I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer – the dilemma of content marketing

If you’re a Star Trek fan you might recognise this famous quote by Dr ‘Bones’ McCoy. At the time he was applying his surgical skills to a silicone-based life form, using nothing but a trowel, but it reminded me of the dilemma facing business owners who are being told by marketing gurus to produce great content (blogs, video, audio, etc).

They might reasonably say, “I’m a recruitment consultant, not a journalist!” but nonetheless there is a compelling case for companies to create and share interesting and engaging content. TWO such reasons – it makes you more visible on the web AND helps to convey your unique voice as a business.

However, to generate authentic material from within your workforce you need to convince them it’s a worthy mission AND help them identify what sorts of things people might want to read. When it’s done badly, the content is an endless stream of sales messages produced by the marketing department. A better effort is to let the staff talk about their work – a ‘day-in-the-life’ diary-style piece can work well, especially if some of the writer’s personality is allowed to come through.

Taking it to the next level might involve some really good observations of everyday life, and finding interesting ‘angles’ which demonstrate a depth of thinking that few company blogs display.

I’d like you to read an extract from ‘Neither Here Nor There; Travels in Europe’ (Black Swan 1991), one of the many books written by my favourite travel writer Bill Bryson. He’s a master when it comes to close observation and sells millions of books off the back of it. Enjoy this description of a visit to a restaurant in Sorrento, Italy!

“I had dinner at a restaurant just off the square. It was packed, but super-friendly and efficient and the food was generous and superb – ravioli in cream, a heap of scallopine alla Sorrentino, a large but simple salad and an over-ample bowl of home-made ice cream that had tears of pleasure welling in my eye sockets.

Afterwards, as I sat bloated with a coffee and a cigarette, resting my stomach on the tabletop, an interesting thing happened. A party of eight people came in, looking rich and self-important and distinctly shady, the women in furs, the men in cashmere coats and sunglasses, and within a minute a brouhaha had erupted, sufficiently noisy to make the restaurant fall silent as everyone, customers and waiters alike, looked over.

Apparently the new arrivals had a reservation, but their table wasn’t ready – there wasn’t an empty table in the place – and they were engaged in various degrees in making a stink about it. The manager, wringing his hands, soaked up the abuse and had all his waiters dashing around like scene shifters, with chairs and tablecloths and vases of flowers, trying to assemble a makeshift table for eight in an already crowded room. The only person not actively involved in this was the head of the party, a man who looked uncannily like Adolfo Celli and stood aloof, a £500 coat draped over his shoulders. He said nothing except to make a couple of whispered observations into the ear of a pock-faced henchman, which I assumed involved concrete boots and the insertion of a dead fish in someone’s mouth.

The head waiter dashed over and bowingly reported that they had so far assembled a table for six, and hoped to have the other places shortly, but if in the mean time the ladies would care to be seated….He touched the floor with his forehead. But this was received as a further insult. Adolfo whispered again to his henchman, who departed, presumably to get a machine gun or to drive a bulldozer through the front wall.

Just then I said, ‘Scusi’ (for my Italian was coming on a treat), ‘you can have my table. I’m just going.’ I drained my coffee, gathered my change and stood up. The manager looked as if I had just saved his life, which I would like to think I may have, and the head waiter clearly thought about kissing me full on the lips but instead covered me with obsequious ‘Grazie’s’. I’ve never felt so popular. The waiters beamed and many of the other diners regarded me with, if I say it myself, a certain lasting admiration. Even Adolfo inclined his head in a tiny display of gratitude and respect. As my table was whipped away, I was escorted to the door by the manager and head waiter who bowed and thanked me and brushed my shoulders with a whisk broom and offered their daughters’ hand in marriage…. I turned at the door, hesitated for a moment, suddenly boyish and good-looking, a Hollywood smile on my face, tossed a casual wave to the room and disappeared into the evening.”

