Kathy Klotz-Guest

Posts Tagged ‘storytelling’

Keeping b2b Marketing Content “Human”

In Marketing, Marketing FUN, Social Media on May 28, 2011 at 9:29 pm

There would be a lot less bad marketing in the world if executives were forced to read all the ineffective, sometimes downright awful, content their organizations produce.

Marketing is supposed to put human needs first by sounding like it was created for humans by humans. Marketers know this.

So why is there so much bad B2B marketing content out there? It’s not a lack of creative storytelling talent. B2B companies are just as able to develop creative, fun, people-focused content as their consumer-oriented counterparts. Consider Cisco, IBM (yes, that IBM – once known as stiff and stodgy), NetApp, and Hub Spot to name a few examples.

With a little effort and strategy, you can breathe some life into your marketing. Below are five doable ways to humanize content and connect with your audience.


Humans are wired to think in stories. Twenty thousand years ago, when Grog needed to communicate hunting information, he didn’t issue tribal press releases boasting of “breakthrough arrow technology.” He told a story that was passed down and shaped by others.

All great marketing is storytelling, and it’s important to use stories to connect. We absorb stories, remember them, retell them, and they become part of how we “frame” our new world. Stories allow us to feel and to visualize what could be. Think of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, for example, in which he painted a picture of a better world. If we want customers and prospects to feel something for our products other than boredom and disaffection, we cannot aim our content solely at their “logic” brains. Stories that illustrate how your products and services have made a difference for customers are a huge sales advantage. “Logical facts,” however, are easily forgotten and are far from transformational.

The best storytellers often do not sit in the executive suite. Enable your employees, fans, and partners to share their stories and extend your narrative’s relevance to them. There is no more powerful referral source than peer and user-focused stories, especially if users are telling them!

Keeping business content “human” means that it should not only be relevant, it should sound like simple and clear conversation. And “simple,” doesn’t mean “dumb it down.” Complexity is easy; simplicity isn’t. The Roman orator Cicero famously stated, “Forgive me for writing such a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one.” Simple just means easy to understand.

Think of all the casual conversations you have. No one recommends a product to a friend because it contains “disruptive, game-changing technology.” If people talked like this to us in personal conversation, as Hugh McLeod of Gaping Void describes, “we’d punch them in the face.” We recommend a product because it solves a very real human problem. People don’t talk like robots in everyday conversation; so why is this buzzword bingo part of our content? Even more surprising, we somehow expect people to read and relate to this stuff.

Color Your Words and Images
Colorful language simplifies concepts and makes them memorable. Paint a memorable visual with your words by using analogies and metaphors. For example, instead of “PR director,” you might describe your work as “story detective.” When I am talking with high-tech engineers, for example, I describe my work as the human-language translator between an internal technology focus and external customer needs. Simplify by using useful, accurate and helpful images that are meaningful to your business and for customers. Avoid overused metaphors (sports and war, for example) that have become clichés in business, however. That’s how buzzwords “happen.” If any wording smells like buzzwords to you, change it.

Outward Focus
One of the reasons companies struggle with making content human is because they are too inward-focused. That is, they are too centered on the question of, “how do we describe what we do?” They are focusing on the “we, me, us, and our.” Instead, companies should be outward-focused. The right question to answer is, “what are the human challenges our customers have?” When you approach content by describing human needs first, it’s much easier to then explain how your organization can help.

Here’s a quick test of your “outward focus” quotient: Does your company use the word “targets” or “prospects” / “customers” more frequently? If a customer comes to your website, can they glean in seconds what your organization does? Here’s another exercise: count how many times your writing mentions your company and its services. Then, count how many times it references customers and their needs. The latter should always be more pervasive, and your customer-to-company “reference ratio” should be high. Clear, relevant, and human-centered writing takes effort. Yet, the benefits are clear.

Jargon is a symptom of an inward-focus projected onto customers, and it is lazy. Readers won’t (and shouldn’t have to) struggle to decipher your narrative. Jargon also shortchanges your organization because it puts an unnecessary barrier between you and your audience. It’s like a bad restaurant experience where no one is served well (note the simile).

Another important element of an outward focus is the “so what?” factor for customers. Great content focuses on helping your audience achieve something better – get better results, save money, make money, make better decisions. It should center on improving customers’ bottom lines, not yours.

Fun and Humor
Fun is a healthy part of “serious” business. It’s a fantastic way to connect and cut through clutter. Even in b2b, relationships happen between people, not faceless entities, and fun and humor are as human as you can get. Funny is great; yet even a little levity works, too, especially for brands in need of a little brand botox! And, fun is less “risky” than you might think. Companies operate as “people,” too, with their own personality attributes.

