FL Entrepreneur Can Fulfill 12 Days of Christmas for 76% Less Than Leading Experts (PRESS RELEASE)

For Immediate Release
November 17, 2017

(ORLANDO)—Entrepreneurs know how to get things done with less money, fewer resources, and in a shorter amount of time. Humor writer and Florida entrepreneur Erik Deckers recently demonstrated that by hypothetically fulfilling all the items mentioned in the 12 Days Of Christmas. Deckers was able to find everything for $8,407, nearly 76 percent less than PNC Bank’s proposed cost of $34,558.65.

For the last 33 years, the PNC Financial Service Group has calculated the cost of every item of the classic Christmas carol. Deckers, a newspaper humor columnist and small business owner, decided he could do better. He did some basic Internet research and contacted a couple of friends, and came up with a figure much lower than PNC, and wrote about it for his latest humor column.

12 Days of Christmas. A real entrepreneur can fulfill this for $8400.“The swans and the dancers were the budget killers,” said Deckers. “PNC was spending nearly $13,000 for seven swans a-swimming, and another $13,000 on nine ladies dancing and 10 lords a-leaping.”

Deckers said he checked a bird-selling website and sourced seven swans for $3,050. He also contacted a friend who works in entertainment at Disney World.

“Based on her recommendations, I think I could get 19 male and female dancers for $50 each for a two-hour gig, plus a couple passes through the craft table,” said Deckers. “That’s $4,000 to PNC’s $26,000.”

Deckers also researched other poultry hatcheries for the geese, partridges, and French hens.

“PNC was spending $180 on French hens,” said Deckers. “I found five of them for $7.75 apiece. That’s $38.75 total, with two hens left over for Easter eggs next year.”

Deckers admits this is all tongue-in-cheek, and he appreciates PNC’s annual efforts. But he also wanted to show that small businesses can achieve nearly the same results as large corporations, especially since they don’t have the same resources.

“There are plenty of entrepreneurs in this country who are doing great things on shoestring budgets,” said Deckers. “We don’t all get millions of dollars from venture capitalists, and we don’t have the huge budgets of the corporations. So we get things done by being resourceful and calling on our professional networks for help. I thought this was a great way to remind people of that fact.”

About Erik Deckers

Erik Deckers has been a newspaper humor columnist since 1995, and has owned his own small business, Pro Blog Service, since 2009. He recently published the 3rd edition of his book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (Que Biz-Tech), with co-author Kyle Lacy. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million.

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Photo credit: Xavier Romero-Frias (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

A Simple Content Strategy for People Who Hate Content Strategy

There’s a great scene in John Cusack’s Better Off Dead where he gets skiing advice from Curtis Armstrong: “Go that way really fast. If something gets in your way, turn.”

I can think of no better advice to give someone who wants to do content marketing, but hates content strategy: “Create content for your customers. If something unexpected comes up, deal with it.”

For one thing, too many people put a lot of stock into developing complex content strategy. They draw up battle plans and strategies that would make military planners weep with envy. They overanalyze, overplan, and create year-long calendars of what they want to say on a particular day at a particular hour when Venus is in Gemini.

It’s quite a sight to see a spreadsheet with 500 or more tweets scheduled over a 12 month period.

It’s heartbreaking to see someone’s look of emotional devastation when the entire calendar has to be deleted because of a fairly minor change to the business, their industry, or industry regulations.

(You could hear the screams two counties over.)

A content strategy shouldn't look like a military strategyOver at Contently.com, Joe Lauzakas wrote about the importance of content strategy in Ask a Content Strategist: My Boss Wants Me to Write Blog Posts Without a Strategy. What Do I Do?

He cites all kinds of important statistics like, “According to a 2017 Contently survey, 98 percent of marketers believe that “having and following a content marketing strategy is important for content marketing success.” and “Per CMI’s 2018 B2B Content Marketing Trends survey, 62 percent of content marketers who rated themselves as very successful or extremely successful have a documented content strategy.

And he’s not wrong. But those strategies don’t need battlefield maps and years-long spreadsheets. You should be able to articulate your strategy in less than 30 seconds or on a single piece of paper.

Here’s a quick and dirty content strategy that should see you through an entire year, never need revising, and cover nearly every contingency.

1. Pick 2–3 main benefits of your product.

Or 2–3 services you provide, or 2–3 verticals you serve. These are the three things you’re going to write about the most. In fiction writing terms, this is your A story, B story, and C story. That is, you’re going to write about your main point (A story) the most, second main point (B story) second most, and so on.

Think of a sitcom: the A story takes around 13 – 14 minutes of a 22-minute episode, the B story is going to get 4 – 6 minutes, and the C story is going to get the remainder.

Your content should get this same kind of attention. The thing you’re known for the most should get two-thirds of your attention, and so on.

