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In this episode, Katie and Chris discuss what makes truly compelling content marketing, from storytelling structures to research and development. How do you keep people engaged in your content? Tune in to find out!

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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

Christopher Penn 0:02

This is In-Ear Insights, the Trust Insights podcast.

In this week’s in In-Ear Insights, what does it take to make content that stops people’s thumbs from scrolling that gets people to dig in? Katy, once you to talk about, you know, the the situation you found yourself in last night staying up much later than you should have.

Katie Robbert 0:25

Yes.

For those of you watching this podcast recording, you can see I am noticeably very tired more so than usual.

But that’s because I usually read before I go to bed.

So I read for like maybe an hour, two hours depending on what time I start.

But last night I I was ready to start a new book and I downloaded a new book.

And I found myself unable to stop reading it because it was written in such a way that like I just needed to find out what was happening.

And it was you know, it was a murder mystery kind of thing.

But it was done in it was done so well that I just couldn’t put it down, I had to finish it regardless of the fact that I really just wanted to go to sleep.

So called midnight, I finished the whole book, I devoured it.

And it got me thinking our goal as content creators, as content marketers is to create content that people just can’t stop reading that they want to devour.

And so I started to work backwards, it’s like, well, where how do we get there? Because a lot of us, myself included, usually just write whatever’s on our mind.

But that’s not good enough, because what we’re thinking most people probably don’t care about.

So how do we as content marketers, take the things that we want to write about and turn it into that compelling content that people just can’t put down? And that’s where I started to think through Chris, what that research process might look like, and where you can get more information to supplement the stuff that you want to write about.

So Chris, you create content on a daily basis? Where do you start? In terms of figuring out is this something people even care about?

Christopher Penn 2:06

That’s a really good starting point.

Because there’s two types of content creators, right? There’s the proactive creator and the reactive creator, the proactive creator opens up a page blank and says okay, content time boom thing they they make whatever the reactor creators like, paralyzed by the empty page, like what do I do? But give them a question, give them you know, a starting point give give them something to crystallize off of you.

I saw crystal Swami strap because see crystal and say the whole thing comes together.

That is reactive greeters much easier, like, give me a question to answer.

And for me, I’m a much more reactive Korea than a proactive treat I, I’ve changed a lot in the last 18 months.

But prior to the pandemic, I was totally reactive creator.

And starting with a question of some kind, starting with a spark, for me is a lot easier.

So, you know, when people email me if I read if I’m on Quora, or asked calm or just answer, or any of these companies that have all these, you know, q&a sites, Reddit forums and threads, that’s generally an easy place.

I mean, half of the more than half of the podcast episodes we’ve done for the show have been things that have happened in the past week, you know, with our clients.

So again, that’s the reactive where we can say, yeah, we know, Bob over at, you know, whatever discounts, was running into some issues with their Tag Manager last week, okay.

We were able to fix it.

But more importantly, we can share, here’s what we did for Bob to help, you know, help him do his work better.

So I find neither version is better than the other.

Right? It’s, it’s what situation you put someone you put a proactive creator, into a reactive situation, they’re gonna be frustrated, they’ll be like, just let me create what I want to create, stop giving me these things.

I don’t want to answer what a reactive creator in a productive situation, they literally are powerless.

I don’t know what to do.

Right? Like, it’s a blank page stop, like a podcast would just stare at you like, for a minute and a half, like, I don’t know what to say.

That’s, that’s the thing I think is important is knowing what kind of creator somebody is, and then feeding them putting them in a situation that works for them best.

Katie Robbert 4:23

So, okay, I’m probably more of a reactive creator than a proactive creator.

You know, a lot of the ideas that I get to write about are to your point based on things that have happened or, you know, scenarios I’ve seen play out.

So once we, once we get there, once we say, Okay, here’s a question that people want answered.

To me, that’s not good enough, because there’s probably already like, if you do a Google search for the question, which is usually where I start.

800 million people have already answered that question, their own version of that question.

So how do you put your own spin on it and make it yours? And so that’s where I start to maybe go down the road of doing even deeper research beyond just a general Google search.

Christopher Penn 5:09

The there’s two things you need to tease out there.

One, what is the intent of the question? Right? So if I was writing a post this morning, about whether link, you know, link in bio, which we put in our podcast, I suppose someone had said on a blog post, you know, we can Oh, that diminishes your Instagram performance by 30%.

I’m like, Is that true? I don’t know.

But I could know.

