SAY INTERESTING STUFF | How Meaningful Content Sparks Meaningful Results

Written by Jake Kaufman
Designed by Justin Hines

The Traditional Website Is Dead

Talk about a crowded theater.

1.3 Billion people have access to the internet

Really smart people that work with numbers say that 1.3 billion people now have access to the internet. I’ve been in places in the world that have no running water to bathe, import their drinking water, and still call in the village snake charmer to take care of that pesky 7 foot cobra in the soccer field; and they had internet. 13 years ago.

That’s a lot of people looking for something.

The evolution of digital is changing the way we behave as humans. It’s influencing the way that we decide things, talk about things, and experience things.

In a world where snake charmers have twitter handles, penguins and pandas rule.

Whos Listening to you is important

Or at least, that’s the case in Google’s eyes. With the release of their latest algorithm updates (aptly named Penguin and Panda), the search engine giant made it clear that they are on a quest to purge the internet of shady snake handlers.

How?

By targeting and penalizing worthless content and rewarding relevant, meaningful, and trustworthy content.

In essence, Google is forcing the world to care. It’s a higher stakes game than just getting attention. Google cares now about what you contribute; about what kind of value you create, and what kinds of people are listening to your content and sharing it across their own networks.

Frequency is no longer a sustainable metric.

Being popular isn't a strategy. It's Vanity

It’s no longer a valid strategy. Simply flooding the airways with keywords and linkbacks is akin to performing surgery with a field knife and a bottle of whiskey.

It’s old school. And it’s painfully ineffective.

Why? Those old school trade secrets don’t do anything to establish your credibility. They are just ways of bulking up lists and looking important. Being popular isn’t a strategy.

It’s vanity.

Value is the new metric. Today’s digital world is less impressed by numbers and more impressed by contribution. Does your presence online add value? Are you able to add insight and perspective? Does your voice inspire or empower? Are you invested in your social community and online consumers?

If not, then you are a destination.

And unlike vacation getaways, that’s not a good thing. If your presence online is simply a virtual billboard, you won’t gain traction. Not in today’s market. If all you do is inform or describe, odds are you are a destination. Your share rates probably reveal that you’re not a very interesting one at that.

It turns out, everyone isn’t valuable.

This should all be incredibly liberating news to people with exciting and valuable stories to tell.

The Bullhorn Is Dead

People with unimportant stories to tell are guilty of using bullhorns.

It’s easy to use a bullhorn to get attention. It’s loud, which causes a lot of people to turn their heads. Shouting is a way of communicating, sure, but it’s not the most effective option.

Just ask my parents.

Lots of companies and organizations settle for bullhorns. They shout, and shout, and shout, and shout. In the olden days, this was an effective way of attracting consumers because the market was static and forced to gather around the loudest person.

Creativity wasn’t necessary because there weren’t a lot of other options. Generating value wasn’t necessary when you could simply be the loudest person in the room. There are still plenty of bullhorns out there, and they are pretty easy to spot.

Loyalty Trumps Attention Spans

The thing about bullhorns is that they get annoying.

It’s much better to engage than it is to shout.

The world is no longer impressed by fancy presentations and shiny packaging, alone. Sure those things steal our attention momentarily, but they do little to incite our curiosity or invite our loyalty.

In a market that is fluid and mobile, loyalty trumps attention spans.

Today’s consumer can change the channels and silence the bullhorn. Shouting to get their attention is poor strategy. It makes more sense than ever before to engage them.

Engagers are a much rarer breed than people who shout into bullhorns. They are the kind of people that other people like to be around. Like bullhorns, they have their own identifying characteristics.

In a world where pandas & penguins get more respect than snake charmers, trust is the new marketing ground.

The digital age and mobile revolution has shifted everything. The market is more aggressively informed. Before they purchase, they research. They ask and investigate and consider what other people are saying. They pry and sometimes they nag.

Always, they are looking for a reason to trust you.

Humans Are The New Websites

We’ve learned so far that the market prefers to be engaged and captivated rather than lectured and shouted at.

Feeling Important is no longer important

In this new and exciting world filled with stories and value, it’s becoming increasingly important to be a contributor. In today’s market, it’s not about being present, but about building presence.

