What Shakespeare Can Teach You About Inbound Marketing

There’s no escaping William Shakespeare’s influence on modern culture. His plays and sonnets are taught and performed around the world. And his knack for turning a good phrase has influenced the way we think and speak for centuries.

Inbound marketers can learn a great deal from the legendary playwright. This post will discuss what Shakespeare can teach you about inbound marketing….

Shakespeare As The Inventor Of Words

While some etymologists may question if Shakespeare really did coin all of his neologisms, few dispute that he was the first to write them down. And that is certainly worth taking note of as a marketer. Shakespeare was the master of ‘painting with words’, so why not do some yourself?

Marketers should be brave and indulge in wordplay themselves, embracing the world of allusion and metaphor. No dull cliches and hackneyed phrases please.


An unusual phrase or combination of words is much more likely to stand out in today’s content mulch. Especially on social media, a little witty word play goes a long way. Another place to try out something new? Email subject lines — a place where a few small words yield a lot of power.

Innocent are now synonymous with a quirky and irreverent copywriting style that they seem to have all but invented a few years back. Their copy was all about squishy bananas, space monkeys and mangoes called Alphonso — the height of twee brand storytelling. Innocent’s success is a great testament to how your inventiveness with words can be a great brand differentiator and sales driver.

Image credit: Compliment generator

Before you could say “sneezing piglet”, there were a dozen copycat copywriters out there trying to cash in on the success of this eccentric and highly-stylized way of writing.

Their way with words across made them stand out in a sea of samey language and marketing, and the spell of Innocent is still going strong. Their unusual approach to words and language made them famous, so why not innovate when it comes to how your brand uses words too?

Brands now also have the potential to actually become part of language. Netflix and Uber are some of the brands that have been adopted into common parlance. Again, a strong brand concept and compelling name can help you achieve household status.

Don’t dismiss the power of words to elevate your brand and make you memorable — excellent and inventive copywriting has its place in the inbound marketing funnel.

Shakespeare And Genre-Busting

All of Shakespeare’s plays take you on an emotional rollercoaster. Before the bard, a tragedy was a tragedy and a comedy stuck to gags and goofs. Shakespeare sought to cross-pollinate when it came to genres and mixed high tragedy with low comedy. Gags and ghouls existed side by side, and many snobs of the day were aghast.

This is a great lessons for marketers — don’t get stuck into a ‘channel specific’ or even ‘audience segmentation’ rut. Don’t let your marketing messages sound like cheap caricatures, but explore the depth and breadth of human experience instead.

This is also about finding opportunity everywhere — making sure that transactional emails convert and that customer service chats have in-built up-sells. Shakespeare always had time to make the most of what he was working with, and today, he would have been out there exploring chatbots, AI, and AR….

Chatbots offer a huge opportunity for marketers — and you don’t have to stick to just ‘marketing’ through them. They can be used to play games, send personalized videos, set event reminders — there are endless (largely unexplored) use cases for chatbots. As they are only just about making it into mainstream marketing, chatbots are the perfect medium for the pioneer content strategist or inbound marketer.

This case study by Bot Academy shows how chatbots can be programmed into a sequence that encourages users to sign up to an event:

By encouraging real dialogue with the user, chatbots are blurring the lines between marketing and conversation.

As part of an inbound strategy, chatbot adopters will have to work hard in order not to interrupt the user’s day with endless marketing messages. Instead, focus on becoming part of their lives with genuinely useful reminders and sought-after offers and deals.

“Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit”

This quote from Hamlet beautifully demonstrates how Shakespeare used ambiguity in his work to let audiences come up with their own meaning. In most instances, a good joke will ‘land’ because the comedian allows you to create some of your own meaning.

Othello is a very jealous, alpha male character. However, he also displays his vulnerability in many scenes. This helps audiences connect with his storyline over the course of the play, and shows up the inherent contradictions present in gender and masculinity.

When crafting inbound marketing messages and sales funnels, embrace the power of ambiguity as well. Don’t tell people what to think, but ask probing questions and draw real-world parallels instead. The idea is to get people into a reflective mood.

Image credit: Bench accounting

Bench Accounting like to share plenty of useful small business content, but they also know when a witty choice of words is better than talking about tax. They display their company culture and prowess for numbers in funny, thoughtful Instagram posts. It’s a great way to break up the monotony on social media and bring narratives into your brand story. Showcase the full range of experiences and emotions that go into running your business.

Shakespeare Took Creative Shortcuts… And So Should You

We’ll leave it others to debate whether Shakespeare really did write all of his plays single-handedly. What is certain however, is that he borrowed from and re-wrote other people’s work.

Of course — be mindful of copyright — but don’t be afraid to recycle common stories, narratives, and plots, and frame them within your own marketing stories. Why not bring some of that old fairy tale mystery into your content in order to make your content seem more relatable? These stories have stood the test of time for a reason. Hey, if it’s good enough for Shakespeare…. (also, older books and stories are often non-copyrighted as the copyrights tend to lapse after 150 years or so).

You can also thank Shakespeare for demonstrating how effective ‘revamping an old classic’ can be in order to boost sales figures. Take the historical tale of Julius Caesar: the ‘plot’ was already written, so Shakespeare was able to concentrate on creating great characters and adding more ‘drama’ to the story. In this same way, marketers can audit their old blog posts, and then reword and retarget the content to suit a different audience.

Rebelgirls.co had viral success with their “Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls”, proving that there is still plenty of mileage when it comes to re-inventing old stories. Visiting good night stories from a 2017 viewpoint made for a highly creative cultural mashup.

Repurposing common motifs and narratives can help make your content more shareable and viral, but make sure that you aren’t guilty of empty ‘story jacking’. Test things out with a social media or content campaign to gauge audience reaction. Strong visuals will help you build that creative ‘bridge’.

Universality (Or Why No One Has Heard Of Ben Jonson)

Ever heard of Ben Jonson? Not many have. He was a contemporary of our boy Billy, but unfortunately he is less well known. Some believe that the reason for this is because his plays, compared with Shakespeare’s, didn’t stand the test of time. Jonson was obsessed with 17th century culture and littered his plays with in-jokes and political references that mean nothing to us now. His plays are witty — but dense, and you need a 100 page glossary to wade through them today.

For marketers, creating evergreen content should be the takeaway lesson. If you can use analytics and monitoring to latch onto your audience’s key concerns and hesitations in life, you can then create content that will be timeless and relevant to your brand in all contexts. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot like old Ben and get stuck in a rut and cycle of ‘trend’ posts that are outdated the minute you publish them. Focus on core inbound messages instead.

Quickbooks know how to break down complex business concepts into easy-to-read guides that are a million miles away from clickbait. Focusing on offering value by covering business topics in a concise way helps these guides rank and perform well on the Quickbooks website.

It’s a testament to how building an evergreen content resource can help solidify brand reputation (and pull in relevant search traffic). Use keyword research and data tools to get an idea of the topics and themes that your audience will find perennially interesting, and invest your content budget into pulling together some useful resources that will stand the test of time.

Who knew Shakespeare was so relatable? He’s not called modern for no reason! Apply these key principles to your work as an inbound marketer, and you can ‘bedazzle’ (a neologism from Taming of The Shrew) your audiences for years to come.