Genius vs. Everybody Else: How Better Content Works for the 99%

good content

I’m convinced there are two types of creators in this world: genius ones and everybody else. By my estimation, 99% of us fall into the latter category, myself very much included. As such, we must play by different rules.

You see, 1% genius talent (or creators) are so good and so talented at what they do, they can release only one or two remarkable things and reach millions of people. That’s what makes them genius. They’re so… breakthrough, if you will, that a limited release schedule cannot keep them grounded.

Laura Hillenbrand, one of my favorite non-fiction authors, is the perfect example of this. Seemingly out of nowhere, this writer from Virginia published her first book, Seabiscuit, in 2001. It’s incredibly well researched, beautifully told, and wholly inspiring. Two years later, it was made into an Academy Award-nominated movie.

In 2010, Hillenbrand released her second, arguably even better, book, Unbroken, which was also made into a major motion picture. Both books combined have sold over 13 million copies and enjoy a perfect 5-star rating on Amazon from tens of thousands of reader reviews. Aside from a few obscure magazine articles, that’s all Hillenbrand has produced to date.

She’s that good.

You and I aren’t, dear reader. If we want to reach the widest possible audience, we cannot release just one or two things like Hillenbrand or other genius talent. We must abide by different rules. The good news is the rules involve only two components that are easily explained with a single sentence. It is as follows:

 

Good content published regularly wins.

 

That’s it. To reach and engage your audience, you don’t need great or otherwise genius content. But you do need compelling, interesting, relevant, and timely content. That’s what I mean by good content.

And unlike genius creators, you must publish regularly. What’s regular? In my experience, it’s at least once or twice a week for moderate growth, several times weekly or even daily for hyper growth. Only then can you break through a very noisy market to stay top of mind in the battle for audience mindshare.

Other than that, there’s no secret sauce or special algorithms you must crack. ChuChu TV is a great example of this. Five years ago, the upstart YouTube channel had only a few thousand subscribers. Today, the channel enjoys more than 20 million views—that’s four times the number as “Sesame Street.”

ChuChu TV accomplished this by publishing good content (as deemed by toddlers) with regularity. No tricks, or keyword stuffing, or magic. Just good content published regularly.

Will you reach millions of people like Hillenbrand or ChuChu TV? Probably not. But that’s not the point. You can reach thousands and increase your chances of reaching millions, but only if you play by the rules. Only if you publish good content regularly. When that happens, you will correspondingly increase your repeat buys, first-time buys, subscriptions, comments, shares and views.

Don’t overthink it. When it comes to reaching wider audiences, speak their language with good content published regularly.


ABOUT Blake Snow

Blake Snow contributes to fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies as a seasoned writer-for-hire. He lives in Provo, Utah with his supportive family and loyal dog and is thrilled you read this far.


The Art of Suspense in Business Storytelling

storytelling

Stories. Suddenly, everyone is telling them. Chief marketing officers want to hire, not just writers, but storytellers. Multinational corporations now have chief storytelling officers. Nike. Virgin. Accenture, Microsoft, Google, SAP, and Salesforce, among others. The most popular TED talks are really just stories in disguise.

Everyone is jumping onto the bandwagon. Do a quick Google search and you’ll get plenty of listicles of “5 Essential Tips For Business Storytelling,” and “How To Tell A Great Business Story.” These articles trot out the usual platitudes:

-Yes, human brains are wired to hear, process, and remember stories

-Yes, if executives told stories rather than presenting their ubiquitous PPT decks, they’d engage audiences more fully

-Yes, authenticity is key to good storytelling

And so on. These platitudes are not untrue, they’re just not especially …helpful… when you’re trying to write a story.

Suspense is the heart of story

No one talks about the main ingredient of a true story. That ingredient is suspense. Suspense is foundational. Without it, you don’t have a story, and you certainly don’t have an engaged audience.

 

The reason you need suspense is that you have to keep your audience wondering what will happen next. If you don’t, you lose them. Period.

 

I’ll let someone much wittier take over here. The English writer E.M. Forster gave a brilliant series of lectures on writing at Trinity College, Cambridge, back in 1927. He said that the need for suspense goes back to the very origins of humanity—and cautioned about the risk to storytellers who don’t wield the weapon of suspense skillfully:

“Neanderthal man listened to stories, if one may judge by the shape of his skull. The primitive audience was an audience of shock-heads, gaping around the campfire, fatigued with contending against the mammoth or the wooly rhinoceros, and only kept awake by suspense. What would happen next? The writer droned on, and as soon as the audience guessed what happened next, they either fell asleep or killed him.”