And if you focus on the services or verticals, you should still write about the 2 – 3 main benefits you offer each service/vertical. For example, if your main clients are lawyers, mystery shoppers, and dachshund wranglers (a dachshund literally just walked by as I wrote this), then you need to talk about the 2 – 3 benefits that lawyers, mystery shoppers, and dachshund wranglers will get from your products. Now you’ve got anywhere from 6 – 9 running topics for blog articles.

Nearly everything you write about should stick to one of these three benefits. You can occasionally deviate from it, writing about company history, special awards, or notable events. But otherwise, everything needs to focus on your 2 – 3 regular topics.

2. Pick 3 or 4 THEMES for your content strategy.

These are the kinds of articles you’re going to write; they’re going to fit into one of these themes, but still focus on one of the categories mentioned above.

Let’s say you own an IT consulting firm, providing computer networking and troubleshooting to small businesses. You could pick a theme-based calendar as follows:

  • Week 1: Write a how-to article.
  • Week 2: Write a client case study.
  • Week 3: Write about computer security.
  • Week 4: Write about IT industry news.
  • Or if you’re a dachshund wrangler, your content calendar would look like this:

    • Week 1: Write a training article.
    • Week 2: Write a story about your own experiences and adventures (a personal case study).
    • Week 3: Write about dachshund health and diet.
    • Week 4: Write about the dachshund wrangling industry.

    Next, come up with a Twitter schedule to tweet about these four themes on a rotating basis. Or you’re going to skip the case studies, and tweet curated articles about topics 1, 3, and 4 once per day (Don’t forget to tweet and post updates about your own blogs too.)

    Just keep it loose and flexible. If you have some breaking industry news that has to publish in week 2, swap it out with the case study that month. And if you ever have a major emergency or important announcement (like a product launch), that supersedes everything. You don’t have to make up the missed days, just pick it up the next time it comes around.

    Or publish two articles that week. There are no rules to this!

    Don’t forget to connect to people who have IT or dachshund wrangling questions (item #4). Communicate with them like real people, and answer their questions. Don’t pepper them with an all-news format. That’s boring and people hate it.

    3. Commit to using all content

    Lauzakas’ article also said, “According to SiriusDecisions, 65 percent of all content that brands produce goes unused. There are a few big reasons for why: content is hard to find, unknown to users, irrelevant, and low quality.”

    First, I’m not going to say “produce high quality content” because that’s stupid advice. I shouldn’t have to tell you that. It’s like telling you to “drive safely” because I think you’re going to go careening all over the road. (You’re not, so the advice is pointless. You’re not going to intentionally produce shitty content, so telling you to write good stuff is pointless.)

    But I will say that it’s absolutely necessary that you commit to using any piece of content you produce. If you write an article, publish it. If you write a tweet, post it. If you produce a video, put it on YouTube. And then promote it.

    If you don’t use it because it wasn’t good enough, then that’s on you. That’s not a lack of a strategy, that’s because you’re not willing or able to, well, produce high-quality content.

    4. Create a basic human-centered social media promotion strategy

    This isn’t that hard either. As Jason Falls is fond of saying, “Share good shit.”

    These days, social media seems to be more about blasting out one-way marketing messages that don’t engage anyone. But you need to rethink that, since it’s clearly not working.

    Think about your TV viewing habits. Do you fast forward through all TV commercials? Of course! We all do! We hate ads. And that’s how people feel about your marketing blasts.

    Stop treating Twitter and other social channels like an advertising medium. Stop posting “hey, read this!” messages over and over. There are Twitter bots that do nothing but post article after article after article, sending over three dozen tweets in a single day that aren’t engaging or interesting. (And if it’s real people doing this, they should be ashamed of themselves.)

    Instead, communicate with people. Talk with them. Have conversations. Ask and answer questions. Share their posts. Treat people like people, not like advertising viewers. Then, when you do occasionally have something of your own to promote, they’re more likely to read it and share it themselves.

    Guidelines, Not Strategies

    To be honest, this is the kind of content marketing strategy I use for all my clients. We focus on a few recurring topics and themes, we use all blog posts that we write, and we promote everything. We even have a basic calendar that says “we’ll write X number of articles about this topic, and Y number about that topic.”

    Other than that, there’s no need to create a complex content strategy. Remember, if you can’t articulate your strategy in less than 30 seconds, or on a single page, it’s too complicated.

    Photo credit: Ipankonin (Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License)

    Don’t Ignore Written Content Marketing for the Sake of Video

    Marketers everywhere have begun singing the praises of video so loudly, they sound like Oprah at Christmas.

    “You need a video! And you need a video! Everyone needs a video!”

    Sure, it’s the new and exciting way to share information. Everyone who’s got a mobile phone has the means for creating, distributing, and watching of all sorts of video content. I watch Netflix while I eat breakfast. My kids watch comedy videos throughout the day. And we’ve all used YouTube as a search engine to solve a problem — I changed out my air conditioning filter a few weeks ago, thanks to a South Korean video.

