The Auteur Theory of Content Marketing: Why It Pays to Repeat Yourself

It takes about 30 seconds to recognize a Wes Anderson film, care of the pastel colors, symmetrical framing, and oddball characters. In fact, his style is so recognizable that it has spawned a cult following of people that look for the Anderson aesthetic appearing in real life.

Anderson, along with the likes of Scorsese, Tarantino, and Hitchcock, is an example of an “auteur” filmmaker: creative artists with a collection of core themes and aesthetic ideas they return to again and again. In the crowded world of cinema, they’ve defined their careers by tirelessly reinforcing the same handful of ideas across their body of work.

Great blogs also follow auteur theory. There’s a clear, consistent narrative that runs through the whole blog. Familiar ideas crop up time and again. Open any article at random and, chances are, you’ve found an access point into one of the company’s core beliefs.

Auteur Theory in Practice

Take the Animalz blog by way of example. We’ve published 137 articles to date, each a distinct, self-contained article with an original hook and unique examples. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see a handful of core themes cropping up again and again:

The Auteur Theory of Content Marketing.png

We hammer on the importance of sales as a source of content inspiration. We reinforce the idea that your content strategy should evolve over time. Our articles repeat the mantra that thought leadership is a powerful brand differentiator.

This trait isn’t unique to Animalz. Wistia is an example of an even bigger blog that’s permeated by a handful of constant themes. These ideas transcend any individual author—they form the ethos of the entire team’s approach to content:

MessageArticle Example
Content should be as entertaining as it is educational5 Reasons Why 2020 Is the Year to Invest in Binge-Worthy Content
Businesses should own their own video platformHow to Delete Your YouTube Channel
Great video content can be made on any budgetThe Down and Dirty DIY Lighting Kit

Curalate is a newer blog that’s already staked a claim on two core beliefs:

MessageArticle Example
Social commerce is the futureImprove Your Brand’s Ecommerce Shopping Experience By Stealing These Strategies From Instagram
User-generated content is more powerful than traditional marketingThe Complete Guide to User-Generated Content: How to Find, Use, and Sell with UGC

In the same way that a Wes Anderson film feels like a Wes Anderson film, each of these blogs has its own distinct sense of personality and mission. This fixation on a handful of core themes harnesses one of psychology’s most potent forces: repetition.

The Power of Repetition

Auteur theory is, at its simplest, a process of repetition, repeatedly exposing the viewer—or, in our case, the reader—to the same themes until they stick. It’s a strategy for overcoming content marketing’s greatest challenge: not just reaching people with an idea but helping them to believe it.

Repetition is a powerful force, allowing you to:

1. Introduce Every Reader to Your Core Ideas

Every company has a handful of core messages they want to communicate to the world: a vision for their industry, the defining characteristics of their product, or just marketing messages with a proven record for closing deals.

Confining any of these ideas to a single, definitive article is risky: it’s likely to be overlooked by the casual reader.

Most blogs—certainly those built primarily on organic search traffic—are more like a library than a publication, consisting of a constant stream of new visitors that discover your blog through a single article, rarely sticking around to work through your entire back catalog.

But by repeating the same messages throughout every article, you’re guaranteeing a taste of your core ideas and messages, regardless of which article brings a visitor to your website. Instead of staking everything on a single article, you’re permeating your entire blog with that great idea.

2. Provide Different Framings for Different People

Everyone responds to advice and ideas in different ways. Even if you find the framing of one article particularly compelling, there’s no guarantee it’ll trigger the same “aha!” moment for other people.

Take our mantra that thought leadership is a powerful differentiator. Each of our articles tackles the same core principle in a slightly different way, designed to engage different people at different times:

  • One focuses on a pain point that can be solved with thought leadership.
  • One is framed through the lens of category creation, a specific type of thought leadership.
  • One is targeted at people who want thought leadership but don’t know how to best execute on it.

One idea, three very different framings, with each variation upon your central theme providing an opportunity to resonate with a different portion of your readership.

3. Make It Familiar

Business books get flack for being too long, but most of their value comes from repeating a single idea, ad nauseam, until the reader internalizes it. Ideas rarely “stick” on the first pass—it requires multiple rounds of exposure to fully understand and trust new concepts.

