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Why Content Creation Should be A Company Wide Culture

Why Content Creation Should be A Company Wide Culture

Culture of Content in your company

Content creation should be a company culture, not just the responsibility of your marketing team. 

Understanding this will separate your content marketing efforts from the pack. And if you’ve tried blogging or producing other types of content in the past as part of your inbound marketing strategy with little effect then this could be the turning point your company needs.

But – and without sounding like a game show host here – that’s not all folks! Because nurturing a culture of content in organisation has a ripple-effect of benefits that extends way past the impact it will have on your inbound marketing strategy.

In this article I’ll share the key reasons why content creation should be part of your organisation’s culture and not just a sub-section of the marketing department. You may be surprised to learn just how far-reaching the benefits of nurturing a culture of content can be.

Benefits of a Company-Wide Content Culture to your Inbound Marketing Strategy

Before we go any further let’s briefly recap on what content marketing is and where it fits with inbound marketing.

Content marketing is about teaching your customers rather than directly selling to them. Demonstrating your company’s expertise, and willingness to share this information builds trust with your potential customers. This, in turn, makes them far more likely to buy from you.

It’s worthwhile thinking about content as a magnet that attracts customers to your website. For the magnet to work your content must have good SEO. But, most of all, it must be of real value to the customer.

Inbound marketing provides the structure, processes and conversion points necessary to turn your audience members into your customers.

I like to think of it like the human body. Content is the heart and lifeblood, whereas Inbound is the skeleton that holds everything together.

So how does getting everyone in your organisation involved in producing content benefit your company’s inbound marketing strategy?

More Content = More Leads

This is a blatantly obvious benefit of getting all your employees involved in creating content for your company. So, I’ll waste few words on this and go with some simple maths before moving on.

More people producing content = more content = more SEO & promotional opportunities = greater traffic to your website = more scope to convert them into customers = more customers

Leverages expert insights and knowledge

The central idea behind content marketing is to answer the questions your customers are searching for and help them to resolve problems relating to your business area.

But who in your organisation is likely to have the most in-depth understanding and knowledge of your industry?

Chances are it’s not always going to be the marketing person/department. Therefore, why should they alone be tasked with the responsibility of content creation when the key objective is to share expert knowledge and teach customers?

Frontline staff such as customer service representatives and sales agents will be the most in tune with problems and challenges that customers face. Conversely, those working in research and development may be primed to advise on the future of the industry, what customers can expect down the line and how they might prepare for change.

Employees working on the operations side of the business often have the sharpest understanding of the industry. They should, therefore, be looked on as valuable vessels of information and expertise i.e. the perfect candidates for producing quality content for your brand.

Authenticity

It’s common for companies to outsource content creation in its entirety to industry agnostic content specialists. Certainly, I agree with bringing content experts on board to help strategise and structure your content marketing efforts.

I strongly believe, however, that brand content should be a natural resource.  Content should come from within – even if it goes through the marketing department or a content agency for a final bit of sprucing at the end.

Mining content from within your organisation will result in higher quality, hyper-relevant and truly valuable content. What’s more, it will be a clearer and more honest representation of your brand.         

Benefits of a Company-Wide Content Culture Beyond Marketing Objectives

 

Enhances Employee Understanding & Industry Knowledge

Writing content is a bit like school (although I wouldn’t necessarily sell it to your employees that way!).  What I mean by this is that the process of producing a piece of content is educational. It enhances one’s own understanding of the subject matter.

Tasking employees to research a particular topic and/or structure a piece of content that clearly explains that topic to your customers will, therefore, benefit the employee as much as the reader.

Creating content is an excellent way for staff members to see things from your customers’ perspective and to think about your industry as a bigger picture. They’ll keep up to date with industry trends and the impact these have on customer needs.

Better still, employees who produce content learn to communicate more effectively about their area of expertise. This, of course, is advantageous for both in-house and external communications.

Creating Content Makes better trainers of your employees

Following on from the educational advantage we’ve just discussed, creating content makes teachers of your employees as much as it does students. In fact, it’s probably best to lead with the teacher rather than the student angle when pitching content culture to your organisation!

Breaking topics down into clear, digestible content helps employees be better trainers, while simultaneously producing content that can be used for employee training! Two birds, one stone – or three even if you count the fact that the content also contributes to inbound marketing.

Creating Content can lead to innovation

As we’ve already discussed, creating content is all about helping customers to understand your industry, overcome challenges and make decisions. If a particular problem is highlighted that you can’t answer or has no adequate solution then maybe this is an area your company could address and take the lead on?

Drives Employee Engagement and Loyalty to your Brand

Giving your employees an active role as brand storytellers demonstrates that you trust and value their expertise. This respect for your employees will be returned in spades when it comes to employee loyalty and (hopefully) retention.

Employees who act as brand storytellers will feel more invested in your company, listened to and valued.

 

So, What’s Next?