    Except video is not, and should not, be the final word when it comes to content marketing.

    The written word should still get most of our attention as content marketers. If you’re going to add video to your marketing efforts, then you need to increase your overall content marketing creation. Don’t replace written content with video content and hope for the same engagement rates.

    For one thing, gathering information by video is time consuming. If people want to do a lot of research about a major purchase, videos will help, but your customers still want written specs, performance details, and product information. And they want to be able to look details up quickly, rather than watch 87 minutes of video to find one specific detail again.

    (Think of it this way: if you want to know the horsepower of your car, are you going to Google it or watch a 10-minute product video and hope you catch it?)

    For another, video viewing is not going to replace reading. We’re not going to stop reading books in favor of watching someone read them to us on video. If that were the case, the audiobook revolution would have been massive, and brought about a faster end to bookstores.

    We’re also not going to stop reading news articles online in favor of videos of those same articles being read to us. And before you say “but TV news!” keep in mind that most individual news stories only get 20 – 30 seconds of airtime. And that there’s also a more thoroughly written version of each story on a news channel’s website.

    In other words. . .

    Video Will Never Replace the Written Word

    A shoulder-mounted RCA VHS video camera. Not suitable for video content marketing, no matter what happens!

    I used one of these in high school. We thought we were hot stuff then!

    So before you outfit your entire company with GoPros and YouTube accounts and flood the world with your video masterpieces, consider these four problems with video.

    1) Most of us do not do well speaking off the cuff in front of an audience. We stammer, stutter, and lose our train of thought when we’re having a normal conversation, let alone if we’re in front of an audience and are not 100 percent prepared. And there are a lot of videos where people just hit record and started talking.

    Don’t believe me? Pick a topic — how the original Star Wars trilogy is an allegory for today’s American political system — and record yourself talking about it for five solid minutes.

    “But that’s not how I’d do it!” you protest. “I’d prepare and practice and make sure I got everything down just right.”

    I know you will. Which means it will take 4 – 6 hours to produce a five-minute video. Now squeeze that time into your normal workday of meetings, writing TPS reports, and doing your actual work.

    Meanwhile, I wrote this blog post, including edits, in about 90 minutes. I could write four blog posts in 6 hours.

    2) A visual element is not always helpful. A lot of video content is just talking head videos of someone straight staring at their camera, usually on their laptop, and talking to us for three to five to ten minutes at a time.

    Why the hell are we watching this? What are you actually doing that’s so interesting that I need to stop everything I’m doing and stare at my phone to watch your mouth move?

    Are there graphics? No. Special effects? No. Is their kid going to run in and do something awesome? No. It’s just that person’s head, talking, for several minutes without doing anything else.

    This is an inefficient use of your viewers’ time. Your video can easily be replaced with an MP3 and nothing will change. There’s no actual visual value that requires the amount of focus we usually put into video viewing. This information could be shared in a podcast or a blog article instead, rather than us taking the time to watch you talk.

    I started listening to the audio tracks of TED talks for this very reason. When I realized the talks are usually nothing more than someone standing on a stage with a few slides, I found I could listen to them in the car during my commute. Nothing changed, the information wasn’t any different, and my life wasn’t better or worse for having done it.

    Here’s a good rule of thumb: if we can listen to your video without missing anything important, you didn’t need to make it a video. Consider making a podcast instead.

    Photo of F. W. Murnau, noted German film director.

    Photo of F. W. Murnau, noted German film director.

    3) A lot of videos have poor production values. Most mediocre video content is usually shot on a mobile phone, and it shows. The lighting is poor, or the lens is dirty, or the person forgets and holds the camera vertically, so we all have to turn our heads 90 degrees just to see what’s going on.

    And the sound is all tinny, like the speaker is in a giant coffee can, or sitting in the bathroom 20 feet from the microphone.

    If you want to make good — and I mean good videos, not just “barely acceptable” ones — you need to invest in a good DSLR camera, a decent lavaliere/lapel microphone, and a tripod. And you need to get very good at using them. That means hours of practice, learning how to use the equipment properly.

    Sure, you can make an okay cell phone video, but if that’s your company’s video marketing strategy, just shut the business down now and send everyone home. Otherwise, you need to hire a dedicated staffer whose sole job is to make videos, or you need to outsource your video production work to professional video marketers who know how to do this kind of thing quickly and efficiently. (For one thing, they can produce your 5-minute video in an hour or two.)

    4) Short videos are inefficient. This is the biggie: The average person speaks at 100 – 150 words per minute, but the average adult reading speed is 300 wpm. (It’s also 450 wpm for the average college student, and 575 for high level executives).

    That means a 300 word video will take 2 – 3 minutes to watch, but your average customer can read that same 300 word article in 30 – 60 seconds. Meanwhile, your college student will read it in 45 seconds, and your executive will read it in nearly 30.

