What the Gettysburg Address Can Teach Us About Content Marketing

Jun 2017

What the Gettysburg Address Can Teach Us About Content Marketing

It’s that time of year, with football on hold until August and my favorite TV shows wrapping up for the season, when I go foraging for new forms of entertainment. For this year’s hunt, upon scrolling through the millions of options at my friendly neighborhood Netflix account, I stumbled across a little gem about which I’d heard many good things but had never taken the time to dive into: Ken Burns’ masterpiece The Civil War.

“How have you managed to not see The Civil War?” my history-buff hubby quipped. Truth is, when the series first aired in September 1990, I was just starting grad school at Columbia, with no access to a TV and with a mind firmly focused on my studies. And in the ensuing years it just never crossed my radar, until the day it popped up in my Netflix suggestions.

So dive into Burns’ world I did, and the storyteller’s mastery held me captivated from beginning to end. (I even put out a “Marketing Mojo” video about it.)

One part of the series that captured my attention was the episode around the Gettysburg Address. It’s one of those milestones we all learn about in our American history classes and then rarely give more than a moment’s thought.

But of course, now I’m a content marketer, and as such I found riveting new insights in Lincoln’s most famous of speeches that can inform and inspire my mission … and yours. (Before reading on, take 60 seconds to read the speech here.)

Keep It Simple

A man of humble origin, Lincoln steered clear the flowery, aristocratic language so often employed by politicians and other orators of the day. He became known for his simple, straightforward communication style, and the Gettysburg Address is no exception.

Many stories have emerged about how Lincoln wrote the speech … but none of them involve a thesaurus.

Just out of curiosity, I ran the address through a readability tool, and the most striking result was the average number of syllables per word: 1.33. Of the speech’s ten most frequently used words, only one has more than two syllables:

What the Gettysburg Address Can Teach Us About Content Marketing

(Source: WordCounter.net)

Lincoln understood the power of simple words. They slide through our brains and get straight to our emotions. We remember them. They’re what we marketers like to call “sticky.”

Speaking of marketing, think about some of the most famous taglines of all time: “It’s the real thing.” “Just do it.” “Be all you can be.” Notice a pattern here?

Yes, Lincoln would’ve killed it on Madison Avenue. And he would’ve been a kickass content marketer.

Content Marketing Takeaway: No matter how highly educated your audience may be, simple, straightforward language will deliver your message far more effectively than complex sentences and multisyllabic jargon.

Emphasize Common Ground

Take another look at the text of the Gettysburg Address … and consider what’s not there.

Lincoln never mentions the Union or the Confederacy.

Also missing: the words “I” and “me.”

By November 1863, the American Civil War, which many had predicted would be mercifully short, had dragged on for more than two years. As the body count escalated on both sides, so did the bitterness that divided families as deeply as it divided the nation.

But Lincoln could see past current circumstances toward a brighter future. He begins by referring to an event common to all Americans’ history: the founding of the nation just 87 years earlier. His “we” refers on the surface to those present at the event (dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery), but later rises to encompass all those who uphold the Founders’ values of freedom and democracy.

Lofty stuff, huh? So, what does it mean for us poor schlubs trying to crank out a decent blog post?

People don’t engage with our content to encounter a finger pointing at them while a booming Voice of Authority tells them what to do. They come to get friendly advice from someone who knows them, with whom they share common ground. Someone who can say, “Oh, you’re dealing with X problem? Yeah, we’ve dealt with that ourselves. Here are a few ideas for you to think about …”

Content Marketing Takeaway: Never talk down to your audience, and never lecture them. Invite them into a conversation and offer what you’ve learned from the same situations they might be dealing with.

Keep It Right and Tight

279 words. 10 sentences. 3 paragraphs. That’s what makes up one of the most famous speeches in American history.

Did you know that President Lincoln was not the keynote speaker at that Gettysburg Cemetery dedication? That honor fell to the Honorable Edward Everett, a revered orator and pastor from Massachusetts.

