As more companies move their content strategy and marketing efforts online, it’s becoming more difficult to differentiate themselves from everyone else. What can help your efforts stand out right now?
I had the pleasure of attending a Brené Brown lecture at this year’s Forrester/SiriusDecisions virtual Summit 2020, where she addressed these concerns. Brown has become something of a sensation. She’s a research professor whose career has focused on courage, empathy, vulnerability and shame. And her work is resonating with people: Her TED Talk on vulnerability has over 13 million views, and she’s the first researcher to have a filmed lecture released on Netflix.
While I listened to Brown’s lecture, I thought about how her research and findings could apply to the ways content strategy is operating in the current moment. Here are three lessons I came away with.
Balance Facts and Faith
One phenomenon Brown explained was the Stockdale Paradox. Admiral Jim Stockdale was a POW for 8 years and survived his ordeal, and his mission became helping other POWs stay physically and spiritually fit during theirs. He was asked who couldn’t hold on in the situation, and his response was that the optimists were the first to go; these were the people who would set timelines about their release without acknowledging everything that was happening.
This doesn’t mean optimism isn’t critical to survival. But it must be paired with addressing the truth of the reality at hand.
Finding this balance is especially important right now as marketers review and pivot their content strategies. You can’t play down or ignore the gritty, real, true facts of the current and near-term situations with your customers. But at the same time, you must maintain optimism and hopefulness about the outcome. Brown called this concept “gritty facts, gritty faith.”
As you review your content and strategy, ask yourself: Are we being totally truthful with our audience about the current situation and realities at hand? And how can we balance this truth with optimism and hopefulness? This is a difficult combination to achieve, but if you’re courageous and go after it, you’ll find a way to set your content and strategy apart in the digital world.
Address Connection Barriers
One of the most impactful parts of Brown’s lecture for me was about what prevents companies connecting not just with customers, but with fellow employees.
She said her research found that the greatest barrier to connection isn’t fear, but rather, self-protection and armor. There’s a pervasive feeling of shame for employees at many companies, and that shame is often triggered by the fear of being irrelevant—which causes armor to go up.
That armor then affects the work employees do, including actions in and responses to difficult situations. Rather than looking forward, people dig in their heels: That’s not how we used to do things. We’re still bringing in tons of revenue, so we’re fine. We don’t see the business case for those changes.
It’s difficult to do your best work if you’re constantly asking yourself who or what you’re supposed to be to fit in. Not only does it negatively impact your work, but it affects your connection and communication with customers, which you need if you stand out.
You need to have courage in this situation. Be honest about any underlying issues that self-protection and armor may be causing. If people in your team feel like they need to armor up to work, it will come through in the content you create and impact how you connect with customers. By addressing these issues now, you’ll get closer to creating genuine connection within your team and with your customers.
Don’t Ignore Emotion
So much is changing and so much is unknown. If we aren’t careful, our fear can lead to paralysis when it comes to responding and planning out next steps.
One of the worst things we can do is pretend that emotion doesn’t exist. And this isn’t just for us personally. We also have to acknowledge our customers’ feelings and fears to truly connect with them. If we push down any fear or emotion, Brown says, it doesn’t go away. It metastasizes and gets worse for ourselves.
“We are emotional beings, who, on occasion, think,” she said. If we fail to tend to any fears or feelings—not just our own, but our customers’—we aren’t being as effective with our content and our strategy as we could be. We don’t want to miss out on fantastic opportunities for genuine connection with customers.
I liked Brown’s suggested strategy of naming, acknowledging and breathing through these emotions. This is applicable for ourselves as well as how we want to work with customers. If we can wrap language around emotion, she says, it gives us choices for how we show up and who we want to be.
Who do you want to be for your customers? And how do you want to show up for them right now? It’s impossible to truthfully answer these questions and create exceptional content or an exceptional content strategy without acknowledging—and incorporating—emotion. If you understand the role emotion plays in how customers respond to your content and how they make decisions, you have a better chance of making a lasting impact.
As more companies move their marketing efforts online, it can be difficult to stand out. But if you’re courageous and can follow these three steps, you put yourself in a better position not only to stand out, but to create real, lasting impact on your customers.