It’s time to change the way we think about presence.

In the old world, presence was about destination. It was about building an attractive platform loaded with descriptive content and sitting back while the masses funneled in the door. Building a destination wasn’t really complicated, but it was cluttered. Landing pages featured menus that took you to even more sub-menus.

Navigating a destination could be exhausting, sure; but clutter made the site feel more important.

Ant Hill

The new websites are launching points, not destinations.

Today, the best way to gain traction in the market is to empower them.

This is an entirely new way of thinking.

This is not a philosophy shift or a marketing trend. It’s important to understand that this revolution is more than a gimmick. There’s a larger conversation playing out in our world, and the savvy marketers and business leaders understand that the secret sauce lies in contribution and not tactics.

In this context, our understanding of the functionality of a website must change. It’s no longer a destination. That means that it’s no longer a static page or single domain, either.

The new website is sort of like an army of ants.

Castle

Ants aren’t the most dominating looking creatures around.

But they work together and take over fields.

The new website isn’t really a website at all. It’s an army of ants collaborating together to build empires. Each ant carries its weight, and each contributes something to the larger goal of colony building.

Rather than build a destination, the new website seeks to build influence through its presence. Building influence requires a strategic and sustained approach to distributing valuable content across multiple platforms.

Each piece of content contributes to the conversation surrounding your industry. Each creative piece shares in the mutual interests of the community of people that follow you and buy your products or services. Each social post working to better understand the targeted market. Every video telling a part of the larger story. All content, distributed actively and strategically, working toward building the empire.

Just like ants.

Pest Control Spray

With all those ants roaming around, it is easy to become a pest.

This is why the new website isn’t content. It’s not about a more interactive landing page. It’s not about social media. It’s not about having a youtube channel and a podcast. It’s not about email marketing or tweeting. All of those are good things. But, they are all ants that can easily become pests.

The new website is human interaction.

It’s not enough to simply develop and distribute content. This is what often gets lost in the shuffle and hectic pace of content creation; the content must be valuable. It must be worthwhile. Valuable content is appreciated and shared. Boring content is a nuisance.

Humans are the distributors of your content. They aren’t easily fooled, and don’t appreciate being bothered or having their time wasted. But if they appreciate you, they’ll share your messages.

You can preach to people who happen to show up, or you can empower people to talk about you. The latter is obviously better.

Engaging humans is harder than tricking algorithms.

Equations are predictable and consistent.

Humans aren’t so much.

How, then, do you engage humans?

You capture their imaginations and speak directly to their hearts, dropping the bullhorn to talk over dinner tables. You talk about things that they love and are interested in. You share ideas and dream together about what is possible. You listen to their concerns and consider their feedback.

Sounds impractical? Not so much.

Through telling a well articulated story, you capture the imagination and hearts of humans. Sending out messages that roll into your larger story develops a sort of snowball effect for your on-line ranking. Engaging humans trumps the algorithms.

Stories are way better than equations.

A story is a wonderful, magic thing.

It captures our attentions by involving our hearts, instigating our imaginations, stocking our preconceived notions, and speaking toward something that we care about.

So here is the little lady who wrote the book that made this great war.

Their power is immense. They incite action and beg response. They generate conversations around drinks. They are a historically proven way to get messages to stick.

Sometimes, they even start wars.

In the mid-1800’s, Cincinnati was an ethnically diverse and vibrant city, a stark contrast to the slave industry that existed just across the river in Kentucky. Living in Cincinnati, a young housewife began hearing first hand stories of the slave industry from former slaves.

Growing more frustrated and furious, this young housewife turned her pen into a platform, and wrote a story that would let the “whole nation know what an accursed thing slavery is.” The nation paid attention, buying 300,000 copies of the book in its first year of print.

The story became so well known and so controversial, that upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe in the height of the civil war, it is rumored that Abraham Lincoln said, “So here is the little lady who wrote the book that made this great war.”

Corporate storytelling isn’t much different from the kind of story that sparks a war.

There may be no fictional characters involved, or fascinating far-away places where the story is centered, but there is a driving narrative behind the storytelling. Corporate storytelling requires a consistent message that spans across time, and scales to different situations and platforms.