There’s a cumulative effect with each article written. Every additional exposure to an idea—that YouTube is a problematic video host, or that social commerce is the future—increases the likelihood of the reader believing it, thanks, in large part, to the mere-exposure effect. The act of repeating the same idea multiple times makes the idea more attractive.

4. Attract Repeat Readers

“Auteur” filmmakers like Wes Anderson have cult followings partly because their clearly-defined, oft-repeated style makes it easy for viewers to opt in to—or opt out of—their film-making style. If you enjoyed The Royal Tenenbaums, chances are you’ll get a similar kick from watching The Grand Budapest Hotel. Hate it and you’ll find no reprieve in Anderson’s other films.

The same applies to content. A handful of strong, repetitive messages makes it easier to attract repeat readers: if you like Wistia’s article on DIY video lighting, chances are you’ll like their tips for looking great on webcam. This process of self-selection is useful for encouraging good-fit readers to opt in, and poor-fit readers to opt out. Traffic alone is a vanity metric: we want to attract interested, qualified prospects to our site.

How to be a Content Auteur

Each of the auteur blogs featured here takes a similar approach to repetition and reinforcement: they identify a handful of core messages, cross-cut them by industry or persona or funnel stage, and distribute them through long-tail keyword targeting.

Identify Your Core Messages

Any message that consistently resonates with a customer is worth repeating, and these messages can be found throughout your company:

  • Your sales and marketing messages. Look to sales decks, website copy, and product positioning to find the proven ideas that have the biggest impact on revenue.
  • Your best-performing content. Identify which articles bring the most visitors to the site or generate the most conversions or fuel the most productive discussions during sales calls.
  • Your strongest opinions. Pour your strongest personal beliefs about your industry into your content.

Chances are, you already know what your company’s core messages are—they’re the guiding principles and unique differentiators that make your company different from every other company in existence. But if you’re struggling to pin down core topics, remember that great messages are emergent: write a dozen articles and you’ll begin to identify the common themes between them.

Cross-Cut by Industry, Persona, Funnel Stage

By shaping each article to a different industry or persona or use case or funnel stage, you’re engaging in a process we call cross-cutting—creating article variations in a systematic and targeted way.

Take the core topic “content strategy.” We’ve covered it through the lens of company type:

Company typeArticle
EcommerceNiche Down to Scale Up: A Case Study in Ecommerce Content Marketing
Education technologyEdTech Content Marketing | Episode 50
EnterpriseHow to Run a Smooth Content Operation at a Large Company
Multi-productContent Strategy for Multi-Product Companies

And target persona:

Marketing executivesThe Marketing Executive’s Guide to Content Strategy
Developers and technical foundersTechnical Content: A Strategy Blueprint for SaaS Companies

And even a topical variation in response to real-world events:

COVID-19This Is What Content Marketing Looks Like in a Crisis

Each article, despite tackling the topic in a very different way, is permeated by the same handful of core ideas: strategy is crucial, it is dynamic, it changes over time, and it requires a diverse mix of content types.

Distribute With Long-Tail Keywords

There’s powerful synergy between the auteur approach and SEO. Long-tail variations of core keywords—say, “content strategy” or “thought leadership” for the Animalz blog—provide a novel framing and a new audience for you to address with an article.

So, building from content strategy as our main keyword:

  • simple content marketing strategy provides a chance to help a new marketer or fledgling startup quickly launch a blog
  • content strategy framework might allow you to reach experienced marketers looking to apply a theoretical framework
  • content distribution strategy focuses on one specific subtype of content marketing strategy
  • linkedin content strategy lets you niche-down even further, looking at a single channel

One of the accusations leveled against many “SEO-driven” blogs is that there’s often too much overlap between articles. This can be avoided by ensuring that content is mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive: each article should contain enough new information to make it worthwhile in its own right.

It Pays to Repeat Yourself

There’s often a reluctance to create “overlapping” content, for fear of oversaturating an audience. Usually, these fears are overstated. Despite addressing a handful of similar themes, every article on the Wistia, Curalate, and Animalz blogs is still a distinct, self-contained article, valuable whether you’ve read a single article or a hundred.

In reality, few readers will trawl the entirety of your blog or mentally blacklist you because you have similar articles. Instead, you’re anchoring your entire body of work to the messages that have the biggest impact on your business.

Thanks to Animalz strategist Katie Parrott for introducing me to the concept of “auteur theory.”