s world 2. Completely understand their struggles 3. Speak and write in their language 4. Show vulnerability and imperfection 5. Or cheat and do like Dove – record your audience talking about their struggle, in their language, being vulnerable Exercise: Let’s just spend a couple minutes thinking about the real experiences of the people in your community.  What do they care about? What do they struggle with?  How could your content be more real, more emotional? We’ll just take a couple minutes. Write down some thoughts if you like. No need to share with anyone. 4. Storytelling: A Powerful Narrative

  • How this has been used in hip hop: writing lyrics that pulled the listener along from one line to the next, making them want to play the music over and over. Personal history, growing up in the projects, thug life – all powerful personal story themes.




  • Example: Association Forum’s 2012 Holiday Showcase campaign – showed real people and why they wanted to come to the conference.



  • Tactical breakdown: 1. Explore how your story is relevant to members 2. Be sure to spotlight member stories 3. Cut the fluff, remember authenticity 4. Speak/write about real member challenges, desires, interests, emotions



Exercise: choose one or more types of media from the list (blog post, video, podcast, microsite, email newsletter, case study, ebook, etc etc).  Your assignment is a membership drive campaign that involves member stories.  You’ve got the authenticity part, right?  So now you want to think about how to bring those stories to life.  How to make them visually engaging, interactive, shareable, anything OTHER than a bunch of talking heads.


We designed this session to try and model some of the things we talked about.  We were in costume; we had props; we used audio and video clips; we incorporated different kinds of discussions.



I know a lot of people loved it; we’re going to try and present this again at a few other conferences, most notably 14NTC next year.  Thank you so much to those of you who were in attendance!



(photo credit)



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