#19 Gaining trust through authentic storytelling

#19 Gaining trust through authentic storytelling

#19 Gaining trust through authentic storytelling

Christoph Trappe

Christoph Trappe

A lot of companies are producing content and campaigns that happen but don’t perform. Christoph helps you move your marketing and communications from happening to performing by sharing unique stories more efficiently to reach prospects and retain existing customers. He has run content marketing campaigns across many industries, including healthcare, SaaS, and publishing. In his career, he has led teams of journalists, content creators, strategists, and designers to drive results successfully.

Today, he’s a global top 14 content marketer, top 40 B2B marketer, and top 100 digital marketer. His blog has been listed as a valuable resource in the marketing industry. His experience spans the full spectrum of digital strategy – including social media, SEO, UX collaborations and content strategies and production - to drive results. His third book on content performance cultures was released in January 2020. It was listed as the No. 1 new release in the public relations category on Amazon.

A lot of companies are focusing on producing content and campaigns that get executed, but they don’t perform. They are neither good at attracting prospects, nor maintaining a relationship with existing customers. Smart brands are leveraging unique stories that reach individuals and create long-term sentiment that drives businesses to meet their objectives. Christoph Trappe provides his insights on how to use authentic storytelling to successfully drive digital marketing results.

content marketing, digital marketing, storytelling, brand promotion, brand safety, brand integration, chief marketing officer, CMO, marketing campaign, brand campaign
Episode number:
Date Published:
June 25, 2020

KRISTINA PODNAR, HOST: Welcome to another episode of The Power of Digital Policy. Today we continue this month’s focus and conversation on digital content marketing. A lot of companies are producing content and campaigns that happen but don’t perform. Our guest today is Christoph Trappe. Christoph helps brands move their marketing and communications from happening to performing by sharing unique stories more efficiently to reach prospects and retain existing customers. Is he good at it? Yes, he is. Christoph is a global top 14 content marketer, top 40 B2B marketer and top 100 digital marketer. Get ready for an insightful conversation with one of the leading voices in digital marketing and storytelling.

All right, Christoph, welcome to the Power of digital policy podcast, it’s great to have you!

CHRISTOPH TRAPPE, GUEST: Thanks for having me.

KRISTINA: You know, I'm so excited to just jump in with you. I have all kinds of questions for you today. And I think our audience is going to benefit from having you on tell us first content marketing versus business storytelling. Are those the same or if not, what is the difference here to help us out?

CHRISTOPH: So the one thing I've noticed this that everybody uses a bunch of different terms for really what ultimately is the same thing. Right, you have business storytelling you of content marketing. You have inbound marketing. You have lead generation. Ultimately, we're all trying to do the same thing, even digital marketing, I guess, is one term people throw around, so really, what I'm talking about for the most part is how do we tell stories? How do we stay in front of people to have a chance to stay relevant? So content marketing is probably the more accepted term, but they're really all the same thing and they all try to do the same thing, right? Stay in front of people, be relevant in offer value and be able to run a business.

KRISTINA: Got it. So, what makes a good business story? I'm kind of thinking about it, you know, whether it's kind of trying to be in front of everybody is one aspect. But what else makes a good business story?

CHRISTOPH: So first of all, you have to be able to solve a problem of your audience your target prospects and it's actually a lot harder than it sounds to make it about other people some. Some experts they refer to make the customer the hero and I never got that. I always thought that sounds kind of cheesy honestly, why do they want to be the hero, they just want to buy something from you, right, and I can solve one of their problems. Does that make him a hero? I don't know. Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn't I'm leaning that's not the hero status necessarily, but at the end of the day, you have to talk about things that your audience cares about. Yes. You can share your own stories. Yes, you can talk about your experiences but it has to solve something for them. It can't just be me, me, me, me, me. But of course, it is very easy just to talk about ourselves as a company and when you look at, you know, a lot of marketing releases that people send out it's very much company focus as opposed to customer focused.

KRISTINA: So that's interesting. From that perspective, if it's customer-focused. Is persuasion at the centerpiece of that business activity of being customer focused or is persuasion involved at all?

