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Interview with Content Guru, Frédéric Wauters
Today I am speaking with Frédéric Wauters for my People&Digital podcast interview series. Frederic is a copywriter, storyteller and content expert, whose main job is to help his clients find and tell the stories that most resonate with their audience.
Here you can find my key questions accompanied by summaries of Frederic’s thoughts on content and storytelling advice. Don’t forget you can listen to our discussion in full via episode 16 of my People&Digital podcast.
What is good content and why is it so important today?
‘Storytelling’ is now a buzzword but it’s nothing new. Content is storytelling with a purpose. Now content often helps a client or prospect find the information they need to accomplish their goals.
Good content is content which fits with the audience.
If you are producing content, take the time to understand exactly who you are targeting and talking to. Content is only ‘good’ if it is adapted and tailored to your audience; knowing them very well is the key.
The current importance placed on good content can be tied to the evolution of Google. In the beginning, search engine technology was about repeated keywords on pages. This meant Google could tell what the page was about, but now it needs to know if the content is also interesting.
It’s good to pay attention to Google because you have to be found by Google, but while you are targeting robots, you are still talking to humans.
Maybe 10 years ago storytellers would have needed technical knowledge of how Google works to be a copywriter but not now. What Google has been consistently saying over the last decade is “write good content, answer questions that your target audience is interested in”. If you do and write stories that answer questions your targets are asking, you will have the keywords. Although not super refined, your text will likely be naturally SEO optimized for Google.
Even when you don’t have all the information at once and take a ‘bit-by-bit’ approach to content, it’s still possible to write various stories from one topic. You need a content mindset.
Having a good knowledge of the product or service helps find what adds the most value to the target audience. By knowing more about what your customer is looking for, you’ll be able to create content that all points in the same direction.
Basically, you need to be interesting. Two good elements for interesting storytelling are empathy and authenticity.
Put yourself in your readers’ shoes to understand what they are looking for. It gives you a better idea of which stories to build – what will resonate. Also ensure the story you are telling is true – or at least rings true. You can be authentic even if you are a brand; look at what Nike is doing.
In terms of organization, an Excel spreadsheet allows you to deliver content in a consistent and meaningful way.
When you’re producing content for a company with several product lines, you have to make sure you focus on each of them, and on each type of client. An Excel spreadsheet ensures you respect all areas of focus and have a coherent content strategy.
There are specific times of the year when certain products are more in the minds of certain potential clients. You can also use Excel to plan relevant content for the right moment.
Are storytelling skills the new competitive advantage in business?
Indeed. However, unless you’re a big team with an enormous product range, you don’t need a copywriter, per se. The copywriter’s skill and unique added value is in the text, but substance is more important than style.
With a junior copywriter the substance will only be as good as what you give them. Whereas a more experienced copywriter will have the skills to question and challenge you on your assumptions about your clients. They’ll also determine the most relevant content for your clients.
You should also get this approach from any marketing person worth their salt. You need a copywriter who is more of a marketeer. You need people who think beyond your product to the essence of what you’re trying to sell. This is where a copywriter or storyteller brings that competitive advantage.
When should a copywriter be brought into a project? First you must decide if you put a copywriter on payroll or bring in a hired gun. With a hired gun, you hire experience. They will to do the job properly but it’s going to cost more than someone on your payroll.
They should be able to challenge you on what you’re writing about and trying to market to the target audience. Therefore, it makes sense to bring them onboard at an early stage in the project, to provide insights that help you shape your communications. If you’re open to it, they may also be able to help you alter the product or service to make sure it really fits what the market wants.
It’s important to have at least marketing people, if not copywriters or storytellers, on board very early on. They’ll be really involved in shaping not only the way you talk about your product or service, but even the way you think about your product or service.
Where should managers start with content in their projects?
You can start with a content expert before you know your audience because they’ll help you to devise what kind of questions to ask the audience. Ask the people who are close to the clients. They know a whole lot about them because they’re in contact every day. They know what they want, what they ask, what they fear, what the client will be interested in. Having that feedback from the field is tremendously important.
