Gini Dietrich

Five Steps to Create Compelling Content

By: Gini Dietrich | May 7, 2013 | 

Five Steps to Create Compelling ContentYesterday I participated in the American Society of Journalists and Authors monthly call where the gracious host, Nancy Faass, asked me all about how Geoff Livingston and I marketed Marketing in the Round.

During the call, she asked me what one of my first assignments was as a young professional.

I told the story of how I learned about my job by reading the copies of the clips I was making color copies of day after day, but she pushed a little bit further to get me to walk down memory lane.

What came out surprised me. It was a memory I’d forgotten about. Not intentionally, but just something I hadn’t thought about in a long time.

You remember the Franklin Covey planners? We all carried them around (this, of course, was before electronic calendars and task lists) and they were certainly all the rage.

Well, I worked on the Bayer CropScience account and, specifically, my job was to work with potato growers across the United States.

I was tasked with interviewing them every month to write a newsletter that told their stories. We were tasked to create compelling content before content was a thing.

The Bayer Potato Planner

As I did these interviews, I discovered most of the growers couldn’t keep track of when they were supposed to spray for weeds or insects or fungus and I heard the complaint over and over again: Bayer has all these products, but I have no idea when I’m supposed to use them.

So, after lots of brainstorming and strategy development with my bosses and the client, the potato planner was born.

In it, we highlighted the dates the potato growers needed to remember for certain Bayer products, but we also included interviews, stories, and testimonials from their peers.

It was a really fun project to work on, but it also won many awards because it sold products without being blatant about it.

The growers loved getting their planners every year and they soon became a staple on farms throughout the country.

I tell this story mostly as a trip down memory lane, but also because we all talk about content day in and day out and we forget about the basics that make us really good at telling stories.

Create Compelling Content

Chuck Kent talked about this a bit in his guest post yesterday, and there is a formula to create compelling content we like to use internally.

We stole pieces of this from Jay Baer and added some of our own. It goes a little something like this:

  1. Your customers and your employees tell your best stories. Harvest them, feed them, grow them, and tell them (staying with the grower theme). I like to tell the story of a business owner I met in Omaha last year. As I worked with him, I discovered he has a very unique business model. He only hires blind people, which is an interesting story in and of itself. But as I dug more, I discovered some of those employees have done amazing things such as climb Mt. Hood unassisted or sing gospel at the highest echelons of the industry. These are great stories to tell.
  2. Stories humanize the company. We all know people buy from people. They don’t buy from companies or logos. They buy from people they like and trust. But you work for a company. How do you create the human element so people want to buy from you? You tell stories, just like we did with the potato growers. Zappos, of course, is the master at this. If you haven’t already read Delivering Happiness, pick it up. It’ll help you figure out how to tell stories through your content.
  3. Humanization creates kinship. Once, of course, the company has become human and there are real people working there, people clamor to work with you or buy from you. If you’re perceived as one of the best in the industry, they’ll even pay a premium. We’ve done this for Arment Dietrich through content and social media. It provides an opportunity to no longer have to compete for business. We’re typically the only ones invited to a pitch.
  4. Kinship drives purchase. And when we’re the only ones invited to a pitch, we win the business 99.9 percent of the time. There is always that small chance the chemistry won’t be great or the assignment won’t fit our bailiwick, but we almost always get the business.
  5. Purchase creates more customer and employees. Then you have more customers, which typically drives hiring and both of those things create more stories for you to tell.

I’m a big fan of how Marcus Sheridan recommends writing content around the questions your customers and prospects ask; that approach works really well.

But don’t ignore the stories you can tell by having your customers and employees talk about the product, the service, or the organization. That’s when you’ll hit pay dirt because you won’t sound like all of your competitors.

No one has the same stories you have.

Thanks to Hubspot for the hilarious image.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • PattiRoseKnight1

    I would add that your content won’t please all of the people all of the time and that is ok.

    • PattiRoseKnight1 This comment is not pleasing to me 😉

      • PattiRoseKnight1

        blfarris PattiRoseKnight1 How about GO BEARS?

