Friday, 16 September 2016

What is "narrative" anyway?

Your're probably sick of the terminology already; the buzzwords of marketing; the new age of engagement.

Engagement. Isn't that an annoying word? There was a time when engagement really had two principal meanings. One was a meeting or event you were to attend, the other was a state of pre-marital bliss.

Now it means something far more nebulous. Something like attention. Yes that's it, we call it engagement but what we really mean is to hold someone's attention long enough so as to convince them to do something about it. Like buy your product/service or connect with people.

Connect. Almost worse than engagement. Another infuriating word that really means to meet, or to correspond, or to make friends. Why do we have to be so general in this day and age of information, when words on screen are so cheap anyway?

Why not be specific? "I met with Brian on Thursday, I think we're going to do business together, hell, we might even become friends!" There. That's better. Now I understand what you're saying!

Which all leads me to the big one doing the rounds these days: Narrative. And its cousin, Storytelling.

I bet you think to yourself, when you see these words in a marketing context, "I AM RUNNING A BUSINESS HERE, FOLKS, NOT TELLING FAIRY TALES!" I know I do, and I write stories for a living!

Yes, I am guilty. I use these words; more than I should. I think it's better to think of everyone's lives as an anthology of short stories. We're doing one thing for a bunch of reasons; and then we're doing something else, for different or perhaps related reasons. The key is that a person is involved, you, and so you're running through this series of little stories that sum to your life. Scary but true: you could tell a story about nearly every aspect of your life. Some of you have some pretty thrilling stories I'm sure!

When we place this into the business context, what us narrative-weaving, storytelling, keyboard-tapping marketers are saying is that you need to focus on the who and why and how of your product/service, rather than just the what and where (which are really just a description of your thing, whatever it is. They might be features, but by themselves they are not benefits, which is to say, they do not, in and of themselves, deliver value. For that, you need to demonstrate how you're making a difference to someone and why they need it).

Some products benefit strongly from the who. For instance, a biography is all about the who and its exact job is to tell that story. Many services depend on the who: you want to know who's providing the service, whether you can trust them, etc. Sometimes, the who is all you need to sell.

The why and the how, however, are the big game. In almost all cases, the reason something sells is because someone has a problem to solve or task to complete, but they don't have the tools or resources. Then you come along with the solution.

  • Need to share a picture of your cute kitten, right now for all the world to see? How are you going to do that? Instagram of course!
  • Looking for a place to stay that's more homely than a hotel? Airbnb will show you how. 
  • Need to settle an argument? Google it. (OK, I say that with caution, but you get me.)

What do all these have in common? They're little stories.
I was trying to get home from the bar [why I was looking for transport], but there were no taxis around [don't know how I'll get home], so I used the Uber app on my smartphone and within minutes, a nice man in a nice car was driving me home. It was a great experience!
Tell that story, and people will start using Uber. Millions already do and you know this story because it could be your own. That story is told the world over, and is a driving force behind their expansion (along with a related story about better service than taxis, which is really just a taxi-avoidance version of the story above). Uber even caters for the business executive who wants to look like he's stepped out of a private limo - Uber Black. There's another story...

So that's why we do it, because it is memorable. If a product or service is to really sell, it needs to fit into people's lives. It must fill that gap. The story of why and how gives a person a compelling reason to buy.

The brands that are best at this invite their customers to tell their own stories about their use of the product. This kind of customer participation in the story of a brand is incredibly powerful in building a business. And it's pretty straightforward in a world of social media.

Tell your story well, and people will sell your product to themselves.

Salespeople have been doing this for centuries. You've no doubt heard of the "create a problem then solve it" technique for selling (and advertising). Well, that's a story based technique. And it works, like crazy. Nothing better than hearing from a customer, "yeah, I can really see why I need this!"

That's what you're trying to achieve when you tell your brand/product/service's story. You're just making it fit into people's lives. Giving them a reason to engage buy.

By the way, to return to the original question, narrative is just an account of connected events. That's what the word means. It's how you tell a story. You narrate a story. You're a storyteller! Get telling! Or, if storytelling IS that gap in your life, get in touch with us and we can help!

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

1 Powerful Way to Differentiate Yourself in the Property Market

A trendy suburban cafe, around 11 am on a warm spring day. The customer walks past a stand with some local mags, sees a page with a real estate agent's banner. She's about to move on, dismissing it as advertising, but then sees a catchy headline and an article. "Well," She thinks, "I dropped in for a coffee, and don't have anything to read. This'll do." And with that, she picks it up and orders herself a skinny latte.

A few minutes later, she's on her smartphone and scanning ads for real estate in the area. She's a successful woman, has a young family, and is still in the house they bought when they married. The house is getting a little cramped now though, "I wonder what we could upgrade to, if we did?" She ponders before looking again at that article, which discussed the booming real estate market. "Perhaps I'll give them a call."

You published that article a few weeks ago, and it made it into that cafe, and now it is being read by a potential customer. A person who, for whatever reason, was not even thinking about real estate, and especially not about selling their house, until now.