It’s a wonderful piece of writing, closely observed and a great example of how Bryson finds amusing material wherever he goes. You may say, “Well, I can’t write like that!” Quite possibly, but my belief is that we can ALL get better at seeing the things around us that could make great content for our business.

Stuff happens to us all the time – late for a meeting, lousy service in a restaurant, losing our keys or hearing something funny on the radio. Bryson shows that it’s possible to convert minor incidents into something worth reading. He happens to be extremely good at it, but then again he’s got to fill entire books with this stuff! Most people don’t (“we’ve got a day job, thank you”) but we can certainly come up with something funny, well-observed and insightful from time to time.

There’s a 3-step process here:

  1. Observe something
  2. Make a point about it
  3. Package it so it’s ready for sharing

Let’s say you go to a restaurant for an office lunch. What questions might you consider by way of close observation?

  • Why did you choose that place?
  • How were you greeted?
  • How long did you have to wait for a table?
  • What kind of people were there?
  • How did the waiter handle your order?
  • What was the menu was like?
  • How long did the food take to come?
  • What was it was like (presentation, taste, portion size?)
  • Did the waiter attempt to up-sell?
  • Was there anything else going on in the restaurant?
  • Was the bill correct?
  • Did you split it?
  • Would you go again?

Any one of those might generate an interesting angle.

Why do people choose one restaurant or another? It’s a conundrum for business owners trying to compete in a crowded marketplace and it often comes down to the less tangible elements of atmosphere, style of service or something quirky. It’s not all about price, a lesson for any entrepreneur. So telling us WHY you like that restaurant above all others may help you discover an angle about differentiation and customer loyalty which applies to ALL businesses.

Did the waiter attempt to up-sell? This is often irritating if it’s done mechanically but if it’s handled in a more natural, conversational or humorous way it can be highly effective AND quite fun for everyone involved. Again, a relevant skill for anyone in a selling role.

Splitting the bill is one of those slightly tricky things about eating in a big group. It’s easiest if you just add 10% for the tip and divide it equally but occasionally there’s ONE person who gets his calculator out and objects on the basis that he passed on the starter and his main course was cheaper!

My pal David Lomas once described this scenario and suggested that you might not immediately warm to that individual or consider him a ‘team player’. But if you’re looking for a financial controller in your business with an eye to detail, maybe he’s EXACTLY the character you need!

My point is there are ALWAYS angles and the potential for a nice blog in the most everyday experiences. I’ve only cited relatively ordinary situations – no Mafia types in fur coats here – but if you’re observant and curious about the world and you’re willing to think a little more deeply about simple things, you’ll find a rich vein of material wherever you go.

Posted in Andrew Thorp, blogging, business storyteling, communication, communication skills, content marketing, how to influence people, inbound marketing, marketing, mojo your business, mojolife, Stories, storytelling, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The adv-ice bucket challenge

“You don’t want to be doing it like that; you want to be doing like this…!”

If this sounds familiar you might be recalling British actor and comedian Harry Enfield playing a thoroughly annoying character in his popular TV show (this was one of his catch phrases). But there’s a fair chance you’ve encountered this closer to home.

When one party has wisdom to dispense (possibly out of a perfectly reasonable desire to be helpful) it can often result in one-way traffic where the poor recipient gets drenched with advice. Management guru Tom Peters coined the phrase ‘the 18-second boss’, this being the average length of time an authority figure (or expert) is able to listen to someone before interrupting and proffering their solution.

In Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, author John Gray describes an all-too familiar scenario where a woman complains about something and her husband quickly counters with, “Well why don’t you just…” It may be useful advice, but perhaps it’s too much too soon; a bucket-load delivered in one go!

People revealing an issue of some kind really want to be listened to. To give them a solution too early in the exchange simply leaves them feeling cheated and under-appreciated. What’s needed is a sympathetic ear, a period of listening and gentle probing to fully acknowledge the problem and understand the situation.

So the next time you feel compelled to dispense some wisdom resist the temptation to drench your victim with a bucket-full of advice. Instead, put the bucket to one side, let them off-load while you do some quality listening and then perhaps offer some suggestions (an espresso cupful at a time!).

