She stood next to the podium and started reading from Gustav and the Goldfish, a book written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss in 1950 as part of his long-running series of children stories for redbook. We all sat there in rapt attention -- the bigger the fish got, the more we leaned forward in anticipation.
Ann Handley is more than a writer and Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs: She's a storyteller.
As someone who has more than a decade under her belt spent creating and managing digital content to build relationships for organizations and individuals, she knows a thing or two about what works to engage people and being a business story to life.
There was also a Tina Fey episode in the presentation. You'll need to catch Ann live to learn what that is about though.
I was the lucky person who saw her highlight the key concepts of her first book co-authored with C.C. Chapman, Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, eBooks, Webinars (and more) that Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business (Amazon affiliate link) twice in one month.
I could summarize the message of the book into one piece of advice: Become a publisher.
That would leave out some advice too juicy to pass up. So here's a slightly longer version to give you a sense to how the book will help you and your team wrap your arms around what that means. The content rules are ten, plus one (in bold), here are my thoughts:
(1.) embrace being a publisher -- the reason why this scares most businesses is because of the assumptions that go with the term. Say "publisher" and all of a sudden a curtain comes down and you see a second job for yourself. You will learn it's not that bad, actually you are already doing it. Here, they teach you to do it better.
(2.) insight inspires originality --this is the low hanging fruit. Except for because you live your own business and the issues you help solve every single day, you stop seeing it with fresh eyes. What would happen if you took a step back and looked at it as a novice?
(3.) build momentum -- there was definitely a point to Dr. Seuss' story. One of the reasons why I loved Greek mythology so much is that each story had a teachable moment. How can you tie that climax to your business goal?
(4.) speak human -- this is especially hard for highly technical people to do. So my advice here is to think like a translator. Would you be able to explain what you do to your grandparents? How about your next door neighbor? How do your customers talk about it?
(5.) re-imagine; don't recycle -- this is a big one. I'm still seeing agency proposals that go something like this: White paper republished in this other place, article published on Website after trade publication, etc. Each medium warrants a different way of proposing information. For example, you don't talk on the phone in the same way you write a letter, do you?
(6.) share or solve; don't shill -- there is so much knowledge you and your team spent time accumulating, who not share it with your customers? Help them define the problem better, for example. Give them the tools to do their work more easily, and so on.
(7.) show; don't just tell -- do you think movie directors want you to just watch what they have to say? Would you go if that were the case? They want you to go where they are taking you. A moment in history, the chapter of someone's life, a special case. We buy based on emotion, showing is smarter than telling.
(8.) do something unexpected -- and that makes sense and is appropriate. If you're not funny, don't try to be. You can still delight and surprise without jokes. Also, match it to the medium. Something that works in person (or video), may not work at all without non verbals.
(9.) stoke the campfire -- an example I immediately think about is would people talk into the wee hours after your Webinar? If not, how can you make it more engaging, build it as a story, tie it better to who is in the virtual room?
(10.) create wings and roots -- help people spread your content and share it freely while making sure your DNA is in there. The example I use in my conversation about content is a business asset is Jason Fried of 37 Signals.
(11.) play to your strengths -- pick what works best for your business culture, and that converts the best. You know what happens when you try to do it all...
You have all this accumulated experience, do a ton of research, are all ready to go, and then you sit down and and say to yourself: What on earth was I thinking? You know change is constant.
Add to that that there are so many more pieces of content out there about everything. Or maybe today you just see them faster.
So it is even more useful when two veterans of content creation pull together and set out to compile a guide for your benefit.
Go buy the book for your team. Let them have at it, then discuss how you can take your Website and digital strategy to the next level with content. You'll thank me later.
[image credit: Dr. Seuss]
[Disclosure: I received the second copy of Content Rules for attending and speaking at the Vocus User Group Conference. Because Ann signed that copy, it just added so much cool factor to it that I had to review that one. I consider Ann and CC friends and colleagues from whom I continue to learn a lot. This review and recommendation is based upon the quality of the material -- and not on how I obtained it.]