CHRISTOPH: Well, you do want to persuade people certainly to work with you. But you know, there's so much marketing going on that. It's really hard to persuade people just with the one-time message to do anything. Right, really the way you tell a good story is you figure out what are people looking for. What do people need help with, what do people what are their pain points? And then you talked about how you solve those pain points. And of course the first thing is they have to think that they have that pain point, right? So that's one reason why we do Google Keyword research, like, what are people searching for? Are they searching for the things that I want to write about it? It just happens to me because you know all the time. I want to write about a topic and I'm looking at what are people searching for and they're not searching for anything that I want to write about and so like even the example, you were part of that story LinkedIn rolled out a new feature, you can notify employees of your grant posts and I think that's news in itself. But what are people searching for? Are they searching for LinkedIn social media employee advocacy? Nobody is searching for that. Are they searching for how to notify employees from my post? Nope. Nobody is searching for that and there was a couple others that I thought were really good ideas and nobody searches for that. That's like, there you go, be humbled Christoph and really by the time I was done I ended up targeting the keyword phrase Corporate social media marketing. There's a ton of traffic for that. It's a little bit, you know, I'm stretching the topic a little bit into that area. But at the end of the day, if I write about things that nobody even searches for, nobody cares about it's really, really hard to get in front of people and then the persuasion comes in you make it really simple for people to work with you when there's actually something that you can offer them for that particular thing, but there's definitely a component where you just want to raise awareness. You just want to make sure people remember you and when they need help they come to you. I mean that is actually still a thing in marketing just a lot harder today than it was 20 years ago.

KRISTINA: So, if we're using persuasion, I always think persuasion can be a good thing but I think that there's also maybe some aspects that aren't so great and I'm curious from your perspective, what role if any does ethics play in persuasion and are their natural boundaries and content marketing today that we should have?

CHRISTOPH: So there certainly are some marketing tactics that are more tricky than authentic, the way they tried to get you to do something. So I'm a big believer in don't don't be spammy about it. Don't do things that try to trick people into something. I did actually write an article once and I think this is on the Rockcontent blog. It's still on there if you search for Rockcontent and I talked about the digital marketing is really, there's a fine line between being good and being spammy, you know what I mean? Because sometimes you cross that line you need to realize you crossed it. But at the end of the day, you want to make sure you don't come across that way. It also depends on how people react and also depends to an extent what your intent was right? I'll give you an example. I ran a Google campaign and the ad was for, it was a content campaign, right? So you drive people to an article. And they read it and then, there's other calls to action, but the ad said, it was an image ad. Should you swerve blog post and then you could click yes or no and when you click whether you click yes or no made no difference or if you click the right corner of the image, right? It would all go to the same place and then Google and at some point stop the campaign and said this is a misleading ad because you expect it to be interactive, which it's not and I'm like, yeah. Okay, I guess and but I didn't mean to be sneaky about it. Right? I didn't even think even cross my mind that might be how would be taken and then I just took it down and moved on from it. So that's not necessarily I didn't mean to cross any lines there, but they took it that way. But then on the other hand, you have some marketers and you've probably seen this, if you have an app in a lot of people click a certain area like a certain button and then let's say they want to drive conversions, they might just exchange that area with a different button to make you go wherever you want to wherever they want you to go, right because everybody's used to click on that button and I would say that's if you do it on purpose that is totally unethical, and I know maybe there's no rules against it, but you want to think about how to how does it come across how do people take your message and try to do what's right. Well, you're also working on trying to stay in front of people.

KRISTINA: This is kind of hard and I think what's interesting is that you've worked in a variety of verticals and certainly with a mix of businesses including startups, well-established companies, like Adobe and Amazon. I'm curious do the same content marketing rules apply to both and things like ethics is it common to have kind of the rules and the ethics? Is it common to have that between all of the companies or do you see differences?

CHRISTOPH: Well in theory everything applies to everybody but there's some differences when you look at different site’s companies. So smaller companies sometimes especially a start-up they don't you usually have like a huge approval process. But you know, there are some people say they're nimbler and I guess that's partially true and they can get things out the door quicker just because they're getting things. You know, there's not as many of you who have to look at it or that are looking at it and then you work with a bigger company. I mean, I just had to project the other day and the articles ran by all kinds of people including legal, you know, in fact legal had questions about the articles and that took a long time. So I think that's like the biggest difference. Everybody has to follow the rules. Everybody has to make sure they're disclosing right things. And also the other thing is you don't want to overstate things, yes, you might have the industry-leading product but how many people have the in distributing products? I swear everybody uses that term, you know don't overstate things. Don't lie. Don't make things up and certainly be helpful as you're moving forward.

KRISTINA: Got it. I'm just kind of pivoting a little bit. You trained journalists at one point in your career, which I think is very interesting, right? Does that help from a storytelling perspective and if you see this storytelling still alive in the news business today and with breaking news sound bites or have we all sort of pivoted to everything being about content marketing?