Posted in Andrew Thorp, art of conversation, business storytelling, communication, communication skills, conversational skills, culture, customer service, employee engagement, how to influence people, leadership skills, listening skills, mentoring, networking skills, personal mastery, sales, speaking skills, storytelling, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Demanding authenticity

A touching story about the extraordinary Robin Williams, (as reported in the obituary page of the current edition of The Week):

Apparently, friends described him as either rather reserved, or always “on”, making him a difficult person to get to know. Williams once recalled reading his favourite book, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe to his daughter Zelda.

Not surprisingly, when reading to his kids Williams would normally do all the voices but on this occasion the girl said, “Don’t do any voices. Just read it as yourself.” He complied and she said, “That’s better.”

RIP Mr W – you made the world a brighter place.

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Why it’s good to talk – the Mojo Meetup

Group discussion BGM compr(post by Andrew Thorp)

It’s the start of the week here in the UK and if you’re the owner of a small to medium sized enterprise I’ll bet you’ll be attending at least one networking event in the next 5 days. Let’s face it, there are plenty to choose from!

But despite the plethora of business events available and all the speakers and panel discussions on show, there’s something missing or at least too rarely offered to the owners of small enterprises – the chance to talk.

By “talk” I don’t mean sell to each other. No, I mean an opportunity to remove the “I’m fab and I’m here to sell” mask and just talk openly about business challenges and aspirations.

This is why we started running Mojo Meetups. It’s a rare opportunity for the owners of small businesses to come together (typically 10-15 people) and share experiences, frustrations and ideas in a safe and constructive setting. This isn’t a ‘seller-to-prospect’ situation; it’s more human-to-human where that defensive mask comes down and we find common ground.

My role as a facilitator is to encourage the most dynamic and qualitative conversation possible in the 2 hours we spend together. There’s a lot of learning and insight – we get into things like the Elevator Pitch, how to relate a great case study and how to get the best from networking.

People tell me they emerge feeling taller and more confident about what they have to offer. But it’s also a way to ‘stay connected’ by getting to know other business owners on a deeper level than is normally the case.

We currently hold 2 Mojo Meetups a month in South Manchester and Central Manchester and the cost of each session is £10 + VAT, to include tea/coffee.

Next sessions:

Wed 9th July (9am – 11.30am) - The Merlin, Alderley Edge SK9 7QL
Tues 15th July (10.15am – 12.30pm) - Crowe Clark Whitehill LLP, Arkwright House, Parsonage Gardens, Manchester M3 2HP

To book for Alderley Edge on 9th, click here.

For the Manchester event on 15th, click here.

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The journalistic nose – why news matters for business owners

(post by Andrew Thorp)

A recent World Cup-themed cartoon from Matt, the Telegraph’s satirist of choice, depicted a domestic scene with a late-middle aged couple. The man, holding an empty beer can, is heading for the kitchen to grab a cold one from the fridge, the essential accompaniment for viewing the match. But his wife stands guard by the fridge, clearly intent on preventing him entering the kitchen. How do we know? Because she’s sprayed a line of squirty cream around his feet and another straight line in front of the fridge!

I love this cartoon for two (business-related) reasons. First, it goes to show how many words you need to use to describe what’s really obvious in a picture. We read a lot into a picture or a story and this is something business presenters should bear in mind when preparing their beloved PowerPoint slides.

Second, Matt and others like him make their living by being topical and surfing on the back of the public mood. We identify more readily with a theme if it’s prominent in the news and, as a business owner, if you can comment on something that’s ‘current’ you’ve got a better chance of grabbing people’s attention with your blog or marketing message.

We have a good friend at Mojo who works as a vocal coach, and of course Phil Neville’s recent attempts at football commentary during the World Cup create a great opportunity for her to explain what makes a good or ineffective voice.

