The Content Buffet

This post was written by John White on Wed, 15 Jul 2009 10:52:56 +0000
Posted Under: managing writing project,marketing as conversation,tell your story,value in content

cafeteria_f4179f9c49_mHave you ever had too much content? It’s a good problem, isn’t it? Like having too much champagne in the wine cellar, or an infinitely empty stomach at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

What does a Content Buffet look like?

Let’s say you have a recent, huge win:

  • a landmark new customer
  • a long-held strategic goal reached on time and under budget
  • an overnight success five years in the making
  • a game-changing new way of doing business that your competitors can’t duplicate even if they know what you’re doing

“We’ve got to tell this story!” you say. Your company and all the partners who have helped you make it happen are dying to get the news out. You convene a meeting with all of the stakeholders and present everything you know about the win: why it had to happen, how many bumps you hit, what it fixed, how it makes your business different, what your customers are saying now, why your stock price is climbing, how your employees are excelling.

It’s a huge story, with lots of anecdotes, charts, numbers, graphs, references and quotes. Everybody at the table wants the story for his/her audience, channel, message, format and business objective.

Suddenly you realize that it may be one story, but it’s two dozen “tellings.” You’re standing at the head of the Content Buffet, plate in hand, ready to go. If you rush through and gorge yourself indiscriminately, you’ll be sorry later.

But if you’re careful, you can get a lot of efficient content out of it.

What do you do at the Content Buffet?

  1. Take inventory. Identify everybody’s story-needs and make sure you understand them before you have anything written. Nobody wants to be forgotten or get stuck with with content that meets somebody else’s needs, but not theirs.
  2. Canonize messages. Are you going to use the same message in both the version you give your employees and the one you give prospects? Of course not. Develop a message for each audience — or set of similar audiences — and hire a writer who will use them as a point of departure, the central reason for writing and reading the story.
  3. Compile the greatest hits. The big news in the HR story is how your employees worked out their own new job descriptions. Execs want to read what your managers had to do to get their teams on board. The scientists want to see how you changed the DNA of a rabbit. Every story has greatest hits, and every audience is receptive to a different kind of greatest hit. Figure out what they are and make sure they stand out in the piece.
  4. List the questions, then answer them. Every story breaks down into the answers to a series of questions, the same as a conversation does. The first question, of course, is “Why should I care?” (See “Canonize messages” above.) The rest follow from there: “What did you do first?” “Why did you do that?” “Who helped you?” “How do you know you succeeded?” “What would you do differently if you had to do it again?” At the end, tell your readers how they can get in touch with you if you didn’t answer all of their questions.
  5. Decide on formats. Your sales force may want a report or white paper to hand to prospects, but your sales coaches want a script and a presentation to train the sales force. Don’t make everybody pick vanilla; tell the story in a format that will work for each audience.
  6. Create calls to action. Never lose sight of why you’re telling the story: To elicit a response. Whether for sympathy, indignation, compassion, trust, confidence, curiosity or persuasion, you want your story to lead to some next step. Figure out what that is for each audience and build it into the way in which you tell the story.

First map this out, then pick up a plate and go to the buffet. You’ll get a lot more out of it.

photo credit: freeparking

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