So a layer down is, how would we know a layer down for that is, what do we do with the information once we know? And it turns out, by the way, spoiler alert, it has no impact on Instagram performance, whatever, say it as much as you want.

But that intent will help you create better content, because it’s not just the answer to the questions, the answer to the question, and the two questions a person is going to have after they get that, so you have to kind of know, or explore with market research, focus groups, interviews, etc.

What the intent is, in order to be able to create that, but the other thing is, is what we call the to cake scenario.

And this is something that I picked up from my fiction writing friends.

We think, as, as content creators, oh, somebody’s already done that post, right? Somebody may have done a video.

Well, yeah, of course.

A million people have done that idea, but to our readers, to our listeners, to our viewers.

It’s like saying, Well, here’s a cake.

And like, I’m not gonna make another cake.

And two members, like, holy shit, two cakes, I get to set a one.

Keep that in mind that it’s okay for you to publish your POV on a thing, even if it’s been done to death, because you haven’t done it.

I have Keo Katie, if you weren’t, if you were an IRA, to both, write a blog post, say about, you know, redlining or discrimination.

Yes, we’re covering the exact same topic.

And in some ways, we’re very similar people, we work well together, but in other ways, we’re very different people.

And so you would really want those two different perspectives, even though it would seem from our perspective as a creative as gonna be so repetitive.

Not necessarily.

So try to disabuse yourself of the notion that Oh, somebody else has already done I shouldn’t do it? Well, no, you haven’t done it.

The your unique point of view,

Katie Robbert 7:22

I think that that’s a really interesting point to bring up.

Because I know, you know, in talking with, you know, some of our clients who are asked to produce a higher volume of content, you know, for themselves for their clients.

That sort of a struggle that they run into is, you know, they feel like they’re that they’re just repeating things that have already been written.

And if they’re not really thinking it through, if they’re just sort of robotic about it, and copying and pasting what they find on Google, then yeah, they are just repeating what’s already been written, if you’re really just hijacking a with a Wikipedia page, then there is nothing unique about it.

So I think that that’s really, you know, what you said, Chris, is, what’s your point of view on this thing? And so, you know, let’s say you have a really, you know, a highly technical specialized client that only makes you know, one specific type of glass that goes in a lens that goes into thing that, you know, sort of good online, it’s, and they want to write about it? Well, yeah, that can be really technical.

But think about it.

You know, Chris, from that perspective, instead of like, What’s your point? If you want it? And how do you want to consume that content? What do you want to know about it? And so I think that structure of answering those questions have, what is it? Why do we care about it? And then what do we do with this information is always a good place to start.

Because you want you don’t want someone to go, Well, I just read a bunch of crap.

And it doesn’t tell me anything, you’d rather have them walk away go, Well, at least they give me something to do, even if I don’t fully understand it.

Christopher Penn 8:56

Exactly.

And that too, is where you want people of varying skill levels, creating content, because the beginner is going to bring a fresh set of eyes to a topic and ask questions that, yes, or naive.

But at the same time, if you haven’t had a beginner writing for you, then you don’t have any of that beginner level content, that one a one that, you know, what is Google Analytics? Why do I care about this thing? And conversely, you also want those subject matter experts to do that super deep dive that you know, the thing that only that expert can can deliver on because again, there’s gonna be some unique things in there that are very going to be very difficult to find elsewhere.

But there’s one other aspect to that I want to go back to something you know, from the beginning of this where you have to tell a story.

The reason you couldn’t put down that book last night was not because it was great prose, not because it used a certain number of adjectives and things it was because it was really good story.

I’ve written probably close to 300,000 words of like, fiction since the pandemic started as a side hobby.

And I’ve learned so much about telling stories more effectively.

So that people stay engaged.

Like there’s got to be all these things that that lead to a story.

So either with something like a lens, you can still tell a story about it about how people use it, about the results it gives, about the way it changes the world giving examples, people remember stories, right? I mean, you can probably still recall, the nursery rhymes that you were told as a kid, right, jack and jill went up a hill of Little Red Riding Hood and stuff.

Even though these things have no practical application to day to day life.

You run them because you remember them as key stories.

So a part of content marketing to be really effective is to tell really impactful stories that can lodge in people’s brains.

Hmm.

Katie Robbert 10:59

Well, and I’m still, I’m still thinking about the book that I was reading last night.

Because it was such a it was, I’ve read a lot of murder mystery, like who done it, suspense, whatever.

So I’ve sort of run the gamut in terms of how that story is told.

It’s always the person, you least, least expect.

And, you know, they do the build up, you know, they’re saying, it’s this person, it’s this person, look over here.

