Tonight I finished reading a very practical and insightful book titled Beyond Buzz: The Next Generation of Word-of-Mouth Marketing by Lois Kelly. In it, Kelley provides a practical, how-to guide for marketing professionals to navigate the world of conversational marketing.
She outlines and explains the top nine types of stories that people naturally like to talk about.
She arrived at this list by tracking and categorizing business/marketing communications for a ten year period. The practical use of The Nine Block Conversation Planner is to translate conventional marketing messages into conversational points of view and create program ideas worth talking about.
The top nine are (excerpts from the book):
1. Aspirations and beliefs. More than any other topic, people like to hear about aspirations and beliefs. (This may be why religion is the most popular word-of-mouth topic, ever.) Sun Microsystems’ focus on sharing and ending the digital divide is an example of a belief-based point of view as is Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinardâ€™s views about how companies can grow by reducing pollution and creating more sustainable business strategies. Aspirations are helpful because they help us connect emotionally to the speaker, the company, and the issues. They help us see into a person or companyâ€™s soul.
2. David vs. Goliath. In the story of David and Goliath, the young Hebrew David took on the Philistine giant Goliath and beat him. Sharing stories about how a small organization is taking on a big company is great business sport. Rooting for the underdog grabs our emotions, creates meaning, and invokes passion. We like to listen to the little guy talk about how heâ€™s going to win and why the worldâ€”or the industryâ€”will be a better place for it. Like how Southwest Airlines conquered the big carriers and the way social media is taking on the media giants.
3. Avalanche about to roll. The mountain is rumbling, the sun is getting stronger, but the rocks and snow are yet to fall. You want to tune in and listen to the â€œavalanche about to rollâ€ topic because you know that thereâ€™s a chance that you will be killed if caught unaware. This theme taps into our desire to get the inside story before itâ€™s widely known. Itâ€™s not only interesting to hear someone speak about these ideas, they have the ingredients for optimal viral and pass-along effect. Charles Schwab started his company by listening to rumbling market conversations about investing. The avalanche about to roll was that the middle class was growing more interested in buying stocks, especially as companies were cutting out pensions and more people were beginning to control their own retirement savings through IRAs and 401ks.
4. Anxieties. Anxiety is a cousin of the avalanche about to roll, but it is more about uncertainty than an emerging, disruptive trend. We are in all matters more swiftly motivated by fear than appreciation of the good…in other words, if we don’t feel threatened and scared, we tend not to pay attention. Examples of anxiety themes abound: (1) Financial services companies urging baby boomers to hurry up and invest more for retirement: â€œYouâ€™re 55. Will you have your needed $3.2 million to retire comfortably?â€ (2) Tutoring companies planting seeds of doubt about whether our kids will score well enough on the SATs to get into a good college. Although anxiety themes grab attention, you have to proceed with caution because people are becoming pretty skeptical. Too many politicians, companies have bombarded us with FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) with no facts to back up their point.
5. Contrarian/counterintuitive/challenging assumptions. These three themes are like first cousins, similar in many ways but slightly different. Contrarian perspectives defy conventional wisdom; they are positions that often are not in line withâ€”or may even be directly opposite toâ€”the wisdom of the crowd. The boldness of contrarian views grabs attention; the more original and less arrogant they are, the more useful they will be in provoking meaningful conversations.
Counterintuitive ideas fight with what our intuition (as opposed to a majority of the public) says is true. When you introduce counterintuitive ideas, it takes people a minute to reconcile the objective truth with their gut assumption about the topic. Framing views counter to how we intuitively think about topicsâ€”going against natural â€œgut instinctsâ€â€”pauses and then resets how we think and talk about concepts.
Challenging widely-held assumptions means that when everyone else says the reason for an event is X, you show that itâ€™s actually Y. Challenging assumptions is good for debate and discussion, and especially important in protecting corporate reputation.
6. Personalities and personal stories. Thereâ€™s nothing more interesting than a personal story with some life lessons to help us understand what makes executives tick and what they value the most. The points of these personal stories are remembered, retold, and instilled into organizational culture. Robert Goizueta, the respected CEO of Coca-Cola, said he hated giving speeches but he was always telling storiesâ€”often personal ones about how he and his family had to flee Cuba when Castro took control and had nothing more than his education. When Steve Jobs gave the commencement address to Stanford University in June 2005, he shared his personal story and life lessons. That commencement address, â€œStay Hungry. Stay Foolish,â€ was talked about on thousands of blog and was published verbatim in Fortune magazine. It helped us see Jobs in a new light.
7. How-to stories and advice. Theoretical and thought-provoking ideas are nice, but people love pragmatic how-to advice: how to solve problems, find next practices, and overcome common obstacles. To be interesting, how-to themes need to be fresh and original, providing a new twist to what people already know or tackle thorny issues. For example, in talking with female customers and doing research, Home Depot was surprised to find that women initiate a big percentage of home improvement projects. So the company started how-to clinics and do-it-herself workshops that have been attended by more than 200,000 women.
8. Glitz and glam. Robert Palmer sang about being addicted to love. Our society is more addicted to glamor and celebrity. Finding a way to logically link to something glitzy and glamorous is a surefire conversation starter. For example, Sun Microsystems created a text-messaging program that allows audiences at U2′s rock concerts to get a text message from Bono on their mobile phones after the concert, sending them to the One Campaign Web site. Tagging on to the widespread interest in the Academy Awards, Randall Rothenberg, director of intellectual property at consultancy Booz Allen-Hamilton, crafted a point of view about the similarity between creating new “star” brands and movie stars.
9. Seasonal/event-related. Tying into seasonal or major events has a limited shelf life. But these themes, done right, may appeal to sales reps looking for something interesting to talk to customers about. Seasonal and event-related topics can be used in weekly voice mails to employees, or featured in departmental or company-wide presentations. Talking about industry predictions around the New Year, advertising during SuperBowl season, executive compensation reform when an executive of a well known company â€œresignsâ€ with an especially bloated compensation package are examples of this type of story.