Content has an attention problem. What does that mean? Simply, that there’s so much content coming at all of us that it’s harder and harder to actually engage with anything meaningful. We’re barraged on all sides by snappy soundbites, quick takes, hashtags, memes, gifs -- you know the drill. That means it’s more important than ever to add value through your content.
Unfortunately, the term “add value” is so overused it can seem almost meaningless. However, you truly do need to add value if you want a potential customer to give you their precious time and attention. One of the best ways to do that is to show how to solve a problem.
Cool, you might be saying. We show readers/viewers/content consumers how to solve problems all the time.
Here’s the thing: most companies have decided which problem they solve and subsequently, tailor any messaging to fit that solution. They believe that, if they can just perfectly state the great things the company can do, they will be able to create a perfect piece of content that will magically “sell” their solution. (FYI - there’s no piece of content that will make someone come to a blog, read one piece of content and buy a big, expensive solution, but that’s a blog post for another day.)
The most common mistake I see is that companies tend to make their content about themselves, not about their customer's issues. The problem with that? Content that’s focused on selling your company and its solutions isn’t really focused on understanding and solving the customer’s problem.
This blog will help you understand how to create empathetic content that will make the reader feel like you understand them. This will place you in the position of a guide, and over time, will allow them to see how you can help them achieve their goals.
It’s not just about regurgitating your marketing message over and over again. You can tell a customer how great you are, but the more self-interested and self-promotional you seem, the less trustworthy you’re perceived to be. See the catch?
So, what should you be doing?
1. Discover and speak to the reader’s internal problem
If you haven’t heard of StoryBrand, it’s a storytelling framework for business. One of the ideas it talks about is external and internal problems. As applied to a well-known story, in Lord of the Rings, Frodo needs to destroy the Ring, because no one in Middle-earth -- except possibly Frodo -- can resist its dark, all-consuming power. If it’s not destroyed, the familiar world that Frodo knows will go away. However, Frodo is just a comfort-loving Hobbit who has never left the Shire. Can he endure untold discomforts to destroy it? Can he resist the allure of world domination? The external problem in this story is the Ring, but the internal problem is Frodo’s insecurity that he is the one for the job.
As a company, you’re probably selling to the external problem -- reducing tenant turnover, increasing production uptime, a faster assembly line -- and that’s important. However, the person who ultimately decides to buy the solution you’re offering is buying it for internal reasons -- he’s stressed because he’s facing budget cuts or she’s worried because her business’s growth has stalled and she might be replaced.
You need to zero in on those internal concerns and speak to those as well.
You might have the best solution on the market, but if your customer doesn’t feel like you understand her problem and can help her solve it, you won’t engage her.
Which brings me to my next point…
2. Share smaller stories that generate identification and empathy
I’m a fan of Ann Handley, a content marketer and teacher who talks about smaller stories. We all hear about how storytelling is crucial -- and it is -- but remember that earlier point about how we’re all fighting for engagement?
You get your reader’s attention by distilling the larger problem down to a more digestible example. This doesn’t mean making it a quick soundbite. On the contrary, it means making the story meaningful and relatable.
For example, I heard this story on the radio the other day. Many people, overwhelmed by the news, might tune out a “big” story about the systemic issues in the criminal justice system. But who wouldn’t be interested in a story about a middle-aged man wrongfully convicted as a teen of the murder of his parents, especially when you hear that after his release on new evidence, he became a lawyer to help others in similar situations? This man’s story really distills a bigger story down to the essence and makes it something we can all imagine experiencing.
Likewise, a reader probably doesn’t want to read a blog post touting your company’s amazing solution (because who would say how terrible their own product is?), but would probably want to learn about a 3PL who had three months to increase production by 15% -- and succeeded.
If you don’t know what your potential customers are worried about, sit in on a sales call to listen. And talk to happy customers to see what internal and external problems you solved for them. Then, write a smaller story zeroing in on those issues.
3. Ask “What’s the point?” of this piece of content
This seems obvious but is often overlooked -- because again, it’s not about you. What’s the point for your reader? Why are they reading this piece (or viewing it, etc)? That’s why takeaways and actionable learnings are so helpful. I find it’s often useful to write your title last and focus on what you’ve given the reader. If you find it’s not compelling enough, it’s probably time for a new draft.
Next time you create a piece of content, try to really dig into the reader’s internal and external problems and think about what you’re offering them. Then see if there’s a smaller story you can pull out to show that you understand what they’re going through. (There might not always be one, but if there is, it can be very effective.) It sounds paradoxical, but keeping the focus off you and on the customer, is the best way to promote your business.