Owen is MarketScale’s Director of Content Strategy, responsible for authoring creative and technical content that drives long-term marketing results for B2B brands. When Owen was pursuing an education in literature, he had a passion for its connection to industry, but didn’t imagine it could be so specifically applied. Today, he’s one of the world’s leading content strategists (and Mark Twain scholars). He comes to us by way of Los Angeles, having just moved to the Dallas area to lead content for MarketScale. And his background is diverse, with an undergraduate degree from UCLA and Masters Degree and PHD from Princeton University (read on to learn more). When not authoring and directing stellar content Owen enjoys spending time with his wife Paula and son Joaquin, fishing and spending time in the Sierra Mountains. Without further ado, we sat down with Owen recently for a Q&A on the man behind the content.
Owen, where were you born? Long Beach, California but I grew up all over Southern California. I also lived in Michigan for five years while my Dad was a graduate student at Michigan State.
What did you want to be when you grew up? An Archaeologist, like Indiana Jones. Being in the field with my Dad, a biologist got me interested. I wanted to be a paleontologist after finding some fossilized sea shells as a kid.
Owen circa 1989
What was your first job? Lemonade stand, I wanted to make some money to buy a plastic uzi. I ended up splitting the profits with a business partner, but he hadn’t made the same investment I had in the stand – it was a bad business decision but a good lesson.
What did you study as an undergraduate at UCLA? American Literature and Culture. I studied cities in literature, urban planning as well as American History. I wrote a thesis on a science fiction depiction of Los Angeles as a city, including volcanoes!
What was your focus at Princeton for your Master’s degree and PHD?
For my Master’s, I studied Industrial Literature. It had a lot to do with mechanization and the alienation of the effort to create a product and the product itself, the output of that work.
And my focus for my PHD was an articulation of the interface between humans and machines and the idea that the use of machines has an impact on how people experience their mind, body and soul. It drew upon feedback loops, where for example the feedback of a typewriter is different than handwriting. I studied how how that affects us. A focal point of my research of the period from 1880 to 1940 was Mark Twain and American literature which ultimately intersected with my industrial literature specialty. In this time, the engineers and inventors were cultural heroes – hence Mark Twain’s fascination with engineering seen with his Paige Compositor, an automated typesetting device with perceived intelligence. My dissertation was very focused on Mark Twain and writing machines.
What interests you about marketing content? It has more depth than advertising. It’s the reconciliation of the book and the cover – it’s not just telling the book by its cover, it’s offering something closer to a book. The idea that this is a powerful force in marketing right now - that depth is a virtue - is very exciting.
What advice do you have for marketers who want to improve their content marketing?
It comes back to some of the same things that constitute good writing. Clear posing of a specific problem and a relevant problem and then the compelling presentation of a solution. Find specificity in your topics. With a problem and a solution, you have the basic elements of a narrative. You have loss and recovery which is one of our fundamental experiences. This is a very familiar archetype for people. The loss and recovery is apparent in sport for example, as the fundamental dynamic driving the drama of ball possession. Brands should embrace ‘story’ as a reflection of their solutions, speaking to the parallel human experience of gain and loss.
What mistakes do you see brands make with their content?
Design and writing only for SEO and superficial attention grab. Trying to be viral. Content that is too broad. The notion of an attention grab is actually contrary to the whole notion of story; it focuses on the power of a first impression, whereas a story is the power of deeper understanding. Social media in particular can glorify polarizing content which contradicts good storytelling and therefore good marketing. So it’s important to focus on developing the right narrative and not superficial content.