One of the major challenges we encounter with clients – and, perhaps more to the point, prospective clients – centres around the transfer of information.
Or, more specifically, getting the complex ideas and concepts out of the heads of senior leadership and neatly distilled into a blog or a piece of editorial.
It should be so easy...
Video has bridged this gap to some extent, as it’s so much easier to sit someone in front of a camera and have them speak their mind than it is to articulate it on paper – provided, of course, that they can spare the time to do so. And even beyond that, you've got cost, logistics and restrictions on quality to worry about.
For smart B2B marketers, who want to create content at scale, the written word will very often be the most effective way of achieving their goals.
And given the tendency of these senior figures to speak their minds in meetings (often at, um, considerable length) you'd imagine that getting their views down on paper would be easy-peasy. Instead, though, it's the largest roadblock to success in many content strategies.
There are two primary factors behind this reluctance:
- A (perceived) lack of time: they're busy, their to-do list is long, and this is one item that can always be put off until 'tomorrow' in order to address more pressing matters;
- A lack of buy-in: the stakeholder isn't fully convinced that this approach is going to yield results; and thus, they question whether they should invest their limited minutes and hours into pursuing something so futile.
So, how do you get the bigwigs to play ball?
Not by asking them to 'write a blog'. That's for sure.
Even experienced writers baulk at the prospect of a blank page.
I've personally written an estimated total of 880,000 words for the Irish Independent alone (between gig reviews, music columns, interviews, features, op-eds and a Herald column called Teenage Kicks, which I thoroughly hope has been erased from all recorded history).
That's only slightly short of the entire Harry Potter series – in quantity, not quality, obviously! – and that's before you even attempt to count the thousands more I scribbled down during my tenures at Newstalk and Lovin Media, since I started Far From Avocados.
All this by way of saying: I'm not exactly short on practice.
But, if you put me in front of a blank page, I'll... blank. It's too much of a cognitive load, and I'll default to a task that's got a clearer path to completion. To work around this, I use a predefined structure to get me going; something I've written about in some detail here.
Imagine, then, how difficult it will be for a senior executive – without a fraction of that experience, without an established framework for content creation, and without all that time I had to dedicate to Teenage Kicks when I probably should have been studying for my Leaving Cert.
So can you just bypass them and create content without their input?
Well you can. But you probably shouldn't.
Not because you're going to get in trouble for failing to toe the company line, or because you risk leaving a trail of bruised egos in your wake, but because it just... won't pack the same punch.
The thoughts of senior leadership are the lifeblood of any company, and as a result, they should be the lifeblood of any content strategy. Their ideas, approaches and insights are what gives the company its edge; what makes you stand out amongst your competitors.
So while you can go solo on the 'hygiene' content – answering basic questions your audience might have, covering off fundamental elements of your product, that kind of thing – the real cut-through is going to come from the unique viewpoints of your subject experts.
How do you get senior stakeholders to buy into your content, then?
The solution is simple: make it easy for them. Really easy.
So easy that they may even be insulted by how easy you've made it for them; so easy that you're not even asking them to form complete sentences.
Of course, you want to do all of this without sacrificing too much detail; you still need to gather enough of their expert knowledge to create that powerful piece of content.
This requires a laser-like focus on getting the information you need, at the expense of everything else; and this, in turn, requires a tried and tested method.
And we just happen to have one of those.
We call it the 'Bullet Method'
On a surface level, this is simple: you're asking the subject matter expert to give you bullet points on the topic at hand, making it easier for them to get their thoughts down on paper.
By asking them to provide it in non-sentence format, it means they focus less on the construction, tone or sound, and more on the information and insight that we need from them.
But it also runs deeper than that. It's about breaking the topic down into two key categories of information; we call these the generic strand and the premium strand.
Think of the generic strand as anything that can be written based on material that already exists – or is just blindingly obvious. This could be information about your product, your audience, research outputs, public statistics, your company's background story, and so on.
Too often, the valuable time of senior stakeholders is wasted discussing these elements. They spend 20 minutes writing down the tale of how the company was founded, basically rewriting your website About page, then get to the point where they have to move on to another task.
And you're left with nothing.
Your role in all this is crucial
Your job as the content marketing owner (or the job of your agency) is to cover off the generic strand before the content brief even crosses your expert's desk – and allow them to focus on the areas where they can really maximise their value.
That's the premium strand; the information that could not be from anyone else. This is stuff that only a true subject expert, thought leader or insider could proffer. It won't be earth-shattering in every instance, but it will be unique to your company – and unique means cut-through.
The bullet method is about focusing their time, thoughts and cognitive energy on what they – and only they – can deliver to your audience.
Psst... here's the good news
There's even a template!
Remember, there's nothing more daunting than a blank page – and putting one in front of your subject matter expert could mean they're checked out of the process before they've even started.
With that in mind, we created this one-page template that allows you or your team to easily input the generic strand information, leaving a clear space for your senior stakeholder to fill in pre-formatted bullet points.
Click below to download