One of the things I’m blessed to be able to do is teach content marketing workshops all around the world. The goal of these workshops is to teach marketers how to exercise a new muscle – developing content that is valuable to the consumer despite whatever product or service they may be in the business of selling.
Yup, that’s right. I said “despite”. Now, I don’t mean the “contempt” definition of “despite”. I mean the first definition: without being affected by; in spite of.
This can be a difficult hurdle to jump.
Inevitably in my workshops, when we get to the part about the “core of the story”, some marketers struggle with this. I ask for their ideas and the answers are something like: “My idea is to create a blog where we clearly communicate the differentiation of our approach.” I ask them: “Why is that valuable to the consumer?” And this is when they look at me and stammer: “Because… they’ll understand that our product… is awesome?” And they usually can’t help but giggle at this point.
Yes. It’s hard. Developing brand differentiation and persuasive content is built into our DNA as marketers. But, as content marketers, we have to get beyond it. We have to begin with a content mission that establishes value to the consumer first and foremost. Here’s a tip to get there. It’s called the “5 Whys”.
The 5 Whys
This is a concept developed by Sakichi Toyoda and was originally used within Toyota Motors during the evolution of its now-famous Toyota Production System. It has since been adopted by a number of project management (and other) processes – namely the Six Sigma and, more recently, Lean Startup methodologies.
The classic process is simple. It’s about stating a problem and then asking the “why” question five times to get to the “root cause” of the problem. Here’s an example:
Problem: The living room is dark
- 1st Why: Because the light bulbs are not working.
- 2nd Why: Because the light bulbs are dead and burnt out.
- 3rd Why: Because the light bulbs are old and should have been replaced.
- 4th Why: Because we didn’t know that they needed to be replaced.
- 5th Why (root cause): Because we don’t have a way to track how old the light bulbs are.
So, the root cause in this case is that we don’t have a method to track the age of the light bulbs. We can’t predict when they will go out, or the greater problem this will eventually lead to (darkness). So, fix the root cause and you can avoid the eventual problem.
Now, there are extensions to the 5 Whys, and its weaknesses are well documented. Not to mention that more complex problems can require asking why more than five times.
But from a content marketing perspective, an exercise in asking why five (or more) times can provide real benefit. It can help us get to the core value for the customer – instead of our company.
It’s something you can certainly do on your own. Here’s how:
Ask your group (or just you by yourself) to come up with ideas for content marketing. Chances are the ideas will look something like this:
- Launch a blog that informs users on how to use the kind of product we sell.
- Create a white-paper series on the business benefits of the kind of service we provide.
- Use a blog platform to curate news from our industry to position ourselves as thought leaders.
Now, all of these could be fun and interesting content marketing ideas, but all of them as you can see centre on value for the company – not the consumer of the content.
So let’s take one of these – the “curate news” idea – as an example and run it through our 5 Whys to get to the true purpose of that idea and how (if at all) it fits into our larger story. (By the way, this is from an actual workshop for a B2B company.)
Idea: Use a blog platform to curate news from our industry to position us as thought leaders
- 1st Why: Why is curating news to position us as thought leaders important to our customers?
- 2nd Why: Why is it important that people see that we have our fingers on the pulse and have a point of view on the industry?
- 3rd Why: Why is it important to our customers and prospects to have more trust in what we say?
- 4th Why: Why do our customers need a trusted partner to keep them on top of what’s going on in our industry?
- 5th Why: Why is it important for our customers’ success to be informed?
- A: Because our customers will see that we have our fingers on the pulse of our business and have a point of view on the industry.
- A: Because then our customers and prospects will have more trust in what we say.
- A: Because developments in our industry are changing really quickly and our customers need a trusted partner to keep them on top of what’s going on.
- A: Because they are really busy trying to be successful and a trusted partner can help them be informed.
- A: Because if they’re informed about the industry from a trusted source, they will be more competitive – and can then be more successful.
Pretty cool, huh?
Within five whys we go from a blog that’s focused on “positioning us as thought leaders” to a blog platform that “helps our customers be more competitive and successful”. Go back and read those why answers in reverse and you have a pretty well-formed mission statement for that blog.
Now, if we’re not entirely satisfied with that question, you could continue on this exercise and ask a few more. For example: “Why is it important that our customers are more competitive?” Each why takes a bigger and more important leap towards understanding the larger context of what our customers value in their world.
That’s an important point. You’ll notice that in the questioning I immediately put the emphasis on why this is important to the customers. They are the central audience here. It’s not about us. It’s about them.
You won’t have an epiphany every single time you do this exercise. And in many instances you’ll find that the whys lead to a “meh” and you can safely abandon the idea. But it’s the process that’s important.
As the wonderful quote from Proust goes: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but seeing with new eyes.” Asking why can certainly open them wider.
As always, it’s your story. I dare you to make it remarkable.
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