Five TED Talks Every Content Marketer Should Watch

TED Talks—short video presentations on topics big and small—started in the early ’90s as part of TED, originally an invitation-only event that focused on technology, entertainment and design. With the catch phrase “ideas worth spreading,” past notable speakers and subjects have included former Vice President Al Gore on climate change, author Elizabeth Gilbert on creativity and Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg on women in leadership roles. The conference created spin-offs that cater to specific audiences, including TEDx, which allows communities, colleges and other organizations to feature speakers with new ideas on a smaller scale.

In essence, the popularity of TED Talks stems from its simple formula: Interesting people share thought-provoking ideas in 18 minutes or less. The TED brand has established a standard that is ubiquitous, with unique points of view delivered in an engaging and easily digestible way, often with humor or quirky visuals.

Out of thousands of TED Talks that exist, here are five that every content marketer should watch for inspiration, ideas on how to better own mistakes and instructions on how to let go in order to gain more understanding.

“404, the story of a page not found,” by Renny Gleeson (2012)

A lead strategist at the ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, Gleeson got his start as a game developer before becoming a consultant for technology startups. In his four-minute talk, he shares how one of the most frustrating aspects of the internet—an error page—can actually be an opportunity for businesses to express their brand personality and better connect with audiences.

Even if the concept of developing an error page doesn’t apply to your brand, on a deeper level Gleeson is talking about how small things can make the brand more relatable. Fundamentally, mistakes are an opportunity to humanize the brand. On a larger scale, this can apply to an overall public relations approach, a social media faux pas or even a marketing campaign that didn’t go as planned.

“How to use data to make a hit TV show,” by Sebastian Wernicke (2015)

Dr. Sebastian Wernicke is an expert in the field of bioinformatics and oversees the science department at the German consulting firm Solon. In this 12-minute presentation at TEDxCambridge, Wernicke talks about how Amazon and Netflix used consumer data to drive decisions on what TV shows would perform well in today’s streaming marketplace. Although they used similar measurement techniques, one company was successful and the other wasn’t. He explains why.

Marketers are becoming increasingly dependent on data to make decisions, but ultimately, the numbers only reveal so much. Wernicke argues that marketers still have to analyze that data through a human lens, using good old-fashioned brainpower to determine whether the information makes sense with the end goal. Moreover, he says that a willingness to embrace risk (even if it defies the numbers) is another key to success.

“The single biggest reason why startups succeed,” by Bill Gross (2015)

The founder of Idealab, a business incubator focused on new ideas, Bill Gross is no stranger to startups. In his roughly seven-minute talk he analyzes what he calls “five essential elements that lead to success.” The elements are ideas, team, business model, funding and timing. Looking at more than 200 companies—including Airbnb, LinkedIn and YouTube—he found that timing is the ultimate factor that determines whether a new company will succeed.

It’s not enough to have a great idea or great investors. Brands need to be in tune with trends, market forecasts and the world at large. Gross says it’s important to think about, and be honest with, yourself, about whether “consumers are ready for what you really have to offer them.” And, like with his example of YouTube, whether the technological tools needed for a successful launch have been adopted into the mainstream.

“3 ways to (usefully) lose control of your brand,” by Tim Leberecht (2012)

Head of the consulting firm Leberecht & Partners, Tim Leberecht’s six-minute talk opens with a quote from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos: “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Leberecht then goes on to talk about how relinquishing or rethinking the concept of control has enabled 10 different brands—from the band Radiohead to tech giant Microsoft—to gain a unique understanding of its consumers.

You don’t have to give up all control in order to gain a little understanding. It helps to experiment and even consider going against the grain. Take Patagonia, for example, which we did a case study on. Their “Don’t buy this jacket” ad campaign encouraged shoppers to avoid new purchases on Black Friday in favor of sustainability. The campaign was not without its critics, but it did start a dialogue, one that allowed the brand to engage its audience and learn more about them in the process.

“My year of saying yes to everything,” by Shonda Rhimes (2016)

One of the most prominent television producers in Hollywood, Shonda Rhimes is a very busy woman. In her 19-minute talk, she touches on an issue that many high-powered individuals (as well as teams and businesses) struggle with: burnout. She calls her motivation the “hum.” The way she got her hum back? She took what some might consider a counterproductive approach—she said “yes” to every opportunity.

When you’re someone like Shonda or you work in a field like content marketing, losing your creative drive can be disheartening. By opening up to new experiences and taking time away from the daily grind, Shonda once again became inspired. With brands, it’s important to make time for reflection, to step outside of the box, and do something different. It could be as simple as taking a meeting outside or seeking collaboration opportunities between two teams that have never worked together before. Even if the idea seems crazy at first, saying “yes” could lead to new ways of thinking about a project, media campaign or internal strategy.

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