Everett spoke for two hours. Lincoln spoke for two minutes. Which speech has stood the test of time?

This doesn’t mean that shorter is always better. (If so, this post is in trouble.) It means we would all do well to observe a certain economy with our words.

Lincoln lays out his thesis in three beautifully delineated segments:

  1. “That was then.” (The United States was established as one nation.)
  2. “This is now.” (The nation is divided.)
  3. “Here’s what we’re going to do about it.” (Strive to restore the nation along the same principles under which it was established.)

As content marketers, we tackle topics ranging from simple to complex, and when we create content around those topics, each offering find its own “right size” that conveys the message effectively without wasting words.

Yes, by now we all know that Google shows preference to longer-form content, but that doesn’t mean we need to blow up 500-word posts into 6,000-word monstrosities.

Some of the most common questions I receive from marketers are “How long should my blog posts be?” “How long should my videos be?” “What’s the best length for a podcast?” Every time I refer them to the Miniskirt Rule: It should be long enough to cover the basics, but short enough to be interesting. This little rule, silly as it may seem, imparts a certain wisdom that defies prescribed word counts.

Content Marketing Takeaway: Be economical with your words, and be ruthless in cutting any fluff that pops up in your draft.

Final Thoughts

Believe it or not, not all who heard the Gettysburg Address appreciated its brilliance. Lincoln himself, upon taking his seat, is said to have commented to his friend Ward Hill Lamon, “Lamon, that speech won’t scour. It is a flat failure.”

The editors of the Chicago Times were equally blunt: “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame,” they wrote, “as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”

And yet here we are, more than a century and a half later, lauding Lincoln’s brilliance and taking to heart the lessons his simple speech imparts.

Few of us content marketers would dare to envision our work appearing in the annals of history. But we can apply Lincoln’s lessons to the task that does stand before us: touching the hearts and minds of our audiences to make a lasting impression that keeps them coming back for more.

Content Marketing Coach

Find out why Joe Pulizzi, Founder of the Content Marketing Institute, had this to say about The Content Marketing Coach: Everything You Need to Get in the Game … and WIN:

“A simple yet effective guide to an approach that most businesses get flat out wrong. Do yourself and your business a favor and take a deep dive into this book. You won’t regret it.”


About the Author

Rachel Parker, Founder & CEO of Resonance Content Marketing

A self-described geek who can recite entire episodes of South Park by heart, Rachel Parker has had a passion for content ever since she was old enough to hold a crayon (purple, please).

As Founder and CEO of Resonance, Rachel helps businesses publish content that connects with their audience … and converts those followers into customers. She’s also the host of the Content Marketing Podcast and author of the book The Content Marketing Coach: Everything You Need to Get in the Game … and WIN!
content_marketing_50 BizSugar Featured Author on Business 2 Community

Our Clients Are Saying

  • Produced ROI Result

    Form.io needed someone who could grasp the complexities of our product, capture the subtlety of our differentiating value propositions, and convey them in the right voice for an exacting customer audience…. Resonance delivered, by crafting a multi-faceted online content marketing strategy that drove traffic and conversion, producing the ROI result we were looking for….

  • One of the best “vendor” relationships I’ve ever had.

    My company had little or no time to spend on social media. Our needs were to ensure a steady stream of posts across three platforms (Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter) by harvesting and re-purposing content from our own site and news streams. So I contacted Rachel Parker of Resonance Content Marketing.

    The result was two-fold. Not only did our ranks of followers grew steadily, the steady drip, drip, drip of content helped us train our personnel and direct their own individual social media efforts.

    Rachel and her team are extremely organized and open to discussion and new ideas. They deliver a rapid response to new opportunities — and an overall feeling of being on the same team. One of the best “vendor” relationships I’ve ever had.

