Episode: 314 |
Bethel Desmond:
Business Storytelling:


Bethel Desmond

Business Storytelling

Show Notes

Bethel Desmond is the Founder of The Content Corp and former Chief Storytelling at IBM Global Business Services.

In this episode, she shares tips on how to use stories to engage customers.

Learn more about Bethel’s work at:  https://www.thecontentcorp.org/

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman 00:01
Hello, and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. If you have been thinking about setting up your own consulting practice, you can visit umbrex.com. And there’s a link set up your own firm. Check that out, we have a guide with 90 videos and 30 templates you can download, walks you through everything I’ve learned in over 1000 conversations and 12 years of being an independent. I’m Will Bachman. And I’m here today with my guest, Bethel Desmond, who is the founder of the content Corp. And when she was at IBM, she had the probably the coolest title at IBM. Beth, your title was chief storyteller. Tell us about this. It was well that Welcome to the show. Tell us a little bit about being chief storyteller at IBM what what did that mean?

Bethel Desmond 00:55
Thank you so much. I’m really, really happy to be here. Well, because I think it’s such an incredibly important time in market marketing and content marketing. Right now, I remember I got a phone call from the CEO of the firm I went to work for and he said, Beth, he said, You need to help me. He said, I have 5000 consultants here, and none of them are publishing. Now consultants are expected to publish much like academics. But these really really insightful, intelligent human beings. Were not being supported in writing their stories about the incredible important work they were doing. So that’s when my wonderful friend and leader Ishmael Anwar brought me on to start working for his peak people. And we had a miraculous success in our program. Once we explain to people the importance of storytelling and got our processes set up, we were able to produce over 100, beautiful, articulate, insightful articles in a six month period, because people were so excited to tell their stories, and now they finally had the support to do so.

Will Bachman 02:16
Amazing. So you’ve put, you have kind of a perspective where you call the content revolution. Tell me what you think is changing with content and about your philosophy on it.

Bethel Desmond 02:32
Okay, great. Yes, I have I feel very strongly about what’s going on in the market. And I’m gonna say that the last couple of months in our world has just exasperated the need for change, right? So I’m thinking about, what are the three things that are changing that are going to affect business communications? One thing is the seriousness after COVID. Okay, we’re seeing it in the way people lash out at at people in the media, who they actually like, you know, Ellen DeGeneres, or Kim Kardashian. You know, Ellen says, no more dancing, Ellen. Kim Kardashian says no more duck lips, you know, kisses. People want important information that will help them make important decisions for themselves, their businesses, and their families. So nobody is going to tolerate fluff anymore. So I think that’s a very, very important change, social seriousness, how can you help me do a better job for for myself and my family, the second moves out of the household of the individual doing the buying and moves into the larger social justice and social justice, Justice ank sorry, action. So people are no longer going to be satisfied with their companies as the as their companies having as their goal making money. People now want to see how is this company that I am interacting with that I am spending my money with? How are they helping the world. So that also is going to change the content, second part of the revolution. And then the third part, of course, has been in motion, but I think it’s just going to get pick up speed, evolving demographics. So something really interesting is that right now, your Gen Xers are most of the people who are buying your products, but the Gen Xers let’s see 35 to 51. But what’s interesting is that the Gen Xers are listening to the Gen Z years now the Gen Z ears are the two to 17 born on the web, and able to research any one thing at the click of, you know, a button on their phone. And so interesting about the Gen Z generation coming up the pike is that they spend twice as much time on their phones, okay as their millennial cousins, and they purchase 80% of their goods and services while they are reading stories in social media. So that really needs to be said again, 80% of what these guys are buying, they’re buying while they’re reading stories. So really important. But if you say, okay, 17 Beth, that’s far away from me, then let’s at least look at the millennials. The Millennials are going to spend an incredible $1.4 trillion next year. And here’s a statistic that should scare every marketing firm out there. Only 1% of millennials, when surveyed, are at all touched by traditional marketing approaches and ads, less than 1% What does

Will Bachman 06:01
that mean? no influence? No. I mean, is that what they say? In response? I mean, if probably everybody says, Oh, I don’t pay attention to ads, but then you look at their behavior, and they’re totally influenced by ads. So what does that mean, when they say only 1% are influenced by traditional ads?

Bethel Desmond 06:19
I mean, that those are findings from the survey. And I think, you know, in the past, there are all these theories around marketing, oh, the funnel approach, first, you give them this kind of story, then you give them that kind of story, and then you’ll hook them this way. And that way, you know, I haven’t found that to be the way that modern marketing works. So to give you an example, at my last client, when we were able to create those 100 articles, and in six months, the most important thing for us, of course, was to share those pieces. But we didn’t have a budget to go out and pay for, you know, big ads anywhere. And we didn’t really want that to be our strategy. Instead, what we did was months and weeks before we published a piece on a certain subject, let’s just say blockchain, we went in, and we did a lot of social listening. So what were we looking for, we were looking for Association, we were looking for website, what LinkedIn communities, website, anyone who’s interested, and what was going on in the marketplace. And we very respectfully, and transparently reached out to these individuals, media personalities, or influencers. And we created a real bond built around the knowledge that we were forming about our industry. So when I’m telling you, when I’m saying that 1% of millennials are not are the, you know, there’s only 1% of millennials that are reacting to ads. I’m not saying maybe you see a coke out, and you want to have a coke, but the way, way younger people are thinking about companies and the way that they want to be spoken to, by companies that they do business with is vastly changing.