As we’ve seen, embracing content creation as a company-wide culture will have positive reverberations for your company far beyond those measured by your marketing team.

But what if no one in the organisation is a good writer? Or what if people feel they don’t have time to contribute? These are common objections to company-wide content policies.

Wanting to create a culture of content in your organisation and actually creating one are two totally different stories! So, I’m putting together a guide to help nurture a culture of content in your organisation. If you would like a copy please sign-up to our newsletter below and you will get the first look publication!

In the meantime please feel free to leave comment, advice or questions to be addressed in the guide in the box below.

Thank you!

Sinead Gillett

Creative Director

How to Become a Thought Leader in Your Industry in 2018

How to Become a Thought Leader in Your Industry in 2018

BThought Leader eing a thought leader in your industry is very good for business. And I mean very very good, because who doesn’t want to buy off or work with a known expert?

In 2018 the days of hiding behind your brand are well and truly over. The reality for business owners and professionals is that YOU are your brand. Your reputation has a direct impact on your business. So, keep a low profile and reap no rewards. Or, establish your reputation as a thought leader in your industry and stand by for doors to open!

Of course, becoming a thought leader is far easier said than done! It takes time, effort and determination. It certainly won’t happen overnight and there is no guarantee of success.

That said, there are some colour-by-number actions you can take to help get you on the right path. In this article I’m going to share 10 steps to help you build your reputation as a thought leader in your industry. You’ll learn what it really means to ‘get yourself out there’ and be ready to start building your thought leadership profile today!

Let’s dive straight in!

1. Understand what a Thought Leader is and What Your Thought Leadership slant is!

This may seem like an obvious first point, but it’s important to clarify what a thought leader in business actually is.

A thought leader is someone who drives innovation and new ideas in their given industry. They are experts in their area. They’re highly respected, connected and valued. Being a thought leader is about sharing your ideas and your unique professional opinion of your industry… so what’s yours?

It’s crucial to understand that thought leadership should be relatively narrow in focus. You may very well be a Jack of all trades when it comes to the day to day application of your job, but if you want to be a thought leader you’re better off being the master of one!

If your subject area is too broad then it’s hard to make waves. Think about your specialist subject. What area of your business do you know inside out and what area are you most passionate about? Can you identify any knowledge gaps where your expertise would be welcomed? Use your unique expertise to become an authority in that area rather than a generalist in all.

Now that you know your niche, think about who you would like to be a thought leader for. Is it your fellow industry peers, or is it customers? Who are they and what will they look to you for? Knowing your audience persona will help you to fine tune your message.

2. Own up to your brand!

As I mentioned above, YOU are your brand. You therefore need to treat your personal professional profile with the same care you show to the brand identity of your business or employer. That means consistency in brand rules and messaging.

Don’t be overwhelmed by this! It’s just a matter of getting all your ducks in a row. And make sure that your professional social media channels are singing off the same song sheet. For example, if you are positioning yourself as a thought leader in the area of Robo-journalism on Twitter or on a dedicated blog then this should be reflected on your LinkedIn profile.

All your professional accounts should be up to date and to generally tell the same story about you. Share content in and around your area of expertise, stay on message and pay close attention to detail. And please, please make sure you use a high quality professional profile picture of yourself! It speaks volumes about who you and your brand are. I recently got some expert tips on how to get your business profile photo right from professional profile expert Joseph McGuire. Check out this article if you want to learn more.

3. Blog, blog, blog

Producing quality content is crucial to thought leadership. A blog provides the perfect space for you to self-publish material for your audience.

If you haven’t already started a blog then find a time machine and go back a few years and do it. If that isn’t feasible for you right now then start today instead.

The golden rule of blogging is to consistently give value. Post at least once a week and make sure your content is exceptional. You really need to put in the work at the initial blog stage and it’s crucial you maintain it as you move on to other thought leadership steps.

Think of blogging as a brand investment. The more posts you have the better. Realistically you won’t be taken very seriously until you have a catalogue of at least 30 posts. This content defines who you are as a thought leader so remember to never compromise on quality and don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through.

4. Join in the Conversation on Social

Being active on social media is an absolute must for thought leaders. You don’t have to be on all social media channels, just the ones your audience choose, be it Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest or another. But you do need to have a LinkedIn presence. Even if you don’t see the value in it right now you will in time.

You’ll use social media as a key distribution point for your content. But do not stop there. Social networking is far more than just sharing your content. You need to join in the conversation.

Communicating on social media is not a one-way flow, so engage with your audience and other industry figures and influencers by joining in and contributing to discussions and asking or answering questions.

Share other people’s content if it is relevant to your audience and ties in with your general stance. This shows your followers that you are thinking of them beyond the goal of merely plugging your own stuff. Moreover, it will put you in the good books of other influencers. Chances are, in time, they may share your content to their followers. At the very least it puts you on their radar.

