What a Notorious 16th-Century Philosopher Can Teach You About Content Marketing Today

What a Notorious 16th-Century Philosopher Can Teach You About Content Marketing Today

Reader Comments (24)

    • Machiavelli is known for being a sociopath. His name is used in a lot of very unflattering business terminology these days. But there is still a lot to learn from him as Brian has pointed out.

  1. Great point about his impact being based on both highly provocative emotional toying as well as deep intellectual foundations. Take a leaf through Castiglione’s Courtier, if you have the chance.

  2. Gregory, great post! Lots of good observations here. I think it is human nature to tend to form groups and adopt an us against them” mentality.

    It brings to mind something I read recently.

    I’m rereading The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and he had the opposite observation. When writing about controversial pamphlets he’d printed to advance the cause of one of his colleagues, Franklin noted, “Those pamphlets, as is generally the case with controversial writings, tho’ eagerly read at the time, were soon out of vogue, and I question whether a single copy of them now exists.”

    Obviously, we don’t face the same issue of our writings going out of print because of the web. But what about when the controversy dies down?

    That’s why I agree with your point that we should use low-level controversy (like Machiavelli) to spark a discussion that may be continued for some time rather than polarizing issues that will likely cause division instead of dialogue.

  3. Fascinating article – especially the stuff about the ongoing controversy surrounding The Prince. You make a really good point – it takes courage to take a stand that people might disagree with, but don’t we all just love an argument? It’s an excellent way to get readers engaged – I’ve had the most interesting comments from posts on my blog that have stimulated a bit of a debate. It’s so much more fun than just having people agree with you and congratulate you on a ‘great post’ – as long as you don’t get upset about the fact that not everyone sees the world from your point of view.

    • Very good point Sue.

      I’ve seen many folks argue against this strategy as not being ‘authentic’ (gosh I hate that term), but in my eyes, what’s the point in following someone’s work if they never play with your emotions? When your writing only inspires, ‘good post, I agree’ comments on your blog, is what you are creating really worth talking about?

  4. Hi Gregory, thanks for an inspiring post. Another perspective on controversial content is the title of the essay or article – or in Machiavelli’s case his book. Who knows? Maybe, given Nicolo’s political and social standing, the good citizens of 16th century Florence were expecting something quite different.

    I say this because of the titles of the articles that you offered up as examples, especially ‘Why Steve Jobs Never Listened to His Customers’. It’s the seeming contradiction that get’s us. Of course he listened to his customers. It’s what he did with the information he received that set Apple apart from other consumer brands. And the author of the article knows this. The author also has a pretty good idea of what it takes to make himself heard among the many other excellent eulogies and testaments to Steve’s creative genius. Great post!

  5. Sartre and Dalí expressed remarks along these lines: Writers must provoke. Indifference is the enemy.

  6. Gregory – thank you for the stunning post. I could not agree more with your comment and source link to the groups. I’ve practiced this before, or did during my input on a University thesis.


  7. Very useful information on using controversy the right way in your blogs.
    I recently read Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday which details how news blogs use controversy to boost their views. Unfortunately it didn’t offer any practical way to use controversy in a professional way that doesn’t reflect badly on your brand.
    Focusing on low controversy issues is a great tip to get a discussion going.

  8. Greg, thank you for this post – it was unbelievably timely.

    You’re right: writing something just to be controversial and drive up your page views is not going to help you make sales. I’ve been attempting to convey that to some people for a while, so thank you for laying out what can help. In fact, once I share this post with them, they will probably consider it controversial. 😉

  9. Great post!

    Niccolo Machiavelli died in 1527, and we still speak and write about him today. Obviously, controversy sells and has staying power. But you must know how to write controversial content to get a reaction from your audience (and readers in general).

    I can’t think of the guy’s name, but he wrote a blog post about traveling in America or living in America (something like that) and how Americans are rude, eat too much, etc. Long story short, his blog post generated thousands of comments and shares. People either loved or hated the post. I’ll have to find it and re-read it. 😉

  10. Thanks for contributing this awesome post. I had a fun time reading it.

    I have read the book that you have mentioned. It was a controversial work.

    The fact is, some writers want to create controversy, but others just write to point out a truth.

    Not all writers can anticipate that their work will spark controversy. Read the works of Mark Twain, who dabbled in art: art as a reflection of society; holding up a mirror to conventions during that era.

    Twain wrote on topics controversial during his time, but now such topics may no longer be perceived as controversial. We have come a long way due to the social movements of the 60s. How our perceptions shift over time. Finally, truth is not only a powerful force but a bitter pill to swallow.

    Writing about the “truth” can lead to rubbing a lot of people the wrong way, but those who value the truth are sure to appreciate your point of view.

  11. Interesting post. I just realized that most posts that has controversial topics especially about my country (Philippines) easily spreads throughout facebook and other social media.

    In here, people don’t want others (especially from other country) bad mouthing or criticising them, which is by the way kind of close minded. I think I should write a controversial post one day.

  12. We live in an age where everyone is on a seemingly endless mission to uncover the latest tricks and strategies, yet time and time again the most effective and successful ones are the oldest ones that have been right under our noses the entire time. We hear this ringing true each time we find ourselves saying we are “going back to the basics.” No need to over-complicate things. Sometimes the best way is the oldest, simplest way. Nice collection of timeless tips. Thanks Gregory.

  13. Hi Gregory,

    This is such a great post! Thank you very much for sharing this. I believe that the content that is most likely to go viral is any work that has a strong emotional reaction from the reader. Like the emotions of anger, fear or maybe happiness. On the other hand, contents that has low energy emotion is less likely to be shared.


  14. Good post. I need to think on this. As a writer, my books might be a bit controversial in that they have a Christian theme, yet they do not cater to traditional Christianity and they are pretty edgy, including some profanity. I haven’t thought of creating anxiety in my blog posts, but as a public speaking teacher, I do know the power of emotional appeal.

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