    • PattiRoseKnight1 As I like to say…if we can use content to scare away the people who wouldn’t make good clients, I’m all for it!

  • Staple…..we already have plenty of stables on the farm…..
    If you can paint a picture by the stories you tell, it will definitely make it more compelling. And if you tie it to the customer and their questions, or common questions, this will draw the reader in as well. 
    Your advice sounds like a plan to me.

    • bdorman264 so we own a fish hatchery and a nuclear plant right next door. How do we insure against nuclear fish? Would that be term insurance or some hybrid plan?

      • Howie Goldfarb bdorman264 Glow in the dark dinner.

      • Howie Goldfarb The nuclear fish are the glow in the dark variety typically saved for romantic dinners and you can forgo that fire hazard, candles. Now that’s risk management….

      • Howie Goldfarb bdorman264 Probably starts out term but the more radiation exposure you get, the more hybrid it becomes 😛  (Thx for reminding me why I’m a vegan…)

  • Gini;
    You know this can be a challenge for me. I really appreciate these basic, building block posts.
    I have to agree that all my best content ideas come from my clients and customers. Their questions are great fodder for posts. But I’ve also learned to become sensitive to the way I react to certain discussions or issues that clients are having. There is a growing voice inside me that will hear a client talking and start saying, “That’s interesting, but why…”

    I’ve started to jot a reminder of that conversation down (usually on my phone) and then I can come back to it once it’s “incubated” a bit and find a solid post there.
    Still, I need more STORIES, thanks for that.

    • blfarris I could write a pretty good blog post for you about the value you bring and how much fun it is to work with you.

  • Ginidietrich great breakdown, here. Focusing in on #2 — that challenge of making a product or service a little more real by great story telling. Always a challenge. But a fun challenge.  Definitely am going to pick up delivering happiness!

    • Matt_Cerms Oh you’ll love that book. It’s right up your alley.

  • John_Trader1

    Did I see the word ‘baliwick’ in there? 
    Companies operating in the content management space should take heed to advice on how to tell a story that resonates. It’s what people want to see and hear. Great post!

  • Loved this. I am working on a new initiative to help tell the tale of the Faces of Brand Connections…I was very inspired by a conference about this last week and your post just hits it home for me. Thanks!

    • katskrieger Was it the Ragan conference?! Or was it dinner with kateupdates and me? LOL! The Faces of Brand Connections. I like it!

      • ginidietrich katskrieger I remember you talking about this I think … Hopefully it was the conference conversation not dinner … HA! I’d like to schedule one of those dinners quarterly (at least) please.

  • Gini, you brought to mind my first newsletter gig as an intern at the Art Institute of Chicago…writing the employee newsletter Behind the Lions (not sure what it’s called now). Talk about some interesting people  stories to tell. And me just a farm girl. (That may also be why I love your potato planner story.)

    • Word Ninja You interned at the Art Institute?! I’m so envious! I have to get over there before Picasso leaves!

      • ginidietrich Word Ninja Sorry for the late reply…have been remodeling in Kentucky. Yep on the AI. It was great to walk around that place on my break. I still have copies of the newsletter I made (with grid paper and rubber cement). Oh, geez, I’m dating myself…

  • Gini,
    You are a true gardener in your heart of hearts! Anyone who can put together a crop spraying program for Bayer & keep farmers on it can grow anything from bulbs to business. You’re my hero Gini Dietrich!
    Susan Fox

    • gagasgarden Except I can’t grow bulbs…but that’s why I have you!

      • Gini,
        Truth be told I have never planted a single bulb! HA! Rose bushes & plant girl all the way, those tulips I took pictures of we’re here when I got here!
        Your Fan Club!

  • Absolutely Spud-tacular post. I believe a wise ninja prophet once said, “You can try to make biscuits out of potatoes, but they will never be as good as hashbrowns.” The steps laid out here and focus on finding and telling the organization’s OWN story is an amazingly actionable example of that mantra.

    • LauraPetrolino I am pretty sure Confucius said that!

