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Using a Framework to Create Inventive Content

Using a Framework to Create Inventive Content written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

Marketing Podcast with Melanie Deziel
Podcast Transcript

Melanie Deziel headshotToday on the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I sit down with marketing expert Melanie Deziel.

Deziel is a keynote speaker, author, award-winning branded content creator, and lifelong storyteller. She is driven by a desire to help brands create compelling and credible content to share with their audience.

She is the author of The Content Fuel Framework: How to Generate Unlimited Story Ideas, and the founder of StoryFuel, which teaches entrepreneurs and companies how to tell better brand stories.

Before StoryFuel, Deziel served as the first editor of branded content at The New York Times, a founding member of HuffPost’s brand storytelling team, and was Director of Creative Strategy for Time Inc.

Today on the podcast, Deziel and I discuss her book, and she shares how any business—no matter their size or resources—can establish a framework for creating compelling content that their audience is excited to consume and share.

Questions I ask Melanie Deziel:

  • What’s the focus of your book that’s going to make it different from other books out there about storytelling?
  • Is there a finite collection of focuses a business should try to take on?
  • Not everyone listening has a content team. If someone only has the bandwidth to create in one format, where should they focus their time?

What you’ll learn if you give a listen:

  • How a framework built around focus and format can help you generate new, novel content.
  • How to get more efficient in your content creation when you’re short on time and money.
  • Why our content is influenced by how our audience wants to consume content.

Key takeaways from the episode and more about Melanie Deziel:

Like this show? Click on over and give us a review on iTunes, please!

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Transcript of Using a Framework to Create Inventive Content

Transcript of Using a Framework to Create Inventive Content written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

Back to Podcast


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John Jantsch: This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Zephyr CMS. It’s a modern cloud based CMS system that’s licensed only to agencies. You can find them at, more about this later in the show.

John Jantsch: Hello, welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Melanie Deziel. She is the Founder of StoryFuel, and the author of a book we’re going to talk about today called, The Content Fuel Framework: How to Generate Unlimited Story Ideas for Marketers and Creators.

John Jantsch: So Melanie, welcome to the show.

Melanie Deziel: Thanks for having me.

John Jantsch: Is this your first book?

Melanie Deziel: It is my first book.

John Jantsch: Awesome.

Melanie Deziel: It’s very exciting stuff.

John Jantsch: It’s very exciting. Have you got finished copies, yet?

Melanie Deziel: I have not, they are in the mail. I’m waiting, the bated breath, checking the mail a little obsessively. Any day, now.

John Jantsch: It’s a pretty awesome feeling, I will tell you.

Melanie Deziel: It will be really nice, to see them live and in person.

John Jantsch: I’m going to ask you lots of really easy, nice softball questions, but I’m going to start with kind of a hard one.

Melanie Deziel: Okay.

John Jantsch: There’s a lot of books about stories right now, so what’s your focus?

Melanie Deziel: Yeah.

John Jantsch: I’m going to use that word again … for this book, that’s going to make it different from the other books out there about story telling?

Melanie Deziel: Yeah, you’re totally right. Storytelling is a bit of a buzzword at this particular moment, everyone’s trying to figure out their story and how to tell it.

Melanie Deziel: My approach is a little bit different in that I’m not coming at you, talking about your brand’s story as a whole, right? This is not who you are, as a company. This is, very specifically, how do you take that message and bring it to the world? The framework that I’m sharing is something that I learned in my background as a journalist, which is also, probably, a different perspective than a lot of the storytelling books out there. Just sharing, how do I sit down and come up with content on a recurring basis? There are so many platforms, and you have to update all of them so frequently, you run out things to say.

Melanie Deziel: So, the goal of this book was really to say you don’t have to be this amazing, magical, prolific content creator to have something unique to say routinely. And that if you have a system behind how you choose what to say, you’ll actually be able to fill those platforms with ease. You’ll have hundreds of ideas, rather than this writer’s block of what should I post today? That’s the question I’m trying to eliminate.

