By Kath Walters @kathwalters
Suffering insomnia? Here are some magic words that will put you to sleep in seconds: superannuation; accounting; balance sheet; facilities management in commercial office buildings; storage.
But what if that is your gig? What if you are responsible for the content marketing campaign in any one of those so-called “boring” industries? Can you write “sticky” stories that your readers simply must read right now, this minute, if that’s your brief?
The answer is yes, but the question is how
I chose the topics listed above because I have actually written about each of them over a decade and a half at Business Review Weekly magazine, and at online mastheads.
When the accounting role at BRW became vacant in 2001, our editor asked a table of 25-plus journalists who would like to do it. No-one put up their hand, including me.
But I broke more stories in the three years I spent as editor of accounting (after I was invited to do the role) than at any other time. I really enjoyed it.
“Boring” is a competitive advantage
Here’s a dirty little secret of content marketing – if you are in a boring sector, it’s much easier to shine. You’ll have less competition, and a more grateful and less overwhelmed readership.
It’s always been that way in journalism. As I mentioned, no-one wanted the accounting editor role (so I got a big pay rise). In media, business writers earn much more money than travel writers or lifestyle writers.
Not so many people want to tackle business writing. Most are put off before they even start, and some quickly fall in the trenches when they try to make complex subject matter both compelling and accurate.
Curiosity makes a happy cat
If you want to make beautiful stories on any subject, stay curious.
Every industry and role within it has a fascinating side, and if you remain open and curious, you will find it.
In a rather brilliant story on this subject, digital marketing strategist, Pratik Dholakiya uncovered about 20 story angles on the topic of coffee cups. Really!
Here are three of them:
- Who invented the first coffee cup and how did they get their inspiration?
- What makes people think they need to drink coffee from a coffee cup and water from a glass?
- When do coffee cup sales rise and what does that tell us about the American (he’s in the US) public?
Make it a human story
A regional businessman once told me that he was always under pressure from his farmer clients to give discounts – anything, rather than pay his prices. While doing some business training to try to improve his profits, reduce his stress and cut his long hours, this bloke was shown how to read a balance sheet.
Suddenly, the lights went on.
Instead of a boring accounting task, that balance sheet became his talisman to ward off the cheapskates. He saw how those discounts, even small ones, grew his liabilities column, squeezed the assets column and directly led to his stress and overwork. It saved his business and his marriage!
Business is really about people – their egos, ambitions, sorrows, frustrations and triumphs.
Every story is a human story. Find the human side and you have a treasure trove of fascinating story ideas.
Your customers don’t think it is boring
I know we all have to pay the mortgage, but why are you working in an industry you find boring? Your customers don’t find it boring, at least not at the time they are your customers.
I’m not fascinated by washing machines, to be honest, but when I want to buy one, I dream about them. I want to know why some are cheaper than others, who services them, how much energy and water they use, which ones my friends bought and why, whether I can get a smaller one, are there innovations on the way that will make my purchase redundant in a year or two.
If you’re clever, you can keep me interested by telling me how to keep the mould out of my machine; why my cold wash isn’t really working; what it’s costing me to have my daughter bring her washing home to my place; and how to avoid a call-out fee with “these three simple trouble-shooting tips”.
Boring folk make more effort
We all have our pride. If you let them, the people you interview will show you what fascinates them about what they are doing, all the little ways they try to make their customers happy, the tweaks they make to products and services, and why.
Accountants, for example, are really good at making themselves interesting. They’ve seen enough eyes glaze over and polite changes of subject to last a lifetime, and so they look for ways to help you make them interesting.
Take KPMG’s Bernard Salt. He’s has made a fortune for himself and his firm by making demographic data fascinating and funny.
He has humanised that data by tagging new tribes and social behaviours such as 'the seachange shift', 'the man drought', 'pumcins' (professional urban middle-class in nice suburbs) and 'the goats cheese curtain' (a cultural divide that separates the chichi inner suburbs (where there's goat's cheese in every fridge) from the dreary middle and outer suburbs in metropolitan Australia) and the “latte line” – the point in every city where the coffee starts to get really bad.
Mix up the writing styles
There’s a lot of different ways to write a story – you only have to look at any magazine for ideas. There are features and profiles, of course. But what about a quiz? There’s news and case studies, trends, predictions, tips, opinion, letters from readers, editorials. There’s humour, videos, photography and infographics.
Know when to stop
I could go on, but that might be boring.