      • Howie Goldfarb Yes, yes! I believe you are right. I wasn’t sure if it was Confucius, Lao Tzu or Kermit the Frog (I always get those three mixed up), but frogs don’t like hashbrowns…duh! Sometimes I honestly don’t know where my brain is! 

        • LauraPetrolino Howie Goldfarb Toads don’t like hashbrowns, frogs do. 
          I believe the wise Samuel Clemens wrote about it in his academic treatise on the jumping frogs of Calaveras County and their eating habits.

        • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes LauraPetrolino Howie Goldfarb I’m pretty sure it was Grover.

        • belllindsay Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes LauraPetrolino Howie Goldfarb Crap! This is totally what I get for skipping philosophy class in college.

        • LauraPetrolino belllindsay Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes Howie Goldfarb been watching episodes of the muppet show with my 22 month old. She learned what Manah-Manah is today. And she couldn’t figure out why Roger Moore was rebuffing Miss Piggy’s advances.

        • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes LauraPetrolino Howie Goldfarb Paging thejackb . Where are you?!

        • ginidietrich Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes LauraPetrolino Howie Goldfarb
          I ran into thejackb during lunch, had a nice debate with him about things that we cannot speak about in public, such as Killer Dolphins, attack squirrels and spiders the size of a man’s palm.
          I asked him to help promote a couple of posts and he told me that he is retiring. Of course that dude comes up with the craziest stories so who knows what to believe.
          And did I ever mention that the Bain Do Soleil tribe in the lower Amazon makes a very tasty dish of Manah-Manah. It is a real delicacy.

    • LauraPetrolino You are such a nerd. LOL!

  • I agree with the great image and am pretty sure this will be the only thing I read today that uses the word “bailiwick” so yay on both counts. This is a slight tangent, but …… our organization (which does health insurance for uninsured children through the national SCHIP (State Child Health Insurance Program) …. for quite a long time had a call center located out of state. When a new call center was hired, it was located here in Florida. For ths first time ever, there were contact center reps who HAD BEEN ON OUR PROGRAM. Although they didn’t “tell their stories” to the people who called in, having lived similar stories I am convinced their effectiveness was magnified by the fact that they had lived the same story themselves.

    • biggreenpen This reminds me of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. When a widow is called by an insensitive company about her cable bill that is in her husband’s name, she breaks down. But then finds herself coaching that call center on how to relate to elderly customers. When we can relate, we find the humanization.

    Really great post, Gini. Whenever somebody writes about writing the stories about the people that make up the company, I get really excited. And this is a prime example of how us lowly PR people can create something tangible that shows our value to the organization. 
    I hope all of us have our Bayer Potato Planner moment at some point in our career.

    • bradmarley Who are you calling a lowly PR person!? As if.

      • ginidietrich I meant lowly PR person in the highest sense of the term. 🙂

  • Oh, man, the Franklin Day Planners. I remember when co-workers got into that. I was like, “Wait. You’re attending an all-day workshop … on how to use a calendar????” I was told, of course, that the “system” was so much more than that. But I resisted.
    Anyway, love the emphasis on “harvesting” customer stories. I find people get intimidated when they think about constructing a story — what is it? Where do I begin? In writing classes I was taught a simple formula that I still use today: a story is a character working to achieve a goal in the face of a challenge or obstacle. Those are the three building blocks of stories that you can’t do without.
    So you go looking for your customers’ challenges and see where you can find a solution (a product or service) that helps them overcome that challenge. Make your company the character or hero. Or collect stories of heroes among your customers or employees who are overcoming challenges of their own and share them. The key is to find great, relatable characters. It sounds simplistic, but I find a little structure gets people thinking in the right direction.

    • RobBiesenbach LOL! I never took the classes, but I’m a big to-do list person and loved their page where you could write in the things you had to do and then check the little box when you finished.
      I really love this story structure. You should write a guest post for us on it! cc: belllindsay

      • ginidietrich belllindsay I would love to! Though I wrote something with a similar thrust for PRSA’s PR Tactics in January. 
        In my first job, the Franklin Planner people were like a zombie cult. I refused to be assimilated. (To mix several sci-fi metaphors.) But I do love checklists — I keep daily, weekly, and long-term lists.)