John Jantsch: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting you said that because, my experience working with a lot of journalists, now that we’re all producing all this content, is that this idea, the training really was a system, because a lot of times you got assigned something you knew nothing about. Your system had to kick into place, to allow you to structure it, format it, get it going quickly, on deadline. I think that makes a ton of sense.

Melanie Deziel: 100%. The other thing I always say is, you never see a newspaper that says, “Sorry, we decided not to do a paper today, because there was nothing new to talk about,” right? That deadline pressure is real, so you become very skilled at always finding a new angle, a new perspective, a new approach, something that you can say. So that even if it’s yet another school board meeting, or whatever else you happen to be covering that day, you’ve got some new way to talk about it that’s going to engage people.

John Jantsch: Yeah. Unfortunately, that also produces the stories of the doctor who talks about more people having a heart attack in Kansas City, during the Super Bowl, because they had to fill space, right?

Melanie Deziel: It’s true, it’s true. Well, you never want to make content just for the sake of content, so hopefully this will help you come up with a lot of ideas, and then choose the best ones to bring to life.

John Jantsch: We can drill into some of the elements, but I guess it might be helpful if you have the one minute version of the global picture, of what the framework is?

Melanie Deziel: Absolutely. The framework proposes two things.

Melanie Deziel: One, that every piece of content you’ve ever created, loved, or consumed is only made up of two things. It has a focus, in that it’s about something. Maybe it’s about people, or history, or data. And it has a format, so it’s brought to life in some way, like writing, audio, like we’re doing here, video, et cetera. As long as you agree with that, that every piece of content has a focus and a format, then what I’m proposing is if I can give you a tool belt of these are some focuses, and these are some formats, you can start to come up with new and novel combinations of those things, that allow you to tell similar stories in new ways.

Melanie Deziel: The idea being you could tell a story about history through a timeline, instead of just through a written piece of content. Or, instead of just through a video, or instead of just through an infographic. So, talking about new and different ways to combine all these different focuses, and formats. That’s really what we’re trying to do, is give you a go-to system, and a language for talking about, and thinking about content creation, so that you’re not just trying to grab things out of thin air.

John Jantsch: When I hear you talk about the focus piece, are you saying every piece of content has to have one focus? Your business has to have an over-arching focus? I mean, drill down on the focus idea?

Melanie Deziel: Yeah, absolutely. I think that you can certainly combine these focuses, but the idea is if you were to think about a particular piece of content that you really enjoyed, like maybe the Serial podcast. We all remember Serial, that was a big one, we went crazy for it. That was a story about people, and it was a story about the history of that particular case, right? It did combine both the people and the history, as the focus. And it was told through audio, so that’s the particular combinations of focuses and format, there.

Melanie Deziel: You can imagine a world where that was a really long, investigative written piece, and something like the New Yorker instead of being just audio. That would be a different focus. It could have been told through an interactive timeline, where you scrolled through, and you got to listen to audio clips, and see photos. It could have been a map. I think they did, actually, include a lot of supportive content online, there was a map at some point, where you could look, here’s the cell tower, and here’s where the body was found, and plotting out all the different story elements on a map, instead.

Melanie Deziel: Every piece of content you’re trying to come up with … If you have a new product launch, or an event coming up, or you’re trying to just promote your business in general, thinking how could I tell this story through the lens of history? The history of our company, the history of this product. Or, how could I do it through data? As we talk about our company, how many people have we helped, how many products have we sold, how much revenue have we made? It just gives you different prompts, so instead of going back to the same tired stories, maybe you’re approaching things in a new way, or bringing them to life in a new way.

John Jantsch: That makes a ton of sense. Is there a finite collection of focuses? Like, here are the top … I know you talk about 10, but is there ultimately only so many of those that you should try to? I’m sure that certain industries, you could go crazy, but for the most part, would you say that there are a handful of tried and true focuses?

Melanie Deziel: Definitely. I think when it comes to focuses, and formats, I’ve picked 10 because it seemed like a nice, round number that would include some that were familiar, and some that would stretch you, to think and create in new ways. I probably can’t create an exhaustive list. At least, probably not in the timeline that it would take to create a book, there’s limits on our life. But, I did try to present some of the tried and trues.

