Author   |    Speaker   |    Chief Content Officer

This week I debuted a new presentation at Content Marketing World about creating bigger stories, braver marketing, and more buff, ripped marketing writing with bolder tone of voice.

(I’m giving this same talk at INBOUND15 tomorrow.)

If there were a 12-Step Program for PowerPoint Recovery, I’d be going to meetings thrice weekly. I tend to build bloated slide decks overstuffed like a post-Thanksgiving gut, with examples of great content and marketing I love.

And then I have a heck of a time killing my darlings.

Because to me they are all precious. And, also, I don’t want to let my marketer-audience down… because what if the exact example I leave out about that one automaker’s effort is exactly the inspiration the marketing manager for Burt’s New and Used Auto needed to see? Can you tell I overthink this stuff?

Luckily, this time around, I’ve worked with my brilliant and talented therapist friend Tamsen Webster at Oratium to help me cull the slide herd. She helped me tossed out the weakling examples in favor of the ones with six-pack abs and muscley hides.

Tamsen is made of stronger stuff that I am—at least when editing slide decks—and she was quite stern on this point:

Your audience can’t absorb much more than one solid story to illustrate each point. Any more than that, she said, is to over-saturate them.

I pictured a waterlogged audience when she said that: people hopelessly forced to absorb more than they are meant to and worse for the wear—the way an iPod that takes a spin through the washing machine needs to dry out for a few days in a pail of rice.

Anyway, Tamsen suggested that I wring out some of the waterlogged bloat by giving details of the examples elsewhere. So that’s what you’re now reading in this post…

Bigger, Bolder, Braver

A bigger story puts your company in the larger context of what people care about.

A bolder marketer upends the status quo, telling a story that hits on specific challenges your audience has (but no one else is talking about in the right way for a certain audience).

Gutsier, braver voice is a differentiator in a sea of mediocre content.

You can use your bigger, bolder, braver content to convert more people into your squad, to align them with your company on a level that’s bigger than what you sell or what you do.

(And not everybody is going to want to be part of your squad. Which is exactly the point.)

Yesterday at Content Marketing World, I shared my favorite examples of three companies that I think kill at this, and how they are doing it. But many more examples of bigger, bolder, braver content wound up on the cutting room floor.

Here are three.

1. MailChimp

Technically, MailChimp is a 14-year-old email marketing service provider (with a cute monkey wearing a cap as its brand avatar). But, really, the MailChimp people help you craft and send marketing email that is less annoying.

Or, as they say (more delicately), right on the homepage: “Send better email.”

It’s a directive. But it’s also a kind of call to arms.

One of the ways they do this is to lean heavily into making their customers smarter. And deeply smarter—and not just by delivering the lightweight “5 Ways to Improve Your Open Rates.”

They partnered with the online learning platform Skillshare and produced a series of engaging video tutorials grouped loosely around (you guessed it) sending better email. More than 14,000 students have taken Getting Started with Email Marketing.

“Our goal is to make people smarter about email,” whether or not they become MailChimp customers, Allyson Van Houten, who teaches the class, told me.

Another way MailChimp gives businesses a gift is by promoting the importance of clear, sharp writing.

I almost wrote “gives its customers a gift” in that last sentence. But the truth is you don’t have to be a MailChimp customer (or even a prospect) to access the MailChimp style guide, which the company created and posted on GitHub in August, making it freely available to anyone who wants to use it as the basis to create a style guide for their own company.

It’s not behind a contact form, so you can access it with zero strings attached:

Github Mailchimp

Takeaway: Make your customers deeply smarter. Give people a reason to join your squad.

2. Casper

This June, startup mattress company Casper borrowed a page from Red Bull (widely known as the media company that happens to sell energy drinks) when Caspar launched a dedicated website—Van Winkle’s—with a bigger content mission: to own the “sleep” category.

“While sleep is of increasing interest to everyone, there is no true authority on the topic,” Luke Sherwin, co-founder and chief creative officer at Casper, told Contently. “We want to own the conversation on sleep and help create sleep and wakefulness as a new editorial category, much like food, shelter, and fitness are now.”

I also love the way Sherwin says great brands “don’t just ride shifts in culture, they contribute to them.”

“Smarter brands in general realize that their products are just enablers to a lifestyle—changing the lifestyle itself can be more profitable than any change to your product,” he told writer Dillon Baker.

I also love the way Casper is investing in hiring professional writers and editors to create content and make Van Winkle’s into a full-fledged publication.