Today’s business audiences are more likely to yawn and check their phones if suspense is missing from a story. But Forster’s basic premise about human behavior hasn’t changed for hundreds of thousands of years.

How to create suspense

And here I’ll save you $50,000 and two years earning your MFA in fiction-writing by telling you how to create suspense. How to make your listener hang onto every word you say or write.

First, let’s analyze suspense. What is its literary definition? Partial knowledge that something of dramatic significance is about to happen.

In other words, you tell your audience some things—but not others—about what’s going to happen in your story. You hint (there are many ways to do this) that you will reveal something important soon. You have them hanging onto your words to find out what that something is.

It’s important to note here that suspense is different from surprise. Surprise is when the boogey man jumps out of your closet. Suspense is when you’re alone in a quiet house and hear the floorboards creak downstairs. Partial knowledge.

Or, to put a business spin on it, suspense is the time leading up to a major product release, when you tease your audience by giving them tidbits about problems in development, feuds among your teams, seemingly insurmountable technical barriers, etc. You’re giving them partial knowledge and they know it is leading up to a dramatic event: the success (or failure) of the release. They are on edge, intensively interested in finding out what happens next.

See how much more interesting that is than simply saying, “It took us longer than we thought, but we finally got Widget 2.0 to market”?

Of course, there are variants and twists on suspense. If we are only motivated to continue reading (or listening) to stories because of suspense, why are articles (or books) about people or events about which we already know the ending still so satisfying (think of recent best-sellers Steve Jobs or The Big Short)?

Ah, good question class! But that’s the subject of a different blog. This is complicated terrain. But well worth exploring.


ABOUT Alice LaPlante

Alice LaPlante was a Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University, and taught writing at Stanford for more than 20 years. She is the award-winning New York Times best-selling author of four novels, and wrote The Making of a Story, the best-selling textbook on writing published by W.W. Norton. Alice also is also a sought-after content writer, strategist, and story consultant for leading technology firms.


Become a Virtual Chat Champ

virtual chat

There are dozens and dozens of articles out there on how to optimize your next video conference call—yet most of the best practices, tricks and tips you’ll come across are focused on the technical aspects of the virtual chat (VC). But what about the chat itself? And by “chat” I mean YOUR voice and delivery style.

How can we showcase our best selves while on a (yes, still clunky) device? What tricks and tips help us shine across wifi? How can we do more to connect with our virtual audiences? Here are a few tips.

Mind your vocal quality

Our devices have a hard time picking up the high tones and the low tones of our speech, making it mission critical that you project your best voice, and that you do it as clearly as possible. This means slowing down your speaking rate, enunciating (without sounding like a pronunciation guide = tricky biz), talking directly into your device’s speaker, and probably speaking a bit louder than you normally would when addressing a group in person.

Pro Tip: Sit up tall and straight-backed on the front third of your chair, or stand up to help propel your voice forward. Your breathing controls your vocal quality and when you allow for greater airflow (i.e., not being hunched over on a couch), it will be easier to project.

Your voice is your tool for showcasing your team’s great ideas. Use that tool to punctuate, highlight, and underline key language and concepts you wish to emphasize. It’s not just the language you choose—your ideas need to be seen to be understood. Your voice should transmit the energy you wish to instill in your listeners, especially if you want them to act upon your recommendations.

Pro  Tip: Pauses are punctuation. Using pauses effectively can assist in underlining and emphasizing key points, and also provide your listeners time to absorb your main messages (while also giving you a chance to think about the next ideas you hope to share).

Pro Tip: When you smile while speaking, your vocal quality brightens, your pitch elevates just a bit, and your audience is more apt to pay attention because you sound (and are!) excited about your content.

Make personal connections

Every conversation is an opportunity to connect with your audience—even if there are 20 people on the VC. Refer to your colleagues on the call by name, and often. This practice drives attention. People will be more engaged if they are cued for a potential call-out, which they will be when you pepper your talk with “As Ximena mentioned earlier…” and “MaryWynn had a great idea about…” Including people in the body of your talk keeps them—and everyone else—more engaged.

Pro Tip: Making personal connections throughout a more structured talk (both on- and off-line) allows you to add a more conversational flair, which puts both you and your audience at ease and enables your main messages to resonate and stick.

