"You don't start at the top if you want to find the story. You start in the middle, because it's the people in the middle who do the actual work in the world," writes Gladwell in the preface to What the Dog Saw.
Businesses are made of people, many of them in the middle. While everyone loves to talk to the C-level, the shift in the way people at all levels work, select and recommend service providers, and get things done is more notable in the thick of things, so to speak. Technology has made it even easier for people to connect with peers, collaborate, and get and give direct and indirect (through search) feedback.
There's a reason why social media has put a spotlight on being human - brands forgot how to tell stories. Along with a "me, too" characteristic of many B2Bs always in search of benchmarking and ways to validate their value props, companies forgot (more likely stopped funding) media integration. This first set of considerations presents some difficulties in the connected world we live in.
How can you get your story told?
Is a much more interesting question than "how can you get your message out?"
How many people know your story? Start there. Then, consider the difference between a book and a brochure - a book contains one or more stories based upon some disclosed facts, a book has personality. A brochure may contain lots of facts - in fact often as many as possible - and very little story. I'm not suggesting you write a book, just that you think about story as a point of view.
Even analyst reports tell a story, why cannot a brochure?
Made to stick works
How do you tell your story so that it sticks, gains momentum, and gets passed along? In Made to Stick, authors Dan Heath and Chip Heath outline the critical elements:
1. Simplicity - in our conversation last week, Avinash Kaushik talked about simplifying complexity. What's your core thought?
2. Unexpectedness - create surprise. Are there preconceived notions/myths about industry practices you could demystify?
3. Concreteness - make good use of analogy to drive a point home. Our brains prefer narrative
4. Credibility - do people trust you? Do people believe you?
5. Emotions - emotion prompts us to act. Will your customers care about it?
6. Stories - don't just present a PowerPoint deck full of data. Does your content inspire people?
B2Bs are afflicted by the curse of knowledge, which is the main theme of the book. They take for granted that their customers live and breathe their same air when it comes to their product or service.
Are you taking for granted what your customer experiences? Think about it differently. Start with their need or problem, and use simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and story in your content.
Consider editorial impact
The opposite of marketing fluff is not tons of hard data. The opposite of marketing fluff is, in fact, a decision. What's the point of view? What are your trying to communicate? How are you different? Between us here, how many people have reviewed and written that piece? If you operate by committee, consider elevating someone to the role of editor.
Editorial impact will determine level of engagement and your call to action. So it's no trivial decision. Your audience does matter, and that's why the context of your story needs to be modeled after what they see, experience, and think about. Remember that they're human, too.
Will your content be relevant to influencers and stakeholders?
Don't think of influencers as the very same people you hang out with as marketers - top blogs on AdAge Power150 anyone? You can do better. Think about those people who your stakeholders may go to for advice. Think for example about presidents of professional associations in your field, who may also be bloggers.
In many B2B models, partners as well as key customers are big influencers. When you author good content coming from a well-differentiated POV (and business model), you can then socialize it and gain insights from feedback and conversations - both with influencers and stakeholders.
Interact and participate
It's important to remember that participation is also content - in many cases, it's what activates it and keeps it relevant. How is a post or article different from a brochure? Usually it's written more as a thought piece about industry conversations. And it seeks to be helpful in educating readers about a broader context.
Relevance is also measured as opportunity to interact with the content. Google Sidewiki may be changing the game even for your Web site.
"Good writing," Gladwell says in the preface of What the Dog Saw, "does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade. It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else's head."
Yes, even in B2B we are people.
[mindmap by lucianop]
© 2006-2009 Valeria Maltoni. All rights reserved.