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3 Ways Small Businesses Can Uncover Compelling Stories to Drive New Business

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August 17,2012

By Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute

You’ve done it.  You’ve developed why you need the content, created and vetted the buyer personas, and  identified the buying stages where this essential content will have impact on the business.  As you start to dig into deciding what social media channels you should use and how you can actually find all this content within your company, you realize that you simply don’t have enough compelling stories to meet the demands of your content marketing initiative.

In many content marketing programs for small businesses, the core brand stories have to deal with transforming an employee’s, customer’s or stakeholder’s passion and expertise into one or multiple story elements. How many times have you heard the following that stopped you in your tracks?:

  • Our [CEO, EXECUTIVE OR ENGINEER] doesn’t write – in fact, no one in our organization writes (almost certainly not true).
  • Our [CEO, EXECUTIVE OR ENGINEER] can’t write (okay, maybe this one’s true).
  • How are we going to get all this content created? – I just don’t have the resources (almost always true to an extent).

Now, before we look at some of the ideas below, we all need to realize that almost NO COMPANY has a shortage of raw material for content marketing (this piece on content audits may help).  What’s usually missing is that the content is not in storytelling form or that a process has not been created to extract the information in a way that works with the content marketing plan.

Capture the Content in Their Format of Choice

Some CEOs like to write, but most CEOs love to talk. If it’s a challenge to get your C-level executive to produce thought leadership content, capture their thoughts in a different format. Interview them using Skype, and record the conversation. You can turn that into other content marketing pieces (e.g., blog posts, white papers, etc.). Or, if the content is good enough quality, you can use it in the captured format. Or, if they can’t really write — but they’re willing to just type an email — tell them to just write a long email to you.

In other words, don’t block the process by forcing them into something they aren’t comfortable with.

When you’re at industry events, be sure to capture photos and video. Mix and match them with pieces of content that you may or may not produce. Maybe the video gets used in a customer interview.

Another thing you can do is just sit down with the person. If there’s a product manager who is shy, or doesn’t feel like he can write 500 words on a particular topic, interview him. Take them to lunch and record the conversation. Again, re-use that content in multiple formats.

Help Them Tell Stories

Many times when you’re talking with executives about writing and creating content, you have to begin by simply teaching them what “writing” is. The act of writing is just transferring what’s in your head to words. As the famed sportswriter Red Smith used to delicately put it — all you have to do is “sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

Of course the real magic in turning writing into a story or something worth reading happens in the editing process. Relieve your team of their worries, and assure them that the copy will be “polished up” during editing. Then get them rolling, by offering the following tips:

  1. Write it out. Just write blind — get it out. Writers are usually surprised by how much structure and genuine goodness comes out by just opening up and not letting their mental “editor” get in the way. Tell your prospective contributor to just spend half an hour typing out his or her thoughts.
  2. Storyboard it out. If they’re having trouble getting anything going or opening up, tell them to just visualize what they want to say and write down key phrases, or concepts, onto sticky notes. They can even draw what they’re thinking onto sticky notes. This is an especially great way to organize thoughts for a longer piece.

Help Them Become Aware of Content Opportunities

In one technology company we worked with in the past, much of the customer service happened through back and forth email. When we did an initial content analysis, we realized that a large portion of blog and article content was happening through direct customer email. It took only one customer service rep to notice this, and now the entire organization looks at the content they create every day as part of their business. Now, customer service reps, as well as sales reps, are more routinely aware if one of their emails should be used as an FAQ on the Web site or expanded upon in a blog post.

I have to say, in my experience, that sometimes getting an outside perspective on this process can really help the marketing department get pointed in the right direction…or sometimes, it takes someone from the outside to side with an employee to get the C-Level to open their eyes to the power of brand storytelling and content marketing.

For more on managing the content marketing process, take a look at Managing Content Marketing – the book.

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