Content Marketing Reminders From TED: Simple, Short, and Story…and, Wait for it…Surprise!

Posted on June 26th 2012

Content Marketing Reminders From TED: Simple, Short, and Story…and, Wait for it…Surprise!


If you haven’t seen a few TED talks (live or via, you are missing out. If you have, well, you know how great the talks are.

TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) and TEDx – independently organized conferences focusing on local communities– are well-run and inspiring events that happen (and are streamed) all over the globe. Founded in 1984, TED’s mission is to facilitate the spread of great ideas that can make the world a better place.  Today, many of these talks go beyond technology, entertainment and design to include elements of business, philanthropy and social innovation, for example.

A truly global community, it has grown largely by word of mouth, the best kind of marketing an organization can get. That TED has mastered the trifecta of great marketing simple, short, and story –is ironic for an organization that typically eschews having marketers in its roster of speakers. 

Its success offers up some key reminders for all marketers when it comes to content.

Simple.  Each TED talk focuses on communicating one simple idea. That’s it. It’s not about selling anything – except an idea that can simplify lives. Every marketer should remember he or she is in the simplicity business. Our job is to communicate simply in order to make customers’ lives less complex.

Short. TED talks, or mini keynotes, are short as far as talks go. Each speaker typically gets 18 minutes. I’ve been to two TEDx conferences where 18 speakers spoke for 18 minutes each. That’s just long enough for a talk to communicate a few great points, and leave the audience wanting more. In a world of noise, we have to be brief to grab and keep attention. You always want to leave your audience ready to come back.

Story. TED speakers are some of the most powerful and inspiring storytellers I’ve seen. Ideas are presented not through a deluge of facts; rather, they are packaged together with compelling and inspiring personal stories from the speakers’ lives. The key point for anyone - not just marketers – is that facts never inspire or move people to action, and they won’t make a lasting impression. Stories will. To make a lasting impact on your audience, tell stories that show who you are, not what you sell.

Content, Packaging and…Surprise!

TED actually delivers another “S,” Surprise. Some of the best talks I’ve seen have been on topics I didn’t think would be so invaluable, except that these extraordinary speakers delivered unexpectedly compelling “a-ha” moments. The ability to consistently surprise your audience will keep people coming back.

In the marketplace of thought leadership, compelling and inspiring ideas win. Packaging matters, too, and TED delivers both. While its organizers and speakers don’t label themselves as marketers, TED’s (and TEDx’s) growth shows just how masterfully adept at marketing they are.

What marketing lessons have you learned from TED? Let me know.

Kathy Klotz-Guest

Kathy Klotz-Guest

CEO, Keeping it Human

Kathy Klotz-Guest, marketing and messaging strategist, and storyteller, is CEO of Keeping it Human. For 20 years she has helped companies turn marketing-speak into customer-speak so they get better results. With a background in improvisation, Kathy injects fun and humanity into brands, stories, and products. Kathy has an MA from Stanford University, an MBA from UC Berkeley, and a Masters in applications design (nerd!). She performs regularly with the ComedySportz San Jose Rec League, and has spoken all over the country on a number of marketing topics. She is a founding fellow for the Society for New Communications Research, and Marketing Chair for the Applied Improvisation Network Conference.
See Full Profile >


Posted on June 29th 2012 at 3:10PM

I'm reminded of Walter Fisher's theory of narrative as human communication, and its implications for marketers. And now I am inspired to get in there and watch some more TED talks as well!