IBM’s video series, “Art of the Sale,” for example, poked fun at IBM’s reputation in the mainframe business. It was refreshing, unexpected and cut straight to the point: “we know we had a reputation as being out-of-touch; we hear you, and we’ve changed.” Why did this series work so well? Because it was unexpected and it changed how people perceived the company. It was “un-IBM.” It was also an acknowledgment by the company that is was willing to be different moving forward. When expectations are inverted, customers are delighted. The right question for marketers to answer should be, “how do we favorably invert customer expectations?” Humor recognizes our shared humanity, and that is a powerful connector.

Vox Humana
With the exponential explosion in online content, it’s becoming not just a crowded world, but one where fresh voices are increasingly harder to find. Keeping content human increases its relevance and it can help change customer perceptions – and expectations – for the better. That’s a big competitive advantage in an increasingly noisy, sometimes un-human marketplace.

Now, back to the idea of forcing execs to consume their own bad content… I think I am on to something, or at least something fun for me. You say “torture”…I say public service…!

Inside-Out Storytelling: Penguins and Elephants

In Uncategorized on August 29, 2010 at 11:08 pm

Recently a lot of marketing pundits have focused on storytelling. All great marketing IS storytelling.  That’s true. While marketing tends to focus mostly on external storytelling in the age of new media for good reasons (hey, I just wrote a post about it 2 weeks ago), not enough focus today has been placed on internal storytelling and on how important that is in organizational and cultural leadership.

Why so executives and marketers spend so much more time influencing outsiders than they do on influencing the “insiders” – the people who are tasked with delivering the best customer experience? Employees are among an organization’s greatest brand champions. If employees aren’t happy, customers won’t be, either.

What are the stories that employees tell? What stories define your culture?

The stories circulating internal to any organization are telling – because they point to what your people say your culture is about.

Recently I caught up with a wonderful colleague I knew from many years ago at a once very prominent high-tech company in Silicon Valley. At one time in the 90s, this company was THE place of innovation, and employees were dedicated and worked hard. It was a company people clamored to work for. Over time, that culture changed and it became insulated – a victim of its own success.  Eventually that company failed – in a very big way. And that culture change coincided with a change in C-level mentality that can be illustrated in one story that a former President and Chief Operating Officer Used to tell.

Elephants Verses Penguins

The stories the C-Suite tells – and those that are frequently repeated down the food chain – reflect organizational health and values. If the folks at the top are telling negative stories, that is indicative of a culture in trouble. This former President and COO told a favorite story about penguins and elephants, and he told it often (my colleague and I remembered it!). Penguins are not nurturing of their sick. When one falls behind or is injured, the other penguins attack it. They cannot be weighed down by the infirm. It’s tribal and it defines pack behavior.  Elephants, by contrast, are large and majestic animals that care for one another. When one of them is sick, the entire herd rallies around and nurtures the sick one until it is better or passes. The entire tribe is affected. They feel a connection that keeps them looking out for one another. “We are the penguins,” the COO liked to say often (smiling and proud at his “toughness”).  That story communicated so many layers of culture, values and how the company felt about competition and people. And it wasn’t lost on employees exactly how underappreciated they were.

Stories Told Reveal Truth

That story repeated over and over by the COO on down through the ranks of employees is an insight into the culture. What kind of culture would you rather be in as an employee? I know I’d rather be in the Pachyderm tribe.  This story illustrates how a culture that was once thriving had changed and not for the better. It is no surprise that the culture eventually collapsed – and so did the company.

This company is by no means alone. Remember Enron, for example? At Enron, according to the Harvard Business Review, stories about “get-rich schemes” were as prominent as stories and jokes about “screwing over customers.” That negativity is toxic and that it was so pervasive is the hallmark of an acidic and dangerous culture.

Change Your Stories, Change Your Culture

If you want to change the culture, you must look at the types of stories being told in your organization – up and down the food chain. Are they positive or negative? Do they tell of progress? Are employees extolled? Or are they considered expendable and under-valued? Are people merely elephants or penguins in your organization? Are your customers valued or do employees make fun of customers far too often (as at Enron and countless other companies).

It matters. If you want to change culture and lead change, you must identify and change the stories people tell. Stories aren’t based on fiction; rather, they are forged by the kinds of VALUES and actions the company and its leaders and employees exhibit over and over again.

Inside-Out Storytelling

Leaders must understand the tribal nature of stories that lead and inspire and they must understand that stories rally or disengage employees.  They are the most powerful internal marketing tools around. So if you want to change your culture, you must start by understanding and changing the stories that define the internal culture as well.  Great storytelling outside the company starts with great storytelling internally.

Participate in SNCR.ORG’s Video Storytelling Survey

In Uncategorized on July 19, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Involved in online video strategy/tactics at your org? Please take SNCR‘s online video storytelling survey. http://tinyurl.com/26uoobj