I just finished reading a couple thought leadership articles in a financial industry trade publication. One of the articles was engaging and thought provoking. The other was so dry and boring that I didn’t finish reading it. Both articles discussed very complex subject matter, but they’ll have radically different results in terms of readership.
The interesting article was based on an interview. The boring one read more like a very abstract white paper. Now obviously, an interview will generally be more interesting. But I think it also provided more high quality educational content. I analyzed the two and realized that a key difference is storytelling.
The Interview Told a Story
The interview included all six basic elements required for storytelling:
- Setting – a major investment management firm.
- Characters – the trading and IT team members involved in the various story lines. The article describes real people, so they’re believable.
- Plot – the article starts out by describing industry issues that led the firm to start working on improving trading performance and then details steps the characters are taking.
- Conflict – there are several conflicts – problems and issues related to technology, liquidity, data management and complexity.
- Climax – in this case, there are several sub-plots and mini-climaxes, each with their own problems being solved.
- Ending – the story is not over, but the article does contain a clear resolution and ending.
The White Paper Lacked Characters, Setting, and Plot
- Setting – The paper tries to be relevant to everyone (buyside, sellside, vendors, business, IT, etc.), and so it keeps the content very abstract and eliminates any sort of setting. As a result, it’s relevant to no one. Layers of abstraction work really well in code, but we humans need context if we’re going to find personal meaning in what we read.
- Plot – The paper describes a series of business issues that could be fleshed out into very interesting sub-plots. To do this, the author would need to eliminate the abstraction and make the stories more concrete, which would also make them more interesting.
- Characters – The concept of characters, actors or heroes is completely missing. Occasionally, the article makes vague references to “operators” and “makers and users of technology,” but it’s never clear who these people are nor how they’re involved in each of the mini-plots. Again, I think the author was trying to keep the content abstract so it would be more broadly applicable, but the result is boring copy that isn’t relevant to anyone. (But it is an excellent sleep aid!)
Financial Services is NOT Boring
Just because you’re writing a technical document or a white paper doesn’t mean you have to be boring. The financial services industry provides a never-ending source of interesting stories. From flash crashes and Knight Capital to Madoff and MF Global to State Street lawsuits, there is no shortage of relevant stories. Every regulatory development has a great story driving it. Every technology solution was driven by some event that created a business problem or opportunity. Every company has dozens upon dozens of stories that could be used very effectively to help prospective clients understand how they can benefit from your services.
Find Your Stories
Storytelling humanizes your company and the brand. It enables people to connect and understand your organization. We’re always more likely to engage with someone if we know a bit of their story.
So find your stories. Make them relevant, personal and interesting. And you don’t have to disclose a client’s identity or confidential information to tell a compelling story. There are plenty of ways to anonymize the content and avoid disclosures of sensitive information.