What Makes a Great Post: When You’re Writing for More than “Cuz You Should”

During the first 10 minutes of Jeff Julian’s interview with Ardath Albee, I literally started to sweat. Then Ardath Albee asked a question that gave me great pause   “What makes it different and more compelling?”  By it, she means content and I started to sweat because I do not have an answer for that at present.  What I do have, are a few major takeaways from this interview and a map for what I need to do.

I have three major “takeaways” from this interview:

  1. You better have compelling, well-written content
  2. Your content better be nurturing the customer every step of the purchase cycle
  3. You better be timing that content so that it is clear you know where they are in the purchase cycle as well.

Well, dang, Ms. Albee!  “What if I am a one-woman marketing department or have limited resources to data?” I ask aloud trying to apply these brilliant insights into my own endeavors.  It was then Ardath Albee asked another really important question,

corona2

“What about all the content you already have?”  

It was at this point that I stopped panicking and the sweating abated a bit.

So it was with great pleasure that I took to task writing this post about Jeff Julian’s interview with Ardath Albee for Enterprise Marketer because it’s great content that has plenty of life left to live.

But what makes the content compelling?  Lots of data?  Nope.  That’s not what captures me and I am pretty sure it isn’t what captures the average bear or the key decision maker.  Dont’ get me wrong, I am a “dataphile” like most marketers, but data is great for making a strong case during a meeting, not engendering interest and loyalty from customers.

So I did a little digging and came across the timely presentation by Geoff Colvin, Editor at Large for Fortune magazine.  On November 30, Mr. Colvin delivered IPR’s 55th Distinguished Lecture on November 30 in NYC. In Colvin’s presentation “Lessons for Communicators in an Unpredictable World,” he explains how communicators can still make an impact through face-to-face interactions and storytelling in a world overrun with technology.

I have now completely stopped sweating and am holding Aradth Albee’s phrase “more compelling content” close to my heart.  Near the end of his presentation, Geoff  Colvin says, “People rarely change their minds based on data.  It’s stories that move them.”  That got me thinking about a story that tracks the customer all the way through the purchase cycle.  The visual that came to mind was actually the Marcus Mumford cut, “When I Get My Hands on You” from The New Basement Tapes that features a female figure walking through a city and through gorgeous imagery, tells a sweet and heartfelt story.   If you haven’t seen it, check it out not only because it’s beautiful but because it is makes for a wonderful visual of tracking the customer through the entire purchase cycle.  Apologies to Marcus Mumford as I know he did not intend to reflect the consumer purchase cycle with this video.

This visual is helpful to me because now I have a visual that I am comfortable with and moved by rather than a stock photo of a “persona.”  I realize that’s quirky of me but whatever gets you through the night, right?

I am now imbuing said walking girl with all of the characteristics of my primary target persona and I can now see her all the way through the purchase cycle.  Now, all I have to do is tell the story of her journey at strategic points along the way.  As a creative writer when I have the time and inclination, I found the challenge of developing a compelling story for walking girl at strategic points not only an achievable task but an exciting task as well.  I realize I have to be in the story or awfully close to it (perhaps third person, omniscient narrator) to be able to tell it well.

Ardath Albee tells Jeff Julian during the interview that, “If we stop thinking about what we want first, we can think about what our customers want.”  I can liken this concept to great storytelling!  The art is in the unfolding of the story that keeps the reader in mind first and foremost.  A little foreshadowing here, a little alliteration there, some killer personification, and you have the reader hooked.

While storytelling is clearly by no means a new notion for marketers, I think compelling is.  Let’s look at the formal definition of this word:

com·pel·ling
kəmˈpeliNG/
adjective
 
evoking interest, attention, or admiration in a powerfully irresistible way.
“his eyes were strangely compelling”
synonyms: enthralling, captivating, gripping, riveting, spellbinding, mesmerizing, absorbing, irresistible

My favorite synonyms (per Google) are riveting, spellbinding, and irresistible. While I am still working on the story, I am doing so with a handful of new rules that I learned from Albee and Julian:
1.Know your persona and personify the dickens out of them so you know them almost (or better) than you know yourself.