Melanie Deziel: In terms of focuses, I think people is always a really good one to go for, we relate to stories about people very well. Basic and details, those are two complimentary ones. Basics, approaching something with just the very basics of what you need to know, really educational content. Then, details being more of an in-depth dive. You could do the same story, but approach it in both of those ways, as basics and details. I think process content is really having a moment, the last couple years. So, that’s anything that’s instructions, or DIY, recipes, we’ve seen a lot of that type of content. Those are some of the really common, tried and true.

Melanie Deziel: But, I think this also present some that you may not have thought of. I don’t know how many people are doing opinion content, as a brand. I give some examples in the book of how you can do that, without feeling like you’re going out on a limb, or getting in the middle of a debate. That’s not the goal, we’re not trying to create drama or divide your audience, we just want to express that someone has made a choice in creating this content. Maybe, “My favorite podcasts for entrepreneurs,” as opposed to just, “Here’s 10 random podcasts for entrepreneurs.”

Melanie Deziel: Yeah, those are some of the favorites. Again, like I said, a balance of hopefully ones that are familiar, and ones that might challenge you to think in some new ways, too.

John Jantsch:  Yeah. I think the structure, one of the beauties of this … I do think the challenge for a lot of people is they’re busy, doing all kinds of stuff, and then they sit down at a blank piece of paper, a blank screen, and they’re like, “I need some ideas.” This is almost like the little candy box, right? Just go grab one out of there, and start?

Melanie Deziel: Exactly. That’s the idea. If you can select from this list of focuses, here’s the eight or 10, or more that feel good to me, here’s the five, or eight, or 14 formats, that are within my resources, you could come up with 100 plus combinations. You’re obviously not going to create 100 pieces of content, maybe about the same thing, that would probably be excessive. But, like you said, it gives your brain somewhere to focus, that you’re not starting with a blank slate. You have some prompts, if you will, to think of ideas, and then you can select from those. Okay, these three are probably the most realistic for my budget, for my timeline, for my skillset.

John Jantsch: I can see a role, even … When I say content, so many people hear blog posts, and that’s where they stop. This could be your social media calendar of things, and obviously we’re going to get into some of the formats. In fact, maybe list your 10 formats, just quickly? Then, we can come back and talk about some of my questions on those.

Melanie Deziel: Yeah, definitely. The formats, this could be an almost unlimited list, because new formats are coming out all the time, new platforms are launching. So, I tried to come up with a decent combination, here, and pick 10 that I thought would be most applicable.

Melanie Deziel: Writing is first. Like I said, that’s the default for all of us. Infographics is another one, a visual way to represent our information. Audio is really having its moment, as we were talking about. Video is another big one, that obviously always creates such deep engagement. Then, I added live video as a separate one, so not bunching them together but actually thinking differently about how you might create live video.

Melanie Deziel: Number six is an image gallery, so that could be a collage, it could be a slideshow, any way you’re assembling images together. Seven is a timeline, so presenting things chronologically. Eight is a quiz, which I think is super underrated, it’s a really fun way to test knowledge, and present new information to your audience. Nine is a tool, so this would be anytime you’re helping your audience achieve something, make a calculation, convert something. You’re letting them input information, and then having a custom output of some kind. Then, 10 is a map, which again, I think maps is one of the things that we don’t use as often as we should because it feels really intimidating to create a map, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s a lot of really easy tools out there, that can help you do that.

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John Jantsch: Maybe expand on that map one, because I’m thinking, oh, I need to get to Des Moines tomorrow, I’ve got to pull out a map. But, that’s not necessarily what you’re talking about, is it?

Melanie Deziel: It doesn’t have to be, no. I think anytime you think of a story, you’re trying to convey … You’re doing an interview with someone and they’re mentioning different locations from their history, you’re talking about a particular story that has multiple geographic points, you can create a map, an optional, additional, or the only way to explore through that content.

Melanie Deziel: One of the things that I always remind people is that location doesn’t have to be, as you said, going to Des Moines, it’s states, and Interstates, and highways and things. You could have a map of a home, a blueprint is essentially a map of a home. If you’re doing some sort of real estate or renovation type content, you might want to have a map of home, to show where things happen. A map of the body is another option, right? If you’re doing any healthcare content, you’re talking about yoga positions, or pressure points, then a map of your body showing where different things happen may also be a really useful way to bring that to life.