But really, it’s this other person over here.

So I already know that’s coming.

Because I’ve read enough of those books.

It’s to your point, Chris, is the storytelling of how the author gets there.

Now, I was reading a book prior to this one that I was struggling to get through.

And I was, you know, I probably could have just put it down.

But I was already sort of committed.

But it sounded like the author had basically just, you know, every other word they had looked up on thesaurus, calm, and we’re trying to find a different version of that word.

And it was hard to get through because it took me out of the storytelling element.

The story itself, could have been pretty interesting.

But the way in which was written was really distracting.

So to your point about it doesn’t matter the number of adjectives, it’s like, just write the story.

Don’t try to like fancy it up with words that, you know, you think people are gonna be like, oh, wow, that’s really smart writing No, really smart writing is a story that you walk away and go, Wow, that was really good.

It’s gonna stick with me, even if they didn’t use a five syllable word in the story.

Christopher Penn 12:29

Yeah, I’d say, I’m gonna guess that that was probably an editor who was like, he uses word too many times.

So we’re just gonna go automatically go through and replace them all like, no.

Katie Robbert 12:38

It that’s what it felt like, and it was very distracting.

Christopher Penn 12:41

Yeah, exactly.

One of the best books I’ve ever read on storytelling is actually has nothing to do with storytelling.

It’s the book.

The holding up Yeah, it’s a plain black book called strong magic by Darwin Ortiz.

Darwin Ortiz is a close up magician, one of the best in the world.

And this is a book about how to make your magic more compelling, how to build a structure around it and stuff.

And he talks about how you structure the act, to be aligned with your persona, your brand, the kinds of things that people expect.

And he says one of the things to be very careful of is what he calls doing magic for magicians, you know, tricking magicians is you know, you try and be clever, you try and do extra, you know, deception and stuff.

But it doesn’t build the story at all, to the to the lay audience.

Even here, your opening effect must achieve two important goals, it has to win over the audience.

And it has to set the tone for the rest of the Act.

Right.

So if you get a chance, it’s hard to find it’s been in and out of print over the years.

But this is one of the best books on learning how to tell a story that is compelling that I’ve ever read.

And, again, when you think about a piece of content marketing, like what you were saying, in a murder mystery, you’ve seen it done a million different ways, right? So with any kind of storytelling, you have plot, you have tone, you have characterization.

And so if the plot has been done to death, that’s okay.

Because all these other factors that go into it, like your characterization, like your flow, like your pacing, can change can make that plot compelling, because it’s less about who done it in some ways, then, how does this impact the characters that you’ve grown to care about right? If a good story can bring you into a character go, Wow, it’s really compelling.

I really want to know what happens to this person.

Even though it’s a murder machine has been done a million times.

I was watching over the weekend.

So the episodes last season of Lucifer and you know, you if you’ve watched the show for a while, you know, you’ve grown attached, emotionally attached invested in some of these characters.

And you know, it’s probably gonna, you know, you have a pretty good sense of just how the story will generally go, but how does it really turn out that way? Now, when we think about like our content marketing, the reader is the character.

The reader is the protagonist.

The reader is The hero of their story.

How does your content marketing advance their story? And the plot? aka like the takeaways? Yeah, maybe stuff that you already know.

Right? Like, hey, you should probably not spend all your ad budget on ad types don’t work, right that’s reserved for so out is what you create, change the story of the reader, how has it changed their characterization? How they see themselves? How does it change what they’re going to do, or how fast they’re going to do it, how’s it changed how they’re going to react or how it’s going to make them feel when they work part of effective storytelling and content marketing is that it’s, it’s linked to any emotion, right? It has to spur some kind of motion to make you sad or angry or happy or joyful, or, you know, devastated and tragic, or horny, or anything that has a emotional hook that makes you go I care about this person, how does your content marketing make the reader care more about themselves as the hero of their story? And so really good content marketing makes them feel like, Oh, I can do this.

Right? Or? Wow, my mind is blown by this.

The worst thing that will is that someone read it go.

Okay, that was interesting next.

Katie Robbert 16:17

Well, and I think that, that, that’s exactly it.

That’s sort of what we want the takeaway to be, but something you said, you know, Chris struck me is, you know, don’t it’s, it’s the cleverness of it.

And I think as marketers, it’s in our nature to try to be clever and hooky and, you know, do the whole clickbait thing, even if we’re saying, Oh, I don’t do clickbait like, but we try to do it.

So we really try to like, write in such a way that sounds like super clever and super smart? Well, no, you need to just get the facts out first, and then you can start to weave the story around it.

