We’re trying to get at the deep motivations for why people and organisations are doing things, rather than what’s on the surface.
As with other forms of marketing-as-usual, creating content can be a tricky little tightrope to walk. Balancing between the need of marketing material as brute function, and you and your organization’s inner purpose. Often, authenticity becomes the sacrificial lamb on the altar of efficiency and reach. This doesn’t have to be the case.
The internet is filled with really helpful resources, millions of articles on all sorts of topics, and this is pretty great. There is exponentially more information at our fingertips at any given second than at any other time in our species’ existence. However, there has been a Huxleyan increase in noise rather than signal. Consumers, seekers, searchers, and learners have a harder and harder time filtering and differentiating this signal from the noise, leading to skewed, underreached information at least, and misinformed and potentially harmful information at worst.
In other words, as an organisation creating content for people to digest, there’s a tension that needs addressed: How do I balance my organisation’s inherent drive to steer people towards itself (for business or otherwise) while genuinely helping people and maintaining editorial integrity?
This tension pops up everywhere for businesses and organisations alike and most often leads to slightly biased or misleading content, and an uncomfortable feeling of not really having told the full truth. For instance, as a psychotherapist, we might hire a marketing agency who writes an article on how to treat burnout and why therapy can help with that, but then what gets left out is other treatment methods – for instance working on the body. Or then if we’re a chiropractor and do the same but the agency does’t mention competing options like osteopathy or nutrition. So while we met the basic criteria for help, and while the content is useful, there’s a nagging feeling that it’s still not quite sitting right.
There’s a number of reasons for why this doesn’t feel right, but I think it mainly boils down to a sense of treating people like objects, slightly misrepresenting the truth, or simply being hands off and waiting for the analytics at the end of the month.
Another issue with marketing-as-usual approaches is that a lot of content has lost its soul – or never had a soul to begin with! Technical jargon plasters business sites and there’s a lot of pandering to the reader, rather than what you believe in your heart. The whole premise of SEO is that you find the words people search and then fit your content to those words in a top down process. That can be good because you answer what’s being asked, but you also need to have space where you say what you truly believe, despite what people ask or how they phrase it. We really want to help companies speak authentically and be genuinely helpful, rather than just conduits for people making purchases or telling them what they want to hear, while being mindful of SEO best practices.
What We Came Up With
It’s a work-in-progress, but what we came up with is something we’re happy to give to people! It’s got soul, it’s got mojo and it’s got truth. The main thing that changes is that we are organising our content around a higher purpose in which people are involved, rather than on just our individual interests as an organisation. Aligning to this higher-level purpose leads more naturally to truth, respect and dignity.
Here are some tenets to how we do content differently:
- Focussing on purpose alongside profit increases editorial integrity. Editorial content is aligned to the purpose and helping people in that purpose
- It allows you to place people beforeprofit, and to stop treating people like dollar signs
- We measure not just profit, but impact on purpose, people and planet too
- Connects you to the core reason for your organisation
- Uses storytelling as an innate capacity of humans to create meaning
- Profit is seen as the fuelto keep the purpose moving. Without the fuel, the vehicle goes nowhere.
- It allows you to galvanise previously competing companies around a single cause
- It allows room for purpose stories to be updated and changedbased on new information
What It Looks Like in Practice
The approach is split into 3 parts: The Why (Purpose Story), the The Who (Characters) and The How (Journey, Themes and Voice). Then there’s the actual creation of the content, the measurement and then reassessing and realigning based on that.
The Why: The Purpose Story
Why are we even doing what we’re doing? This is the first thing we’ll ask when we start to work together. A lot of the time this is missed out, and this leads to flat, soulless content plans. We sit down and get to the real reason for your organisation’s existence and what makes you (the organisation’s staff) get up in the morning. There will be wildly different ideas from different people (but generally, a number of shared themes) and we want to get them all on a whiteboard. We’re looking for those common threads which are always there, but sometimes hidden. Perhaps something totally novel that wasn’t seen before! This is fun and exciting, and something we really enjoy doing.
For instance, as a wellness or coaching organisation your purpose might be to move people towards a more healthy, happy relationship with life. But perhaps there is a particular concern in the organisation about the amount of people becoming burnt out in society and this is where your unique passion lies. These 2 stories are related but slightly different, and it’s important to find what makes you tick as that’s where the energy is, and it will move you in a different direction.
We then as a group distil this into a purpose story. This is a kind of overarching grand narrative of the larger purpose that your organisation is involved in, how you see it and what needs to be done about it. This can be powerful and is a great thing to point to as your organisation’s reason for existing.
Here’s an example of one of our purpose stories:
Bringing Purpose Back to Life
There is so much that is dehumanising in modern business. People have become clicks, conversions and “add-to-carts”. A modern business now must do online marketing to survive, but then is forced to turn their gaze only to clicks and profit, rather than people. And where did the original purpose go? It got lost amidst the numbers. People don’t rally around numbers, so no wonder people in the modern workforce are unfulfilled. We need to turn the dial away from just numbers, broaden how we talk about positive change in business and move towards thinking about purpose and prosperity, rather than just profit.
The Who: Characters
So, we know why we’re doing what we’re doing – that’s the purpose story. But who is involved in this story? Who are the people that make the story happen, or that the story helps? We call these the characters. This is a crucial thing to know because these are the people we’re going to try and galvanise and lead towards a certain path, or to recruit help and cooperation from.
In our case, we’re interested in bringing more deep purpose into organisations and individuals. Knowing this, we build up the characters. Who are they? Why do they become burnt out? What connects them as a group? What are their wants and needs? We ask these questions to build up a profile of these people so we can help them better. Sometimes there are blanks which will later be discovered.
This is similar to creating buyer personas, but it has a difference. With buyer personas, we’re thinking – who has a problem that fits our solution? We create the personas and we target them. But this is not what we’re trying to do. This formulation has a slight hunting feel to it, where we’re trying to catch some customers. We’re more interested in meeting people as subjects with their own autonomy. And to help them on the way to something better. Our solution will meet the needs of quite a few of these people (If it didn’t then why create this organisation in the first place. But if there’s something better for their health and happiness at this time, then they should do that.
The How: Purpose Journey, Themes and Voice
Now that we have why we’re doing something and who’s involved, we need to ask how we’re going to do it. To do this we create a purpose journey. The tools we have at our disposal are generally content and other forms of marketing which are essentially putting information in front of people who need it. The journey is the development of the people from the start point of the purpose story to the end point – where you’d like them to be. This can involve all types of things – perhaps learning, perhaps some coaching along the way, reminders, thought-provoking articles. We use content to create a path for people to move along to a desired outcome. Traditionally a “buyer’s journey” is used to map potential customers as they move down the “funnel” towards a desired purchase. We create a purpose journey to map how customers move along towards the purpose.
In creating the purpose journey, we will notice certain content themes will come up. What stops people from change? What difficulties do people have? What conceptions or misconception do people have about the subject that we want to discuss? These all fit into the content we create and the plan we make.
It’s also crucial to get a sense of the voice that we speak with. We’re trying to communicate our truth to the people involved in the purpose, and it’s good to know what we want to say and what we don’t want to say. We’re trying to be as genuine as possible, so let’s write it down.
Once we’ve discovered the why, the who and the how, we have a clear direction for where we want to go, and where we want our audiences to go. All that’s left is to create the actual content. There are a few things that we do differently here too:
- There is a large amount of immersion and research around the topic. We want to really develop something with a voice, so we’re not just creating content that meets the basic criteria.
- We’re talking about creating something which is good for the wider community in general, and which contributes to a discussion. Therefore, it will be robust, well-researched and referenced.
- We’re making content that meets the needs of people at specific stage of their journey on their way towards a purpose. We’re really trying to help people work through a problem.
- With the content directed at purpose rather than brand, there variety of topics becomes much more interesting and much more creative.
- It’s going to be juicy. We’re trying to avoid just writing from the head, but to write from the heart and guts. Connect with people on a deeper level, and this means less dry, technical language and more soulful, engaged and passionate writing.
When and how often we publish depends on the need. The form of the content is generally long-form editorial, but we also use any assets that you have as an organisation! If you have great talkers, we can create some videos to help or perhaps some audio lessons. If you’re great at leading groups, perhaps we have a free group session for people on the path. Whatever helps best to move things where they need to go.
You might be saying at this point – well this all sounds lovely but where does the business side of things come in? How do we ensure profit so that we can keep food on the table and keep our employees safe and happy? And this is important for us too, and something which is built in from the start. We track profit increases using the usual measures (conversions, purchases, etc) but we don’t limit our measurement to just this. Yes, we need profit in order to keep the purpose moving and alive and to keep the people working on it secure and fulfilled. But we also need to measure our effect on the purpose we’re driven by, the people we help and the planet that we live on. This is our 4 P’s that we measure, and which we include for each project we work on. This brings much more sanity to the whole process and allows us to better assess if we’re meeting our goals or if we need to adjust something along the way.
Review and Realign
We’re always coming back to the purpose. So we like to review in person or on call to see if we’re really doing what we want to be doing or if there’s somewhere else we should be moving. We take the 4 P’s information and discuss as a group if we’re on track or if there’s something different we can do. Purpose is always evolving too, and we want to take this into account.