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

Etiquette: Why It’s Vital for Communicating with Customers

I have now listened to the podcast interview that Jeff Julian conducted with Mike Turner, Senior Marketing Manager for Textron Aviaton twice and watched it once (incidentally, I want the t-shirt that Jeff wore for the interview: “I Plan Therefore I Am” because it’s brilliant) and each time I have a new takeaway.  But if I had to summarize the gist of their conversation, it’s about etiquette.

I have often told clients I work with as well as colleagues that all forms of communication, from social media to emails (internal and customer-targeted) should be treated like face-to-face communication.  I have also noted that the people that I trust and like the most electronically, are invariably wonderful people in person as well.  While I have not personally met Mike Turner, I can tell he’s wonderful and here’s why…

Mike recommends considering the whole team when developing communication and working through the sales cycle.  He wisely points out that in the aviation industry, the mechanic also has a “dog in the fight” so to speak because they will be the people working on the plane long term.  Makes sense, right?  I feel the same applies to being considerate of front line staff in retail settings.  One cannot fully understand how (or more importantly if) a product is the right fit for a retailer without communicating with the front line staff who actually do the selling.  Those mechanics or front line staff will likely be able to provide great insight into the challenges they face as well as what kind of feedback they get from customers on a day to day basis.  As Mike says, “content marketing cannot be one-dimensional,” meaning that strong content marketing should reflect that the author has taken the whole of the business into account and truly understands the whole of it, not just the sale.

Purchases are mission related.  Especially major purchases.

-Mike Turner, Senior Marketing Manager. Textron Aviation

And consumers are getting smarter!  That is a very good thing.  One of the primary goals of content marketing is to provide valuable information and knowledge and as a result, consumers are more knowledgeable than ever before.  We ought to be respectful of them and communicate with consumers in a way that engages them and enhances their knowledge.  We have all opened a targeted email or post, read the opening paragraph and quickly determined that it is too low level so we quickly delete the email, close the link and move on to content that is valuable to us.  I love that Mike Turner mentions mission–the emails and links I am most likely to open and read are those that, in their headline, entice me with a mission or value related statement that aligns with my own mission and values.

Most, if not all of us, do not like to receive unsolicited emails simply because the sender was lucky enough to happen upon our contact information but did not take the time to consider whether we wanted to hear from them.  Further, when we do hear from them, it’s awfully nice when the content is not only relevant but offers value in the form of knowledge or connection.  I liken receiving these unsolicited emails to being at a party, having a great conversation with a group of people that is easy, natural and comfortable, only to have the conversation interrupted by someone who butts in with off-topic comments and then asks you to pay him for the drink he’s peddling.  That is usually when I am heard to say, “pardon me, I need to excuse myself” and then I beat feet to the bathroom or the door to leave.  Of course, I also avoid that guy like the plague the next time I see him.  Point being: don’t spam them just because you can.

How well we communicate with customers and what value we offer them affects customer opinion.  That’s not a judgement, it’s a fact.

However, the folks in the C-Suite do not always see things as we content marketers see them.  Often focused on quarterly sales numbers first and foremost, it is a challenge to educate executive leaders on the value of long term, well-handled, relationship development with clients.  How we communicate affects consumer opinion.  That’s not a judgement, it’s a fact.  What cracks me up about this is that there are now so many ways to analyze customer opinion (including analyzing social media data) and doing so can provide incredible insight into what a content marketer can do to improve that opinion.

For example, Dominoes Pizza recently started running a television ad that cops to the fact that they had been misleading customers with a “pizza deal” by only offering it on weekdays.  Clearly, they had heard from many a customer who ordered a pizza on a Friday night and felt duped by a misleading ad.  What was cool was that they copped to it!  And apologized! This is a clear example of the importance of customer experience and how it can translate to customer loyalty or customer loss.

Perhaps the best way to reach C-Suite on the importance of well-constructed, well-timed, relevant content and it’s role in the purchase cycle is to call upon them to examine their own purchase practices–i.e. empathize with the customer.  In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Charlie Brown advocates “assigning metrics that measure relationship activity.”  What he means by this is that for many of us, the purchase cycle is longer than it used to be (especially for major purchases, like a jet, right Mike Turner?). Measuring than relationship activity over time can provide incredibly valuable insight into where and when the customer may “fall away” and then making the necessary adjustments to fix it.

And a good rule of thumb is to remember that spam is the electronic equivalent to interrupting someone in the midst of a conversation with totally off-topic remarks.  It’s just poor etiquette.