If you’re launching a new product or company, the advice would be to start with an MVP – a minimum viable product. This allows you to quickly confront your product or service and get early market feedback to show what is, and what is not, important to your target audience.
To build a story around a product or service you need the Content Holy Trinity – the client, the product and the reason.
- The client – who your target audience is and having very good knowledge of them
- The product or service – once you have that client knowledge, you will be able to understand which of your product or service features matter to that specific target segment. By understanding your different audiences, you can identify the features that resonate most with each segment. This then gives you an angle for building your stories and shaping your communication.
- The reason – why do I want to communicate? Why do I want to advertise? Why do I want to put out content? What is it I am trying to achieve? Am I trying to achieve more notoriety? Am I trying to boost my sales? Am I trying to diminish my attrition rate? Am I trying to have a better lifetime value for each client? Am I trying to build an audience of followers and evangelists? All these goals are good, but you have to know which one you are pursuing. Also, the more goals you pursue, the more means you will need.
So, it’s knowing who you’re talking to, what you’re talking about and knowing why you’re talking about it.
Keep thinking: what does my client want? Stop talking about your product – people don’t want your product. That’s not why they are looking for answers on the web. They want a solution to their problem; you have to be solution-focused or problem-focused, not product-focused.
If you’re focussing on the product, you’re doomed. It doesn’t matter how good the features you add to your product are if the client doesn’t care about them. Focus on the needs of your target audience.
Sometimes you can focus on yourself as part of the audience. The Walkman was invented in 1978 by Sony engineers whose boss wanted to listen to music whilst playing golf. They made it for him then realised there was a huge demand for the product.
We only hear about the successes, of course. One of Steve Jobs’ biggest failures was the first version of the iPad, the Newton. It was a huge flop because people weren’t ready for it in the 90s. But 15 years later the iPad was a hit. If there’s no traction, it will not succeed. This is why you need to focus on what your audience wants.
PayPal came from seeing that customers wanted their details kept safe online. PayPal identified this customer need and acted on it, so it was a huge success.
We’re talking about the three Ws – the who, the what and the why. It’s the mother of all good content.
What is the customer trying to achieve? When I ask students why they are studying, they say they want a diploma. Really, they want a job and financial freedom, working in an industry they love. They don’t want just a diploma. Try to go deeper with your customers to better understand them and their end goal.
Managers starting with content need to take baby steps, so they don’t feel overwhelmed.
Define the most appropriate channel for delivering your content to your client profile – a blog, or, for a very young audience that is not interested in reading, maybe via Instagram or TikTok. Then focus on one content channel; see if the content works, if the channel fits – experiment!
With the digital economy, you can measure the success of everything. You can monitor and determine what is good content by engaging with the right metrics – those that hit your targets.
Content strategies don’t provide instant results. You need to measure multiple KPIs before you can say your goal has been achieved – and sometimes you don’t even know. If you’re talking about putting out content for SEO purposes, it may take a few years to see the full benefits.
Sometimes it’s difficult to put a KPI in. If you say you want 10,000 views next month and don’t hit that number, you’re disappointed. Just use it as a yardstick because you don’t know where you are yet. It gives you a starting point, then when you start measuring, you can reset your goals so they are better aligned for next month. Having set figures on your objectives will start that feedback loop, improve your strategy and help you measure things effectively.
So, baby steps and measuring – that’s the best advice for getting started with content.
- Never forget who you are talking to
- Substance is more important than style (which is why you don’t need a copywriter, per see)
- Don’t think outside the box: find more interesting boxes to think in
- Know the target audience
- Be coherent and articulate when you are talking to your target
- The zest of creativity always works better when there is a framework
Thank you to Frederic for this insightful discussion. I hope you found it as useful as I did! We would love to hear your feedback. If you have any questions, or if you’d like to discuss your specific customer-centric content challenges, please do get in touch.
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