So keep your eyes and ears open for ‘commentary’ opportunities of your own. Find a linkage with something you want to say that enhances your professional standing, and you’ll discover infinite variety in your marketing message.

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8 ways to tell amazing stories about your business

We believe the key to creating engaging content is the forgotten art of telling stories that are authentic, sincere and compelling. You may be thinking that you already know how to tell the story behind your business but many corporate communications tend to focus on facts – when the company was formed (but not why); how your products and services were developed (but no examples or why that mattered) and how your product and service works (but not how this makes your customers feel). In short, no ‘story’.

“Storytelling may seem like an old-fashioned tool, today — and it is. That’s exactly what makes it so powerful. Life happens in the narratives we tell one another. A story can go where quantitative analysis is denied admission: our hearts. Data can persuade people, but it doesn’t inspire them to act; to do that, you need to wrap your vision in a story that fires the imagination and stirs the soul.”Harvard Business Review.

It’s time to get personal and start showing the people and the personalities behind your business, so we’ve developed eight types of stories you can build into your content strategy. And because telling stories well digitally (as well as face-to-face) is key to marketing success, we’ve teamed up with Discerning Digital to bring you:

Eight Ways to Tell Amazing Stories About Your Business - download your free E-Book here.


Posted in 2014, business storyteling, business storytelling, Cheshire, communication, communication skills, content marketing, inbound marketing, leadership skills, manchester, marketing, mojo, mojo your business, mojolife, networking skills, presenting, speaking skills, Stories, storytelling | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why presentations are like a journey

(post by Andrew Thorp)

One of the most useful metaphors I’ve come across for helping people give better presentations is to think of it like a journey – a coach journey, in fact.

I’ve developed this idea a little further and hope you enjoy what follows:

Why ‘journey’ works so well
A good presentation is really about persuasion and change – the audience ends up somewhere different to where they started, like any journey. If you don’t change anything in them during your talk, you’ve not done yourself justice.

Make it enticing
Yours isn’t the only coach excursion on offer. Other drivers are competing for your audience’s attention so make your destination sound as enticing as possible. Grab their attention early on so they buy a ticket for YOUR bus.

Command your audience
Remember, you’re the driver! They need to have confidence in you – that you’re capable of driving and know where you’re going.

Map out the route in advance
Have a clear idea of the route you want to take – you don’t want to get lost. The AUDIENCE don’t need to have all this mapped out for them – leave something to their imagination.

Motorway or scenic route?
Throwing all the salient facts at the audience might seem like the most efficient way to get them to their destination – the motorway option. But the scenic route is potentially more memorable and enjoyable. However, you must keep it engaging and fast paced otherwise they’ll question this less direct path.

All aboard?

Set the right tone
The audience is going to be with you for a while so it’s a good idea to get them relaxed and feeling warm towards you. Set the tone for the journey – perhaps a little self-deprecation to lighten the mood. But nothing that makes people doubt your skill at the wheel!

Provide a running commentary
As well as driving the bus you’ve got to multi-task and provide a commentary. It’s got to be interesting and insightful and add some real value to the experience. Make sure there’s a decent sound system and inject some energy and variety into your delivery.

Silence is golden
Keep them interested and engaged throughout, but know when to shut up. The occasional silence is needed to help people reflect on what they’ve just experienced.

Make it visual
Pictures work well – otherwise it’s like keeping the curtains drawn in the coach for the entire journey. You can paint pictures with words but if you’ve got some terrific views you might as well use them.

Stop off for the occasional break
This helps the passengers metaphorically stretch their legs – a story, an aside, an exercise, a question – it helps them sustain their interest in the journey. Otherwise, it’s just one long slog and they’ll zone out. The best coach journeys always have a sing song – a nice piece of audience engagement!

Keep them on board
If you DO stop off for a break, make sure the audience knows when it’s time to get back on board – you don’t want to lose any passengers. If you pitch your presentation just right they’ll feel connected with the journey. Too simple and they’ll race ahead. Too complicated and they’ll feel confused and left behind. In either case, they may feel they’re on the wrong bus and disembark early.