5. Network

Never underestimate the power of face to face networking. For sure, we live in a digital world where social media dominates our lives. But trust me, the relationships that you build in person are far stronger and long-lasting.

That’s not to say that initial contact can’t be made through online social networks. Likewise one outcome of face to face networking will be to connect and cross-promote on social. But face-time gives you a much greater opportunity to impress yourself on people and learn more about what other people do. In-person conversations are deeper and more meaningful than online only interactions. Attend industry events and consider joining a dedicated networking organisation — the more the merrier.

Networking can help you to make sales for your business. But this shouldn’t be front and centre in your mind when you attend industry and networking events. It’s more of a long term strategy to build your connections and grow your community.

You’ll encounter far more people who will never be your customers than you will real sales leads. But don’t just walk away from these non-prospects because the truth is — they could hold even more value for you than a quick deal.

Treat every networking contact as someone who could potentially refer you to one of their contacts. Moreover, think about ways the people you meet could help you to advance your thought leadership profile.

Could they offer you any potential opportunities to guest blog or to speak at an industry event? These of course are the next two steps in your thought leadership journey that I’m going to address. Segway alert!

6. Guest blog

Guest blogging is a great way to reach new audiences and to get good quality back links to your own website, which is great for SEO.

Writing on someone else’s blog is a valuable opportunity to find new audience members for your own. If their audience like your article they’ll click on your web link to see what else you’ve got up your sleeve. Here’s where it’s important to have a decent catalogue of original content behind you so that newbies arriving to your site have plenty to keep them there!

Flipping guest posting on its head, you should also consider hosting guest posts on your own blog. Invite other influencers to write a relevant article for your audience. Like you, they’ll be happy for the opportunity to reach new people. They’ll share links to their article on your site on their own social media pages which will send their followers over to you. All going well a few of them will hang around to become your followers too.

7. Speak at Events

The very second someone stands on stage to give a speech or a presentation we slack them a bit of respect for being an authority on what they’re speaking about. Now, we can take these kudos away pretty quick if their presentation doesn’t hit the mark, but the point is that speaking at an event provides a major opportunity to raise your profile as a thought leader.

It doesn’t matter how small these events are to start with. Just say yes. If it goes well you may be asked back or indeed a member of the audience might peg you for another.

So how do you make it go well? Simple: Know your stuff, put effort into preparing for the event and be engaging. Many people find public speaking difficult at first. But don’t just give up by yielding the excuse “I’m just not a good public speaker”. To be frank, that’s a cop out.

Everyone can improve their public speaking techniques (and courage) if they work on it. There is lots of help out there including brilliant training programmes like Toastmasters, where everyone is in the same boat. If you see real value in developing your profile as a thought leader then fine tuning your presentation skills will be a huge asset to you.

As for getting the gig in the first place, if you’ve scoured the land for opportunities and been turned away from the inn more times than you like to remember then there’s only one thing for it: Host an event of your own.

Again this doesn’t have to be a big affair. Organise a lunchtime talk in your co-working office or an information evening in your local community hall. You could even find a complimentary speaker and host a joint event. Make the theme timely and relevant and pitch the event to guests in terms of what it will do for them (not you!).

8. Produce Premium Content

Premium content is generally long-form and extremely high value. This is content that people may pay for, even if it is just with their contact details.

Premium content could be extensive guides, annual industry reports, white papers, industry surveys, research or webinars. Hosting a regular podcast is a great way to set yourself up as a gatekeeper of industry knowledge. You can invite other influencers on to be interviewed thereby promoting them as thought leaders while simultaneously promoting you and your podcast.

The single best way to assert your profile as an authority in your area is one of the oldest tricks in the book. In fact, it is a book! Writing a book is the perfect way to demonstrate your expertise. There’s a lot of work involved but it will pay off in time. Plus you’ll be a published author which is pretty damn cool!

9. Give your time for free

A sure sign that your thought leadership status is on the up is the holy grail potential that you’ll be paid to take part in events. Happy flippin’ days! But don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re not a Rockstar!

Just because your (thought leadership) star is rising it does not mean that your price follows accordingly. You’ll still be asked to speak for free, most likely more than ever. It’s a good idea not to turn all of these opportunities down, because they are, after all, sill opportunities to build your profile.

Leaving aside the purely humanitarian objectives for helping out a charity, giving your time for free to help out a good cause does no harm at all for your public profile. Speaking at universities gives you credibility, speaking to students at lower levels shows you care. And being asked to judge, consult or to mentor is flattering and again solidifies your status as an authority. Curate these opportunities wisely.

10. Finally, be BOLD and Pitch

I’m going to end this article by reaffirming what I said in step 1 — understand your role as a thought leader. Remember that you are a driver of innovation and new ideas. You don’t have to hammer the same points home until you die. It’s ok to grow, adjust viewpoints and take on new passions. But take your audience on this journey with you by sharing these new ideas and provoking discussion and debate.