Made for video: showcase your best self

Many of us turn off the camera when on a conference call—for all the obvious reasons—but this practice actually separates you from your audience and can lead to them checking out (beyond the mute button). To hold their attention while on a VC, look directly at the camera so it appears you’re looking directly at your audience. Avoid reading too much from notes, slides, or other visual support.

Pro Tip: When planning your talk, focus on using short, direct sentences. If you must use notes, try key-word outline format so you don’t get lost reading full text.

Remember that the VC is a conversation. You’re there to gain your audience’s attention and provide an engaging introduction to the discussion or Q&A period. And remember to stay immersed throughout that portion of the VC, too. It’s tricky business, but with practice (and, yes, you should practice presenting on video before a big call) you’ll feel more comfortable and less fidgety during the real deal.


ABOUT Eve Connell

Eve spends most billable hours writing, editing and helping professionals of all stripes with communication skills and leadership development. With degrees in French literature, philosophy, and linguistics, she also enjoys helping businesses and entrepreneurs develop their brands. Fancying herself a successful worm rancher, singer and flower arranger, Eve also lends her talent and expertise to several non-profit arts and educational organizations.


The Difference Between Ad Hoc and Traditional Communication Strategies (and Why Your Company Needs Both)

social media campaigns

The digital age has redefined the way brands and their audiences communicate. With the rise of social media, brands have more tools in their back pocket than ever before for genuine, rapid-response relationship building. However, that doesn’t mean they should do away with the traditional communications strategies that require longer-term planning and implementation. Let’s break down the differences between these two common types of communications strategy and the importance of utilizing both for a company’s success.

Ad hoc or rapid response campaigns
Responsive social media campaigns are a good example of this type of process. They provide ample opportunity for personal dialogue between company and customer, making it easier to engage with and influence stakeholders across many different platforms. Live-tweeting an event or publishing “behind-the-scenes” content on Instagram Stories, for example, gives consumers an opportunity to follow along and respond in real time. Website chat boxes also allow immediate and direct dialogue, and are a faster and simpler mode of contact than either email or phone calls. Ad hoc campaigns are more reactive, and therefore perfect for producing temporary solutions in response to communication crises, customer complaints or even commendations.

Why social media marketing matters
According to an Institute of PR study, 78% of adults who use the internet are active on social media, and this number continues to grow every year. Business-savvy brands are leveraging the power of social networking in order to reach the masses. Followings allow brands to amplify their message in a more targeted manner, and result in a more loyal customer base. In addition, rather than simply measuring the success of marketing efforts in sales, social media allows measurement of different success metrics, including the effects of engagement with consumers. (Yep, mentions, “likes” and shares all make a difference!) Social media also provides brands with the opportunity to gain the trust of their audience. Customers want to know that their favorite companies are easy to reach and open to hearing what they have to say, and one-on-one dialogue via platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram make it possible to do just that. (Just look at the way brands like KFC and Quantas engage with consumers on Twitter. Not only are their social posts snarky and hilarious, it is refreshing to see brands communicate with their customers.)

Long-term strategic campaigns
In comparison, long-term campaigns are carefully researched, crafted, and executed. Plans like these involve creative efforts that are well thought-out and detail-oriented, and often presented to a specific audience for advertising or publicity purposes. This is a more traditional tactic, as it is about crafting meaningful messages and strategically rolling them out in a way that achieves results. Long-term campaigns might include a combination of the following: website building and design, press releases, advertising materials, speech writing, company presentations, live events and webinars.

Why formal communication campaigns are necessary
Multi-faceted long-term campaigns are irreplaceable in building a solid reputation as a company, because the process requires an all-encompassing approach to designing your brand, creating messaging that resonates with your target audience, and executing a step-by-step plan to spread that message. By nature, the tasks involved are proactive, ensuring that every presentation reflects the company’s business objectives before it’s released to the public. To obtain a holistic view of what’s working (or not working) for a company, this kind of campaign is invaluable.