    This article clocks in at roughly 1600 words, which should take approximately 5 – 6 minutes for the average person to read (3+ minutes for our average college student, slightly less than 3 for our executive). But if I read it to you in a video, you’ll have to watch it for 10 – 16 minutes.

    Now, imagine reading 12 1000-word articles in your favorite business magazine versus watching 12 videos of the same word count. That’s 24 – 48 minutes of reading versus 120 minutes of viewing.

    Videos are great if you can add strong visual elements to them, like Moz’s Whiteboard Friday videos. There, Moz president Rand Fishkin lays out the latest research and developments in search engine optimization, using a whiteboard to illustrate his point.

    But without the whiteboard, he’s just another Wil-Wheaton-with-a-handlebar-mustache lookalike talking to a video camera, and the information is much less enjoyable to watch or easy to absorb.

    Bottom line: I don’t want to watch someone talk to me for 5 minutes when I can read that same block of text in less than 2 minutes. Combine that with bad production values, poor sound, and lots of hemming and hawing, and you can understand why “Just flip on your phone’s camera and start talking” is bad advice.

    By all means, use video in your content marketing. It’s important, it’s helpful, and it’s the wave of the future. But just for God’s sake, do it right! Get proper equipment, learn how to use it, and write scripts of your talk beforehand. Practice and prepare. And if you need to, join a Toastmaster’s club and improve your public speaking.

    Just don’t half-ass your video content because someone told you it was as easy as putting your phone in selfie mode and talking into it.

    When it’s done properly, video content is a beautiful sight to behold: explainer videos, demonstration videos like Will It Blend, or even entertainment videos, like JW Marriott’s amazing “The Two Bellmen” series. Even videos of you giving a talk at a conference are great uses of video.

    But don’t expect video content marketing to replace written content marketing anytime soon. Don’t fire your copywriters and replace them with GoPros and Quentin Tarantino wannabes.

    Video will expand over the coming years, and we’ll be able to make it look better more easily and for less money, but don’t stop focusing on improving your writing skills or your written content.

    Photo credit: Darian Hildebrand (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)
    Photo #2 credit: Subject: Friedrich William Murnau (Photographer unknown. This photograph is in the public domain in the United States and Russia.)

    Understanding Freytag’s Pyramid for Content Marketing

    Fiction writers and playwrights use storytelling structures to build their story arcs. As someone who has feet planted in both the fiction writing world and the content marketing world, I try to bring these two worlds together. So for the next few months, I’m going to examine the different storytelling structures and determine how they can be used in a content marketing setting.

    Among storytelling structures, Freytag’s Pyramid is one of the most common and easiest to understand. If you took any literature classes in school, you may have even heard of this one.

    Based on the work of German playwright Gustav Freytag, Freytag’s Pyramid is applied to a typical 5-act play. (Sort of the Romans’ “new and improved” followup to Aristotle’s original 3-act story.)
    Freytag's Pyramid
    The idea, said Gustav, is the traditional 5-act structure can be broken down like this:

    • Exposition: Important background information is laid out: characters, setting, previous events. It can be conveyed through dialogue, flashbacks, and narrative exposition. In Macbeth, the titular protagonist and his friends are visited by the Three Witches, who prophesy that Macbeth shall be king, and Banquo shall father a line of kings.
    • Rising action: A series of events that build to the climax. This is where the instigating event happens, which drives the protagonist to pursue his or her course of action. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth kill the king, frame the servants, murder the guards, and drive off King Duncan’s sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, all in their mad pursuit of power.
    • Climax: Not necessarily the final battle, but this is the point on which the play/story pivots. This is the turning point that changes the protagonist’s fate. If the play is a comedy, things were going badly for the protagonist, but now they turn around. If it’s a tragedy, then it’s the reverse. In Macbeth — a tragedy if there ever was one — things were going swimmingly for Macbeth: he and his wife were killing people willy-nilly, becoming the King and Queen of Scotland until, in Act III, Macbeth had Banquo murdered, and Banquo’s ghost showed up and went all Tell-Tale Heart on Macbeth. (You can see a great animated video of The Tell-Tale Heart here.)
    • Falling action: In a tragedy, the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist increases and this becomes the focus of the play. In a comedy, the protagonist wins, in a tragedy, they lose. In Macbeth, things start going downhill for our king. He feels uneasy and starts to think maybe he shouldn’t have been such a murdering bastard after all. But, in for a penny, in for a pound; after Macduff flees, Macbeth orders his castle seized and his household murdered, including Mrs. Macduff and Macduff Junior.
    • Dénouement: Pronounced DAY-noo-mohn (from the French dénouer, or “to untie”), this is the resolution of the story. Conflicts are resolved, there’s a release of tension, and everything goes back to normal/a new normal is established. In a comedy, the plan comes together, the hero gets the girl/guy, and everyone is happy. In the tragedy, the protagonist often dies, and everyone says “Whew! I’m glad that’s over!” But, there’s always some glimpse of the new order or a new hope. For Macbeth, things went increasingly poorly for him. His wife yelled at the dog (“Out, out, damn Spot!”) and committed suicide, and Macbeth was beheaded by Macduff. Malcolm, son of King Duncan, is crowned king, and he promises to be less killy than the last guy.
      1. See how it all fits together? Nearly all of Shakespeare’s plays fit within this structure, although it’s important to note that stories will fit into more than one storytelling structure. There’s no right or wrong one.

