Content Marketing Lessons from Fifty Shades of Grey

Content Marketing Lessons I Learned By Not Reading Fifty Shades of Grey

Content Marketing Lessons from Fifty Shades of Grey

I recently read The Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane, a useful guide for anyone interested in learning some content marketing lessons or simply how to create good content. No sooner had I finished then I came across a clever Saturday Night Live spoof about a far more successful book that’s apparently taken the world by storm. I’m talking about E. L. James’ wildly popular Fifty Shades of Grey, a novel that has been widely criticized as being little more than “mommy porn” and yet is a New York Times bestseller that has captivated the attention of millions of women.

I should mention that I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey and don’t plan to, and freely admit that my choice of reading materials looks pretty dull by comparison. Nevertheless, fresh off my read of The Elements of Content Strategy, I started to wonder does Fifty Shades of Grey constitute good content? The critics certainly don’t seem to think so, but with more than 3 million copies sold in April alone, I suspect that James and her publisher would disagree.

Let’s decide for ourselves using an adaptation of the 7 Basic Principles for Creating Good Content that Kissane outlines in her book. Essentially, she explains that if you want your content to be good, it needs to be:

Appropriate — Constructed with the needs of both the end user and the company producing it in mind.

Useful — Crafted to meet a specific purpose, such as promoting a product or elevating your brand. (Lots of different types of content can fit the bill, some of which are outlined here.)

User-centric — Created to ensure that it resonates with your audience (e.g., through choice of topic, wording, and tone).

Clear — Organized in a logical fashion that makes sense, using language that is easy to understand. (See this writer’s checklist for help.)

Consistent — Focused on communicating in a cohesive fashion by adhering to specific guidelines such as the ones you’d find in a content marketing style guide.

Concise — Minimized to ensure that you’re only creating content that’s truly needed. There’s already plenty of unnecessary content out there, so don’t add to it.

Supported — Maintained with a support plan so that it lives on well after being published.

So is Fifty Shades of Grey all of these things? Does it pass Kissane’s good content test? Despite not having read it, my guess is that the answer is something of a mix bagged. It’s certainly user-centric, having clearly been written for a very specific audience (married women) and in a very targeted way (chock full of erotica) to appeal to that audience. In doing so, it’s both appropriate and useful because it taps into a desire some women have for a very titillating form of escapism, a point that certainly wasn’t lost on E. L. James as she was writing. It may not be concise (a plethora of superfluous sex scenes is to blame), but isn’t that and its shortcomings with some of the other principles beside the point?

Perhaps more important than whether or not Fifty Shades of Grey embodies all of these principles is the fact that it brings several others to light. For example, good content needs to be:

Creative — there’s no shortage of romance novels out there, yet James has managed to bring an arguably dying genre back into the spotlight by offering an interesting and creative new take on it.

Narrative — good content always tells a story. That story doesn’t have to involve S&M to be successful, but it does need to be engaging.

Bold — Not every piece of content is going to make people blush when they read it (nor should it), but content that is bold and takes a strong point of view is often the most successful.

Clearly as an outside observer, I’m in no position to judge whether or not James’ novel is good content. Nor is it entirely fair for me to apply principles intended for business writing to a book like hers. Regardless, the point is that there are lots of different factors to consider if you want to create content that’s going to get people’s attention. At the end of the day, E. L. James is the one who can have the last laugh, and for that I salute her.


Kevin Cain
Kevin Cain
Content Marketing Director

Kevin Cain is the Content Marketing Director for BlueChip Communication, Australia's leading financial services communication firm. Before joining BlueChip, Kevin was the Director of Content Strategy for OpenView.
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