Will Bachman 08:14
Okay, so we got three, three trends here. We talked about social seriousness, it’d be interesting to see if that kind of persists, or if it’s a phase and people get a little bit tired of it and want to be entertained again or not. And then there’s the social justice aspect and the demographics. Tell us, how do you think these changes are going to drive changes in marketing?

Bethel Desmond 08:38
Well, there’s gonna have to be a very large change. To tell you the truth, historically, and I found this to be true with several corporations I’ve worked with. And the larger the corporation, the bigger the problem is that the marketing group historically really sat sort of away from the business as usual group, they would do things like they canvass a market, they’d see what topics were being talked about, hire a ghost writer, do a search for an SEO search to understand what words people are using, shove those words into the titles and the tag lines, and then just smear the, the content anywhere they could to get it click through. But that’s really a sort of old way of addressing problems because or sharing content because once they get to the click through, if it’s not good information, then people are never going to click through to your site again. So so that is going to be a challenge for for companies to move into a new era. In the new era. The marketing professionals and the business leaders are going to have to come together. They’re going to have to stand there shoulder by shoulder and the marketing professionals are going to have to react as almost as reporters on real time happenings in the world, in all types of different businesses, so becomes a totally different approach and a transformational way it has to change from having the marketing department sit separate and create separately from our, you know, brilliant business leaders out in the markets every day.

Will Bachman 10:27
Okay. You’ve talked about being sort of the tone of marketing or kind of tone and how you don’t you want to be avoid being tone deaf talked about that a little bit?

Bethel Desmond 10:41
Um, well, certainly, for instance, I just did an initial a meeting for a client I had, and preparing for the meeting, I went and looked at their website. Well, the first thing that I saw was, we are the best we are the biggest our, you know, company has the most this, that and the other thing, but what I never heard was, how are you using those things that you have to help solve customers problems? Who may look like me? Okay, so I call it a really bad case of the eyes Mize, everything is about them. The second thing I noticed is that the only human on the entire website was that of the CEO, everywhere you clicked was CEO, and the CEO knew everything about every subject that you could possibly imagine. So it felt to me and I’m sure will feel like to modern readers. Hey, guy. First of all, don’t you have anyone else who works at the company? And secondly, can you tell me about human stories where your company has gone above and beyond to solve a challenge that a customer had? Those are the stories I want to hear in today’s environment?

Will Bachman 12:11
What are some companies that you think do a good job of that kind of storytelling?

Bethel Desmond 12:15
You know, that’s a great question. I think that all of the the Patagonia’s the Rei eyes, I feel like the sporting good companies and the outdoors firms really got it right from the very beginning. And so I often look to them as sort of the founders of this kind of content marketing, getting getting us involved and interested in their community with out the strip that without the strong call to action, you have to buy my stuff. Right.

Will Bachman 12:53
So, so you’re advocating a shift to more of a storytelling culture? What, what has to happen within traditional marketing departments to to make that happen?

Bethel Desmond 13:06
Right? So that’s a great question. So um, you know, the first thing that has to be when when starting these programs, you really, really need to start at the top. And if you can get your business leaders and your marketing professionals together in the same room, then that is the very best place to start. But when I start with my clients, I first start with the leadership at the board level, and I say, Who are you today? And who do you want to become, I have a history of strategic consulting with the big four. So I’ve done these kinds of things before but before I asked anyone to spend a minute or a dime on creating content, I want to know that that content is going to further the plans that this corporation has a has for itself, the goals that they put out for themselves. So the first thing commit to creation. The second thing is arranging for storytelling. At one client I had I had 500 consultants, and we organized that consultancy into 34 different forums or think tanks. Let’s say I had one for blockchain, I had one for artificial intelligence. In that way I could keep circulating from forum to forum to forum. And we were built to generate this incredible content engine. So the other step number two is structuring your company for story. The third thing assign responsibilities. I believe that public hate public publishing in your market sector should be expected on an annual basis and a lot of leadership teams are leaning in that direction as well. And then of course, go ahead and put a really great process together. It makes sure that the company is the internal workings of the company that that your team is aware of why we’re investing in building a storytelling capability and getting their buy in, and energy and acceptance for the whole program.

Will Bachman 15:20
Okay, so why don’t you give us a little bit of a tutorial here? So for those of us listening, who are running an independent consulting practice and want to do more storytelling in our content creation, how do you suggest people structure a story? how you’ve trained a lot of consultants on this, walk us through how to, you know how to kind of write and develop a good story?