CHRISTOPH: Well, so the media needs to stay alive, right? It is important that they tell the stories and kind of hold up the mirror. I certainly when I grew up as a journalist, had you told me that I was learning how to be a corporate storyteller, I would have said that's crazy. I'm a journalist, but that's really what I learned, how do we tell stories that engage people and that connects with our audience and it also tells, the right pieces and it's not just marketing gobbledygook. So there's definitely at the very least journalism is a training ground for content marketers. I mean, I've seen plenty of journalist movement account in marketing and just rocket because they already have most of the skills that they need. The biggest skill that journalists are missing is the business side of things, right? So at the end of the day, I guess I want to write a good article. Yes. I want to tell good story. So yes, I want people to read it, but at some point, it also needs to lead to some business, right, but it's the body of your work. So every once in a while, I have people say well can we just do like one tweet and I'm like, well you can but it's the body of work, right? So is the one tweet going to lead you to where you want to go? Probably not and the business side of things, you know, I didn't learn that as a journalist and I think even today a lot of in my opinion, one reason why journalists that companies are struggling is because there is an older model the way they make money and then also I'm seeing it right now during the coronavirus pandemic, you know newspapers aligning, laying people off, you know or furloughing people, but then they're also giving their content away for free. So they're saying well we have all these people reading we're important but then they say as a public service will giving this away for free and then we're laying people off and a business person would never say that. They would just say we want you to have the content but here's a minimal fee you have to pay to read it. So I think that's kind of we're going to lose probably fall a little bit short.

KRISTINA: You've written three books now. Congratulations on your latest. It’s called the Content Performance Culture. Tell us a little bit more about the book. You know, what do people need to be thinking about as they pick it up and read it.

CHRISTOPH: Yep, so it's not necessarily a book that you take in cuddle up on your favorite reading chair with a glass of wine. You know, it is a textbook and it feels like a textbook but it's really trying to teach you how to get your content to move from happening to performing and again when I grew up as a journalist, you know, but first of all, nobody ever said how many people read your article but had they said that back then I would have said 80,000 or 100,000 or whatever the circulation was, you know and then it moved to people were looking how articles performed in journalists would say. Well that's not important because even if nobody reads it, it might still be important, whatever but today if nobody reads our content, it's really hard to build a business and especially, you know, when I was talking to Tamara Burkett on my own podcast The Business Storytelling Podcast, She said only three percent of your qualified audience is ready to buy at any time. So what that means to me is that if I have a hundred audience members that are the right audience members., I only have three who are potentially ready to buy at that time and then they have to pay attention to me. So what that means is I do have to have a certain volume of the right people paying attention to me and or my company and then at some point that can lead to business. So in that book I talked about how do you set up a high performing content performance culture, who are the right players, the different pillars of that set up and then also I dive into a couple different storytelling techniques that certainly, currently are a differentiator. So one of them is podcasting and you have a podcast. That's great. But there's still a lot. There's not that many podcasts out there. If you look at the big picture, right? I mean sometimes people say well there's a podcast for everything and maybe there is but there's a lot fewer podcast then there is ad campaigns well, and when there's a lot for your podcast and there is blogs, you know or websites in general. I talked about how do you get your podcast started? How do you learn as you go? I would have the right tools. How do you quickly do it? And how do you turn your podcast into blog posts and those kind of things and how do you distribute it quickly. And the other thing I talk about there, which I actually haven’t done in a couple weeks is virtual reality video and it's a huge, huge differentiator. It's easier than ever to do because you can just buy a camera for like a hundred bucks you put on your phone and you just shoot, right? And now you have a virtual reality video and every time you try some of those new techniques that helps you stand out more because people are paying attention because they're learning something new. I'm not just saying the same thing like everybody else.

And so basically you can look through that book and learn some of these techniques and hopefully implement them. It is much easier to read the book then to implement it but certainly, you can’t implement it if you don't really know what you're trying to do and how does it work.

KRISTINA: Do you see a lot of that advice being just as applicable to large established organizations and brands as you do to smaller ones or is there a specific audience that you are hoping would pick it up and read it and get on with it?

CHRISTOPH: Yeah, so it's you can apply to most businesses. The biggest difference is so when I talk about how do you set up your team and the larger your organization gets, the more you can specialize within the team and the more people you can have, usually, even though a lot of marketing teams are relatively small even in huge companies, but the only difference is so I talk about who are the different people you need and the very least you need somebody in charge of strategy. Here's what we're trying to do why we're doing etc. etc. You need somebody who produces the content, you need somebody who distributes the content and make sure we're testing new things and we're testing the conversion funnel all those different things and then you need somebody who analyzes what's working. Now, that could be one person, could be two people with some crossover skill sets and in bigger companies you have entire team, so now you have subsets of those teams. So for example, big companies on the distribution side, they might have a social media manager, right? And then on the paid side, they might have an SCM manager. And so it's just kind of like, the team gets bigger, but at the end of the day you still need somebody who does some of those tasks for sure. So you can implement it on all those different sized companies.