Because if you start off, you know, trying to be clever, you’re probably going to miss the whole point of the storytelling, which is to give someone some useful information.

And so I think that that is as boring as it might sound, you need to start with the facts, what are the facts? What is the outline, and then you can build those layers around it, you can add, you know, new, you know, scenarios for your characters to get, you know, they have to get themselves out over however you want to think about the storytelling.

But if the facts aren’t there, if you can’t draw a straight line from A to B in your story, it’s never going to come together.

And it’s not going to be a compelling piece that people care about.

Because it didn’t go anywhere because it didn’t do anything, didn’t tell them something.

It doesn’t matter if you have, you know, the source com attached to your right hip, like just like, you just need, what is what’s the point? What’s the so what of this whole piece of content?

Christopher Penn 17:55

Exactly.

And I would actually say you don’t, you shouldn’t even start with the facts.

You should start with the story first, what kind of are you going to tell? There’s seven basic story types by Christopher Booker talked about the 2004 you know, overcoming the monster, you know, like returning to the Jedi and stuff about rags to riches, the noble quest voyage in return, we go on some long trip like The Hobbit, you know, Comedy, tragedy, rebirth where somebody you know, changes or evolves and metamorphosis to something else.

And once you have that, then you say, Okay, well, what is the outcome that we want the reader to feel? Do you want them to have that rags to riches story, that’s where a lot of clickbait comes in.

Right? You have a lot of clickbait like you do these five things, and your ads will blow up.

Right.

That’s, that’s what kind of story that is.

It’s a rags to riches story.

A lot of the content we see about is not particularly good.

But you can see the fundamentally that’s what that story type is.

For a lot of people who are reading content, a lot of them do are looking for almost like the voyage and return to that rebirth story.

Like Okay, I’ll get my butt handed to me at work.

My email marketing is not working, you know, my performance reviews are not great, what what do I need to do to become better? What do I need to do to evolve as a professional? And so you can take more of the story types like that, that quest story, like Raiders, the Lost Ark or something? See, okay, well, how do we turn this into where the reader or the viewer is the protagonists head, take them along that quest to become that final version.

So then you put in the facts, the lessons, the reflections and things to help them do this.

Now.

The challenge with this is it actually requires you to write a lot.

And it requires you to practice thinking about things this way.

But the way you describe to Katie is perfect.

It is that it is a series of layers.

You don’t do this all in one shot.

Like when I’m writing fiction, it’s five passes.

I do the plot first because I don’t know what I’m gonna write otherwise.

Then I start looking at the characterization.

I start looking at the dialogue, looking at you know, oh, Picking up, you know, text and grammar now for looking at length and things.

But it’s like a five pass process.

It’s iterative.

It’s like software development or anything else.

You know, there’s some people can just bang it out all in one shot, I am not one of those people.

But if someone is saying, How do I create more compelling content, it has to start in some kind of story that the reader is the hero of the story.

Katie Robbert 20:23

Well, and that goes back to where I was originally starting with this question.

And that goes back to your research of what is it that people want to know, what do they care about? You know, and so if you’re looking, you know, on a Google Trends, or a Reddit or answer the public record, or wherever, you know, you are online, you need to make note of the kinds of questions people are asking about this topic.

So that you’re reaching them, you’re meeting them where they are, you know, maybe you’re using social listening software, like a Talkwalker.

You know, what are people saying about this particular topic? So let’s say just, for example, the topic is content marketing? Well, you know, we’ve been talking for about 20 minutes about one version of content marketing, which is the storytelling piece, there’s a lot of other things that go into content marketing.

And so maybe you go to, you know, you know, your SEO tool and find out well, what are some of the keywords that are associated with content marketing, that I should be thinking about? I should be answering those questions.

What are some of the other like, what, how, why, when, where? Or what are those questions related to content marketing? If I go to a core, you know, how do I get started in content marketing? What are the five core elements of content marketing? You know, if you go to answer the public, they’re going to, you know, give you a whole other list of questions to be thinking about, that people have been asking.

I mean, that’s the whole point.

These are questions that people have asked.

So what are the questions that you can answer? And put that into that storytelling format?

Christopher Penn 22:02

And just ask people, so a couple months ago, when I was getting ready to put my content marketing workshop together, we asked people in the analytics for marketers free slack group, which can join the Trust insights.ai slash analytics for marketers, over 1900 of the marketers, and said, I’m gonna put together this workshop for content marketing.