        For example, The Hobbit is often considered a Hero’s Journey story, it can also be mapped out in a five act structure:

        1. Bilbo meets Gandalf and the dwarves.
        2. They have adventures on the way to the Lonely Mountain.
        3. They fight Smaug; Smaug dies. But this is not the end of the story!
        4. The Battle of the Five Armies, and the eagles save the day again.
        5. Relationships are mended, Thorin is buried, Bilbo returns home.

        (And if you start hollering about spoilers, the book is 80 years old. You should have read it by now.)

        It’s important to note that Freytag’s Pyamid is not ideally suited for modern stories, which can have 8 acts or even just a strung-together series of scenes. Can you imagine how terrible Avengers 2 would be if the Avengers defeated Ultron at the 1-hour mark? Then we’ve got 1:22 of the Avengers rebuilding stuff and talking about their feelings and shit. Plus, most modern stories have a few climactic scenes, like any Marvel movie. (That structure is called The Fichtean Curve, and I’ll cover it in a week or so.)

        However, Herr Freytag’s construct is a little more forgiving in a content marketing setting, because it doesn’t always have to focus on two characters, like the Hero’s Journey. There, you’re either the Hero or the Mentor.

        Freytag’s Pyramid still follows the exploits of a protagonist and an antagonist, but there are a couple of important differences. First of all, victory is not always guaranteed. Second, we can learn from these failures and use them as a cautionary tale. Third, we can learn about any follow-up and fallout from the climactic pivot point.

        In my next post, I’ll discuss how you can actually use Freytag’s Pyramid for content marketing.

        Photo credit: BrokenSegue (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

    How to Use the Hero’s Journey in Content Marketing

    Fiction writers and playwrights use storytelling structures to build their story arcs. As someone who has feet planted in both the fiction writing world and the content marketing world, I try to bring these two worlds together. So for the next few months, I’m going to examine the different storytelling structures and determine how they can be used in a content marketing setting.

    Years ago, one of my first clients was a small mystery shopping agency. There were only four people on staff (one was part-time), and they had roughly $750,000 in sales per year. They’d been around for a few years, but it was a hand-to-mouth existence, and they were an average size company for their industry.

    They needed help with blogging and social media, so we set to work. Their top goal was to rank high on Google for a few key industry search terms.

    We started blogging on a half-time basis, publishing four articles per month and hitting those keywords hard. Within six months, they were generating enough leads that they tripled their sales (and grew appropriately), so we began publishing eight posts per month.

    We taught the president how to do social media, helped her become a thought leader in her industry, and she was even asked to join the board of directors of her national trade association. She was sought out because of her expertise, and she was landing large clients. While we may have helped her generate the leads, she was traveling around the country, landing large corporate clients.

    We increased their search rank even further, generated more leads, and they tripled in sales again. Then they landed a 7-figure contract with a national brand. And then tripled their sales one more time, growing to a staff of 27 people, all in a matter of three years.

    That story? That’s a basic, pared down example of the Hero’s Journey, a storytelling structure used primarily in novels and movies.

    In the Hero’s Journey, a young person is plucked out of their ordinary existence, challenged by an evil force, is mentored by a wise figure, and learns to triumph over their foe. (That’s simplifying it a lot. If you want to learn more, read last week’s article on the subject.)

    In this story, my client is the Hero, we are the wise mentor, and we helped her get the skills needed to overcome her foe, Stagnation.

    Can the Hero’s Journey Work in Content Marketing?

    The Hero's Journey, adapted from Michael Brizeli's Monomyth mobile application.

    The Hero’s Journey, adapted from Michael Brizeli’s Monomyth mobile application.

    You’ve heard over and over that content marketing is just storytelling. The Hero’s Journey is just that: a storytelling structure. And while there are many ways to use the Hero’s Journey in novel writing and movie making, there are only a limited number of ways to tell this particular story, and they all usually involve the business leader, or sometimes the mentor.

    Luke is plucked off the moisture farm on Tatooine and defeats the Empire. Harry is plucked from under the stairs and defeats Voldemort. Diana is plucked from beautiful, sunny Themyscira, defeats Ares, and can never return home.