Don’t be a sheep, be a shepherd. Be bold and above all else, don’t be afraid to be wrong. Just say it as you see it. And since you are well able to ‘get yourself out there’ it’s time to be bolder than ever — and that means PITCH!

Quit waiting around for opportunities and start creating them. Say you want to get on TV, or maybe by now you’ve set your sights on a newspaper column, then take the bull by the horns and pitch to the right people. The very worst thing that can happen is that you get turned down. Even if this happens, at least now they know who you are.

Get yourself out there

Now that you’ve got a very rough blueprint to work off it’s time to start getting yourself out there. After reading this article you’ll know yourself what step you’re at. Now it’s time to take another!

If you have any questions on this subject or would like to share some advice of your own please feel free to leave a comment below.

 

*This article was first published by Sinead Gillett on the Iconic Offices Blog.

The Ultimate Guide to GDPR Compliance for Marketers

The Ultimate Guide to GDPR Compliance for Marketers

What do marketers need to know about GDPR? Well the simple answer is quite a lot.

GDPR compliance

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25 2018, bringing with it some important changes to the ways in which we collect and control information about our customers.

The fact of the matter is that data forms the foundation of the online world.

Web users use personal data like currency. Think about your own experience as a regular web consumer – sharing your personal information and contact details gives you access to numerous services and content.

For us marketing folk, data is crucial for running successful online campaigns.  It helps us to track website visitors, understand our audience, target them with the right content to turn them into customers and a whole lot more.

Data is extremely valuable to us as marketers and in return, we need to handle it responsibly. The GDPR hikes up the privacy rights of the individual and enforces more stringent data protection policies on companies.

This guide will get you up to speed on GDPR, what the impact of GDPR is for marketers, and – best of all – practical steps to help you get your company GDPR compliant.

 

GDPR  – What You Need To Know

 

What Is GDPR?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect on 25 May 2018. It replaces the 1995 EU Data Protection Directive (DPD) for data privacy and security in order to reflect the ways in which businesses use and collect data today. The GDPR builds on the 8 data protection principles of the DPD and includes several new provisions to:

  • Strengthen the personal data protection rights of EU citizens
  • Simplify the regulatory environment for data protection in the EU (by requiring that the same laws regarding the collection, storage and usage of personal information apply across all member states.)
  • GDPR also adds far harsher penalties for violations.

Read the full text of the GDPR here

Get a glossary of all the legal terms you’ll need to know here.

What Data Will Be Affected By GDPR?

The EU defines ‘personal data’ as any information that can be used to directly or indirectly identify an individual (or ‘data subject’). This means everything from an email address, to a name, IP address, photo and more.  

Does GDPR Affect Non-EU Marketers?

Yep! GDPR is not just for EU companies. It will also apply to non-EU businesses who market products and services to people in the EU, or who monitor the behaviour of people in the EU. That is to say: Regardless of where your company is based if you hold and control data relating to EU citizens you’re bound by the GDPR.

 

What Are The Penalties For Non-compliance With The GDPR?

You don’t want to know.. But you need to!

The maximum sanction for non-compliance with GDPR is a fine of €20,000,000 or 4% of gross worldwide annual turnover, whichever is the greater. Scary stuff!

 

What Does GDPR Legislation Cover?

In order to understand how GDPR impacts your marketing activities, it’s necessary to take stock of the key areas that GDPR covers. Here’s an overview.

GDPR Privacy Rights of the Individual

Right to Access

Under GDPR, Individuals are entitled to find out what personal data of theirs is being processed by companies, where it is held and why.
 Companies that hold personal data (data controllers) must be able to provide a copy of an individual’s data if requested. This has to be done for free, by the way!

 

Right to Erasure

Essentially the GDPR’s ‘Right to Erasure’ is the right to be forgotten. It allows individuals to request data controllers to delete their personal data, thereby preventing them and related third parties from accessing or processing their information. 


 

Data Portability

Under the GDPR, individuals are able to request access to their personal data ‘in an electronic format’, which they can then transfer to another data controller – for example, when switching their health insurance or telephone service provider.

 

GDPR Compliance  for Company Processes 

In addition to facilitating the above data protection and privacy rights of the individual, companies must adhere to the following to be GDPR compliant.

 

Data Breach Notification

Companies must notify customers and data controllers of data breaches within 72 hours.  This relates to leaks, hacks, or lost data – such as information on a lost USB key).

 

Privacy by Design

Data compliance and data protection must be considered from the start when it comes to designing new systems. Organisational and technical processes must ensure that personal data is secure. Only data deemed ‘absolutely necessary for the completion of duties’ should be held.


 

Data Protection Officers

Public companies or companies whose main activities involve data processing and monitoring need to appoint a Data Protection Officer. This is in place of notifying local Data Protection Authorities of their activities. 


 

 

What Should Marketers Be Thinking About When It Comes To GDPR?

 

Now that you grasp the key areas of GDPR we can look at how they impact on your companies sales and marketing activities.

 

1. Opt-in

 

One of the most impactful areas to note for marketers is that ‘implied consent’ or ‘soft opt-in’ will no longer be an option.

What does that mean?

Prior to GDPR ‘implied consent’ meant that companies can email a person, so long as that person had the option to opt-out of receiving emails at the time of purchase or contact. This could take place, for example, when filling out an online form.

The situation under GDPR is that consent has to be explicit. This means that the individual must opt-in as opposed to opting-out. Furthermore, companies must be able to provide evidence that a person has elected to opt-in to communications and didn’t just fall onto a contact list by default.

It’s a GDPR best practice to require individuals to check a (previously unchecked) box to opt-in.  And, while it’s not mandatory ‘double opt-in’ would also be best practice. This is where choosing to opt-in on a form is followed up with a ‘click to confirm’ email. This prevents an individual ending up on a marketing list if someone fraudulently used their email address without consent to sign them up.

A final note on opt-in relates to events.

In person opt-in needs to be evidenced. So, it’s no longer possible to simply add an attendee guest list to a marketing campaign list, because you have to prove that individuals have opted-in.

Resolve this with an opt-in form at your stand, perhaps on iPad, or a follow-up opt-in email after the event.

 

2. Marketing With ‘Legitimate Interest’

 

This is where GDPR gets kind of confusing.

As we’ve just discussed ‘opt-in’ is compulsory. However, and this is a big HOWEVER, there are two perspectives on GDPR opt-in.  

The first – as above – is consent, where you must gather opt-ins from every contact. This protocol guarantees GDPR compliance.

The second perspective is termed ‘legitimate interest’ –  and the term itself is the explanation. Companies may use the reasoning of legitimate interest as a precedent for direct marketing on an unsubscribe/opt-out basis.

Be warned, however – this is not quite the loophole in GDPR that it sounds like because all other aspects of GDPR must be followed. Furthermore, proofing ‘legitimate interest’ (i.e. relevant and appropriate) may be legally difficult if challenged.

Choosing whether to go down the legitimate interest path can really only be determined on a case by case decision.

 

3. Third Party Compliance

 

Most of us marketers engage with third party tools and marketing technology such as marketing automation platforms and CRMs. Think about Mailchimp or Hubspot or Salesforce, for instance.  Third parties that hold data on behalf of your company must be GDPR compliant. They need measures in place to store and process personal data and to integrate data appropriately.

To prepare for GDPR you should:

  • Ask third party suppliers to detail how they ensure GDPR compliance.

  • Ensure there is a point of contact from each side.
  • Ensure there’s an adequate process in place on both sides to manage any data breaches.
  • Only collect data that’s necessary.
  • Be sure that it’s possible to delete data should you stop using a third party service provider.
  • And, confirm that you can download your own data from the third party when requested.


 

4. CRM

No means No!

The ‘right to be forgotten’ under GDPR impacts the way your CRM is managed. If an individual requests to be forgotten then it’s not good enough to mark them as do not contact on your CRM as may have happened in the past. They must be deleted. And this goes across the board. It’s important to ensure that their data is expunged from all ancillary databases.

Remember: Data is a liability to you. Unless you need to keep it, delete it.

 

5. Data Governance

 

In situations like new contact data record creation, or where contacts provided by a third party are being added or integrated into a database, opt-in compliance is once again imperative. This relates, for instance, to the importing of contacts from a spreadsheet, adding a contact from a business card or integrating Sales Navigator contacts with your CRM.  Managing this across multiple areas is probably the most complex part of GDPR compliance. For that reason, it’s well worth consulting with a data protection expert to GDPR-proof your processes.

 

The Future Of Marketing Under GDPR

 

It’s simple – Go Inbound.

Inbound marketing is all about attracting customers to your company, rather than pushing your sales message upon them.

In a nutshell, web users find their way to your website via the magnetic pull of good content – helped of course by good SEO and online promotion. If they like what they see then they’ll want more great content and will gladly opt-in to receive it from your company.

Happy days! Not only do you get evidence of their opt-in which makes you GDPR compliant, you also get a pouring in of qualified leads -people who are genuinely interested in what your company is all about. That’s far more valuable than the ‘spray & pray’ tactics of mass direct mail campaigns.

So it’s a kill two birds with one stone scenario. Inbound = GDPR compliance + Quality Lead Generation.

Want to learn more about Inbound marketing? Check out this article. 

 

Disclaimer: This blog post should not be used as a complete guide to EU data privacy nor as legal advice for your company to use in complying with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This blog post is intended for informative purposes only. You should therefore not rely on it as legal advice or recommendation of any particular legal understanding. In a nutshell, this is information only and not legal advice.

 

Once Upon a Time in Business: 5 Essential Business Storytelling Techniques

Once Upon a Time in Business: 5 Essential Business Storytelling Techniques

Businessman giving a presentation looking very uncomfortable

Once upon a time in an office near you a young businessman came to deliver a message. He had a wonderful idea to share. Alas, so dense with facts and statistical information was his presentation that he sent his audience into a deep sleep that would last for 100 years. The only way he could break this spell was to tell a good story.

“If only there was an article with storytelling tips for business presentations that could help me” the young man cried in despair. With that, a great flash of light struck his laptop screen and there before his eyes appeared this article.

“Mercy” he rejoiced as he feasted his eyes on the title ‘5 Storytelling Tips for Business’. “If I read this I could break the spell and fulfil the quest to deliver my message”.  And so he set his eyes upon the text and began.

a fairygodmother of storytelling points her wand at the businessman's laptoo

Why is storytelling so important in business?

There’s nothing better than a good old story. Indeed, no country appreciates this more than Ireland, where we have an historical talent for spinning yarns. Just take a seat in a Dublin pub and listen.

But what happens when we go into the board room or stand up to deliver a team presentation, a product pitch or a key note speech? For many people the instinct is to park their stories at the door. They hedge their bets instead by rattling off data and telling their audience what they need to know.

Here’s the thing: Facts alone are boring.

Storytelling is crucial in business because business is about people and people need stories. Academics have found that our brains are hardwired to process and store information in the form of stories. So, when we hear a story trigger such as “A long time ago in a far away land there was such and such a character with such and such a problem…..” our minds immediately attach to this imaginary scene and prepare to absorb and organise information as story.

Stories are, in fact, irresistible to the human mind! According to professional speaker Akash Karia this is because they stimulate our imaginations, giving us no choice but to follow the mental visualisations that spring to life in our heads. As a result, stories offer a powerful way for us to learn and communicate.

You can tell a child not to make a habit of lying because then no one will ever believe them when they’re telling the truth.  Alternatively, you can frighten the bejesus out of them with the tale of Peter and the Wolf. Which do you thick is a more effective lesson?

A well told story will stick in our memories far longer than any fact or figures or lessons. But we do need this type of information in business, so we need creative and effective ways of transmitting this information. That’s where stories come in. Think of a story as the secret sauce that brings ingredient information together into an easy to digest sandwich!

Storytelling, Marketing & Brand  

Stories are all about showing, not telling.

This communication strategy has not been lost on marketeers who have long strived to leverage the power of story telling to build brands. Look at Airbnb or Nike or Lego for excellent examples of brand storytelling by large corporations.

There are many different types of stories and ways to tell them in business – from product inventions and innovations to entrepreneurial feats, stories about customers, workers, ambassadors, cultural trends and movements. All of these stories can combine to form the overall story of your brand.

The kind of stories you want to share will depend on your personal and business brand and the messages you want to convey. However, there are some common elements and techniques that we can all use when constructing our messages to help leverage the power of storytelling in business to best effect.

The key focus in this article is on verbal storytelling – using stories in front of a business audience as part of a presentation or speech. I’m going to share 5 Storytelling Tips for Business that will make you and your brand more interesting, memorable and engaging. And hopefully there’s enough here to help the novice businessman reverse the spell of the 100 year slumber he cast upon his audience.

1. Plan your take-away message from the outset 

There’s no point telling a story for story’s sake – that’s just waffling. Stories are used in business presentations as vehicles for information and messages, so it is necessary to understand what point you want to make in advance of crafting a story.

The gravity of your message will of course depend on the circumstances of your presentation. If it’s a keynote speech at a large industry conference then you may need to convey the defining vision and ethos of your company, for example ‘celebrating individuality; or a ‘commitment to transparent factory processes in support of workers rights’.  Perhaps you are speaking at a recruitment fair and you want to send a message that your company is a fun place to work or actively engaged in addressing gender imbalances in your particular industry. Taking it in-house you may simply be pitching a new process to your co-workers that you feel would increase productivity.

There are suitable stories for every occasion and for every audience from employees to investors, partners and customers. However, you must be sure of the take-away message you wish to achieve. Start with this and then plan your story delivery around it. This will help you to laser focus your story and cut away what’s not required.

2. Understand the 4 Cs of Storytelling for Business

There’s lots of mention of the C’s in storytelling theory. The exact number of C’s there are – or should be – differs from critic to critic and from genre to genre be it children’s storybooks or science fiction or literature.

When it comes to business storytelling my opinion is that there are 4 key components that every story should have – Character, Conflict, Context, Conclusion.

For a sprinkling of flavour on top of these we could also throw on Contrast, Curiosity, Climax and Conversation.

But for now it’s enough to highlight the key elements. Let’s take a look.

Characters

There are no stories without characters. Make sure people are at the very centre of your story. Everything else, such as data, money, environmental or infrastructural elements, are part of the character’s world and not the other way round.

Conflict

If there is no conflict in a story then it’s not a story worth telling. Can you think of a film, for example,  with this plot: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl live happily ever after? No, and rightly so because it would make for tremendously dull viewing.

A business version of this would be something like. “I studied business in college. When I finished I set up a business and ran it successfully until I retired”. Now, this might sound like music to the ears of a parent perhaps, but who’d want to go to a motivational seminar with that kind of content?

The truth is that we like to hear about challenges and how they were overcome, not about perfect heroes. It’s the reason why the world’s best known business leaders spend more time talking about their failures than their successes. It’s far more interesting.

Context

Stories don’t just happen in a vacuum. They belong to a particular place and time. Context therefore helps to ground a story. Social, economic, cultural, political, geographical, linguistic, environmental and historical contexts can each bring new meaning and relevance to a story, and it’s here where our stories begin to gain their depth.

Refer to the contextual elements that shape the story you’re telling. But be careful. You only need to outline contexts that are directly relevant to the story.

Conclusion 

What happens at the end? How did it work out for the main character? Were they successful or unsuccessful?

Regardless of whether it is ‘happy ever after’ or otherwise, every story needs an ending. In other words, we must resolve the conflict we established at the heart of the story.

Often enough it is the conclusion of the story where our main point will be made. It’s the punchline, the moral, the message, the take-away.

3. Think about story structure

Now that you’ve decided your take-away message and the story you’re going to tell it’s time to think about how you’re going to tell it. That means it’s time to think about structure.

If you want to deliver a memorable story to your business audience you must consider how to shape your storytelling.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat. And likewise, there are lots of different ways to tell a story. The classic narrative we’re all familiar with from essay writing 101 in school is ‘Beginning, Middle, End’ – and certainly chronological stories have their place.

However, if you’re going to use stories as a communication tool with any degree of frequency then you should  have a few more story structures up your sleeve.

Fortunately we don’t have to come up with these all on our own. There are lots of made to measure story structures out there that we can test out and play around with.

Here are three of the simplest business storytelling formulas to get you started.

Opening and Closing the Curiosity Gap

Opening with a question provokes interest in the audience because it stimulates curiosity.

“How did a small family owned bakery in rural France become the world’s largest distributor of bread?”

This is called an ‘inciting incident’. Tapping into curiosity will have the audience hanging on your every word for the rest of your story because curiosity must be satisfied!

S.H.A.R.ES. 

This stands for: Setting, Hindrance, Action, Results, Evaluation, and Suggested Actions. It’s self-explanatory and very easy to implement

Follow the Why

Following the why is a great way of leading an audience through different layers of a story and to the final resolution Call to Action.

Start with a problem and follow it with the question why? Then follow the answer with why, and the next answer with why? Eventually you will get to the answer to the problem – what are we going to do about it/how can we fix it!

4. Play on Emotions

A sure fire way to engage your audience is to emphasise the emotional swings in a story.

After you’ve chosen a story structure and reorganised your content to fit the formula try to find ways to bring opposing emotions into play.

For example, if a story follows the SHARES structure, could you emphasise differing emotions in the Hindrance and the Action sections, or maybe in the Hindrance and the Result pieces? Contrasting emotions highlight the twists and turns of your story in the most evocative and memorable way.

One way to evoke emotion is to coax your audience to empathise with your character. Ask, for example “can you imagine how he must have felt?”.

Another method is to employ vivid language such as metaphors and idioms that have emotional associations. Here’s some examples:

  • Over the Moon
  • On cloud nine
  • As happy as Larry
  • hopping mad
  • Seeing red
  • Like a bull
  • Heartbroken
  • Down in the dumps

5. Evoke VAK – Visual, Audio and Kinaesthetic Modalities

Stimulating the senses sucks your audience into a story faster than almost anything else. Flavour your story by describing what you or a character could see, hear, touch, taste and smell.

This technique is often used by psychologists and therapists. When the mind begins to imagine and think through emotional and sensory experiences, parts of the brain light up as if they’re actually happening.

Using these cues by describing the smell when you walked inside a factory for the first time, or the adrenaline racing through your body when you first realised you had hit on an innovative idea, or the harrowing sounds of distressed dolphins you witnessed on an expedition, will immerse a person from passively listening to your story, to feeling like an active participant.

If you can stimulate this active state from your audience then you’re rocking it as a storyteller! Beware, however, of smothering your audience with too much detail as this will reverse the effect you want to achieve. 1-3 sensory details at a time is enough to arouse your audience, any more is overkill.

Happily Ever After for your business storytelling?

The tips we’ve examined here will help you to craft better stories for business presentations. The thing to remember is that we can all harness the power of storytelling. It’s about craft,not talent.

Storytelling is something that we can learn, practice and improve and not a God-given talent as some people like to think! If you don’t have that natural flair for storytelling then you can literally piece your stories together using structural formulas and component checklists such as those we’ve touched on in this article. It’s like colouring by numbers and before you know it the stories will get easier and easier to develop and deliver.

 

happy businessman riding away from the office with cheers and applauseSo, what of our young businessman?

His eyes raced like fish as he read the article and when he finished he jumped up and once again faced the slumbering audience.

He told them a simple story. They woke up and listened. At the end they understood his idea and what’s more – they loved it.  Message delivered, the businessman rode away on his bike to tremendous applause.

As you can probably tell I love a good story. If you have any experiences or tips around the topic of storytelling for business that you would like to share then please feel free to get in touch or leave a comment below.

The End 🙂

Sinead Gillett

Creative Director

Face Facts: Your Profile Picture is Part of Your Business Brand

Face Facts: Your Profile Picture is Part of Your Business Brand

Profile Picture of a businessmanHow much thought have you put into your LinkedIn profile pic? Or the profile photo you use for the ‘About Us’ page of your business website? They’re probably the same photo and chances are you may not have considered the massive impact your own photograph has for your brand.

Over 60% of the electrical energy of our brains is geared towards vision and our photo is an essential part of our business communications. It provides the most immediate and vital first impression when a potential client or business partner views our profile. Even a cursory glance through our own connections may reveal quite a range of images from the conservative professional to the decidedly casual.

Whatever your background or occupation there are some key recommendations I would make:

5 Tips to Nailing a Successful Business Profile Picture 

1. Choosing not to display a profile photo is NOT an option

If you are one of that select band who hasn’t got a LinkedIn photo it gives the impression that you can’t be bothered, a decidedly poor first impression! Leaving the image section of your professional profile blank is like having a’closed’ sign on your business door. It sends the message that you don’t want to do business.

When it comes to your business website including your own biography and those of other staff members, along with your photos, is vital. People want to buy from people, not just from a logo or brand. Remember that you are your brand and so you need to stand in front of it.

2. Consult with Customers and Colleagues Before Choosing your Profile Picture 

Before deciding on your LinkedIn photo or website profile image I suggest you ask 5 of your best clients how they perceive you and what your best qualities are. This may or may not be in line with your own perception but it should certainly inform your choice of photo. You want to appeal in the best way possible to your marketplace. Making sure your professional profile picture reflects the perceptions of your clients is therefore prudent.

3. Use a Professional Corporate Headshot Photographer 

Find a good professional photographer. The best photographers will engage fully with you to understand exactly what you wish to convey. They will take photos from a variety of angles, and you should remember to bring a number of jackets and shirts to see what shows you in the best light. If you have chosen wisely then trust your photographer. Remember a picture paints a thousand words.

Profile Picture Checklist – Dos & Don’ts
  • Depending on what you wish to convey a smile may be ideal.
  • Avoid holding pets or children or drinks. This makes you appear totally unprofessional.
  • Unless you are in a business partnership your photo should be of you and you only.
  • A head shot gives a clearer and stronger impression that one that includes the torso.
  • Unless it is relevant to your occupation outdoor scenes are best avoided.
  • Make sure you use a human image unless you wish to appear very childish.
  • Use humour with caution unless you’re a professional comedian or cartoonist.
4. Colour Code your Profile Pic

Depending on your industry colour may be very important. As a rule we expect those in a corporate environment, or professionals such as accountants or lawyers etc to present a serious and sober image. IT professionals are more likely to adopt an altogether more casual impression. Colours convey subliminal messages.

  • Blues imply calmness;
  • Black and grey imply solidity;
  • Brown is often viewed as dull and unimaginative;
  • Red is high energy, sometimes verging on aggression;
  • Yellow is best left to creative types who wish to stand out as being different;
  • Greens vary in shades ranging from conservative to decidedly ‘out there’.

Take advice and choose wisely!

5. Practice Makes Perfect

Many of us do not like having our photos taken. Set any such feelings aside. You are not doing this for yourself. This is part of advertising your business and how you come across is a vital part of your presentation. If you’re nervous or simply reluctant to be photographed I suggest you practice. Ask a friend to take multiple shots of you using a phone. Put on some music you like or have someone crack jokes as the camera clicks. Whatever it takes to allow you relax AND appear confident. The two do not always go hand in hand but subliminally we associate confidence with competence.

Final Words of Wisdom! 

Finally, remember that no matter who you are or how talented not everyone will like you or your photo. Being clear and confident about what you wish to convey is the most important starting point. You can always change your photo later if you want to refresh your profile.

Here’s another article worth reading when considering your LinkedIn profile.

Thanks for taking the time out to read this article and to CONKER for inviting me to guest post.

Joseph McGuire, Clearsight Communications

Owner

Joeseph McGuire Profile PictureJoseph McGuire is the owner of Clearsight Communications who provide personal evaluation services in the areas of senior level recruitment/promotion, negotiations, sales and HR. Individual consultation sessions are available both in person and via Skype. He is also available for group presentations, private functions and conferences.

For further information email: info@clearsightcommunications.com or call 087-246 1853.