Well, what questions do you want me to answer? Right, and we have a huge document now, with all these questions that people had to ask about Google Analytics and tag magic, goal setting analytics attribution? Could we have found that with? You know, the tools you mentioned? Yes, yes, we could have.

But talking to people directly, gave us a lot more nuance into those questions to be ended, you know, to see how many of them were repetitive and people have the exact same question over and over again.

So I would also encourage people, if you as you’re doing your research to join some of the professional locations, join the LinkedIn group or a Facebook group or a slack community or discord community, where people are talking about the thing that you are trying to specialize creating continent, you join, you Shut up, you listen, and you observe and see what keeps happening, what keeps coming up over and over again, to the point where you start to build some subject matter expertise of your own and see oh, you know, what, every three weeks, somebody asks, Hey, does, do I need one tag, three triggers for tag matches, do the extra didn’t do any three tags, and one trigger? I don’t know what to do, right? And Bo sees his thing like that going, Okay.

There’s a problem.

Now, how do you map that into a story.

But you got to listen, right? One of the worst things you can do with content marketing.

And one of the ways to make it as least interesting as possible is for you to have an agenda for the content, you create, like, Oh, I need to promote my company’s thing well known.

Nobody cares about your company.

We care about how you’re going to help them feel like the hero of their story.

Katie Robbert 23:59

Well, and so that’s it.

So if you don’t have access to a community, if you’re just using the tools, either way, you’re listening, you’re taking in the information you are, you know, reading through the questions that people have, or, you know, you’re actually talking to people, you know, of what kinds of questions they have.

I think that, you know, I mean, being a speaker on a stage for an event is just another version of storytelling, you know, so whether it’s a blog, or a slide deck or whatever, you still have that same, you know, a core ask of Tell me a story, tell me what I need to know about this thing and what I need to do.

So that, you know, when people leave your session, they go, Oh, wow, that was great.

You’ve given me a lot to think about I have some homework to do or no, can you send me that slide deck so that I can go through it again and again, and really sort of wrap my head around, that’s the reaction you want, versus you standing on stage and everybody just kind of quietly gets up and leaves the room.

You’re like, Well, that didn’t work like that.

That’s a waste of everybody.

So it’s a waste of your time, it’s a waste of their time.

And you’re probably not going to get asked back to that event.

It’s the same thing with, you know, writing a blog.

It’s a waste of everybody’s time.

If you’re not doing that homework upfront to figure out what do people care about? What do people want to know? Because unless you’re just writing it in a word, document, never for anyone to see, you’re not writing for yourself.

You’re writing for everybody else.

So how do you reach people and meet them where they are?

Christopher Penn 25:27

Yep.

The last thing I’d say there as something that we borrow from our friend, Ann Handley is, don’t write to an audience, right? Write to a person, if you have the opportunity to tell a story.

Tell a story to a specific person you have in mind, like, when I’m writing this blog post, that workout I was one of Rand Fishkin blog posts I was reacting to.

And so I’m writing a blog post, as I was writing a letter to Rand to say, like, Hey, I read this thing.

Here’s what I found.

When I put together my weekly newsletter, on the weekends, I write to a specific person.

And there’s one person I have in mind, like, Okay, I know who this person is.

And it changes from week to week, depending on the topic, but I’m writing a letter to this person when we record this podcast, most of the time, I’m actually talking to you, Katie, I’m not sure what other people are listening in, but I’m really talking to you the person.

And so when you’re creating content, if you think about this massless everyone, it makes your content very generic, right, it makes it very hard to be emotional with everyone.

But you can help create an emotional context for someone.

And if you if you understand your audience, if you’ve done your research, you know who that one person is that needs to hear what you have to say.

So that would be my last suggestion on that is don’t write for everybody, right for one person, and make it a compelling story for that person.

Because the weird thing is about people.

The more specific you are, the more it seems to broadly appeal to a lot of people.

Katie Robbert 27:07

There’s a whole psychology there that I could dive into, but we are now closing in on the 30 minute mark.

So that might be for another episode.

Christopher Penn 27:18

Exactly.

So you got questions, but anything we’ve talked about in today’s episode, if you got some stories, your own that you want to share, hop on over to our free slack group analytics for markers at Trust insights.ai slash analytics for markers were univer 18 1900.

Other people can tell you a war stories about all things marketing.

And wherever it is that you’re watching or listening to this show.

Go to TrustInsights.ai dot AI slash ti podcast.

You can find the show in the format and another channel that works for you best.

Thanks for tuning in.

We’ll talk to you soon.

Bye bye.

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