“What would I know about content marketing? Why am I even here?’ jokes actor Kevin Spacey.

The 2,500 audience of marketers at the Content Marketing World Conference in Cleveland, share a collective giggle.

Four years ago when this conference first launched they were probably asking themselves the same question. But now they have confidence. The world of marketing has moved on. It’s ok that it’s all about the content, because it just is.

It turns out that what Spacey doesn’t know about content, his on-screen character in the rule breaking, binge-inducing House of Cards on Netflix, Frank Underwood does.

“When you strip everything away we are all striving towards the same goal – making a connection with our audience.” Content Marketing is really that simple. Sometimes it takes a person like Spacey, who claims to know nothing about a subject, to nail it in a simple sentence for the people who do. “Content marketing is not a crap shoot. The story is everything”, Spacey says. The audience of marketers moves their heads in a collective nod.

And as it turns out, Spacey (and Mr Underwood) know a hell of a lot about creating and telling a story. But again, in true story telling style (with a nod to the power of uneven numbers in content marketing headlines), he breaks it down to three essentials. Thank you Mr Spacey.

1. Conflict in storytelling

Stories need conflict. And that’s coming from Spacey, not the combative Mr Underwood. “Nike built an entire brand channelling the voice in our heads to get the f**k up and move… How we respond to moments of conflict defines our lives”.

Spacey is not without personal examples. He describes as the most fulfilling period in his life the decision to become the Artistic Director of the 200 year-old Old Vic Theatre in London. “It was something challenging. It brought me to the edges of my own experience.”

There’s a valuable lesson here for content marketers, Spacey says. “Our stories become richer when they go against the settled idea to achieve something different”.

2. Make the story real

Spacey’s second essential of storytelling is that the story rings true. In the shiny world of spin, truth is what makes the audience feel something. As Frank Underwood would say, “There’s no better way to overpower a trickle of doubt than with a flood of naked truth.”

Consumers appreciate authenticity, he says: “Be mindful about looking for keywords to improve ranking on Google. Stay true to your story”.

Sometimes the barrier to telling the authentic story is in the C Suite, or in the case of TV as Spacey says, the networks. In fact, if the networks had their way House of Cards probably would have been a completely different story.

“We wanted a story to unfold over time. But the networks demanded we shoot a pilot. But Netflix ran analytics and said how many do you want to do? Network notes would have destroyed the story. We turn off when something doesn’t feel authentic. Netflix gave the story time to develop and the story took flight.”

This is an important lesson for content marketers. If the C Suite is more attached to the company story than the customer story, it will spoil the ending.

3. Every story needs an audience

And next Spacey comes to the most important part of the story - the audience.

“Storytellers are nothing without an audience. Give them content worth sharing. The device is irrelevant to the story – the audience doesn’t care about the platform, they care about the content. The audience wants control. They want the freedom"Spacey says.

Building an audience doesn’t need Hollywood’s help. And you don’t need a pile of money either. “If you don’t have money it can foster an independent way of thinking", he says. “It’s not about how much money you have, but about creativity”.

And it’s only fitting that the last word goes to the scheming Mr Frank Underwood “For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: hunt or be hunted.”

For companies hunting and gathering an audience – content marketing is giving them a leg up the ladder.

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