4 Archetypes of Purpose-Driven Content

November 2, 2017

by Carla Johnson

Trying to figure out how we manage a strategy to create experiences is hard. But one of the first things we have to understand is the purpose behind every piece of content we create. This is what gives everything we create context.

We’ll always write brochures, annual reports, web pages, emails, landing pages, advertising copy and myriad kinds of content that describe the value of our products or services. But, to get out of the vicious circle of creating content for content’s sake, we have to prioritize content based on what purpose it’s for. Do we want to…

  • Sell?
  • Teach?
  • Evangelize?
  • Create emotional connections?

Everything we create has to satisfy one of these four purposes. You will have a different strategy based on each of these, and you may even have different audiences. You may have different workflows based on purpose. The key is – when you start with a purpose-driven content process – it makes for a MUCH more effective and scalable strategy.

Now, let’s look our work through the lens of archetypes that satisfy the purpose of our content.

The Four Archetypes of Content

1. The Promoter

We’re the most familiar with Promoter Content. We create it every day to help sell our product or service. Examples include our website, a pitch deck, brochure, case studies, advertisements, landing pages and so on. This is the content we create to describe the value of our products and services—and propagate it through all the different distribution channels we manage.

Attributes:  This engages our audience’s needs and wants, leading them toward a commitment. It’s structured to persuade, to make an argument in our favor. It could be a story or even something as simple as a call to action, but its purpose is to appeal to the audience’s needs and wants.

The Goal: Promoter Content drives decision. It’s meant to appeal to the audience and drive commitment to an action. It’s designed to get the sale, drive a subscription, talk to a sales-person, take the car for a drive—or in some other way persuade the audience to take an action that furthers the business.

2. The Preacher

As we create more content that attempts to create value in a media-saturated and search-focused world, the classic advertising concept of “reach and frequency” eludes us. Making audiences aware of who we are and what we do our is one of the main reasons businesses want to start a content marketing program. At its heart, this is Preacher Content. It drives awareness by evangelizing our remarkable ideas in the name of being discovered by an audience that aligns with them.

Attributes: Preacher Content drives an audience’s discovery and awareness. Its purpose is merely to be found and promote a larger idea in an easy-to-consume way. Examples include things like “top 5 blog posts” or “listicles” that we produce in high volume, or the weekly newsletter in which we publish anything we can about what’s new. Preacher content might also embrace a social strategy that pushes out curated content.

Goal: Our goal with Preacher Content is to drive some form of engagement. That means churning out (like an assembly line) high-volumes of content that’s built to “be found” and drive an awareness of our approach to solving a need or want.

3. The Professor

The first goal of content is to differentiate how we help solve customers’ problems. One of the ways to do this is to establish ourselves as the thought leader or recognized authority on something. That’s how we educate our audience about the approach we take as a business. This means educating audiences by demonstrating deep expertise, or by delivering unique experiences that inform customers and deliver value. That’s the heart of Professor-oriented Content.

Attributes: This content feeds our audience’s interests and passions. Examples of Professor Content include anything that helps or teaches rather than tries to sell, persuade or build awareness.

Goal: Professor Content drives meaning. It establishes us as an authority within our industry and engenders trust that our expertise will make the customer’s life better. It’s information that’s so valuable and unique that it can’t be found anywhere else. This means it has to be more considered and carefully crafted than any of the other types of content we produce. And most likely, we’ll source it much differently than we do other content.

4. The Poet

This may be the most misunderstood, but most talked about, of all the content types. That’s because it’s how we tell the story of the business. To be clear, all of the content types should contribute to the story of the brand and a company’s approach to creating differentiating experiences for audiences. But Poet Content differs from other types because it’s the one that helps us connect emotionally with people. That’s how we create an affinity to our approach. It’s the only type of content that can actually change a belief.

Attributes: Poet Content drives feelings and beliefs in our audience. Examples of Poet Content include anything in which we’re appealing to the pure emotions of our audience. We want to make them laugh, cry or feel some emotion that lines up with our story or purpose.  We’re bringing them along on a journey—the way any storyteller would. If our goal is to introduce something that changes how people think, Poet Content is the only kind of content with that power.

Goal: To drive emotions.  Poet content targets our audience’s feelings and beliefs —and maybe even their pre-conceived notion about things—and brings them on a journey to make them feel differently. It focuses on changing a belief about a particular thing.

How the archetypes differ

One archetype isn’t better than another, they’re just different. They each have distinct functions and their own relative importance. It’s important to understand the difference so when we’re creating a purpose-driven piece of content, everyone involved is on the same page about what kind of content we’re shooting for.

Source: Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing by Robert Rose and Carla Johnson

Can’t every bit of content contain all of these archetypes?

Theoretically, yes. But, having all of the purposes embedded into one piece of content ruins it. That’s because you’re trying to accomplish too much with one thing.

Think about the last time you saw a TV commercial that advertised a new product while it taught you some important lesson in an emotional way. Never seen it? It’s hanging out back with the other unicorns.

Many pieces of great content do blend two or more elements. But, here are the key differences to understand:

  1. Promoter Content always talks about us or our product or service. This is true marketing and ad copy, plain and simple. One of the most common mistakes marketers make is inserting Promoter Content into Professor Content and calling that a differentiated experience. Think about the white paper that’s really just a case study in disguise.
  2. Preacher Content is ephemeral. Its draws awareness and draws people in. It’s topical and created in near real-time. It’s also part of a high-volume strategy so it doesn’t have the same care and feeding as a deep research piece. One of the most common mistakes of a promising marketing strategy is assuming that all you need is Preacher Content. If there’s no substance behind the evangelizing, you’ll quickly run out of parishioners.
  3. Professor Content is unique to the brand’s approach. It’s high-quality, well-thought-out content in which we invest. This represents our unique approach to the world and is hand delivered. Professor Content represents our ability to create trust with our customers and illustrate that we share a similar point of view on the world. Without Professor Content, we end up trying to be everything to everyone – and end up being nothing to no one.
  4. Poet Content is also used more sparingly by brands. It’s meant to change a belief or affect a feeling on an audience, so it’s well considered. It is different from Professor Content because its purpose is to create an emotional bond with our audience. So, it doesn’t have to teach or deliver an authoritative point of view or even any kind of usefulness. It simply needs to deliver a compelling emotion that aligns with our brand’s point of view.


Source: Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing by Robert Rose and Carla Johnson

And again, a piece of Preacher Content can also be a piece of Poet Content. Your brand might offer up a high-volume Twitter stream that’s sole purpose is to make people laugh.

One thing to keep in mind is that the key isn’t to get so far into classifying content that putting each piece into an archetypal bucket becomes more important than what we’re trying to accomplish. The critical thing is to start every piece of content by understanding the goal and purpose of what we want to accomplish.

Are you interested in developing a content marketing strategy that balances these archetypes? Contact me and let’s talk about how we can help you identify gaps and deliver content that has greater context for your audience. You can also follow me on LinkedIn, and  Twitter, and if you like what you see, Subscribe here for regular updates.

Photo credit: Flickr user Hartwig HKD

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author