Melanie Deziel: Just thinking about, if there’s any sort of placement or geographic element to what your talk about, then a map may be an option.

John Jantsch: Right. Not everybody who listens to my show has a content team. One of the things that I hear all the time, and I’m sure you’re hearing as you go out and talk to people is, “Okay, what’s the best format? If I can only do one, what’s the best format?” I’m going to let you answer that, but I’m going to throw the follow-up, too, is that is there a way to approach content creation, in format, that maybe is more efficient? Then, allows you to maybe do lots of formats?

Melanie Deziel: It sounds like the real challenge that a lot of us have, especially if you’re a content team of one, or if content is just one of many things you’ve been tasked with, is there’s only so much time and money for us to do these things. So, how do we make the most of our time and money?

Melanie Deziel: My recommendation, if you have the means, is to start with video. The reason for that is video can be repurposed more easily than any other format. Video has visual elements, so you can use short video clips, you can use stills from that video. It has the audio, so you could create audio clips from that as well. Then, that audio can be transcribed, to be come blog posts, articles, snippets for social media.

Melanie Deziel: If you’re starting with any of the others, writing, or infographic, or just audio, that’s still wonderful. If you can create one thing very well, consistently, by all means, do that. But if you are trying to create the illusion of more resources than you have, video is a really good starting point, that you could break down into many smaller elements, without too much extra work.

John Jantsch: Well, I think one of the challenges we face today is that there’s a whole lot of behavior in consumption, that we have to be addressing. I mean, some people listen to books. When I write I book, my audio book doesn’t come out the day the other book comes out, I hear from people. It’s like, “All I do is listen to audio!” Then, there are readers, then there are more visual learners.

John Jantsch: To some degree, we kind of have to cater to all of them, or at least to as wide as swath as possible, don’t we?

Melanie Deziel: Yeah. I talk about, everyone has their first content language, the one that your most comfortable creating in. For me, I’m a writer, that’s my background. I would rather sit down and write 100 blog posts, then have to edit two videos, it’s just the way my mind works. I’ll probably do it more quickly. Some people are different, and writing might give them anxiety, and they’d love to just hop on live video, and talk freely.

Melanie Deziel: Figure out what works for you. What are you most comfortable creating? Then, make sure you go that extra step, like you said, and see, what does your audience like consuming? Because there could be a gap, there, and even if you make the most amazing podcasts in the world, if your audience doesn’t listen to podcasts, you’re wasting your time. You want to make sure there’s some alignment, there. If there isn’t alignment, find someone, or a tool, that can help you bridge that gap.

John Jantsch: Yeah, I’m glad you threw in that idea, of something you’re good at, or you enjoy, or it’s your preference, because this stuff’s hard work, and if it’s something you really just hate doing, you’re just not going to stick with it, so great point.

John Jantsch: So, you mentioned in your book, and I loved it, “focus before format,” which I’ve been saying strategy before tactics for years. It’s kind of the same thing. I guess, you can just clear this up, then. You’re saying somebody should say, “Okay, I’m going to write about this. This is my focus, now let’s figure out all the formats it could go in.”

Melanie Deziel: Exactly. Ask, what’s the story you’re trying to tell? Then ask, what’s the best way to bring that specific story to life?

Melanie Deziel: So, a lot of times we do the opposite, just like you said, we go for tactics. We’re like, “I need a viral tweet.” But, about what? Then, you end up with a lackluster “about what.” So, we want to start with, what is this story about? Then okay, does it have visual elements? If so, maybe it would make a good video. If not, we’re probably going to have a very boring video, if there’s no visual elements to this whole story. By starting with your focus, and then asking which format is best to bring this to life, you ensure that you’re going to have some good alignment there, between the two.

John Jantsch: How closely should your focus be aligned with, say, business goals?