        • belllindsay Hey, Lindsay, what’s the best way to contact you to follow up on this? I looked for an email address in your profile and on the site.

        • RobBiesenbach You can email me at – I look forward to it!

  • Write for people and not for SEO. Ordinary people do extraordinary things, but you have to spend time talking to them and asking questions to find out what those are.

    • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes I think part of it is people always say, “Oh come on! No one wants to know I do that.” When, in fact, they do want to know. Very much.

  • Great content ideas. But I like the potato planner 🙂 I have more than one client with a collection of products and no guide as to the circumstances under which their customers should consider them.  Last month I built a “selection” tool for a client (who really understood this idea), where the visitor enters their production details and then the tool generates a list of adhesives that would work for the job. I’ve done these kinds of things before but your post gives me the seed of an organizing principle for this kind of service.
    At the next level up, each of us consulting types needs a “potato planner” to help our clients see which of our services best organize their offerings for their specific customer’s “personas” 😛  Maybe we get that message out through posts, tools, graphics, videos, etc.  At some level, it’s all story telling.
    And your post gave me a great idea for one of my new prospects 🙂 Thanks !

    • Glenn Ferrell Hi Glenn! I really like your idea for us consulting types. This is VERY interesting. Now you have me thinking.

  • ChristinaHuerta

    I want to “dig a little deeper.” How do you teach (or at least persuade) others that they can’t hide behind the company brand/image, and they need to make a human connection with their audience?

    • ChristinaHuerta It’s hard, right? But I think you can appeal to most people’s sense that people buy from people they like and trust. Pretty much everyone agrees that’s the case so you can use case studies for organizations that do it really well. Whenever I speak with business owners in a group setting, I use examples from organizations in their industry that tell stories really well. That always seems to click the lightbulb on.

      • ginidietrich ChristinaHuerta Ideally a brand is positioned to make a human connection to begin with. The branding projects I do  start with the objective of finding a brand’s simple truth, versus manufacturing an image not grounded in the reality of how the brand honestly connects with people. Help your clients find their simple truth as a foundation and it will be only natural to build on it with open, honest human connections and communication.  Easier said than done, of course, when clients are used to paying to present a precisely concocted and control image and message

  • Southwest Airlines has done an incredible job telling stories – their stories – through employee features and testimonials. And they’ve been doing this since 2009. This is a small snippet of what they do, but there is an incredible hour long piece on YouTube somewhere that delves deeper into the company’s ethos, the way they’ve promoted employee stories, and how effective they’ve been from a staffing/marketing perspective.

    • belllindsay Love! I wish more companies did this. Not necessarily videos, but highlighted their  employees/customers. There are some really great stories that can make a “boring” industry fun.

    • belllindsay Southwest is AMAZING at telling stories. Getting to hear Brooks Thomas speak at Ragan was really inspiring.

    • belllindsay I recently listened to a really good SocialPros Podcast with the Social Media Director from Southwest… also an hour… good insight into big brands doing social media and content well (talks about their very active blog)

  • I decided to create a whole new marketing genre called incontinent marketing after seeing that cartoon.

    • Howie Goldfarb No marketing for you!

      • ginidietrich Howie Goldfarb  Wait a minute… I think Howie’s on to something… a whole PR approach dependent solely on news leaks…

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  • Definitely agree that customers and people in general can tell great stories and that Marcus Sheridan is surely right about transforming questions into posts.
    BTW, if someone wants to ask me a question I’ll do it. 🙂
    And I especially like great stories coming from “normal” people. Talking about real heroes for example I know a man now in his eighties who while working has taken care of his mother first, his mother in law second and then of his wife. Around fifty years of caring more or less completely of these three women who were stuck in bed most of the time.
    And he’s still able to smile at life even if he hasn’t been that lucky. Isn’t he amazing?

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  • Love, love, love your post today Gini.  The only think I’ll add… tell those stories using quality video storytelling and you’ll only amplify the results.
    Is that self-serving?  Duh!  But that doesn’t make it true! 🙂
    –Tony Gnau

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