Bethel Desmond 15:48
Sure, great, no problem. So the first thing is, why do we even write or tell stories, and you know, this has gotten back through the ages, right? stories basically are a means to organizing information. Okay, they allow us to understand something in a context, they allow us to remember it. Stories allow us to share information and the way it was shared to us. It allows us to learn and good stories allow you to feel and encourages you to act, the average human being today gets over 3000 marketing messages every single day. So if you’re not telling a good story, that’s going to be memorable, you’re wasting your money. So that’s super important. Again, when we actually sit down to write this story, it’s so much fun, I can’t tell you, the professionals that I’ve worked with have had such a great time working with us. They said this is the most amazing thing this is that when they write their articles, they say it’s the first time I’ve ever shared anything with my kids, which always makes me feel great. But um, when you think about structuring the story, I came up with a process that works really easily. And I call it the four P’s. So it’s player’s problem, plan power. And I’ll just walk you through quickly how I use that to create stories for my clients. So just recently, I did an article for staging setup companies staging is when they organize your home for sale. So then we sat down, and we went through the story structure. So firstly, you’ve got players, okay, what are the players, the players are the hero, the guide and the villain. Now, in the 1980s 90s, beginning of 2000s, the person selling the good or service was portrayed as the hero that is completely changing. Now, guys, you are not the hero any longer. You’re your customer, and your client is the hero, you are the guide. And of course, in this case, being a story about staging and selling real estate in a post COVID environment, the villain was anything that makes the house look dark, or damp, or dirty. So the problem, oh, how am I going to sell my house post COVID the plan, here’s your plan, a beautifully written article that we can help you do that. And the power, the power was that this head of this family was able to sell their property and post COVID market and successfully, you know, care for their family. So that’s basically it, almost every story that you can think of will fall into that scenario, but it’s helpful to it’s helpful to have at the ready anyway. And then importantly, I just want to point out the process of creating the story, the easier you make it, the better the people that you are going to be now interviewing without losing your firm when you adopt storytelling are very, very busy individuals who have a lot of pressure and stress on them. So you want to make this process as easy as possible. What we do is we start with an hour long interview with the subject matter expert at hand. We receive any depth documents or or stories or statistics that he may want us to look at. And then we go ahead and we do that. We review his documents. Then we move into an independent research phase, or just spend a couple of days reading analyst reports and studies and statistics. Then we once we get the copy written after research, we start looking for visuals, images, infographics, charts, tables, anything that’s going to keep the reader reading and give the readers eyes something pleasing to look at. We’re very concerned with the lead image because that The image that will pop up on your on your mobile device. And last but not least, is I think that was it? Yeah, well, the, the, the lead picture is very important because when you share that, that lead picture will pop up on your, on your mobile device. And so those are the types of things that we think about, we put together a very, very, very explicit checks and balances, where we’re making sure everything has been edited and checked, with legal, etc, etc. So the best thing to do is put a very clear, transparent policy in place. And I promise if you do that, you’ll start turning off stories like you can’t believe.

Will Bachman 20:51
And then what’s your tips on, you know, once you’ve created this content of how to get it, you know, shared, so it’s in the hands of the right person.

Bethel Desmond 21:02
Yeah, so this is something that I’m really, really passionate about, I always say that 50% of the journey of getting content marketing correct, is creating beautiful, insightful, intelligent content. That is only 50% of the job. The next job is responsible sharing. So what I do, every time I start with a new client, I immediately start doing social listening. So again, let’s assume my client is into blockchain, I would put a social listener, or group of them into trying to understand who and who is talking about blockchain, in the industry, and then we very respectfully, transparently start to reach out to these individuals, be they industry, pundants, influencers, peers of ours, whoever is is talking about the industry, we reach out to them, we read their stuff, we compliment them on their accomplishments. And we start to build a customer base, really grassroots, and it pays off so nicely, but by the time we’re ready to share our own content, we already have a very rich community that is only too happy to share on our behalf because we have been sharing on their behalf already for months. So it’s one of the most satisfying ways to build a customer base and a social media sharing strategy. With my last client, we were able to reach six and a half million new readers in a six month period with no paid advertising. So that was really just the work of several really smart young people doing social listening and respect to fully you know, building our brand. Fantastic.

Will Bachman 23:02
Well, Bethel for someone who wanted to follow up with you, what’s the best place for them to find you online?

Bethel Desmond 23:09
Oh, thanks so much. So um, come and visit me at the content core, t h, e, c o n, t, e n, t, c o r p.org. Okay, so that’s the content corp.org. And all of our contents are there as well, as well as a lot of of our work.

Will Bachman 23:31
Fantastic. Well, Bethel thanks so much for joining today and giving us perspective on the content revolution. And we will include that link in the show notes. So if you want to follow up content corp.org and that links in the show notes Bethel. Thanks for joining today. Thanks so much. Well,

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