KRISTINA: And if somebody wanted to actually take that path and they wanted to implement your advice, do they need to actually have buy-in from a certain executive level or how did they get that done from sort of a governing perspective?

CHRISTOPH: Yeah. I always think you need explicit buy-in from the executive team or these two key players and what I mean by that is they have to say here's what we're doing, here is why we're doing it and it kind of depends on how much change is involved and sometimes when I go into a project and there's a very established company, some people don't want to change and I know why they don't want to change and I know why they're pushing back and they're using every trick in the book to not get the change to happen. Including constantly complaining about something, finding reasons to slow things down and there is actually a thing where you find other things that need to be talked about and maybe they do maybe they don't but the only reason you're constantly talking about is to slow things down. And so you need to make sure people understand: this is what we're doing, here is how we're doing it. We want your feedback. We want your input and we want your expertise but help us get to where we're trying to go and not just slow things down and it's like I don’t know if you've seen Money heist on Netflix, where they rob and like their only goal honestly is to buy time. Yeah, right, like everything they do is to buy more time to print more money or to you know, we don't want to give away to much here but like some people who are trying to slow things down. That's what they do, just trying to buy time and at some point hopefully you give up to keep pushing it forward so you do need buy-in your also need buy-in from some other people so that are maybe lower on the corporate org chart than you are so find the people who want to do it and then put them in the right spots, and highlight some of their successes, highlight some of their wins as you move forward.

KRISTINA: So who's the one person or one company that you wish would call you and say look I'm ready for this change. I want you to work with me. Who are you still waiting to have the ring at the other set of your phone?

CHRISTOPH: I don't know about one company, but you know there definitely are a lot of challenges out there and certainly it takes a different mindset to move them forward, so I'm always happy to talk to really any size company to help them move things forward. The other thing that's nice too is: in content marketing strategy it's like yes, there are things you want to follow. Yes. There are things I would prefer to do but everything is so customizable. You know what I mean? It's like, I could do a podcast by myself. I can do a blog by myself. I can run Google ads campaigns by myself and I can also do it as a team so you can figure out what's the right level. What's the right spend? What's the right budget based on what you have available?

KRISTINA: Great. Well, I know we're talking via Zoom, but we're not using our cameras and I was thinking about this conversation when I read your blog recently because you said not all communication needs to happen in a Zoom meeting. Can you elaborate and can you talk to us a little bit about the Zoom burn-out, what should we be using instead?

CHRISTOPH: So I've been working in my home office for a while and the whole thing about being on Zoom video, that's not like common state before coronavirus happened, I could count the Zoom meetings with video on one hand. Honestly, probably the last year very rarely do they happen. And so now with everybody working at home, everybody sees in my opinion, from what I'm seeing, even the stuff people post on social media, everybody is always on Zoom and video and sometimes it's not necessary, like the thing we're doing right now. Why do we need to be on video? I mean if you were using video broadcast, sure, would make sense. And sometimes it makes no sense to see the people now. I will say this it does help with body language sometimes but sometimes, you know people don't even look with the camera because the camera is not where you will your screen is because you look at yourself. So that's kind of weird a lot of times to begin with, but sometimes you don't you have a phone call or the one thing where you probably read that I wrote about how sometimes you use a Slack channel or Microsoft Teams group or whatever, right? There's many different services that offer that but you can just chat and the thing with what's nice about text-based chat in a group as long as people don't read it like everybody's talking like a jerk, sometimes that's hard to not do when you read messages quickly, but everybody can participate in real time when you're chatting by text not by text message, but you know over text on the computer and when your resume call, sometimes it is indeed hard to get a word in right because you have some people who are fairly dominant and just keep talking and then you have some people who wait for break, but sometimes there's no brakes on Zooms. Like somebody's always talking. So you'll never get a word in and then of course sometimes you know, somebody could say, well, what do you have to say Kristina? Why don't you jump in or whomever? But there's options. It's not one or the other. It's not it's not so black and white as it might be looking right now.

KRISTINA: So I think I share that with you. I mean, I think I just got to the point where I was like no more Zoom calls and I feel like if I have to turn on my camera one more time, I'm done for the day, but I'm curious, what else are organizations doing right now that is causing burnout with consumers, are there other things that folks are just kind of getting fed up with that. We need to leave behind.