    A company owner turns her small company of 3.5 people to 27 people. A cubicle jockey goes on a personal fitness quest with a trainer, loses 100 pounds in a year, and runs a marathon. A young woman moves away from home to go to college, learns new skills, finds inner strength, and graduates at the top of her class.

    Of course, as popular as the Hero’s Journey is, there are only a couple ways we can use it in a business setting, and most of them involve the case study.

    Think about your basic case study:

    Company A had a problem. They were losing money because of [outdated processes/lack of innovation/low morale/pirates]. So Consultant X helped Company A identify their problem through [interviews/research/data analysis/necromancy]. She identified three problem areas, and recommended that Company A take action. Within the first 12 months, they [revamped their processes/held team building retreats/restructured the organization/killed the evil wizard], and their profitability increased by 60 percent.

    Even in a business setting, it still fits the Hero’s Journey:

    1. Call to Adventure:: The business recognizes the problem and takes steps to fix it.
    2. Meeting the Mentor: The consultant arrives and identifies the problem.
    3. The Ordeal: The business uses what the mentor has taught, and fights for its life. The company faces its enemies: stagnation, low morale, stiff competition, and so on.
    4. Resurrection: Victory! Although it’s a short time in a case study, this can take months and years. But it means the company has repaired itself and is on its way to recovery and getting back to normal.

    But using the Hero’s Journey in this way means you can only have two viewpoints, the Hero’s or the Mentor’s. The business executive’s or the consultant’s.

    Part of the reason is because everyone is the hero of their own story. Imagine your life as a movie: is it about you or a complete stranger? Are you the protagonist, trying to do good in the world? Or are you the wise mentor, providing wisdom to others so they can do good in the world?

    Even stories about inventions are often Hero’s Journey stories.

    The Hero’s Journey Doesn’t Always Work in Content Marketing

    As you probably figured out, the Hero’s Journey is actually not a great story structure for content marketing, because it’s limited in its viewpoints — the Hero or the Mentor. Think of how boring a story would be if it were told from the POV of the plucky young sidekick. And how boring would a case study be if it were told from the POV of, say, their accountant.

    “For months, I wasn’t very busy. Then some guy came to the office, talked to them for a while, and my days got busier. The end.”

    However, when you’re writing these case studies, using the Hero’s Journey framework can make your story exciting, interesting, and will keep people reading all the way to the end.

    Photo credit: Michael Brizeli (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

    What Are You Best At?

    I was at a networking luncheon recently where a sales trainer was giving a talk about how companies often race to the bottom when it comes to their pricing.

    “Over 51 percent of customers say they buy on price first,” he said. “So what do salespeople do? They lower their price to grab the sale.” That means more than half your potential customers are not interested in whether you’re the best person for the job, they want you to be the cheapest.

    “The problem,” a promotional products salesperson said to me later, “is that those clients will turn around and dump you for a dime.” She told me about a nonprofit she had been working with for five years, and she recently lost them in a carousel of marketing coordinators and the old “you have to get three proposals” shuffle.

    Never mind she had given them decent pricing for the past five years. Never mind that she had bent over backward to meet frantic deadlines (thanks to their own bad planning), or made deliveries herself to ensure they had what they needed just in time for some event or other.

    There was a new marketing coordinator she didn’t have a relationship with, and she was gone. (My friend is determined to win them back though, without compromising on price.)

    That got me to thinking about how I do what I do, and why I charge what I charge. I started thinking about what I’m “best at.” Which of my skills are more defined and developed than any of my others. And which of those skills I can offer to potential clients as a premium and not a “me too” service.

    For those of us in the service business, especially freelancers, the one thing we have to offer is our “Best At,” that thing we do better than anyone else.

    If you can identify your Best At skills, you can work with the right clients all day, and never have to scrape bone for those price-focused clients. But if you focus on price because you can only offer the same general service as everyone else, you’re going to have a tough time finding lasting success and loyalty.

    Freelancers, What’s Your ‘Best At’ Skill?

    Paul D'Andrea shooting on location. One of the freelancers who has found his Best At skill.

    Paul D’Andrea shooting on location.

    For some freelancers, their Best At skill is photography, but not just photography. Their forte is art photography, or sports photography, or business headshots. For others, their Best At skill is accounting, but not just regular accounting. They specialize in small business accounting, or forensic accounting, or fast food franchise accounting.

    If you can figure out what you’re Best At, you can define your niche. It’s not just your passion or that thing that speaker said at that seminar. It’s the thing that you can do better than anybody else, even if it’s just a tiny small difference from everyone else in your field. It’s the thing you practice and focus on, over and over, until you can do it in your sleep.

    I’ve got a photographer friend whose top skill is shooting business headshots. He’s great at other photography, but very few people shoot business headshots as well as he does. As a result, he’s able to get work from area corporations and charge his professional rate. No one is trying to get him to drop his price in exchange for exposure. No one is telling him, “I have a digital camera that’s just as good.” No one is trying to nickel and dime him, asking for discounts in exchange for less work.