What changed her mind? You did.

The persuasive power of words

Now this woman has taken the first step towards selling, and you were the catalyst. It's very likely you'll be the first call she makes. You'll now get the chance to talk to her about selling and buying in the same market. The pros and cons. The advantages of getting it done efficiently. You will be able to explain to her how you can make it easy for her. And the best bit? She's a willing listener. She came to you, not the other way around.

This is the power of having market commentary out there, in writing. It carries authority, it delivers non-sales-pitch information, it has a subtle call to action. Most of all, it sparks interest, puts the seed of an idea into the reader's head.

Differentiating yourself

The truth is everyone can find a real estate agent if they need one. One Google search and it's done. But often they don't have the prompt to do so. People need to be asked to think about selling or buying real estate. That's why real estate agents spend so much time canvasing the market for listings. It's the hardest part of the job (it's not uncommon to make hundreds of calls a week), which is why anything that assists people in getting over that hurdle is so valuable. If a simple article makes people think about selling; then it's worth its weight in gold.

It doesn't have to be a big thing though - you're an expert in your field, and well acquainted with the goings on in your local market. I bet you have lots to say. I bet you wish people knew how good you are at your job. Well, the answer is to get your opinion out there; regularly. Start locally. Start by communicating with your established client list and roster of sales queries. Get your picture and opinion in the local paper. Write a newsletter. Write a blog.

It does require some work, but consider this: If just one extra listing came from your blog or newsletter, the commission on that sale alone will repay you for your efforts.

Get help if you need it, but do it anyway

Despite what you might fear, generally people are not too picky about grammar. So if writing is not your forte, don't fret. A poorly worded or written piece is better than nothing at all, so by all means, write it anyway and get it out there.

If you really want your opinion to convert to sales though, you need to write it well, and with an ear for persuasive copy. Good writing gets more attention than bad writing. And human beings simply enjoy well-written material. So it is worth the effort to get it done well. Given how much money is potentially waiting, it's worth considering hiring a writer to do it for you. Rates are more reasonable than you might imagine, and the big advantage is that you can establish a regular flow of writing from your desk; freeing up your time for better things, like selling property!

If you are interested in hearing more about how a professional writer with real estate experience can help you, have a look at our services and get in touch today.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Meeting in the Middle: Making complex concepts comprehensible.

I'm not going to lie: Science can be hard to understand.

There's a reason you need at least four years of intense study at university before you can call yourself a scientist. There's a lot to take in, many concepts to understand, and much to remember. It can be challenging. But for those of us with an innate fascination with the workings of the world, science is a joy! So it's not really hard work. More like a labour of love.

On the other hand, science is just one discipline among many, and not everyone is interested in being a scientist. Which is fine. The world would be pretty darn boring without the artists and writers and musicians; and trust me, we'd probably go broke or forget to eat if scientists were in charge of the money.

Science is everywhere, but not everyone is a scientist.

Science and technology underpins--makes possible--modern society; we really don't have a choice but to be engaged in science and technical matters in some way.

  • Many people (in Australia, all working people), for instance, have superannuation accounts whose fund managers invest their money in companies that perform some kind of scientific work. 
  • All of us come across scientific content in the news; be it a story about a bionic ear, or a story about vaccinations, its there; all the time. 
  • Some of us are just interested in understanding how something new works. Be it the latest in VR, or a new biotech company with something revolutionary. 

You don't have time to quickly grab a science degree though, so you rely on the writer/presenter/company executive to give you information that you can understand.

Complexity: the enigmatic enemy.

If you can't understand something, you won't remember it. If you don't remember it, you won't act on it.

It's that simple.

For most of us, that's as far as it goes. It's a shame, but it's OK.

For a company trying to sell its new wonder-product or technology though, that lack of public understanding is nothing short of a disaster. Smart people don't invest in stuff they don't understand.

So companies with scientific (or just technically challenging) ideas to convey simply must ensure their public communications are comprehensible to the public or else they are staring down the barrel of irrelevance; no matter how well run the company is, nor how good their product is.

Tell us all! Tell us all!

In a kind of reversal of the same message, a slightly different principle applies to science media/journalism.

Whereas the science company might be full of science knowledge but lacking in the communications department; the science reporter might be a great communicator, but not have enough scientific understanding to convey science news properly.

Great science reporting leaves very little out - the details and the science remain, but in understandable language. To retain the science content though, the reporter needs to grasp the science first so that he or she knows what to say.

Wait, so how do people do both?

I thought you'd never ask. It's straightforward - this mid-point between scientists and the general public has specialists of its own - science communicators. We act as translators and interpreters. We make it possible for the great work of science to be understood, and therefore supported (financially, legally, politically) by people outside the scientific community.

The problem is not going to get better with time - in fact it will probably get worse. Technology and science is advancing at such a pace it may one day outstrip humankind's capacity for understanding. But in the meantime, it's better to have your amazing whiz-bang thingamawhatsit portrayed to the public in a digestible way.

If you, or anyone you know, needs help with science communication, please contact us for advice.