Before you start telling your story, it’s a good idea to make sure your story is worth telling. Do you have something interesting to say? Do you have something that must be heard? Do you have something necessary to contribute? Do you have a great idea, or a fantastic product, or an exciting opportunity?

If you can answer yes to those questions,

then you have a story to tell.

Having a story to tell is an exciting and overwhelming experience.

How do you go about telling a story that sparks results?

Paul Revere

There are lots of spark-making stories throughout history,

but perhaps the most memorable messaging in American history was carried on the back of a horse.

Paul Revere (or, the other guy that got lost in the shuffle) had a story to tell. He had a necessary message that required immediate action. This is the first lesson that we must understand in sparky storytelling:

Storytelling begins with purpose.

What is the reason behind your message? Why is it important for people to hear and respond to your message? Defining the larger purpose behind your storytelling gives the marching orders for all future content which will spread out across multiple platforms.

Remember the ants?

They don’t march without purpose. There is a reason they are marching and carrying around things fifty times their body weight.

Creating purposed content is hard work,

but it’s absolutely necessary to tell a sticky story.

Once you’ve defined your larger purpose, you’re ready to start handing out marching orders to your content. The marching orders will dictate where the story is told, the parameters it will use to convey the story, and the desired outcomes of the messaging.

When I begin crafting a message that will contribute to a larger story, I begin with thinking with the end in mind. I want to define the sticking point.

What’s the one thing that I want the story to communicate?

The sticking point should be short and concise. It shouldn’t ramble on and on, but should provide a definitive statement with no frills. I like to keep my sticking points to one sentence, and I write them out and keep them in front of me when crafting my messages.

As critical to determining the sticking point is defining the response that you want your audience to take. What are they going to do once the message sticks?

What’s the action that I want people to take once the story has inspired them?

Paul Revere’s message was sticky, but without the understood action built into the messaging, the message would’ve died. If your message has the power to create a spark, it’s urgent. A spark-making message requires people to take a specific, defined response.

Content serves lots of different purposes, and requires lots of different responses. Do you want your audience to share your content? Do you want them to contribute something to your content? Do you want them to laugh, or think? Do you want them to buy something, or click to discover something else?

Define the sticking point and articulate the response.

That’s where all great storytelling starts.

Creating purposed content will get you a spot in the room,

but being unique will earn you the microphone.

Chances are, there’s someone else in the room telling stories in your industry. They are creating content and talking frequently to your market. It can be a crowded space, with lots of messages being dispersed and lots of people vying for attention and trying to win loyalty.

Castle

How do you make sure that you’re heard?

In a crowded room, attention is given to people who are different. This is the role of creativity; it’s the process of setting yourself apart. Creativity isn’t the message, nor is it just the packaging you throw on it before it ships.

This is where a lot of content creators fail. They get focused on the shiny packaging and are desperate to capture attention. They create something that sparks attention, but without the framework of purpose, the content doesn’t gain traction. It sputters and quickly dies out.

At the same time, great content that lacks unique presentation tends to get little attention. The dry packaging betrays the value of the message, making the content less interactive and shareable. Great content without personality usually inspires no one.

Your story and your creativity are inseparable if you’re to build a content empire that inspires the world.

The Art of Being Different

Spark-making stories spread because they are targeted and different.

They take unfamiliar routes to get to familiar places. They talk about what people are already talking about, but they speak about it differently.

Being different is more profitable than ever before.

It’s more important than ever to provide more. More than words on a screen or a promotional offer. More than a facebook post or a generic blog post. More than boring, predictable messages.

It turns out the market is attracted to different.

And, so are Pandas.

Panda with sunglasses on

Becoming different is an art,

one that is slowly crafted and always evolving.

To be different, we must first understand what is normal. Assessing normal requires auditing our environment. Each of us exist in an environment of shared influences, popular voices, common philosophies, and accepted habits that are specific to our industries.

These perimeters form the larger conversation revolving around our industries; whether we are marketers, dentists, salesmen, authors, or jelly club spokesmen.

Normalcy in our industry is determined by what our friends, competitors, and consumers are consistently saying. What kinds of things are they talking about? What questions are they asking? What problems do they commonly face? What sorts of things are they looking toward?

