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Content must persuade as well as tell Content must persuade as well as tell

#121 Your firm’s content – getting past “telling” and on to “persuading”

Many of the business professionals I work with are deeply in love with their work. For example, I talked recently with an engineer in Montreal who is a firm believer that a chemical process called electrocoagulation (EC) is the next biggest thing in water purification.


She talked with enthusiasm about how wastewater is flowed through the space between a positively-charged anode and a negatively-charged cathode, and the suspended and dissolved solids separate out. And I just love that geeky enthusiasm.

My job was to convey how EC works, but also to go one step further – to describe how it can meet the needs of the client, and persuade them that they should give this technology a closer look. So, my questions were about which situations EC is best for, how it compares to other water treatment methods, and which constituents it’s good for.

My engineer said that EC is on the high end of the cost structure, but that it is really broad-spectrum in terms of the constituents it can handle, and it’s expected to perform well against constituents that aren’t even recognized to be of concern yet. So, the blog post I wrote talked about the “how” of EC, but also the “why” of it.

It’s all the difference between content that “tells” about a topic, but also that persuades the prospective client about something, generally to take a course of action. That might be to send an email asking for more information, to call, to click on a form asking for someone to call, or to download a lead magnet such as a white paper.

That “persuade” function usually goes far beyond facts, to pull at the emotions of the prospective client you’re trying to reach.

Sell the sizzle, not the steak” is a well-used principle in marketing. But in professional services, there’s not a whole lot of emotion involved. Or is there?

Even if your firm is providing rational, fact-based services such as energy audits, supply-chain management or environmental reviews, emotions are always at work. The prospective client’s emotions are either pushing you towards success in getting the engagement, or away from it.

This is because of another well-known principle in sales – that people buy on emotion, and after the fact, justify on logic. In other words, they buy because of how the purchase makes them feel, and then after they’ve made the choice, will find logical reasons for having made the purchase.

So how do you find the emotional triggers that unlock a decision regarding a dull and dry business professional service?



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Your content must address “greed” or “fear” – or both

The key is to understand that your firm’s service is anything but “dull and dry” to those who buy it. In the case of water purification technology, it’s not just around the facts of the decision. There’s emotion too – “Will deciding to take a chance on this new EC technology make me look good, or will it be something I’ll regret?

They’re faced with a problem they need to solve, or an opportunity they want to access. In other words, they’re struggling with the most basic of human emotions – what I call “greed” and “fear.”

And as you might expect, here we dive into the question of how content strategy can help you build the profile of your firm. At issue: two motivations for your firm’s blog posts, speeches, white papers, articles and other content.

Here’s the idea, in brief:

“Greed” content is around getting a benefit – more revenue, a bigger personal bonus, a promotion, a faster regulatory approval, better financing terms, or other advantage.

“Fear” content is around avoiding a problem – financial losses, an empty bank account, a missed promotion, getting fired, getting fined, spending time in prison or some other downside.

The content you prepare must be built around either or both of those drivers. Unless you consciously think of what problem you’re solving or what opportunity you’re helping them access, your content won’t be effective at moving your prospects to take action.

To do this, you need to get a clear idea of the person you’re addressing in your content – your “avatar” or “persona,” which I’ve addressed in blog post #5. That post discusses how to prepare a mental image of your firm’s ideal client. This includes their industry, profession, education and other factors that help you understand how to appeal to their interests.

Only then, can you understand how your service helps meet the “greed” and “fear” buttons that will make people say “yes” to your service.

So, while your content must address real business opportunities and problems, it must do so in a way that appeals to the deep hopes and fears of people your avatar represents.

Case studies and testimonials help you persuade your prospect

There are two main ways you can use content to reassure prospects that you’re the right person for them: case studies and testimonials.

I’ve discussed case studies twice before:

  • In blog post #13, about how case studies work well if they reassure the client of your experience, so you become a ‘safe choice’ (addressing the “fear” issue)
  • In blog post #1, on how case studies work best if they make your client look amazing, which addresses what we might call “greed.”

Case studies can become not just a marketing tool, but a welcome source of reassurance for a worried person who’s considering hiring your firm. Case studies show your people’s tenacity, resourcefulness and determination to get the job done right.

Going deeper – putting yourself in your prospect’s position

The points above form some of the building blocks towards marketing materials that consider the deepest needs your prospective clients are feeling, and then meets those needs.

They may be concerned about being able to defend their choice of your firm, as an external supplier, to their superiors.

So, be sure that your professionals’ credentials and experience are listed, but also that they have plentiful recommendations and case studies to show that they have what it takes. Your prospect may also be concerned that you can help her or him look good in the eyes of colleagues and superiors.

The prospect may be risk-averse enough to be worried that if the project goes sideways, she or he will be able to point to your firm’s stellar background and qualifications to demonstrate due diligence as part of the selection process.

Just be sure to think of the decision process from your prospective client’s point of view, and use your content to help provide the reassurance and support they need.

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Carl Friesen

Carl is the Founder of the Thought Leadership Resources and helps business professionals gain the skills they need to build their profile as subject-matter experts and thought leaders.

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