  • Increased website traffic, New Lead Generation

    We were experiencing a lack of internal resources to consistently maintain the Ustream blog. So we turned to Resonance Content Marketing to write blog posts on current industry topics while maintaining a consistent tone with the brand. The result is increased website traffic, new lead generation from gated assets on blog, and better educated/qualified leads. And I now have more time to spend on marketing strategy with the confidence that the content we push out is extremely well written and engaging.

    Rachel is an amazing writer and has really managed to create engaging and relevant blog material on topics that aren’t always super interesting. On many occasions, she has been able to quickly turn around one-off requests and the results are always top-notch. She has also helped guide our content strategy based on her expertise in content marketing, which has been a huge asset to our team.

  • Event Sold Out Two Years In A Row!

    Rachel worked with me on creating a content marketing calendar and content for the Big Social Media Summit (Big SMS) three years in a row. She is very organized and knows just the right amount of posts on social, email newsletters and content to send.  Her content marketing efforts helping us sell out our event three years in a row!  I am expecting the same for October 2014.

    Rachel was hired to write content for our email newsletter and content for our social platforms. In addition, she had a budget to do advertising on social media. She participated in the event live and after the fact to assure buzz was created before, during and after the event. As a result, our event sold out.

    When I work with Rachel, I have total peace of mind.  I know that she is on target, on time, reliable and delivers over and above the results I expect.

    I trust Rachel totally with her ideas on strategy, marketing and the content used to not only promote our events, but also post on my behalf on social networks. I have been doing social media for 8 years, and I hire Resonance to post on some of my social sites as it saves me time, and keeps my social sites relevant and current. They always post great, engaging content that gets my social properties likes, comments and shares.


  • Social Media Ranking Better Than Ever!

    We are so happy to have hired Resonance for our social media needs. We spend most of our time serving our clients and studying our field so we can provide the highest quality possible. We no longer worry about our social media, as we have total confidence in the wonderful work Rachel and her team have accomplished.

    Our social media is active, promoted, and is ranking better than ever! People often comment about what they see on our Facebook page. Resonance has added a creative, and artistic twist to our social media that is appealing and captivating to our audience. This has allowed me more time to work with my team and clients, so I can focus on service towards the people that help our business grow.

    I know there will be wonderful content on Facebook, and that Rachel will answer to posts, comments and questions as soon as a comment arrives. I am often impressed at how quickly she responds! Thank you Resonance! I highly endorse Resonance and encourage companies who need social media strategies to work with Resonance! You won’t regret it! 

  • Added 5 figures to my business in less than 4 weeks

    Rachel took the overwhelm and stress out of writing content for my marketing campaign! When I approached Rachel, I was really concerned that I wouldn’t have the time to focus on writing copy for a lengthy marketing campaign that included sales pages, solo emails, newsletters and social media updates. Well, let’s just say I’m glad I hired Rachel because I couldn’t have done it without her support and expertise. I loved how she used my voice and words to craft content that helped me reach and attract my ideal client. As a result of working with Rachel, I added 5 figures to my business in less than 4 weeks, hundreds of new social media followers and exceeded my sales and list building goals! You know your marketing copy is working when you hear someone say, “I see you everywhere”. Thank you Rachel for helping me not only get seen by my ideal clients but get paid!

  • Increased our likes and interaction rates

    Working with Rachel was a delight. Not only does she communicate very well, but she provided valuable insight about our social media platforms and followers. We have much better engagement with our fans and followers, which increased our likes and interaction rates.


  • Professionalism and Sincere Desire to Help

    I just didn’t seem to be able to find the time or the right words to explain what I offer and how my company helps people accomplish their goals. Rachel was able to ask me some questions, do some research and capture my voice while writing my website copy exactly as I needed it to be written.  Now, the copy on my website is much more professional than what I would have created and having this task handled by Rachel and Resonance freed up my time to complete other tasks I am better suited to do.

    It was a joy to work with Rachel. Her professionalism and sincere desire to help was apparent from the first communication until the final delivery. I will definitely use Resonance again and highly recommend their services.

Free Tips
learn more...