CHRISTOPH: Stop emailing me about how much you care about me. I don't care that you don't even care that much about myself guys, honestly, but you know what I'm talking about. All these emails we are getting I mean, I guess I got I got emails from restaurants in Chicago where you eating like five years ago. And you know, it's like why are you sending this email now? There is some emails that are like to get and typically they have to do with something like so an airline changes, rules on how I can get my ticket canceled or move or whatever. Like I want to know that like an airline changes the expiration of your status. Like I want to know that, please email me right but get to the point and there's everybody that is like their everybody sending these emails about the unprecedented times, The New Normal the whatever and they don't even saying anything and I have nothing pending with them. So stop emailing me and most of them I unsubscribe from if I didn't have any relationship with them. So the other thing is. if you have an app or a website put your message on your website or push put the message on work clients interact with you or customers interact with you. It doesn't have to be an email and that's probably one of the biggest things that I've noticed recently. I think it's tempered off a little bit. But it was so bad the New York Times wrote about it.

KRISTINA: So where's the middle ground there? Because you know, I've read a lot of studies who say oh, you know consumers expect big brands to be in their lives right now. They expect to see big brands caring for their employees, getting through the tough times. Even if it's going to cost them money. How do companies balance that like, they actually know that consumers want to see them showing affection showing care and by the same token, I am with you, please no more email, please, you know, so how do they balance that? How do they get the word out? But how do they not email us? How do they get it right?

CHRISTOPH: So there's a difference between telling me that they care about me and showing me that they care about me, right? And so, show me why you care. So I'll give you another example and this I guess is more one-on-one, but you know, gyms, all the gyms are closed. I don't need to hear from the gym that they care about my health and my well-being I want to give me something actionable,  send me a workout or tell me what are we going to do with my dues? If you still want me to pay them or is there going to be a credit is what's going to happen? That's  my relationship with that company, right? So think about what are you offering to customers and then tailor your communication, with that in mind and if you really care about him, I mean you certainly going to help them. Because it's it is these are unprecedented times and everybody seems to be hurting one way or another or affected by one way or another. So make sure it has something to do with your relationship and then if you really care make some concessions and or offer something else but it can't just be sending everybody an email telling them how much you care about him. I mean that's it's just it's a little too broad in my opinion.

KRISTINA: Yeah I vote that we actually put you in charge of the email servers of the world and you can write the rules around them because I am with you on that bandwagon. And I think that makes sense. We want to have companies meet us where we are and take the journey from there. So out of curiosity, everybody's struggling. I think a lot of folks were caught unprepared. None of us knew the pandemic was coming and most organizations couldn't foresee this. Who's done things right during this period that you see out there, wow, these folks have nailed it. They haven't sent me an e-mail. They're not doing the crazy dance who's doing a great job that you would point us to?

CHRISTOPH: Everyone who is actually sharing content and that can be helpful. So a couple examples that come to mind. A lot of people have not worked remote, ever and everybody just learned as they were going and that's why we saw like some of the negative news coverage when it comes to Zoom and maybe… I mean Zoom admitted that they had some security issues but some of the security issues that they had they were not security issues they were people posting a screenshot of their Zoom meeting on Twitter, right and you could call in if you saw it that's not a security issue. That's a don't post a screenshot of your number on Twitter. So but I think Zoom has actually done a very nice job, the CEO came out and talked about some of the issues and even said like the buck stops with me and that makes you feel good,  just people owning up to it. Also I am an American Airlines flyer, but I think Delta Airlines has done a fantastic job. I have no status with them. Are they ever flying? But they were always out there telling people what's new and telling people what they're doing. But again, they tied into something that flyers care about. They didn't just say we care about you and we're not giving you any money back. If you have to cancel they always explain what they were doing and then other companies, I saw ads for remote working tools that were popping up at the right time. So I thought a lot of those were done pretty well. The one thing I want to mention to anyone listening: every project, so I've use Zoom, Slack, Basecamp, all different tools for quite a while. But every time they were rolled out the first time , what would happen there would be a training, the IT team or whoever's in charge. They would do a training with the teams to learn those tools and most every company that moved to Zoom and Slack and whatever else there was no training. It was just kind of like here's the use this and just to keep that in mind that is not typically how it's done. And that's why there's been some of those challenges out there with some of those tools.

KRISTINA: Great. Well, Christoph, this has been really informative, really insightful. I appreciate you sharing your experiences and your thoughts with us. I'm going to link over to the Content Performance Culture in our resource tab and include some of the other references and tools that you shared with us, but want to say a big thank you for coming on today and allowing me to turn the tables and interview you since I've had the pleasure of being on your podcast in the past.

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