2. Do not patronize this persona by telling weak, uncompelling stories that are clearly motivated by “storytelling” more than a true and thoughtful understanding of the consumer as a human being with a soul.

3. Once you get it right, replicate it and use this content over and over as you acquire new customers.  While the story may get a little old for you (like the Little Mermaid does for me because I lived in Copenhagen and took WAY too many tourists to see that less than mammoth statue of her in the harbor) and remember that they are hearing the story for the first time.

This feels authentic.  This feels right.  Walk on walking girl, walk on…

img_3352

Bold Move: Tell Your CEO She Needs to Listen to her Customers

In addition to being the author of a truly killer resource,  The Content Formula, Michael Brenner is a leader.  How do I know?  Because I listened to the interview Jeff Julian conducted with him and I could hear the calm, deliberate, and assured tone with which he spoke about content marketing, our role as digital marketers, and how to approach the bold move of telling your CEO that she needs to listen to her customers more and in a different way than she has been.

summer-2011-097Let me get more specific: the subtext of what Mr. Brenner proposes is the phrase, “Um hey, I get that you’re really excited about your latest brainchild, product, and/or service but it’s actually not about you.”  Yikes.  That’s a tough and bold statement but it’s also extremely important to say for these reasons:

  1. There is a dynamic tension between what CEOs want to communicate and the results they expect from content marketing.
  2. If that dynamic tension is not addressed, it leaves the CMO and her team in a position to fall short of the CEO’s expectations or even fail.
  3. Unless the realities of the respective (and different) roles the CEO and the CMO play are addressed and shared goals are established, objectives will not be met.

Heck, I get it and it actually makes sense that the CEO would focus on new and shiny things that she herself is excited about but that is precisely why she needs a sharp, honest, authentic CMO who will tell her that there will be time for the shiny new thing just as soon as the customers tell us it’s time.  Meanwhile, we need to be walking in the same direction on customer-focused content.

Natalia Angulo notes in her article, “10 Digital Marketing Trends to Watch in 2016 and Beyond“, that “smart marketers will focus on the consumer experience.” Well, yes and of course everyone at the table will agree with that statement but ensuring shared understanding and shared goals requires a deep dive, an intensive conversation, hopefully, conducted regularly and not just during the monthly report meeting.  Of course CEOs know that focus on the customer is important but what they may not understand is that the customer not only now has a voice, the voice of the customer is actually more important and can say more about a brand than the brand itself.

Perhaps it’s helpful to “tee-up” this conversation by offering up a couple proposed talking points:

“We need to keep our finger on the pulse of what the customers want from us.” 

“We need to actively address them and interact with them and that means letting the customer dictate the conversation.” 

Neil Patel nails it in his article,“8 Brilliant Content Marketing Innovations from the Worlds Best Brands,” by commending Whole Foods who “has worked hard to establish itself not just as a grocery store, but as a lifestyle choice. The brand embraces healthy living and earth-conscious eating.” They have done so by putting the customer first in their content.  And while one might think that encouraging shoppers to save money on groceries is counter-intuitive, Whole Foods does just that.  Patel tells us, “Whole Foods does a great job of living those brand principles in its content marketing. Articles about how to save money but still eat healthy or tips to change your diet for the better make Whole Foods’ products and lifestyle more inclusive. On top of that, it uses a lot of proactive language (“I want to learn/do/both” as a search option in its navigation bar) which makes the audience feel like they have an active role in the experience.”
It’s funny how much difference the use of a customer-centric pronoun can make!  There are numerous studies that support the use of “My” over “Your” and “I” over “You” and it’s basic psychology at work.  Use of the more customer-centric pronoun signals to the customer that they really are understood.  It’s a basic and time-tested use of language but it absolutely works.

So if Ann Handley is accurate in her prediction (and I believe she is), that “content marketing will truly “grow up” in 2016, as content strategists tell “bigger stories with a braver focus and a bolder voice” then all the more vital that leadership and marketing are aligned about what that precisely means and how customer-centric it really needs to be.

Michael Brenner is also a man of his word, having just launched his own enterprise of which he is the leader.  He is also getting started on his next book.  But don’t trust me about that, listen to the full podcast to hear about his new book as well as his tips for becoming a better writer.