I had lunch today with an interesting chap who is between gigs (a fancy way of saying “unemployed”, I know) and we started talking about his deep and extensive knowledge of the medical and pharmacological industries from a marketing and business development perspective, and how it overlapped with his background and legal training too.
When he got around to explaining how he’s trying to find a job but hasn’t landed anything yet, I wasn’t surprised when he asked for my suggestions on how he might leverage the blogging phenomenon to help generate both visibility in his target marketplace and some income.
What stuck in my head, however, was that his background gave him a unique ability to tell an interesting story. After all, isn’t the best marketing and, yes, even public relations, fundamentally all a throwback to our days around the campfire trying to influence and sway people based on our ability to communicate in a more interesting and engaging manner than the next person?
Then I thought about how some work I’m doing with entrepreneur and gadabout Jeff Miller on his Senior Safety Blog really boils down to the same thing: while his company may sell emergency notification devices for the elderly and infirm, it’s the stories that his customers can tell that are interesting, not the products themselves.
Let me be clear too: I’m not talking stories about his customers using his product. No, that’s too crass, overt and, worse, boring. That’s an advertorial and while even publications like BusinessWeek and WIRED include advertorials in their magazines, I’ve long since learned to recognize and ignore them and I bet you have too.
No, I’m talking about customer stories in the sense of “A visit with Susan J. Smith, 79yo mother of seven, grandmother of 14 and accomplished marathon runner”. She’d be interesting to interview, her story would be inspiring for others, and if she also had an emergency notification device handy for when she was alone of an evening, well, it would certainly remove any potential stigma and resistance, wouldn’t it?
As lunch progressed today, however, the idea that got stuck in my head was The Drug Interaction Blog. Imagine how useful it would be to have a solid, credible information source that showed how to figure out if drugs could adversely interact, how to recognize the symptoms, had detailed instructions on how to read interaction notices and even showed how to search through the Big Pharma Web sites for this information.
The blog would really become interesting as he started to accept questions that let him turn the information, the boring article, into a story, something compelling and interesting… (then, once it was a going concern, I believe medical and pharmacological companies would be willing to pay to license and reprint or republish quality “consumer advocate” content of this nature too, offering a nice behind-the-scenes revenue stream).
Marketing through telling stories doesn’t stop there, it infuses all that you do to market yourself and your business.
Consider two of my favorite business authors, Tom Peters and Jim Collins. One of them is focused on participating in the business of business, of sharing his evolving story and his view of which businesses are and aren’t successful, while the other is locked away in his ivory tower, selling products and doing research that he’ll share when his next book is published. Which is which? You tell me: visit Tom Peters’ Web site and Jim Collins’ Web site for yourself. The difference is glaringly obvious.
And so, let’s also circle back to Jeff Miller and his Senior Safety company. How do you sell something that’s an emergency use only device? To learn this, look at life insurance companies. They’ve long since mastered this art. Life insurance sales isn’t about the dead person (why would they care about an insurance payout?) at all, but about the spouse and the children. As multi-million dollar ad campaigns tell us every week, wouldn’t it be terrible if the spouse and kids were thrown out onto the street because of a lack of proper insurance?
One of my favorite examples of this, however, is from my friend and colleague Ken Giddens, who relates how when he first launched his Pepper Spray Store that he was focused on products and sales were okay. He then realized that selling situations — selling stories — helped make it a lot clearer when potential customers might need pepper spray (including “on a date”, “jogging” and “camping in the wilderness”). The result? His sales jumped significantly.
Whether you want to learn from Jeff Miller, Ken Giddens, Tom Peters or your local life insurance saleswoman, the message is always the same: don’t sell your products, tell your story, and business blogs are perfect for just this kind of storytelling.