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Pumping out these words isn’t necessarily difficult. But when it comes to content marketing and harnessing those words to fine-tune and share your company’s story, every word counts. Period. That’s because those consuming your content, whether a silver-haired CEO or gadget-powered Millennial, are overwhelmed by the proliferation of data through myriad channels. And at a far more basic level, each of us simply wants one thing: to know what’s in it for us.
Solve our business problem. Give us insight to an up-and-coming tool or trend. Or as my former trade magazine publisher used to boom down the halls of our editorial offices in the late ‘90s, “write stories that help people make or save money!”
Right. So how do you do that?
In the midst of so many channels and so many words, how can we get back to the basics of what makes storytelling, well, great?
It never ceases to amaze me how often organizations fail to understand their audiences. Or on the other hand, they try to engage too many people—from the 23-year-old in product marketing to the CEO in the corner office and everyone in between. If your organization has yet to develop audience personas, I’d invite you to spend some time on this exercise.
I’m a big fan of keeping these personas simple—and actionable. Think of them less as absolutes and more like evolving characters in your company’s story. The most essential questions: what are their behaviors? And their pain points? Finally, what or who influences these audiences most on a daily basis?
Once you know your audience, it’s essential to then connect with these groups in the way they want to connect. Let go of the corporate navel gazing and write about issues that matter to your audience. The path to creating meaning and connection is to stop thinking like a marketer and start acting like a storyteller.
After developing your audience personas, go back to each group and ask yourself: would this person seek to connect with our organization from a heart space or mind space?
Because you only get to engage one, says Lisa Lai, in her Harvard Business Review article about the power of persuasion to win hearts and minds. That’s because, Lai writes, trying to win both hearts and minds at the same time “can actually make us less influential” in our communication.
Winning hearts is more about evoking emotion, creating common ground and sharing emotive stories, whereas capturing mind space is all about advocating for a choice, addressing complex issues and presenting facts. Understanding how your audience makes decisions can help shape the flow of your content and the narrative of your story. Is it funny and emotional? Or is it practical and backed by data?
While the content you develop for your audiences must speak to them, it’s also essential that you show up, too. Far too often, organizations come to believe they must develop content full of acronyms and jargon to sound relevant in their industry.
But beyond the "omni-channels" you use to "leverage" your "brand differentiator," you must remember real people are reading your content. Not just the robots tracking algorithms on Google. When you dilute your content with buzzwords and jargon, you end up sounding like everyone else.
A great (and hilarious) example is this generic corporate video I recently came across, which pokes fun at the prescribed themes and words used in our marketing lingo. (And yes, I'm absolutely guilty of writing like this, too.) However, the key to remember is that your content can come across as similarly generic to audiences when you forget to tell your personal story. Simply put, if your competitor can swap out its name for yours and the content still makes sense, then your content isn’t moving the needle for your brand. In fact, you may be wasting valuable time and resources.
Lose the marketing veil to tell your story in more transparent ways. Share your perspective. Establish a point of view. And of course, bring your brand to life with rich stories, intriguing characters and great quotes and dialogue that say something meaningful and different. Because at the end of the day, it’s not the volume of words that matters most. It’s about finding ways to use those 26 letters of the alphabet to engage your audiences in sharing the story that only you can tell.
An award-winning writer, Lara Zuehlke is Director of Content for Pierpont Communications. Connect with her on LinkedIn.