Everybody is talking about producing great content these days.
But for most businesses this just means ‘we need to tell a story that sells better’.
We believe that we either need to put our product or our company in the spotlight so we can show off how awesome we are and earn everyone’s admiration.
We've been doing this for decades. It is how advertising works, right?
But when we do this, what kind of emotion do we evoke with our audience? Who likes people that show off? Do you know that urge you get to 'mute' those friends on Facebook that always seem to be having way too much fun? Is that how we want our audience to feel about us?
The reason why great content is so powerful is because it lets us tell stories that our audience can relate to. It should be something they want to consume and put other things aside for. Ideally, you want to make sure they like it so much that they want to share it with others because it makes them look more interesting.
We are all made to ‘do stories all day long’. It is coded into us because only a hundred years ago most people didn’t know how to read or write. Our species excelled because knew how to package information in the form of compelling tales so people would pay attention and be compelled to pass them on across society and time. This is nothing new. And because it is common knowledge, we tend to do what we always do: ignore it.
People may not be paying any attention to our chest-pounding placements of how amazing our products or services are but that same elusive audience will invest hours of their time and precious attention span to binge-watch the episodes of a TV series they got hooked on, missing hours of needed sleep only to find out the fate of fictitious characters. And the most crazy thing of all is that they will do so for nothing in return. Nothing, Nada!
I’m not judging here. In fact, I will always happily trade a boring white paper or a sales presentation for an hour of ‘Breaking Bad’ because just like everybody else, I love great stories. They are always worth my time.
Now, take a moment to think about your favourite films or TV series. What did their lead characters have in common? Here are some of the stories that come to mind for me:
What did Luke Skywalker, Walter White and the Maximus the Gladiator have in common? Have you ever wondered why characters that only managed to get themselves into so much trouble could also inspire us so much?
They just had to keep digging themselves out of a hole and we adored them for it! We want them to win and if we could do anything to help them get the upper hand, we probably would.
But wouldn't it make more sense to root for the winners? Why do we always choose the side of the underdogs?
Even the superheroes are always messed up by getting smacked around by villains most of the time! The heroes we root for have smudges on their faces and wear torn clothes! You could even ask yourself how sports clubs that hardly even win manage to have fans?
If you're old enough to remember one of the home screen’s biggest bastards of all time - J.R. Ewing - you'll know that everybody hated that guy because he always got his way.
Have you noticed that in most stories the evil characters are usually the people who are successful and attractive? The only reason we put up with them is because we want to find out if our heroes can come up with a way to get rid of these villains.
Now, put this in contrast with the typical marketing messages that get put in front of us. There is no room for weakness, only strength. The chest-thumping is all about winning and the characters they associate with are shiny happy successful people with perfect clothing and no smudges.
Can you see how this makes little sense?
For as long as we’ve had stories, we’ve always loved the underdogs and despised the winners (until they lost). It is the format we recognise and pay attention to. So how can it be that we decidedly ignore this ancient wisdom when it comes to the business stories we prefer to tell the world?
We should know better because this precise format has been recurring in all our stories since the dawn of civilisation. Even our scriptures abide by it. Think about our prophets and our mythical heroes. They suffered and struggled and were always cast as the underdog.
So when we craft our corporate stories, why do we keep erring to the side that sub consciously puts us on the wrong end of the emotional spectrum with our audience?
But what to do with this insight?
You may now be thinking 'that is really interesting' but how can we put this to work? Let's look at a few examples:
Instead of trying to convince your audience that you are invincible, why not let them in on your real challenges. You might be surprised at the support you get.
You might even learn a thing or two from their feedback.
How about sharing what you learned from your worst mistakes or from losing a bid for a important piece of business? Careful - this might work like a heart-attack inducer in the boardroom or an instant pink slip printing command!
And, and if your company’s stock is publicly traded, you may want to think twice about this one. But otherwise, openly exploring what you learn from mistakes inspires a lot of confidence, and that is good for business.
Why not talk about the real challenges your clients face? Not just the ‘polished up’ case studies, but the real problems where you really had to struggle to fix them. Remember the formula: you + client = underdogs challenging mighty forces together. People will love it and they will want to see you (and even help you) win!
Burn your stock photos and show your people as they are while at work because they probably look very much like the people who’s attention you are trying to get.
Think about that kind of connection you make when you bump into someone from your hometown on the other side of the world - it's about kinship and the feeling that people belong to the same tribe. I don't think the benefit of this needs any explaining, does it?
Can you come up with more ideas about how to put this to work?
I’d also love it if you could share any other examples of business that got their story telling right!
But of course, if you disagree, please tell me all about it :-)
I hope you enjoyed the read.
Thanks for making the time.