Monday, 29 October 2018

How to leverage the power of good content to boost your business

Canny businesses know that there is mileage in using good content to drive customer loyalty – that’s what content marketing is all about.

So let me ask you a quick question: What comes to your mind when I say ‘Michelin’?

Maybe you think of a tyre company, or perhaps you think of an award-winning restaurant.

Not everyone realises that the famous tyre company shares its name with the sought-after star rating of the world’s best restaurants because almost 120 years ago Michelin saw the potential of using useful, interesting content to grow its business.

Back in 1900 Michelin was known for bicycle tyres, but company founders and brothers Édouard and André Michelin saw an opportunity to grow their fledgling car tyre business by encouraging more people to drive cars and to venture further afield more often, wearing down their tyres in the process.

The first Michelin guide was produced that year in France. At the time there were only 3,000 cars in the whole of France. In an impressive and ambitious leap of faith, Michelin printed 35,000 copies of its guide and gave them away free. The guide included maps, advice for repairing and replacing damaged tyres, details of lovely restaurants you could visit and where to buy petrol.

New, updated guides were produced each year and over time versions were published for countries including Belgium, Germany, Portugal, Italy and many more. Adverts selling products to motorists were also included.

In 1920 it is said that André Michelin visited a garage where he saw a pile of the free Michelin guides propping up a workbench. This may have played a part in the decision to start charging for the guide. Other changes included removing adverts.

The brothers saw there was growing interest in the restaurant listings, so they began to enhance them by organising them into categories and then recruiting a team of inspectors to visit and review restaurants anonymously.

In 1926, the guide began to award a star for what it considered to be the best restaurants. Later the rating system expanded to offer one, two or three stars. Each restaurant’s star rating was reviewed every year and could be either upgraded or downgraded depending on what the inspector found. Today the top three-star Michelin rating is still a HUGE deal to restaurants.

Down the decades the guide has moved with the times and now appears online as well as in print and there is an app as well.

So what can we, as business owners in 2018, take away from the content marketing success story of the Michelin guides?

  1. Keep an eye on online analytics measuring the reach and engagement for content you create and share. Seek out and listen to feedback from customers and react and adapt your approach accordingly. Do more of what’s popular and less of what’s not. When the Michelins realised that the restaurant listings were particularly popular they came up with ideas to make this section even bigger and better to draw in more readers. 
  2. ‘No-one likes to be sold to’ - how often have you heard that? Well, it’s true. The Michelins focused on providing valuable information to readers. The guides gave the company huge visibility, brand awareness and established them as experts in their field. They did it by being useful and relevant, not by broadcasting a ‘Buy, buy, buy’ message. 
  3. The Michelin guides were popular and well-read because the content was relevant and interesting to a clearly defined target audience. The content was accurate and kept up-to-date. The writers and editors were thorough and painstaking in their work. If you are producing content for your business, make sure you take the same trouble to think through what your customers (and potential customers) will find useful and interesting and invest in the best content you can provide. 
  4. There have been many other travel guides down the years; some have thrived and some have died. I think one reason for the Michelin success story was that the guides never compromised quality by rushing to do too much, too soon. Similarly, you should have a clear strategy for the content you create and share and make sure that quality always outranks quantity.
Images by Quentin Kemmel on Unsplash and Jay Wennington on Unsplash 

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Reasons why a storytelling strategy can be good for business

One of the things that makes us human is the way that our brains are hardwired to react to stories.

Maybe it evolved as a way of keeping us safe? If you paid attention to the tribe elders around the camp fire, as they told you terrible stories about the dangerous sabre-toothed tigers, you might stay alive a bit longer.

We respond to stories that tap into our own hopes and fears. Some of us love to be scared by ghost stories and horror tales while others want to escape into romantic fantasy and stirring adventures.

We can also be moved to action by powerful stories told in documentaries and on TV charity telethons such as Children In Need and Stand Up To Cancer. Often it's because we can imagine how we would feel if we were in the shoes of those featured and we want to help them succeed in their journeys.

Good stories, told well, make us stop in our tracks and they demand our attention. They might strike a chord with our own aspirations and personal memories. They stir up our emotions and inspire us; they can excite us and keep us entertained.

What are the essential components of a good story?

Any good story needs a hero, a villain, a journey and a transformation or resolution – told with passion.

In business storytelling, that passion comes from the things you know your customers will care about, and your own enthusiasm for what you do and how you make a difference. 

The hero of your story could be a customer, a partner you work with or an employee.

The villain could be the problem that your business solves. What do you do that makes life better or easier for your customers?

Twists and turns in a story can keep us hooked so when you are telling a story remember to add the details that your audience might not be expecting. The surprise element can make your story stand out in the memory of your audience.

Your story could end with a transformation or a resolution. How is life different now for your hero because of your business?

One of my favourite examples of a brand using storytelling is the Dove Real Women campaign, launched in the UK in 2004. 

It was probably the first time that a major cosmetics or toiletries advertising campaign had featured women of all shapes, sizes and skin tones together. These were women that consumers could identify with instead of the traditional professional models who perpetuate air-brushed images of unattainable physical perfection.

Everyone was talking about the Dove campaign and it led to a 700% rise in sales of Dove in the first half of that year.

But there was also a perception that this was more than a gimmick - there was an authentic and genuine desire for change behind the campaign. This was emphasised when Dove launched a self-esteem project aimed at helping under-17s to feel happy and confident about the way they look.

But storytelling is not just a strategy for major consumer-facing companies with huge advertising and marketing budgets; it can work just as well for small businesses too.

How can we tell stories that make us memorable in business?

The starting point of creating a memorable story for your business is to think about your audience. Who are you trying to reach and influence? Understanding your audience is essential if you are going to tell the stories that they want to hear. The stories you want to tell as a business are not always the same as the ones your audience wants to hear.

Time spent getting to know your audience - their hopes, their fears their dreams, their interests - is never wasted. This is why many businesses now value social media. When you stop using it as a broadcasting medium and use it to really LISTEN to your customers and potential customers you gain valuable insights and build relationships.

Secondly, what do you want your audience to do after the story ends? What action do you want them to take? How do you want them to feel? If you are in tune with your audience, and you have told them a story they wanted to hear in a compelling way, they are more likely to pick up the phone, send an email, make a purchase and ultimately become a loyal customer and a valuable ambassador for your business. Happy customers talk to other people about how great you are.

Rather than talking about you, your business or your brand all the time, most of your stories should be about your customers, partners or employees. You want your audience to see themselves in the shoes of the hero in your stories, as women did with the Dove campaign, and relate to them and understand their journey.

If you want to tell customer stories you could make a start by seeking out the customers that you already have a good relationship with because they have left glowing reviews online or sent in thank you letters. Interview them to capture stories you can tell.