What can Nelson Mandela teach us about content marketing?

What can Nelson Mandela’s powers of influence and connection teach us about content marketing?

With the recent sad passing of Nelson Mandela, and his memorial service being held today in Johannesburg, it made me wonder …

What can we learn from someone who was so influential the world over and touched and connected with so many people on all levels in so many ways?

After all, isn’t that ultimately what we’re trying to do with content marketing? To spread our story, to influence as many people as possible, to touch and connect with them effectively, to build relationships?

How did Nelson Mandela achieve all these goals, and what can we learn from him to improve our content marketing activities?

Here are the three main principles I have extracted – perhaps you can think of some more?

Persistence of Vision

It’s important to have a clear vision of what you are looking to achieve. Nelson Mandela never gave up on his, despite 27 years of incarceration and the approach of old age.

You can have setbacks all along the way – rather than seeing them as show-stopping obstacles, to succeed you just need to push straight on past them. As Mandela once said:

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
Nelson Mandela

Content marketing can require a lot of persistence, at least in the beginning. Initially it can appear that not much is happening, and you can wonder whether it’s all worthwhile.

Blogs for example can take at least six months to get off the ground, and during that time you have to post consistently and persistently, maintaining your vision and avoiding the nagging doubt about whether anyone is really reading and taking any notice.

But as you build up a more solid block of content, it starts to build. You get increased search engine recognition and higher traffic levels as a result. You gain increased credibility and recognition. Your content starts to feed into social media and build your influence in wider circles.

The Importance of Your Story

Nelson Mandela’s story is well-known the world over and helped market his cause and his vision for his country, while he was unable to communicate his cause directly himself.

The South African government hoped that by imprisoning the ‘trouble maker’ and effectively making him disappear, calls for social change would disappear with him. Instead, his incarceration only added fuel to the fire and made calls for change stronger rather than quieter, with governments, other organizations, and millions of people around the world adding their voices to the protestations.

And of course all good stories have a great ending, and for Mandela it was gloriously poignant – the prisoner had turned president of the country that once held him captive and tried to crush his hopes and dreams.

In virtually every report about Mandela, his story is told … because it’s such a great story, touches you emotionally, it’s memorable and easily repeatable.

Stories are important for effective content marketing, because they touch people on a deep level (story telling goes back to the earliest human civilizations), they’re memorable, and help spread the word. Ultimately, they help you to market more effectively with less effort.

Think about the stories of Steve Jobs … of Jeff Bezos and Amazon … of Zuckerberg and Facebook … we all know them well.

What’s your story? How can you make it more effective and resonate more strongly with people you are trying to reach? And repetition is power – how can you include aspects of your own story in more of your content marketing?

Making a Connection

Mandela was an absolute expert at making connections with people, and people generally warmed to him instantly.

This was partly due to his own natural charm, and partly due to his story (again) that had already pre-sold the people he met on the kind of person he was, and meant they had warmed to him before they even met.

A family man, principled, strong, forgiving, warm, personable, caring … all words that spring to mind when I think of a man I never met.

This is where content marketing is crucial and why it’s so important.

While the warm smile and twinkle in the eye is not so possible in the online world, it’s still about building that relationship with people before you meet (or ‘make the sale’), having them warm to you, allowing them to get to know and trust you, and encouraging that sense of connection.

To do that effectively, you also need to communicate with your potential prospects and customers in their own language.

As an example, imagine you were looking for an accountant.

An accountant trying to sell their services who talks in a language full of jargon and terminology that most people don’t understand in a vain effort to impress isn’t going to be very successful.

But an accountant who understands where their potential customers are coming from, what their motivations are (eg. saving money, making more money, minimizing tax) would be speaking the same language as their potential customers, resonate far more strongly with them, and be far more likely to acquire new customers as a result.

Mandela was an expert in communicating with people in their own language. I recently heard a story of when he met his grandson’s Afrikaans teacher, who spoke Afrikaans as a first language – Mandela immediately switched to Afrikaans, asking how his grandson was progressing.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
Nelson Mandela

What other content marketing principles can you think of that we can learn from Mandela’s powers of personal connection and influence?