“Everyone thinks it’s the performer who draws a crowd. It’s not.
A crowd draws a crowd.”
How does your business, or agency, react to seemingly foolish ideas? Sceptical amusement? Nitpicking negativity?
I’ve been lucky enough to work for a lot of marketing, PR, communication, digital and advertising agencies. I am very grateful to them for employing me.
I’m often called in to help with new business or pitch work, especially when it has a content component.
What usually happens is this:
Agency is preparing for a pitch and / or is responding to a Request for Proposal (RFP).
In the brief it says the client wants content. But the client is not sure what content will resonate.
Planning director (or someone similar) looks at the brief, looks at their workload, looks back at the brief and then gets their recruiter to find someone to give them a hand with Knowing About Content.
I Know About Content. Especially aligning stories and content to, as yet unidentified, customer need. So sometimes it will be me who gets the call to help out at the initial stages of their project.
Fast-forward past the admin bit.
Now, I’ve read the brief. The project team are around the table.
And then I’m asked: The potential client will answer questions about the brief. What questions should we ask them?
Then, more often than I would like, I respond with the most blindingly simple questions. Usually along the lines of “what does this mean?”
This is when we get to (at least to me) an interesting bit. The team reacts to my questions.
It’s the reactions that can be quite telling.
The reactions can be caricatured as: Sceptical amusement and curiousity versus dismissiveness and nitpicking negativity.
It’s the amused and curious reactions that I prefer. They’re usually a good sign that the agency nurtures psychologically safe teams.
In my experience, a culture of psychological safety is one characteristic that successful agencies all share.
This is because psychological safety allows employees to ask seemingly foolish questions without feeling they’ll be harshly judged.
The expression of foolish questions is important to agencies because they stimulate honest exploration and conversation.
If we take the RFP process as an example, honest exploration and conversation is important, because, frankly, many client briefs are full of jargon.
Jargon has to be challenged and decoded if we’re to deliver the results the client would like.
But if we’re all too hesitant to ask the “too obvious”, simple questions, jargon goes unchallenged, miscommunication abounds, and the ensuing response is unlikely to be convincing or effective.
And if the response to the brief is unconvincing, then the agency won’t win the new client.
The arguments for creating digital content for businesses and organisations often centre around short-term return on investment. It’s often felt that content is necessary, but its creation can be considered a role for junior staff, as its quality is not too important…
On Twitter, back in 2013, I tweeted a stray thought about content creation. It’s a view I rarely attempt to articulate when talking to clients about their content strategies.
The tweets were:
“Invariably we bought the cassette player with the most elegant eject action. If it gracefully whirred open with a sweet damping movement, that was a clincher. Any device in which the cassette holder lunged open with a ‘clack’ was rejected as manifestly rubbish.”
Why we did this, writes Rory, can be explained by the Kano Model, that says: “different attributes of a product or service have wildly different effects on customer satisfaction, and that elements only tenuously related to a product’s main function may have an immense influence on whether people think it is good or bad.”
Which means: “The extent to which a business cares about the finer details of what they are selling is rather a good clue to the psychology of the seller; just as you get a better idea of a person’s character by noticing how they behave when no one’s watching, so you get a better idea of a business by judging the things it does which aren’t strictly necessary.”
It’s the previous line that’s a rarely articulated argument for creating high quality content and it’s why your business blog should not be left solely to the interns. The fact that your business can employ real writers (for example), who can communicate with style, is a good sign that your business is fit enough to trade successfully and can be trusted to deliver.
As Rory writes: “Successful private sector organisations usually follow the Kano model — they learn to practise selective, symbolic inefficiency because customers like it better that way. The problem with obsessing too much about… ‘efficiency’ is that you become trapped by ‘intrinsicism’: the belief that the value of a cassette deck lies solely in the quality of sound reproduction.”
So, producing high quality content may be necessary after all. Remember, clients and customers “get a better idea of a business by judging the things it does which aren’t strictly necessary.”
Photo by LadyDragonflyCC – >;<
Most website content gets ignored – it is simply not interesting enough. This post describes multiple ways to make improvements.
Popular, effective, content will often employ one or more of the elements described below. To improve your organisation’s digital content, check that it draws on one or more of these concepts:
1) Significance: Anticipate the questions your audience will ask, and the answers they will need. The higher the proportion of your audience asking the same question about an issue or event, the greater the impact of the story. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is useful when thinking about significance.
2) Topicality: The news is new.
3) Utility: Useful content gets used.
4) Prominence: Feature the already famous.
5) Proximity: What’s nearby is interesting.
6) Conflict: Conflict is drama. Drama attracts attention.
7) Bizarreness: The unexpected attracts attention.
8) Delight: Be entertaining (only consistently possible if you truly know point 1) – What’s significant to your audience).
9) The basics: Information selection (within a web page, for example), and tone of voice, should reflect brand values and a corporate mission statement, if applicable.
10) Seeing the world in a new light: This can be a sub-category of 8) Delight – but it’s a fundamental, powerful device. Storytellers such as Malcolm Gladwell and Rory Sutherland use “challenging conventional wisdom” to create a powerful story. See also: The Index of the Interesting, by Murray Davis.
Note: This list is a work in progress – it will change to reflect my thinking and research. The latest addition to the list is delight.
Bonus: Here’s some insightful humour about point 4 – Prominence. From Maria Bamford’s album Ask Me About My New God!:
“…I do worship celebrities, because they’re very powerful, their moods create weather. I was feeling bad about it, and then I was like, ‘Well of course, I’m just a tiny, frightened animal. I’m gonna look towards the most powerful and fertile-appearing of our species for information on how to survive. I need to find out what that Jennifer Aniston is doing. She’s a strong, sexy monkey. She’s going to tell us where all the bananas are located.”
Further information, elsewhere