6hGot enough fuel?
You can’t expect the passengers to provide the fuel – that’s your job as a driver (presenter) and you achieve this with your energy and enthusiasm. However, when you really get the audience on board, it’s like they’ve stuck their legs through the floor to add some cartoon horsepower!

Reaching the destination
You’ve all enjoyed the journey together, but you’ve got to remind them that what they’ve just experienced was virtual, not real! Remind them that they’re still back at the start, but if they enjoyed that taste of the future they can buy a real ticket and get under way.

If it occasionally goes a bit wrong remember that, like all journeys, presenting has its ups and downs. You’ll hit heavy traffic, roadblocks and lose your way every so often – but the main thing is to keep travelling and learn from each experience.

Good luck!

Posted in Andrew Thorp, business storyteling, communication, communication skills, content marketing, creativity in business, how to influence people, leadership skills, marketing, mojo your business, mojolife, personal branding, presenting, public speaking, sales, Sara Knowles, School of Mojo, speaking skills, Uncategorized, vocal coach, vocal delivery | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why the business world needs the theatrical touch

Ralli Mock(post by Andrew Thorp)

I must congratulate Ralli Solicitors in Manchester (UK) for an ingenious piece of theatre – their Mock Employment Tribunal “An Ageing Fool” performed on 1st April. I wish I could say that I was there but at the time I was being judged myself in front of a panel of chief execs in the Midlands! But I’ve heard great things about the session and look forward to seeing the video footage.

The reason it’s prompted me to blog is that it’s a great piece of storytelling. Professional services firms don’t have a reputation for imaginative marketing so this re-creation of a tribunal scene was all the more impressive as a strategy. There’s a link below to the report of the event and you’ll see some great characters portrayed and some normally straight-laced professionals really tapping into their inner De Niro or Dench.

But the point here is that when you’re trying to get across a message, and perhaps change someone’s thinking on a particular matter, there’s no better way that to re-create an experience.

A few years ago a study was done of some Hollywood script pitches, presentations made to hard-nosed movie financiers. A clear pattern emerged in the scripts that got funding – in each case the audience felt part of the pitch. The presenters somehow brought it to life and made the panel feel involved.

This is the beauty of theatre – it creates a strong sense of connection between the stage performers and the audience. Bill Gates did this with his mosquito pitch to the TED audience, part of his current mission to rid the world of killer diseases. At one point he explains that, “mosquitoes cause malaria.” He then goes on to open a perspex box on a table to his side, adding, “I’ve just released some mosquitoes into the auditorium, because I don’t think malaria should be confined to just poor people.” Boy, did THAT connect with the audience!

So if you really want to make a point from the stage, get the audience to experience something. Don’t just appeal to their intellect – go for their emotions too and, like Ralli, bring some theatre into business (here’s the link to the event report).


Posted in Andrew Thorp, Bill Gates, business storytelling, communication skills, content marketing, creativity in business, Employee tribunal, how to influence people, marketing, melinda gates, mojo your business, mojolife, presenting, public speaking, Ralli Solicitors, sales, School of Mojo, speaking skills, Stories, TED talks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why selling is about making connections

(post by Andrew Thorp)

This is the transcript of an interaction I had recently with an exhibitor at a conference in Manchester. She was involved (I think) in providing some accreditation for manufacturing industries, not something I’m especially interested in – but we caught each other’s eye as I walked past her stand and the conversation we had got me thinking about how exhibitors (and networkers) manage these interactions:

(AT) Hi there, you caught my eye so I’m going to come and talk to you!

(Exhibitor) Hello, I’m Carole (not her real name).

(AT) Andrew, nice to meet you.

(Exhibitor) What brings you here?

(AT) Well, I’m here as a guest today but I quite often speak at events like these (GQ).

(Exhibitor) Oh right…are you just here today?

(AT) Yes, just today.

(Exhibitor) Where are you based?

(AT) We have an office in Manchester but we often work from home.