Melanie Deziel: I think, at the end of the day, all the content we make has to, in some way, help our business goals. So again, that’s one thing I always try to underscore. I’m not advocating that you make every possible piece of content you could with this system, or that you create every single interaction, or combination of the focuses and formats.

Melanie Deziel: But, if you know that your overarching goal is I want to create deeper relationships with this type of audience member, or I want create awareness around this event that we’re throwing, or I want to help people better understand a particular topic, then that helps you choose from amongst the focuses and the formats.

Melanie Deziel: So, for example, if your goal is, “Look, our customers really misunderstand this particular area of what we do, we need to do some education.” You’d look at that list and say, “Well, telling them about our Founder, doing a people focused story, that’s not really going to clear up that matter, so we’ll skip that for now.” But maybe a history, helping them understand the history of that particular issue, challenge, area, that might be helpful. Process would almost certainly be helpful, help them understand the thing that they maybe misunderstand, how it comes to life, what’s right and wrong there.

Melanie Deziel: Then saying, “Okay, if we’re trying to show a process, is the best way to do that process through writing? Maybe it is, but maybe we need to show that process, so we should try an image gallery, showing each step, or a video, or a live video, so that they can watch it happen.”

Melanie Deziel: As long as you start with your why, and then your big business goals, then asking, what sort of focuses make sense for that? Then, what sort of formats make sense, with that?

John Jantsch: Yeah, to your story of the viral video, so many people created ones, that got millions of views, that actually didn’t cause any business objectives to be met. It’s kind of like, well, is that worth the time?

John Jantsch: You have … and I’m imagining you, in workshops, almost playing Tic-Tac-Toe, with the boxes of this, and filling it in. You have some visuals, of the framework. Can we post those, in the show?

Melanie Deziel: Yeah, we’ll see what we can throw up there. Actually, I have a little cheat sheet, that includes the focuses and the frameworks. Maybe what we can do is we can include the link, and then a code to download that, for your listeners? That should be easy. Yeah, we’ll definitely do that.

Melanie Deziel: Yeah, it’s absolutely a fun little game. A lot of times, what I do in workshops is we’ll actually use a 10-sided die. Have you ever seen 10-sided dice? We’ll roll them, to come up with random combinations, and just see what we can come up with.

John Jantsch: That’s actually really cool, because that’s probably as accurate as somebody just picking.

Melanie Deziel: Yeah. Yeah, it’s just a good thought exercise. Like I said, sometimes, you get a combination that, “Okay, this doesn’t align with our goals.” Or, “We could do this, but it probably wouldn’t be great.” Again, at least you’re not a blank slate, and that will sometimes spur an idea for something related, that is actually a much better strategic fit.

John Jantsch: I have never seen a 10-sided die, I’m having trouble wrapping my head around what that would even look like.

Melanie Deziel: It’s quite an odd shape.

John Jantsch: It must be. It can barely sit on its side.

John Jantsch: So Melanie, where can people find out more about The Content Fuel Framework, and of course, the work that you’re doing?

Melanie Deziel: Yeah, you can learn more about my team and my company at So, Story F-U-E-L.C-O.

Melanie Deziel: The book, if you want to buy it, is at, nice and easy. But, you can learn more at, as well. There’s even instructions there, if you want to make that 10-sided die game, if you want to see what the 10-sided die look like, and make that game, there’s instruction cards there. You can try it out yourself.

John Jantsch: Awesome. Well Melanie, thanks for dropping by. Are you in New Jersey, New York?

Melanie Deziel: I am.

John Jantsch: New Jersey?

Melanie Deziel: I’m right in Jersey City, so I pretend to be both.

John Jantsch: Okay. Well, I was picking up just … I have a client that lives in Northern New Jersey, and you sound exactly like her, so I was pretty sure that’s where.

Melanie Deziel: That makes me happy. I’ve not lived in Jersey my whole life, so that means I’m starting to sink in.

John Jantsch: Oh, happy. Yeah, it’s starting to get to some of your phrases.

Melanie Deziel: There we go.

John Jantsch: All right Melanie, thanks for dropping by. Hopefully, we’ll run into you soon, out there on the road.

Melanie Deziel: Definitely. Thanks for letting me share my story.