Storytelling gone wrong: When I can't relate, you lose me

I was doing some research for a blog post recently and came across a post that - based on the title - had exactly what I was looking for. I was trying to find practical advice for storytelling in a particular context. I eagerly started reading the post, curious to see what the author could add to my research.

The post was written in a storytelling format, offering up examples of how the author had used the tactic they were writing about. But I was lost by the second line of the blog post. 

Why?

The author was writing about how they explain the difference between two different things. I think they were describing their own products. But only the customers and users of these products would be able to relate to this blog post. 

The irony? It was a post helping others relate.

I've talked about the idea of selfish communication before and reading this post reminded me of why it's so important to avoid creating content that creates confusion. 

There's a bigger picture to content marketing

With every piece of content I create, I think about:

  • How it will be perceived by someone who doesn't know my work
  • What value I'm giving to readers who click through
  • Whether there are applications beyond my niche

You see, if you tie content too closely to your products, you're automatically limiting the audience who will be interested. You're also limiting the story you can tell about your business. 

There's a better way.

1) Focus on the problems you solve

When it comes to content, it really doesn't matter what your product does or how it works. What matters is the problem you solve. Most businesses have a big overarching problem they solve for clients and customers. 

But there are also related problems - big and small - that they solve. Talk about those problems. Talk about solutions that don't have anything to do with your products.

Assert a philosophy that fits your values and point of view. Have an opinion about what works best and why.

All of these things build a case for why you're so good at what you do.

be-so-good-they-cant-ignore-you.jpg

2) Give away all the knowledge

Don't worry about losing business because you share the what and the how of your solutions. If this is your fear, remember:

  1. People who take your content and use it on their own aren't your ideal client.
  2. Or they might not have the budget...yet.
  3. Others may ignore your content; they're also not your ideal client.

The point of showing your expertise through content is that your ideal client has a better chance of finding you. It's the marketing equivalent of the impact of compound interest. You put the regular effort in and it adds up over time.

3) Go back to the beginning of the story

You're really smart and you have a ton of knowledge about a specific subject. The audience you want to attract does not have your knowledge, which is why they need you. 

So, don't open the book in the middle and start reading as if they know what's happened in the first half. Always set your audience up to understand your message by giving enough explanation of anything that's specific to your business or expertise. 

The picture is complete when there are no more questions

Will all the questions ever truly be answered? I sure hope not. But in each piece of content, you can answer all the questions.

You'll know you've been thorough when you've accomplished the goal of the piece, there's no lingering clarity questions about the content, and you've provided value that isn't exclusively aimed at your customers.

Content creation for highly regulated industries

The most common industries that come to mind with challenges to creating content are those that have strict rules handed down by regulatory bodies, usually because they handle highly confidential, sensitive information: lawyers, accountants and other financial services, government contractors, etc.

I think we can all agree that there are few more regulated entities than the United States White House, right? Look at what President Obama has had to go through to sort of be able to use a Blackberry

It's impressive (if you have an interest in such things like I do) to see how much Obama has embraced and used technology and the internet to connect with the world.  

If the man who is considered the leader of the free world (and keeper of the ominous buttons we hope never get pressed) can have a successful, useful, engaging social media presence, why can't lawyers, accountants, bankers, investment advisors, government contractors, and others do the same?

Think differently

Some might think it's a trite and overused phrase, but it's what's required! Too often organizations focus entirely on what they're selling, pushing out all kinds of sales-y posts that offer little to no real value for readers. 

Here's a quick truth bomb for you (and I may have to do these more often): No one cares about your product and service offerings enough to connect with you and only ever hear about your product and service offerings. Remember the saying "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"? The bottom line of this truth bomb is that all sales and no value (or entertainment) makes you boring, irrelevant, and less likely to be followed. 

Instead of focusing on selling what you do as content (the act of telling), share stories about your industry, give followers a glimpse of your human side and the culture of your workplace, educate them about related industry topics that your target audience would be interested in.

Bust myths

Highly regulated industries, particularly government and professional services, give the world a lot of fodder for erroneous beliefs. We've all heard so many jokes about doctors and lawyers - often around the fees associated with going to one or the taxes we pay. (Well, maybe not so much doctors in Canada.) While the beliefs may be based in factual experiences of some, it's not a given that they apply to all.

How can you combat myths? Within reason, within the bounds of confidentiality and regulation, share the truth of what you do and what goes into your work.

  • Re-certification and ongoing licensing requirements
  • Insurance
  • Professional associations
  • Pro bono activities
  • Continuing education

No doubt every highly regulated industry has a laundry list of mythical stories floating around about how they operate. Where you can, share the truth in a way that educates - defensiveness not required.

Be helpful

Seriously, above all else, be helpful.

There are probably hundreds of topics that elected representatives can create content that educates followers. Besides education pieces, public service announcements, and useful information that apply to your audience are all valuable content that helps. 

People who work in regulated industries get all kinds of questions ALL. THE. TIME. You have to answer them when they come in, so take the ones that you can use to help the masses and use them...to help the masses.