    He has planted his flag on Headshot Hill and people are willing to pay his rate, because they know he’s the king of that hill.

    Another friend specializes in long-form video with lots of visual effects. He’s hired by larger companies with larger budgets to produce long videos that tell their brand story. The companies that want someone to interview talking heads with an iPhone can’t afford him; the companies that can afford him want something more than talking heads and iMovie special effects. He’s planted his flag on his own hill, and people are willing to pay what he asks for, because he’s the king of that hill.

    The Other 49%

    Earlier, I mentioned that 51% of customers are focused on price first. That means a majority of your potential customers will throw you over just because they found a competitor that will do it for 5% less than you.

    You don’t want these customers. Sure, they’re nice, because they’re a source of revenue, and we always need revenue. And if you need the work to feed your family, you should take every cheap client you can until you can find better ones.

    But I’ve found that the price-driven customers will eke every little crumb out of your relationship, bleed you dry with feature creep, delayed payments, and demand the most attention while being the smallest portion of your revenue.

    So don’t get attached to them, and never, ever try to build a business on being the lowest-priced vendor they’ve got. That just speeds you along the road to failure.

    Instead, focus on the other 49% that care about craftsmanship and quality. Focus on the 49% that knows your work is going to be seen by the public, run their company, or make their lives easier.

    If you’re an accountant, it’s your work that’s going to keep them out of trouble with the IRS and out of jail.

    If you’re a digital marketer, it’s your work that’s going to drive their marketplace exposure and generate their revenue.

    If you’re an IT professional, it’s your work that’s going to keep their network running and safe from cyber attacks.

    These are jobs that should not be left to the lowest-priced provider. These are the people whose work can make or break a company. If clients buy these services on price, they’re going to get burned badly with damages and recovery costs that run 10 times as much money as they saved.

    A couple months ago, a prospective client asked me to justify my pricing, given that some freelancers would write blog articles for only $5. So I shared my 20 year background, detailed my list of publications and the books I’ve co-authored, and explained my various specialties. I also pointed out that the $5 writers typically did not have a mastery of English, probably plagiarized or re-spun a lot of their work, and that she would spend so much time editing and rewriting their work, it would eat up all the money she had saved by buying the cheapest option.

    And I stood firm on my price.

    Of course, I never heard from her again, which was fine with me. I knew she would never be satisfied with my price unless I charged $4 per article. That’s the kind of customer I don’t need, and the kind I’ll never work for.

    That’s because I know my Best At skill, and I work to get better at it every day. I read, I study, and I practice. I hone my Best At skills the same way a professional athlete works to keep in top shape for their job.

    I don’t just want to be the best I can be, I want to be one of the best in my industry. That way, when someone comes to me and asks me to lower my price to be more in line with what less experienced writers are charging, I can say no.

    Because I don’t want to be driven by price and spend my day chasing down client after client whose only concern is whether my writing is the cheapest they could find, with no concern of quality.

    Photo credit: Erik Deckers

    Conflict Sells Solutions: How to Use Plot in Content Marketing

    When we hear the word conflict, many people think that means arguing and shouting, disagreement and fighting. We’re taught that conflict is bad, and that we should avoid it.

    But every good story has conflict, even if no one raises their voice in the entire book.

    Conflict isn’t inherently bad. In fact, it’s how we get things done. Entrepreneurs often create solutions to a problem because they’re in conflict with the status quo. They see a problem, they develop a solution to eliminate it. Or someone says they’re not allowed to develop a solution at work, so they quit and create their own solution.

    Conflict creates opportunities. Every entrepreneur’s story is centered around conflict, and my favorite business stories are ones of disruption, where The Establishment tells the plucky young entrepreneur, “you can’t do that.” The plucky young entrepreneur ignores The Establishment, builds an establishment-shattering solution, makes a lot of money, and we get an exciting story out of it.

    David Schmittou in Beef & Boards' production of "The Drowsy Chaperone" This is where plot and storytelling really inform content marketing.

    Let me tell you a story!

    In storytelling, conflict drives the story forward. Without conflict, you’ve just got two people sitting around, talking about nothing. Even Seinfeld, the show about nothing, had plenty of conflict in it. How else do you create an entire episode around whether soup is a meal?

    What is Conflict in Storytelling?

    Kurt Vonnegut said about writing stories, “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”

    He meant that stories are born out of desire. Someone wants something, and the rest of the story is spent trying to get it. If you want a glass of water, you can get off the couch and get it. But there’s no real story in that.

    The real story happens when something won’t let our character get the water. It could be simple, it could be complex, but our main character can’t get that thing he or she wants.