How to integrate social media and traditional campaigns to create an effective communication strategy
The rise of social media has revolutionized what it means to “connect” with clients, customers, and the general public, but this doesn’t negate the power of expertly-crafted and intentional campaigns in accomplishing a brand’s initiatives. In fact, ad hoc marketing without a long-term strategy can lead to inconsistent branding and a confused audience. Here are a few ways to get the best from both worlds:

– Pinpoint a specific company objective for each social media action taken. For example, publicize a promotion or host a giveaway on Facebook that exposes potential customers to a new product.
-Take brand awareness to the next level. Don’t stop at simply producing content to be seen by as many people as possible; prepare and send out a message that strongly articulates the brand’s mission and resonates with your target audience.
-Encourage in-house marketing and outsourced agency expertise to work together on a cohesive communication strategy. The closer the partnership, the more consistent the branding.
-Choose your platforms carefully. Not every company needs to be using every platform. Decide which one(s) are most useful for your objectives, and focus on creating a thorough campaign.
-Measure the effects of social media against tangible goals. How has your social media campaign contributed to sales revenue? -How does it compare to more traditional strategies? Knowing the answers to these important questions can help to refine or hone the overall communication strategy going forward.

Communication strategy is of the utmost importance when it comes to branding your business. Simply knowing the difference between traditional and ad hoc campaigns is the first step in creating an integrative and effective campaign that will cut through the clutter and set your company apart from the rest.


ABOUT Emily Blasik

Emily Blasik is a freelance writer and Nutritional Therapy Consultant in training from Dallas, TX. When she’s not blogging or practicing yoga, you can find her hanging out at a local coffee shop, nose-deep in a good mystery novel, snapping photos of her extra frothy cappuccino or planning her next travel adventure.


The Future and Its Voice: The Rise of AI, VUI and Where Humans Fit

The Rise of AI, VUI and Where Humans Fit

Alexa. Siri. Google Assistant. Cortana. These names are becoming as ubiquitous as the name Google in most households. The use of AI(Artificial Intelligence), such as voice assistants, in commonplace daily tasks is multiplying at a dizzying rate. From vacuum cleaners to chatbots to copywriters, artificial intelligence is taking on tasks that up to now have been relegated to humans. Does this mean they’re taking our jobs? We’ve written about this before, reflecting on the role AI has to play in copywriting, and we’ve found the same question pops up when considering the role of AI in other industries, too.

At Wordsmithie, we’ve contemplated the role of copywriters in the future, and it’s looking rosier than ever. Surprised to hear us say this? Consider the following. Voice assistants, such as Google Assistant, Alexa, and Siri, are becoming more commonplace than ever. In fact, by 2020,comScore estimates 50% of searches will be voice searches, and Gartner predicts 30% of these will be done without a screen. This means that 30% of searches will be done using a voice assistant such as Siri or Cortana (Microsoft’s voice assistant technology). Sounds cool, sounds hands free, sounds like copywriting will not be part of the equation, right? Wrong.

Someone needs to teach these systems to be conversant, and to guide their continued evolution. The role of voice assistants is to help you with a range of tasks, from setting timers to finding recipes to giving directions. However, these technologies also need to be able to recognize idioms and figures of speech. “Alexa, should I take Main Street or Grand Avenue, or is it six of one, half a dozen of the other?” will currently get you one confused voice assistant. There’s also the case for making these machines more conversational, and more responsive to recommending results based on what you might mean but can’t find the words to ask for directly. (That’s why it’s so great to have predictive text search at the moment, for when you have to search for “That song with the annoying beat.” Right now, it would be difficult for a voice assistant to provide helpful results for this kind of query. Receiving programing support from a real, live human can help train the technology to do this in the future.)

We believe that wherever you find AI, humans will always need to be on hand to help our AI friends. The case of copywriters and VUI (Voice User Interface) is only one such example. Humans are also necessary for more creative tasks, like coming up with the guidelines for communications campaigns that AI can then support with text that fits those human-programed guidelines. And strategic decisions are better left to humans — imagine a robot planning out an entire online ad campaign. Leave the detailed cost per click recommendations to the ‘bots.

So, what does all this mean for anyone in an industry that is seeing an explosion of AI activity? Get excited, and buckle up. There will more than likely be changes in your industry, but they’re bound to be exciting, interesting and most importantly, they’ll need that human hand to guide them. We’re leading the charge in the voice industry — and are ready for the ride.


ABOUT Khaleelah Jones

Khaleelah Jones is a digital marketing consultant who has worked with tech startups, educational institutions and non-profits on acquisition and engagement strategy, implementation and KPI modeling. When she’s not working, she can be found reading, writing, pontificating history, yoga-ing and making up verbs.