Design Story
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Design Story

Hello stories, goodbye ads

Content marketing in the post-search era

Stories—the actual shows you want to watch, text you’d like to read, and pictures you’d like to see—are the key to winning in the emphasis economy. Stop calling it content and start calling it gold.

Here’s how:

1. Make a great show, skip the commercials

Arrested Development, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black drove new customers to Netflix. The bad boys of Vice are on YouTube and HBO. And decades ago, Mutual of Omaha brought you two guys chasing lions across the Serengeti. Create a great show, associate it with your brand. Repeat. This works for baroque studio bigwigs and for zero-budget guerrillas. Create the show that people who love your brand would want to watch. Here is a fully realized show from independent fashion blogger Wendy Nguyen. Here’s a crowdsourced media company from some guy named Joe.

2. Soap Operas got their name from somewhere…

Ever wondered why we called them soap operas? The shows started on the radio as serial dramas. Every week you’d listen to your favorite show, and then at the end it was announced that the show was brought to you by Ivory Soap. All the joy, delight, empathy, sorry and redemption you felt was transferred over as positive feelings towards Ivory Soap. Honestly, it was a genius move.

When soap operas made the transition to TV, they eventually dropped the single sponsored model, but the name stuck. To do this on the web today, the trick is to build and retain an audience through serial content—give people something to look forward to every week, day, or month—but it doesn’t only have to be an ongoing story (like a soap opera)—it could be a serialized experience, in the same way that a countdown show or a variety show is predictable, but always different. What is an emotional experience people want over and over? Humor, thrills, hope and delight. What will it look like? It could be consistently awesome Tweets, a delightful Instagram feed, or quality posts on Medium. It could be a weekly comic, a monthly magazine, or daily snap on Snapchat. Find a channel, deliver delight.

3. Connect artists and athletes with adventures.

Send writers and photographers around the world. Give them your equipment and pay their way and see what they discover. Think GoPro. or think Make it Count. Sell the adventure and sell the shift in human experience, but don’t sell the saddle.

4. Tell a tiny story

Tiny moments delight. Artist Ian Padgham chucked his job and started making tiny moments on Vine. Now he travels the globe shooting 6-second masterpieces for brands like Visa, Xbox and Disney. The brands love his work—why? because he tells tiny stories and he consistently delivers unexpected delight. You can too! Grab your phone and start tapping.

5. Fit in, Stand out.

Companies like ShareThrough are already hooking up stories to the emphasis economy. See their leaderboard for hints on what stories are delighting people daily. Their secret sauce is to create stories that feel like content you’d expect on a site, but without tricking you into thinking it was organic. Promoted Tweets, Sponsored Stories and Promoted Pins all work the same way. A good test—the content should be wonderful enough to thrive on it’s own even if it weren’t promoted.

6. Start with something worth sharing.

Every time you tweet or post, ask yourself if your audience will want to pass it along. Does your content make people smarter, better, kinder, more creative? Or are you filling them with more branded-clutter? Your content will only reverberate if it solves for people’s needs every step of the way.

What did I miss? Send me a Tweet.




Complements to the human condition.

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James Buckhouse

James Buckhouse

Design Partner at Sequoia, Founder of Sequoia Design Lab. Past: Twitter, Dreamworks. Guest lecturer at Stanford’s GSB &

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