I’ll never forget my first writing gig back in the olden days---the heady ‘80’s---when every software application was new and different. To us, the challenge wasn’t how to differentiate our solution; it was how to build credibility and trust.
To accomplish this, writers were directed to write in a specific tone. Companies believed that business folks would feel manipulated by emotion, so only a tone of emotionally distant expertise could possibly develop credibility.
To attract and engage readers, writers tried to inject enthusiasm---while steering clear of emotion. Thus evolved the menagerie of words we use today, words like maximize, optimize, and market leader. Even business-trendy words, like disrupt and Big Data, are quickly rendered meaningless.
The result of this evolution is that too many of our companies sound just like all the others — and our audiences are habituated to the words they’re reading.
Stephen Denning, the best-selling author of The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling, says “a revolution in marketing thinking” is essential. One of the reasons he sites is the fact that audiences are increasingly skeptical about what they’re reading. Advertising has lost its credibility, and customers use the (uncontrolled-by-us) web to get information and solve problems.
That is why it’s absolutely necessary for us to create engaging content. Such content shares information in a way that’s quick and easy to understand. And it paints unambiguous pictures in readers’ minds about how our solutions solve their problems.
Why Easy Relevance Trumps Techno-speak
Lois Kelly, in her book Beyond Buzz, clarifies why we need to create content with “the voice of customer service, not product production.” To make her point, she gives a number of examples of business-speak. One example is from an enterprise IT management company. Content on their website says their solutions are “designed to unify and simplify complex IT environments across the enterprise” and to “deliver fully against your business goals.”
The question Lois Kelly asks is, "Where's the 'Wow' in that?"
I also ask, "Where’s the differentiator? How many times do you have to read it to understand what it means? And, most importantly, does it help the audience imagine themselves benefiting from the solution?"
Rather than trying to be impressive, we need to get laser-focused on what’s really important: Our audience needs to easily understand how our solution will make their life better. We need to ask these questions every time we create content...
- Is this content easy for our audience to read and understand?
- Is it clearly saying what’s important to our audience?
- Does it help the audience see themselves experiencing our solution?
Revenue-Generating Proof That Authenticity Works
The high-tech outdoor equipment and clothing company Patagonia knows about selling to your audience ---and continues to enjoy record sales and profits by using a full 45% of its marketing space to authentically connect with readers.
A tested example of the shift we’re looking at comes from Patagonia. It continues to report record revenues and profit using a very human approach to marketing. Patagonia’s founder is Yvon Chouinard. In his inspiring book, Let My People Go Surfing, he says, “Our catalog is our bible for each selling season. Every other medium we use builds from the catalog’s editorial standards.”
And what are those standards?
“Patagonia’s is a human voice. It expresses the joy of people who are passionate about their beliefs and who want to influence the future. It is not processed, and it won’t compromise its humanity.”
Does this uncompromising humanity work? It sure does.
I use this example because catalogs are highly measurable. Literally every inch is measured for effectiveness. The current wisdom is: The more space you use to sell stuff, the more you’ll sell. Patagonia has always broken that rule. Amazingly, it uses a full 45% of its space to tell customers’ stories about how they relied on Patagonia’s clothing and equipment. And what has happened whenever the company reduced the story content and used more catalog space to sell product? Click-through and sales dropped!
To successfully shift to authentic connections, focus on being human.
You may be thinking, “Patagonia is selling to consumers. But I’m selling to businesses.” That doesn’t matter. A human being who is a consumer at night is the same human being at work the next day. When building credibility and trust with any audience, what works is human-being-to-human-being (HB2HB) content. Because the receiver of our content is never a business; it’s always a human being.