Why is it that content often is written for the client, not the client’s prospects?
Yes, the client is paying us and we want them to be happy with our work. But content that talks about product features instead of customer benefit, that refers to “solutions” without first setting out the problems, is proven to fail. Your client might like the flowery prose about their baby today, but they’ll forget you tomorrow if it doesn’t bring any results.
I was reminded of this recently, while writing a brand guide for a high-tech client. I looked at the client’s existing content, and I got the impression of a wonky geek puffing himself up, trying to show what a smart guy he is. I looked at competitor sites, and got much the same. I couldn’t imagine prospects gaining any information from those sites that would help them choose.
I always start by putting myself in the shoes of the consumer/audience. I will never be a chief information officer at a multi-national company, but I can act like one on the Internet. I started a broad search on “data centers,” and through a daisy chain of searches began to zero in on the topics that keep CIOs up at night: security breaches, retiring old equipment, energy conservation (who knew?).
I then imagined I was a CIO. What do I want most? Peace of mind (an assumption that I later confirmed while watching this interview with Word Wizard Frank Luntz, in which he says the tech industry should focus on the word “security” in its conversation with consumers). As a CIO, I have a lot of headaches – maintaining near 100 percent up time while staying within budget. I want to be seen as someone who stays a step ahead of problems. I don’t have time to have deep knowledge about everything, but I must have some knowledge of all the technology at my disposal.
Make your reader the hero
So what would my client’s service do to make the CIO look like a hero? It’s one thing to say “we are a worldwide company,” but another to say, “we can address your data center issues wherever they might be in the world.” Instead of saying, “we are experts at planning a data center relocation,” we should say, “a data center relocation presents significant security issues; we’ve handled them all.”
This means when we write marketing and communication content, research must go beyond the product or service we are writing about. We have to dig deep into the customer psyche, what they are thinking and what they value at various times on their shopping journey. I prefer to make these personas as personal as possible. Instead of “CIO is a white male who was promoted because of his technical expertise and reads trade journals,” I like, “Frank Schmidt was promoted from a technical manager role and now has responsibility for the enterprise IT ecosystem. He worries that the CEO will lose confidence in him if this upcoming data center relocation has any rough spots. He has been devouring journals and talking to fellow CIOs to learn everything he can about the travails of a data center relocation.”
This approach to content development puts us marketing communicators in a different place than we have been in the past. We’re not just putting out collateral or feeding the SEO beast. We now are part of the sales team. If we do this right, we arm our sales colleagues with information they can use to have a partner-like conversation with prospects, rather than a dense PowerPoint presentation that boasts product features and blends in with every other sales person’s pitch.
Marketers are in sales
We are, in fact, stepping up to a pivotal role envisioned in the “Challenger Sales” model propounded by the Corporate Executive Board. Sales close rates increased and revenue per sale grew when this model is followed: Challenger sales people get deeper into their client’s business. They start by understanding the issues rocking the client, its industry, and its decision-makers. What gives them a competitive edge? What blunts their edge? What is happening on the leading edge of its industry? Then they talk with prospects about those problems, the solutions they have tried, and what others in the industry are doing. This leads to a conversation about solutions that fit that particular company’s business issues and goals. That’s a much different conversation than, “Here’s what we do, you should buy it.”
As marketing communicators, we can start this whole Challenger Sales concept way upstream – up there where the prospect may not yet know they need our product or service. Our content engages them in a conversation about problems they might be experiencing, helping them chew it over, then being right there when they start shopping for solutions.
4 steps for resonant content
None of this is successful if we don’t start with content that grabs their attention. And what grabs their attention are words, concepts, and stories that they can relate to their own experience. Luntz, in his fabulous book, “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear,” says a powerful way to do that is to change assertions into questions. A question requires the reader to try the idea on for size.
So to kick off copy about data center relocation services, we start with the question, “When is your data most vulnerable?” Our assertion is that it is most vulnerable in times of transition, such as a relocation, but the question invites the reader to answer. The ensuing copy confirms their concerns, explains why data is vulnerable during a transition, and the steps a smart CIO takes to prepare for it.
Here, then, is the formula for content written for the target persona:
Explain the problem in ways that show you know their issues and their industry.
Describe the solution in terms that are relevant to them.
Make your reader/viewer see themselves as the hero of the story.
Be brief and be visual.
Don’t be afraid to be repetitious. As Luntz notes in his book:
“Remember, you may be making yourself sick by saying the same exact same thing for the umpteenth time, but many in your audience will be hearing it for the first time. The overwhelming majority of your customers or constituents aren’t paying as much attention as you are.”
Steve is sole proprietor of Connected Communication, LLC, a consultancy that helps organizations develop integrated PR, communication, and marketing programs. His particular expertise is in the health industry, including insurance, health delivery systems, and digital health.
Steve also is professor of public relations and journalism at Metro State University of Denver.