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Talking Content Marketing – With Faris Yakob

Faris head yellow

Talking Content Marketing welcomes author of Paid Attention and co-founder of Genius Steals, Faris Yakob.

Genius Steals (with his wife Rosie), is an itinerant strategy, ideas and innovation consultancy. They work with brands and agencies all over the world, in increments of one hour, day, week, or month, and have been living nomadically for three years, across thirty counties, and counting.

Faris stands for being nice and having a bit of a think about things.

Six questions on behaviour and ownership. Lets go.


You highlight that ‘literature is the expression of stories, as advertising is the expression of brand.’ Are we now at a stage where we can bring together (stories/brand) and businesses having a real responsibility to entertain others?

I was making the distinction between an idea and its expressions.

The overuse of the term storytelling has begun to deflate what it means, leading to various discussions about what is and isn’t a story. I believe brands can and should tell stories about what they actually do – which means they need to make sure what they do is entertaining.

Being entertaining isn’t a responsibility, it’s a strategy, of sorts, for earning attention.


You say ‘brands can only exist if there is a collective perception of what they stand for’. Is this missing from many companies by not grasping what it is they actually believe in?

What they believe in isn’t necessarily the same thing as what they stand for in culture, in the minds of people, but yes I believe it’s easier for a company to know how to act in the world if they have a clear and articulated vision about how the world is and how it could be.

Coherence of action increases the likelihood that the collective perception is in line with the behaviours and symbology of the company.


If you want to understand behaviour, you must ‘observe behaviour/observe it in context/observe with loss factor in.’ When it comes to opinion is it easier than ever to use media (particularly social) with ‘I believe,’ rather than backing up with experience and fact. 

Consumers stated opinions are useful if you want to know what people think they think.

The great levelling of social media, its great power, is that it makes the previously privileged act of publishing, making things public, available to all. That’s great. But strongly held opinions are too often conflated with externally verifiable facts, which are very different things.


Is there a belief that the more we create and distribute, the more recognised/respected we’ll be? 

I’d say so, assuming people like it or find it useful.

It stands to reason that if you, or a brand, manage to reach and maintain an audience, they will appreciate you for it, since you are creating something they get value from. But therein lies the challenge, for to be useful as content, any quantum is effectively competing with any other.

The internet makes everything equally accessible. When all these new streams opened up and brands went about building new consumer databases, they were then confronted with the problem of how to fill the streams.

Humans use social media at incredibly high frequency, and they do it mostly to share ideas and report on highlights from their life. Brands began to churn things out to achieve a similar frequency, but increasingly we are seeing them evolve into their own more appropriate cadences.


‘If you spend your life thinking about something, it takes on great significance in your mind.’ Do you think this is this why many businesses find it difficult to provide utility, value, an audience first approach, where they have focused forever on how good they are. 

It’s one of the challenges of being part of any system, learning and then internalising the rules, written and otherwise, of that system and ultimately being unable to see that system. It’s a challenge of specialisation.

Anything we spend all day thinking about for a long time will come to take on overweighted important in our minds, at a very subtle level.

If we spend all day thinking about gum or shoes or guns or shitzus, they are going to seem weirdly important, when they really aren’t to most people. So you make little logical errors, like assuming because people can publish, and because gum, that people will want to publish about and to and for gum. We all learned that wasn’t true.

But it’s also much, much harder to create something people choose to consume and find interesting or entertaining or valuable than it is to buy exposures to people to listen to thirty seconds about how awesome they are.

Media companies have always struggled to maintain revenue and momentum. It remains a hit driven business, powered by cumulative advantages that create very disproportionate successes. Movie studios adopted a portfolio investments model, at least until they discovered franchises. And because this is how media seems to work and because public companies report quarterly, it impacts how we think about success.

Brands like to see massive spikes, not slow and steady builds over years, but that’s often where the value lies in an audience first approach, especially in business to business communication, where becoming a trusted resource takes significant time and investment, but may pay back with huge contracts in years to come.


How do you learn? What do you read/listen to?

I read, a lot plucked from the stream, especially book recommendations. Podcasts are fun, newsletters too. We live on the road and so I learn a lot about the similarities in difference by moving from country to country. And from my wife, whose curiosity and enthusiasm are insatiable.

A huge thanks to Faris for being part of the Talking Content project. Why not jump in and find out more from his side of the tracks.

Genius Steals: click here

Paid Attention, the book: click here

Faris on Twitter: click here

Subscribe to the Genius Steals weekly newsletter, Strands of Genius, to get inspiration in your inbox and see where Faris and Rosie will be next. CLICK HERE.

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