A Beginner’s Guide To Using Themes in Your Content Creation

I was in 10th Grade the first time I was introduced to the idea of themes in literature. My English class was reading the “Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. If you went to high school in the USA you probably have a similar memory.

I’ve always been a pretty fast reader especially with fiction so I read ahead of the class and quickly realized that the Scarlet Letter was about so much more than just a woman who had a child out of wedlock.

“The Scarlet Letter” is dripping with themes about society, shame and stigmatization, all of which are universal themes that even a hormone crazed teenager can appreciate which is why it has stood the test of time and is taught to all 10th graders as an example of great literature.

Themes are found throughout literature, but you might be surprised to find out that they are also found in great content marketing.

A theme is what your content is REALLY about beyond the surface levels.

If your content is a picture, the theme is the frame. Themes focus your content on what’s really important the same way picture frames focus your eyes on the photograph.

Let’s look at a couple examples of themes in well known marketer’s content:

Tim Ferriss- Them: “Life hacking.” While I would argue that the theme of the “4 hour workweek” is lifestyle porn for 9 to 5ers, the obvious theme in Ferriss’ content is life hacking. In the “4 hour body” Ferriss details all of the ways that he attempted to hack the human body including his experiments with steroids and what I like to call “Rich guy” medical testing. In a weird bit of life imitating themes Ferriss has now hacked the art of the best selling book and turns transcriptions of his interviews with famous people into bestsellers like “Tools of Titans” which offers wait for it….. Life hacks from the rich and famous. Tim Ferriss is out here living his theme.

Dave Asprey- Theme:”Bulletproof Living.” Dave Asprey originally sprung to fame online with his “Bulletproof Coffee” which combine butter, coconut oil and coffee to create what Dave claimed was the world’s best breakfast and the basis for everything from weight loss to improving your cognitive function. He followed up on this with various other products and diets based on “Bulletproof” living. One thing that wasn’t so bulletproof were some of Dave Asprey’s claims on the Joe Rogan Experience which led Joe to go on this epic rant

Donald Trump – Theme: “I Am Rich, and Successful” Leaving the politics out of it Donald Trump has created 30 years of products and investments out of the theme that he is what a rich successful business person looks like despite never being one of the 100 richest men in America let alone the world. From “The Art of The Deal” through Trump University and the Apprentice Trump has consistently used the themes of wealth and success in every business venture and to drum up billions of dollars of free publicity

Get the idea of what themes are in content now a little bit better?

Great, now let’s look at how to figure out the themes for your content with

3 questions to ask yourself to figure out what your themes are:

  1. What do you want to be known for ? The first part of deciding on your theme is figuring out what you want to be known for? Try to boil this down to 1 or 2 words or phrases that really encapsulate what you want your themes to say about you the same way that Donald Trump uses his themes of rich and successful.
  2. What themes resonate with your clients? In addition to what you want to become known for you also need to keep in mind what resonates with your clients. There’s no point creating content with themes that don’t resonate. This is one of the reason self help resonates so strongly with some people while others just think it’s weird. The themes of self help are things like empowerment, destroying limits, creating the world you want and for some people those themes just don’t resonate.
  3.  What are your values as a company? What are the things you want your company to be known for? In the mid aughts Verizion went all in on the theme of best cellular service. You might remember these commercials:

The only problem with that theme was that over time consumers started to care less about the quality of their cell phone coverage as cell phone coverage improved overall. This lead to “Paul” switching sides from Verizion to Sprint as Sprint jumped on the theme that price is more important than service.

Ok, now you have your theme or possibly a couple of themes (I would advise against more than one theme but do you) how do you start to incorporate these themes into your content?

5 ways to incorporate themes into your content

  1. Show, don’t tell. The first piece of writing advice given to any aspiring author, you want to demonstrate your themes rather than explicitly telling your audience what your theme is. Though I will add a caveat that some audiences have trouble with subtlety so you have to know how sophisticated your audience is.
  2. Have running features. One of the constants throughout content with good themes is what I like to call running features. A good example of a running feature is an inside joke or re-occuring situation. In all of Shonda Rimes shows for example, one of the themes is that alcohol reveals the character’s emotions. Olivia Pope drinks a fancy super expensive red wine but switches to Tequila when things start to get real.
  3. Connect the dots without giving the answer. When it comes to injecting themes into your content you really want to lead the horse the horse to water but not try to make him drink. If you spell out what your themes are too obviously you risk coming across as try hard or insincere. Instead you want to sprinkle in bread crumbs that make it very easy for the audience to figure out what the themes are without stating them or making them too obvious.
  4. Be consistent. Remember that themes are about what the content is REALLY is about and by extension what your business is about. That means that EVERYTHING you produce needs to be consistent and fit in or at least not blatently violate the themes you have established.
  5. Look for unique tie-ins. Last but certainly not least you want to specifically look for unique or unusual ways to integrate your themes. While you want to be obvious about how you connect the dots and seed the themes in your content, the more unique or out of the ordinary the way you get to the theme is, the more it will be remembered and understood similarly to the Greek parables which sought to teach morals through stories.

That was a lot of information!

Let’s quickly go summarize everything to make sure that you get the absolute most value out of this post.

I started this post by telling you about the first time I noticed themes in 10th grade while reading “The Scarlet Letter.”

After that I defined theme for you as follows:

A theme is what your content is REALLY about beyond the surface levels.

If your content is a picture, the theme is the frame. Themes focus your content on what’s really important the same way picture frames focus your eyes on the photograph.

After that we went through 3 questions to ask yourself to determine your themes:

  1. What do you want to be known for ? The first part of deciding on
  2. What themes resonate with your clients?
  3.  What are your values as a company?

And I taught you 5 ways to incorporate your themes:

5 ways to incorporate themes into your content

  1. Use subtext not context
  2. Show don’t tell
  3. Connect the dots without giving the answer
  4. Be consistent
  5. Look for unique tie-ins

Now you know everything you need to start incorporating themes into your content making them resonate with your audience and help them define you and your business clearly in their minds.