Understanding normal is the foundation for different. When we mold the foundation we begin to understand the value of our oddity and the charisma of our personality.

Only then can we start saying interesting stuff.

The 3 Types

Saying interesting stuff is addressing familiar concerns and conversations with unfamiliar approaches and insight.

Doing so lends you instant attention from curious people. Your unique personality and approach will cause them to turn their heads and give you eye contact in a crowded theater. Your valuable substance will earn their loyalty and keep them coming back.

Saying interesting stuff establishes you as a leader; someone that people look to for guidance and insight. That’s not a position to be taken lightly, or to be dismissive about. And it’s a pretty small group.

In my opinion, there are only three types of people who say interesting things: Industry Experts, Social Influencers and Thought Leaders.

Industry Experts

Industry Experts tend to be the largest group, and their influence is largely attributed to their market share.

They have been around for a while, and understand the ins and outs of the industry. They are able to articulate clearly and definitively why certain products are better than others. They are able to offer practical help or advice that can be immediately used. In the field, their name is synonymous with their trade.

Industry Experts seek to become a go-to resource for people looking to buy specific products or utilize specific services. They focus a lot of attention on training and providing knowledgeable input. They are interested in making sure their market is well informed.

Industry Experts generate content that is industry specific, providing valuable training to today’s familiar problems and issues.

Thought Leaders

Thought leadership is an often-thrown around phrase that’s lost a bit in interpretation.

True Thought Leaders are pioneers. They aren’t replicators who steal, but are on the edge, living out a different idea and inviting others to come along.

They tend to set trends and bring about tomorrow’s habits. Thought Leaders generate content that is environment focused, providing an interesting perspective to the shared experiences and habits of consumers in a particular industry.

They speak toward things that would be in the wheelhouse of their target audience. They write blogs that have more of a cultural feel to them than a practical feel, and they inspire their industry and their audience to think differently.

Industry Experts are many, because there are lots of knowledgeable people in the world. Thought Leaders are truly unique. By daring to think differently, Thought Leaders earn respect and platform.

Thought Leaders create and lead tomorrow’s habits.

Social Influencers

Social Influencers share a lot in common with Thought Leaders,

but their subtle difference necessitates a different category.

Like Thought Leaders, Social Influencers operate in the environment side of things; providing compelling insight and interesting ideas that have the ability to shift policies and influence practices.

But their difference lies in their context.

Social Influencers seek to become motivators who inspire their followers to live out better versions of themselves; whether through a craft, a niche, a religion, or a shared experience. They tend to have large social footprints, and interact with their followers on a much more personal and relaxed level.

Social Leaders have a way of inspiring movements.

Becoming an expert, influencer, or leader doesn’t happen overnight.

It’s earned over time, as one builds trust in their competencies and loyalty to their name.

You don’t become an expert, influencer, or leader because you produced a video that went viral.

In this new world, success is determined by long-term loyalty rather than overnight sensation. The savvy marketers and businesses understand this. But how does one build long-term loyalty?

It’s really quite simple.

They invest in their consumers. The great Thought Leaders, Social Influencers, and Industry Experts became great because they somehow contributed in a positive way to people’s lives.

In the world of saying interesting things, this is the secret sauce:

People are more important than selling.

Most businesses are failing in the content game because they view themselves as salesmen rather than tour guides.

Salesmen only care about bottom lines and commissions. They have an agenda for talking to you; and will be your friend if you are willing to dish out the cash. They are uninteresting, predictable, and boring. People don’t really like to deal with too many salesmen.

Tour Guides are far better.

They point you in the right direction, and have something exciting to show you. They care about your interests and goals, and seek to help you reach them. They make sure that you pay attention to the things that matter as you travel along, and point out the things you are prone to miss along the way. They give compelling insight and keen observation into your surroundings.

People appreciate Tour Guides.

Tour Guides, ants, and pandas.

Isn’t our world fascinating? We have more access to adventure, information, and opinion than we ever have before.

Salesmen are frantically preaching their sermons and trying to hold on to their commissions in this changing world. Tour Guides are busy sending out interesting tidbits, providing marching orders, and leading energized communities.

It turns out, telling interesting stories is profitable.