Van Winkle's

Casper hired Elizabeth Spiers, former editor-in-chief of the New York Observer and founding editor of, to head up the initiative as editorial director. It also hired journalist Jeff Koyen as its editor-in-chief, alongside three other editorial staffers, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Takeaway: Be the go-to source for your industry. Tell true stories well. 

3. Toyota Mirai, Fueled by Bullshit

The Toyota Mirai is a “hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle,” which simply means that it runs on hydrogen stored in cells similar to rechargeable batteries. I am vastly oversimplifying this concept; if you are a scientist please feel free to mock me to yourself.

Hydrogen is apparently non-polluting, and hydrogen cars have the potential to be fuel-efficient and eco-friendly transportation alternatives to gas-powered vehicles. But a lot of issues still need addressing, some of which Toyota took on squarely in this video to promote its new hydrogen-based vehicle, the Mirai (reportedly Japanese for “future”).

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk had derisively called the technology “bullshit,” claiming it’s a marketing ploy and not a legit long-term solution for cleaner vehicles.

Toyota disagreed. Musk and other critics are right about the cars being “fueled by bullshit,” the narrator here says, “but not in the way they think.”

In other words, Toyota stepped right into the issue, producing a mini documentary to demonstrate how hydrogen can be created, literally, from cow/bull excrement, and to make the case for hydrogen-based cars.

As a result, the story it tells is bigger, bolder, braver.

Until yesterday, I had planned to show this example to the audience. But then my friend Tim Washer told me it would gross the audience out, and I decided he was right. Especially since I was talking just before lunch.

Also, it’s long. And Tamsen said I don’t have 3 minutes to waste on a single video in my talk. (See confessional “12 Step” paragraph, above.)

Takeaway: Don’t shy from the tough issues facing your industry. Run at them, head on. But watch your step. (Ha!)

Total Annarchy

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42 Responses to Bigger, Braver, Bolder Content Marketing: 3 Examples from the Cutting-Room Floor of My Latest Presentation

  1. Ann, your piece fueled some bigger, bolder, braver curation on @linkedin and @twitter! And, that’s no bullish*t. 😉 Luckily, I watched the @toyotamurai video before lunch.

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  5. Elaine Fogel says:

    I had the same problem, too, Ann. A couple of years ago a fellow speaker gave me feedback when I asked her to and lo and behold, I had way too much content and not enough pauses. All I wanted to do was provide the best value for my time. A noble motive, but overkill. Lesson learned.

    • Ann Handley says:

      It’s generally better to over-deliver than under-deliver. Or so I always thought. But in speaking, there seems to be a point where (as I said above) the audience just can’t absorb anymore.

      Tamsen is brilliant to work with, by the way.

      Thanks for chiming in here!

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  8. Sherene Strahan says:

    Hi Ann, love the post with lots of sharp observations to tuck away and refer to in my work as a writer and content coach.
    And just wanted you to know that the work of your creative motor has led to new energy sparks in mine – based on Toyota using criticism as an opportunity to tell a bolder story. I’m now working on an idea for my client that bounces off this approach so thanks!

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  14. Thank you for making me smarter Ann! That’s no bullsh*t!

  15. Roger Meili says:

    Hi Ann, thank’s for that. I like how you get to the point. Sometimes bullsh*t is able to bring the ball rolling.

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  21. Ann, you are such a great writer.

    Here are some of the examples of the writing I love of yours:
    1) creating buff, ripped marketing writing
    2) if you are a scientist please feel free to mock me to yourself.

    I like how you include humour into your writing. I found you through twitter when you wrote you were waging a war against bad content. V. clever.

    Thanks for the input.


  22. Mark CC says:

    Dear Ann,

    Thanks for the article, love your style! I was already familiar MailChimp, but I hadn’t heard of Casper, and didn’t know about the Toyata campaign, so thanks for bringing it to my attention . As part of a company that focuses on digital marketing in Hong Kong I most definitely approve of your simple, but effective message: bigger, bolder, braver, the three B’s ;). Keep up the good work!

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  28. Claire says:

    Hi there Ann,

    For 7am on a Monday morning, you’ve already inspired me!

    I like to keep things short and to the point, yet on the other hand I write stories as a hobby… so you can imagine my dilemma when reaching out to prospects.

    ‘No Bullsh*t’ needs to be a huge motto for many of us, and I feel that often we do it unintentionally.

    Your writing is witty, clever and I love it!

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  36. Sara says:

    Hi Ann, unfortunately, the Toyota video is private and cannot be viewed through your link. (sob)

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