    • He just doesn’t want to.
    • The game’s on, the score is tied with 30 seconds remaining.
    • He weighs 900 pounds and hasn’t gotten off the couch since 2014.
    • She wants to go, but she’s been tied up by a villain in a top hat and curly mustache.
    • There are ninjas in the kitchen, protecting the sink.
    • The floor is hot lava.
    • Zombies.

    Noted scifi author and screenwriter Leigh Brackett (“The Big Sleep,” “The Long Goodbye” and “The Empire Strikes Back”) called this plot. She said:

    Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion — that’s Plot.

    In other words, you want a glass of water, but someone else wants to prevent you from getting it.

    In my article on MacGuffins, the glass of water has become the MacGuffin. Remember, MacGuffin stories usually fall under either the “I have the thing/I’m going to take the thing” or “I’m going to steal the thing/I have to save the thing” construct.

    Those dueling purposes is where Plot comes from. The good guy has something the bad guy wants, and they’re working at cross purposes. Those two irons will strike against each other, until KA-BLAM, we have an exciting ending to our story.

    How Does Conflict Help Content Marketing?

    In content marketing, you’re the protagonist, the problem is the antagonist. You’re the hero, the problem is the villain.

    You want something (higher profits, more leads, lower turnover, lower downtime, fewer defects), but the villain is preventing you from achieving your goals.

    Therein lies the plot. You want the thing, the villain wants to take the thing.

    You want higher profits, the villain causes higher costs.

    You want more leads, the villain breaks your website or creates crappy content.

    You want fewer defects, the villain causes your machine to break down.

    And the plot is those two irons striking together.

    But it’s not enough for the irons to strike together. Something has to happen, there has to be a resolution to the problem.

    Enter the mentor. (We’ll talk about the mentor another time, in an upcoming article on the Hero’s Journey.)

    The mentor is the person who teaches the hero about the solution. The hero applies the solution to the problem, and wins the day. He or she slays the villain and ends the problem. There is much rejoicing, and prosperity spreads throughout the land.

    This is why we have case studies, and why a well-written case study can do things that no brochure, special report, or white paper can ever do. For those of you who aren’t tossing the term “storytelling” around willy-nilly yet, case studies are your moment to shine.

    Kelly was thirsty, she was parched. Her lips were dry and cracked because she was so thirsty. A tumbleweed tumbled in front of her cubicle. She desperately wanted a glass of water, and would have given anything to get it.

    The problem was, the office kitchen had. . . KITCHEN NINJAS who had been blocking the kitchen water cooler for three days. People tried bringing water from home, but it was never enough. They tried moving the cooler, but Steve from Accounting was nearly run through. Things looked bleak.

    Until Kelly ordered a bottle of Ninja-B-Gon! Ninja Spray from Whamco!

    Just a few sprays from her bottle of Ninja-B-Gon! sent those ninjas packing! Now, everyone in the office can get water, and office morale has improved. Productivity is up by 30%, and sales have risen by 230% as well! And once Kelly was able to quench her Sahara-ish thirst, she was promoted to department manager!

    Samurai vs Banana

    He must really hate that banana!

    This is the classic storyline that nearly all movies and stories follow. Anne wants something, Bob doesn’t want her to have it. Carl helps Anne find a magical object/enchanted sword/learn the power was within her all along. Anne vanquishes Bob, and gets that thing she wanted.

    And it’s the same formula that good case studies follow. But in this case, there are no magical objects or enchanted swords. There are solutions or products that eliminate the problem, restore peace, and improve profits.

    (Consultants, in these stories, you are the mentor. Your client is the hero. Your job is to create heroes, so write your case studies in a way that says “I can help you become the hero in your company.”)

    Sometimes You Can Only Hint at Conflict

    Of course, not everything you write is going to be/have a story. Sometimes you just have to engage in marketing speak, and remind readers of their own conflicts. Get them to imagine the problem, and think about the situations they’re often facing. Get them to think about the plot.

    “Manufacturers often have to deal with high absenteeism during the holidays or special events, like the Super Bowl. What if you could reduce post-holiday absenteeism?”

    or

    “In a manufacturing operation, even a 2% spoilage rate can equal a 10% loss in profits; the industry average currently hovers around 3.5%. So what would a software system that prevented spoilage look like for your company?”

    In those cases, we’re not telling a story so much as we’re reminding people of their stories. It’s a recap of a past conflict (or even a reminder of an ongoing conflict). The story doesn’t have to be told, because they’re living it. But with the right message, you can present yourself or your product/service as the solution to the problem, and get them to write your story in their head.

    The foundation of all stories is Leigh Brackett’s plot: human desires, working at cross purposes, striking against each other, until there’s an explosion. If you can incorporate that idea into your case studies and your marketing copy, you will have mastered one of the most basic tenets of storytelling as content marketing.

    Photo credit: David Schmittou in Beef & Board’s ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ (Used with permission)
    733215 (Pixabay, CC0/Public Domain)