In today’s digital world, dollars hinge on where a brand ranks in the crowded field of search and voices. Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Web Spam Team, was quoted recently as saying, “To rank well, build a site so fantastic that it makes you an authority in your niche.”

The Panda is right. Saying interesting stuff not only gets you attention, it makes you a prominent source.

It all makes perfect cents.

(corny pun, intended)

Long Live The Story

What happens when you have a complicated story to tell,

one with lots of facets and dimensions?

What if you have a lot of different stories that you need to tell, lots of messages to broadcast, and lots of information to distribute. How do you ensure the stickiness of your message when you have so much to say?

For instance, let’s look at how this plays out with a college (Let’s call them Adept University). AU has a lot of information that it has to put out, as well as a lot of information that it would like to put out. In the past, the AU marketing staff spread content across multiple platforms without much thought into creating a story. The result was scattered content that was quickly buried on websites or in trash cans, and thereby quickly forgotten about.

This year, AU is deciding to try a different approach where they connect their messaging. They want to do more than provide information and updates, they want to invite people to share in the experience of the AU culture. They believe that this shared experience will result in higher brand loyalty and increase their incoming freshmen class.

Where do they start?

Instantly, they start brainstorming about platforms. They talk about facebook branding and twitter integration. They chat about starting blogs and creating fun, college-friendly youtube videos. And they agree that a strong, re-branded website is a must.

Do you see the problem?

They’ve lost sight of the message in favor of the creative channels. If they follow out their ideas and begin implementing, they’ll still have the same information problem. They’ll be flooding the world with content, but it will all live independently and be quickly forgotten.

It seems silly and obvious, but the same story plays out frequently in corporate strategy rooms and brainstorming sessions everyday. For some reason, we tend to quickly go to the next gimmick rather than thinking through our strategies and ideas.

Every day, businesses wrongly favor snake-charmers over ants.

There’s a much better way for AU to get their information out, and it all centers around telling their story.

Through understanding and articulating their story, AU provides the context that will frame all their content. It gives them a convenient and natural way to tie together multiple stories, as well as gives a nice launching point for their creative content.

For AU, their story is about creating a better tomorrow by inspiring and empowering today’s student. They’ve come up with a succinct, portable statement to get that idea across: Tomorrow begins today.

Just like that, AU has context for their storytelling and messaging. They can create recruitment content that shares the personality and goals of their university, as well as distribute content to alumni that unites them in the cause.

Then they can get really creative. They can leverage their student base to create live content that shows that tomorrow begins today. They can have students and faculty share their experiences in this pursuit, and it can all live on an interactive, dynamic website where all the content is organized, accessible, and memorable.

Suddenly, AU is telling an interesting story because they took the time to develop context.

Quality, creative content attracts an audience.

Context ensures that they become avid fans of your story.

If you have a high number of messages to distribute, put in the sweat to organize and articulate your overarching story. You’ll find that it frees up your creativity, invites more sharing, and gives your content a much longer life.

LONG LIVE THE STORY!

Long Live The Story

Context ensures a consistent story is told, even as multiple messages are told throughout multiple pieces of content that spread across multiple platforms. Context even ensures that your story sticks as those various messages evolve through sharing and redistribution.

Quality, creative content attracts an audience.

Context ensures that they become avid fans of your story.

If you have a high number of messages to distribute, put in the sweat to organize and articulate your overarching story. You’ll find that it frees up your creativity, invites more sharing, and gives your content a much longer life.

WHO WE ARE

Meet the People Who Are Responsible for This Book

Thomas Edison once said, “Hell, there are no rules here. We are trying to do something.” Edison was our kind of dude; innovative, driven, fearless, and a bit insane. There are lots of people looking for their light bulbs. We’re here to help turn on the lights.

Adept is a digital marketing company located in Columbus, Ohio. We work aggressively to understand and measurably grow our client’s business.

Jake Kaufman is the guy behind the words of this book. He is the Content Strategist at Adept Marketing, where he manages the creative direction and content strategies for the agency and their clients. He writes for his own blog in his downtime @ jkstories.com.

Justin Hines is the guy behind the design of this book. He is the Web Dev Manager at Adept Marketing, where he sees to the creation of high-quality web and mobile experiences for brands of all shapes and sizes.

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