(Exhibitor) I see…

(AT) So what’s this all about?

(Exhibitor) Well, we do…(and she continued).

Now, she was perfectly nice and affable but I think she missed an opportunity to ask the Golden Question. At the (GQ) point above, if she’d asked, “Oh really, what do you speak about?” she would have made a friend for life! That’s because she would have got me on to a topic that I was passionate about and the conversation would have opened up. And who knows where that might have taken us both. Instead, it dried up and no connection was made.

In these situations (networking scenarios too), I think 2 things are really needed:

  • know your own story (have something really interesting to say about you and your business).
  • know who is stood in front of you (get them to open up).

At that point, you’re well placed to find connections between the 2 but it requires good communication skills – great questions, great listening, the ability to improvise (Stephen Fry once said that conversation is “the improvised jazz of language”).

As the conversation evolves something changes between the two parties. It’s like a courtship, a kind of ‘dance’, and when things go well a wonderful sense of connection emerges. This comes from:

  • Having things in common (eg an experience / football team / kids / challenges / culture).
  • Seeing the world the same way (beliefs).
  • Sharing the same sense of humour.

This invariably leads to you:

  • Warming to one another.
  • Building rapport and trust.

As a consequence, you’re more likely to:

  • Find things they offer that you want (or vice versa).
  • Know someone (or something) that might help the other party.

Because of the way the interaction is handled, there’s a connection created that’s deeper than “I know what she sells but I’m not really interested.” That means there’s more potential value in that interaction because it goes beyond skin-deep.

Great salespeople don’t perform well simply because they have ‘the gift of the gab’. They’re good at creating connections during an interpersonal exchange and asking the right question at the right time.

Posted in Andrew Thorp, art of conversation, blogging, business storyteling, communication skills, conversational skills, customer service, how to influence people, leadership skills, listening skills, marketing, mojo your business, mojolife, networking skills, personal branding, personal mastery, presenting, public speaking, sales, Sara Knowles, speaking skills | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Employee engagement – when an artist doesn’t recognise her art

(post by Andrew Thorp)

When engineers at Nissan created an innovative device for the tailgate camera on the Nissan Note, you’d have thought they would have been thrilled and keen to share news of their idea. Quite the reverse (pardon the pun!). The original rear view camera, designed to aid reverse parking, didn’t quite work because it frequently got dirty and therefore produced a poor image on the driver’s display.

So engineers came up with a clever device which squirted water on the lens when dirt was detected. Unfortunately, this left water smears dripping down the glass which again compromised the picture. Undaunted, boffins then introduced a mechanism which blew compressed air over the camera lens, a kind of intelligent wash and blow dry system. Problem solved!

But therein lay the issue – engineers are a proud bunch and they felt that their original failure with the camera was something of an embarrassment. But when the marketing & pr folk heard about it they saw a different angle – an example of engineering genius and a determination to find the solution, all enviable traits. And that’s the way it played out in the media when the vehicle was promoted.

I think there are numerous lessons here, but the one I’d highlight is something that’s come out of the story-sharing sessions we’ve been running for the likes of KPMG and the World Health Organization. That is, when the storyteller shares an experience, they don’t always see things the way the audience does. In the Nissan case, the engineers couldn’t get over the fact that they hadn’t got it right the first time, whereas other people’s perspective was quite different. When people share an experience they often underplay what they’ve done, or simply don’t see the value of their contribution. Sometimes it takes others to recognise that and this is part of the magic of these facilitated sessions.

Marketing guru Seth Godin explains that we’re all producing art (in the sense of creative and innovative solutions to someone’s need) – it’s just that the artist herself doesn’t always recognise it.

Posted in Andrew Thorp, art, blogging, business innovation, business storyteling, communication skills, content marketing, creativity in business, customer service, how to influence people, inbound marketing, leadership skills, listening skills, mojo your business, mojolife, nissan note, personal branding, presenting, Press release, public speaking, sales, seth godin, Stories, TED talks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment