You’re a contestant on a Content Marketing Game Show and you see three marked doors.
Behind each door is a content marketing position. Is your dream job behind one of these doors? Let’s see.
Door No. 1: Apple!
Door No. 2: Acme Accounting!
Door No. 3: ABC Plumbing!
With Door 1, you get to tell customer stories about the Apple Watch, iPhone, and Apple TV. With Door 2, you create content about forensic accounting – a topic that’s boring and complex for most. And with Door 3, you create content marketing for a service that’s undifferentiated.
If I polled 100 people, more than 95 would choose Door No. 1. But guess what? Content marketers can drive meaningful impact with the jobs behind doors 2 and 3 as well.
Jonathan Kranz covered how to make doors 2 and 3 work in his Content Marketing World presentation, Nightmare Marketing: How to Create Content for the Boring, Complex, and Undifferentiated Stuff that Scares the [email protected]#t Out of Everybody Else.
In this article, I cover Jonathan’s tactics for creating content about products that are:
Boredom, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Jonathan defines “boring” as “having no qualities that capture your interest or inspire your imagination.”
If there’s a customer need for your product or service, then boredom is relative. While forensic accounting may bore most people, it serves an essential need for customers in the right situation.
While forensic accounting may not inspire the imagination, it can certainly capture interest. Your job is to do just that.
Make the stakes the star
Jonathan tells the story of Viessmann, a company that manufacturers high-end heating systems like these:
A conventional approach is to describe the different models and their capabilities. You list which model is the best fit for particular scenarios.
But what if you raised the stakes?
According to Jonathan, Viessman capitalized on the opportunity “to tell a story that locates the boilers in a context in which the stakes are high.”
Creatively labeled “Canterbury Tales,” Veissman told the story of a garden community called Canterbury Apartments, where a six-person team was responsible for 480 units across 16 buildings.
According to Arthur Johnston, lead maintenance technician at Canterbury Apartments, his team fielded seven to eight hot-water service calls per day. Residents complained about the lack of heat and hot water. The boilers were the original to the community’s 1972 construction.
The boilers ran 24/7, straining the electrical circulators. As a result, the maintenance team had to replace 12 to 15 boilers each season. Each time a boiler is changed, a full system drain is done, which leaves people freezing cold.
The team makes repairs at 2 in the morning as residents lie awake in the freezing cold.
Now, are the stakes high enough for you?
Veissmann swooped in with replacement boilers that were far more reliable. The building obtained a green certification and saved a lot of money. Here’s how the story was presented:
Does raising the stakes work? According to Jonathan, “As a consequence of this one article, they closed two or three additional deals with garden apartment complexes representing over a million dollars each.”
Associate your product with well-known events
Pinnacle Strategies is “a global authority on operations and supply chain management.” According to Jonathan, Pinnacle Strategies seemed to have exhausted its opportunities in e-books on supply chain management.
In this case, Jonathan recommends a tactic he calls “news flash” or tying your brand to something (e.g., an event) that people know. In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico on a prospect operated by BP.
Pinnacle Strategies helped clean up the spill. It created a new e-book, Achieving Top Performance Under the Worst Conditions, and used this graphic to promote it:
This offer provides a nice one-two punch for Pinnacle Strategies: It associates itself with the cleanup of a well-known spill and helped save $700 million in the process.
Show empathy to prospective customers
Convercent is an enterprise compliance management solution. According to the company’s marketing material, its product “enables you to manage an increasingly complex ethical and regulatory environment.”
In a tactic Jonathan calls “play up the players,” Convercent shifted the focus away from compliance and toward the people for whom compliance matters. In other words, it made prospective customers the hero of the story.
According to Jonathan, “Make them the hero and it gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your empathy, your understanding, and your ability to meet them on the ground. All qualities that matter.”
Jonathan highlights a video produced by Convercent that did all these things:
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As a marketer selling complex products, your job is to break the complicated into simpler parts. As Jonathan says, “Can we find a salient point, a wedge, something smaller, something simpler that will at least get us in the door and start the conversation?”
“Hitting” prospects with a 400-page e-book on how to rework their network architecture is overkill. It’s better to sell one salient fact or benefit of optimizing their network.
Better case studies: Think “real” and “tangible”
Customer case studies follow a time-tested structure:
While Jonathan agrees with this approach, he notes that a few adjustments are needed for complex products.
Most case studies provide a brief synopsis of the challenge and quickly move to the solution. For Jonathan, case studies must detail why the challenge mattered: “On most case studies, it’s ‘Whoa, I don’t understand yet why the problem mattered.’ And without that, you’re not going to get much drama or interest.”
In the solution section, get into customers’ heads before you get into their wallets. “Your job is to create a word picture so compelling that readers imagine themselves within it unconsciously. Just as you do when you read a precise story, you’re suddenly there, you’re in it,” Jonathan says.
In the results section, use the voice of your customers to tell the story. If you detail the results yourself, it’s self-serving. But if you use customer quotes? It’s much more powerful, Jonathan says.
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How do local plumbers get their feet in the door? With a free magnet stuck to refrigerators.
“A pipe bursts in my home. I don’t have a whole lot of time to go fussing around to find a plumber. If I can just look up at the refrigerator and there’s the phone number, bless you, I’m going to call that number,” Jonathan says.
Once the emergency job is complete, the plumbers can take on the homeowner’s larger projects such as kitchen remodels, new heating systems, etc. See the ROI of that simple magnet?
Jonathan encourages B2B companies with complex products to find their plumber’s magnet. “Create something that represents an easy starting point for engagement so that you don’t have to sell the whole kahuna to them all at once,” he says.
Jonathan gives the example of Executive Benefits Solutions – its plumber’s magnet is free modeling tools to estimate benefits packages.
“The people who might be interested in the services of this company are exactly the kind of people who would find this delightful and useful,” Jonathan says. “Then that becomes the page they bookmark and then you become at the top of the list of authorities they might possibly approach for this complex task.”
On the one hand, experts may be too deep in the field to be adept at simplifying complex concepts. On the other hand, you can extract the knowledge of these experts and shape it in a way that’s most useful to your audience.
Jonathan does this by interviewing experts. Instead of publishing the literal transcript, however, he curates the material and moves some pieces around. “It’s the authenticity of a real voice and yet you still retain control. This is a fantastic content opportunity,” he says.
Here’s an image of an expert interview that Jonathan created for Collaborative Consulting:
“I ask all kinds of questions during the process. What I did was take the best stuff that this expert had. I put it in what seemed like a logical, reasonable order, and then I inserted questions that would naturally transition to what he had to say,” Jonathan explains.
In a sea of blue, how do you present your brand as red? Jonathan provides three tactics on how to differentiate products in an undifferentiated or commoditized industry.
Process over product
In an undifferentiated market, products are perceived as the same. However, you can be unique in how you create or deliver your product, which, in turn, can be the differentiation.
Jonathan gives the example of Cityspan, which describes itself as “a complete system for recording participant information, tracking enrollment and attendance, and measuring outcomes.” Cityspan has competitors that provide equivalent offerings.
While the products themselves are similar, Cityspan is unique in its delivery. “They promise you that before they deploy software, they’re going to spend lots of time talking to you and digging deep. Better still, they’re not going to give you one prototype. They’re going to give you multiple options for you to choose from,” Jonathan explains.
Once the customer chooses an option, Cityspan goes further. It helps customers sell downstream to their customers’ customers. Its competitors don’t go this far. Cityspan is saying, “We understand your needs better than anyone else. And we’re going to have the most likely, most favorable outcomes.”
Here’s related messaging from Cityspan’s website:
Use surprise to your advantage
Timing can be everything.
New laws or regulations that affect your industry can create differentiation in an undifferentiated market. That was the case for eSignLive, a provider of e-signature solutions. The company is based in Canada, where it also manages data centers.
According to Jonathan, “Canada has different data regulations than the United States. This turned out to be a surprising win for them because they have separate data centers not just in the U.S. and Canada, but also in the U.K. and in Germany.”
The Canada data centers gave eSignLive an advantage in that country — and, the data centers in Europe gave them an advantage when the European Union rolled out the GDPR regulations in 2018.
“eSignLive has an advantage because they’re going to keep all the e-signature data in the country of origin. They have the distributed databases and data centers,” says Jonathan.
eSignLive doubled down on this fortuitous timing with marketing campaigns that emphasized its competitive differentiation.
Zig when they zag
When your industry zags, you stand out by zigging.
Several years ago, there was a lot of buzz around the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement – employees were bringing their personal devices (e.g., smartphones, tablets, laptops) into the office and using them for work-related activities.
As security technology vendors warned of the dangers of allowing BYOD, Symantec went the other way and embraced it:
Symantec didn’t stop there. Once it attracted attention by zigging, it needed to demonstrate why others should follow its lead.
As seen in the image above, Symantec encourages a “say yes” to BYOD so long as companies have the right tools to implement it properly.
According to Jonathan, “They made a case for why you should do it and how to make it work effectively without compromising your employee’s privacy or threatening the integrity and security of your data.”
By doing so, Symantec was able to stand out among the competition.
Changing mindset, changing perspective
Creating content for boring, complex, and undifferentiated products can be fun after all!
I saw a pattern in Jonathan’s approaches – reframe the scenario and help your audience (e.g., prospects) think differently about you. Whether it’s raising the stakes, focusing on process over product, or being a contrarian, you have the opportunity to shape the narrative for any product, service, or industry.
What boring, complex, or undifferentiated products are you responsible for marketing? And which of Jonathan’s tactics resonated the most with you? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Here’s an excerpt from Jonathan’s talk:
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute