In this issue:
- Bittersweet endings
- Brand storytelling for real
- How to go viral
- First 30/60/90 days in content
- A Studio Insider exclusive
- Eric Doty talks automation
The Lie About Brand Storytelling People Don’t Want You to Believe
Building a brand voice is hard. Like, really hard.
Think about it.
You have to come up with a voice that represents everyone in your company, they have to buy into it, it has to be adapted to different channels, and be adopted by different people, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
How do you do that, and how do you do that well?
That’s where Kevan Lee & Shannon Deep come in.
Kevan was the VP of Marketing at Buffer and Shannon’s built brands for billion-dollar tech companies.
Now they run Bonfire, their own branding agency that offers 1:1 consulting for individuals, advising for leaders and founders, and workshops for teams.
These two are some of the best in the business, so if you can make it live, I highly recommend you come and ask away.
Top of mind:
Is it possible to give readers what they want, not what they need, and still leave them satisfied?
It’s the bittersweet ending and it’s really, really hard to pull off.
That’s because a lot of B2B writing is already unsatisfying because it gives the reader what they want, without fulfilling the need, and acts like it’s done both.
It’s like when great lovers are terrible partners and act like they’re amazing all around.
First, I propose that’s an unintentional consequence of thinking wants and needs are the same and second, that’s not what we’re talking about.
What we’re talking about is intentionally withholding what the reader needs, and in fact, letting them actively reject their needs so they can pursue their goals, while still delivering a complete, satisfying, and honest ending.
We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s dig in.
Image by Studio Binder
A quick refresher on Wants and Needs
At the heart of every story are two driving forces: what characters want and what they truly need.
While they might chase after external goals, often fueled by misconceptions or “The Lie,” there’s also “The Truth” that will lead them to genuine fulfillment.
- Wants: These are the tangible objectives characters chase, often driven by their beliefs or “The Lie.”
- Needs: Beneath the surface, these are the deeper truths or “The Truth” that characters must confront for genuine growth.
In a story with a sweet ending, characters embrace “The Truth,” reject “The Lie,” and achieve both their wants and needs.
But in a bittersweet narrative, they will cling to “The Lie,” achieving what they want at the cost of their deeper needs.
For instance, in “The Social Network,” Mark Zuckerberg achieves unparalleled success with Facebook but at the cost of personal connections. Similarly, in “The Truman Show,” Truman finds freedom but fails to realize he can never live a normal life.
Both films highlight a common thread—the heroes achieve their external goals (the wants), yet face unresolved internal conflicts (the needs), rendering their victories bittersweet.
The Ghost, The Truth, and The Lie
Get ready, because we’re about to dig deep.
Every narrative is propelled by three intertwined elements: ‘The Ghost,’ ‘The Truth,’ and ‘The Lie.’
While we’ve touched on the latter two, ‘The Ghost’ is perhaps the most important element.
Here’s the relationship between the three:
- The Ghost is a past event or trauma that haunts the character and fuels The Lie.
- The Truth is the reality they need to embrace that will liberate them from The Ghost.
- The Lie is a belief the character holds to be true because of The Ghost and prevents the character from seeing The Truth and fully resolving their character arc.
Going back to “The Social Network,” Mark Zuckerberg grew up nerdy and ignored, so he believes he has to do something big to be noticed.
His Ghost is brought up in the opening scene, when his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend Madeline says:
“You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”
This is The Truth, and Zuck refuses to believe it.
In story, The Truth is usually portrayed by one or two characters that try to keep the protagonist on track to getting what they want while tending to their needs.
Truth in “The Social Network” is embodied by co-founder Eduardo Saverin. His attempts are displayed in a few key moments throughout the film:
- The initial investment – he believes in steady growth and is cautious about spending too much too soon
- Monetization strategy – he wants to monetize early by placing ads and ensuring financial stability
- Skeptical of Sean Parker– more on this in a moment
- Freezing the bank accounts – he hopes this will force Mark to reconsider their direction
The Lie is likewise represented by one or many characters. In this case, it’s represented by Sean Parker.
- Multiple investors – he wants hyper-growth and raises capital from several high-profile investors
- Monetization – he believes Facebook would be cooler if they didn’t run ads in the beginning
- Leaving behind Eduardo – he convinces Zuckerberg to move to California, creating distance from Saverin
- Diluting Saverin’s shares – he and key investors keep their share value, while Saverin’s is diluted to 0.03%
Throughout the story, there are moments where The Truth and The Lie are at odds with each other, and at each turn, the protagonist follows The Lie to take another step toward getting what they want.
I’m the end, his Ghost lingers, The Truth is shunned, The Lie embraced, and Facebook soars to its first million users—achieving what Mark always wanted; to do something big.
Yet, we have to ask, will he ever be satisfied?
Now, let’s flip the script. How does this narrative unfold in real-life?
What does your business represent?
Much like characters in a screenplay, B2B buyers have our own Ghosts—being burned by agencies, wasting budgets on unproductive freelancers, or investing in tools that didn’t live up to the hype.
These Ghosts set the stage for our own version of The Lie:
For illustration’s sake, let’s go with “freelancers aren’t worth it.”
If that’s The Lie, The Truth we actively reject is, “Maybe I could have written better briefs.”
Yet, the underlying problem still exists, so when an alternative to a freelancer comes along, like a shiny new tool, we pursue The Lie, sometimes with reckless abandon.
We are also a part of businesses, and how we treat our customer’s Ghosts and Lies is the foundation of our positioning, marketing, and sales strategies.
Think about your prospect’s Ghosts Lies; how do you address them?
The way I see it, you’ve got two options.
Feed The Lie or tease the future?
Feed The Lie: Play into the prospect’s existing beliefs. Offer immediate satisfaction while downplaying The Truth.
Tease the future: Acknowledge The Lie. Give them what they want, let them know their need isn’t being satisfied, and if they did embrace the truth, they would have an even brighter future.
I struggled with this, because “Feed The Lie” sounds pretty icky, but make no mistake, though plenty of companies do, I do not endorse deceptive marketing tactics.
What I am saying is, confirmation bias is a powerful thing, and it is a perfectly valid strategy to say, “yes, what you’re feeling is justified, maybe the problem is bigger than you thought. Here is a solution that can fix that right now.”
Putting these concepts to work
Let’s translate these narratives into action and create a blog post using an example that is relevant to our community:
Situation: The company wants to scale content.
Ghost: They were burned by agencies and freelancers last time they tried.
Truth: Maybe we didn’t properly vet our collaborators or communicate a clear strategy.
Lie: Agencies and freelancers are terrible, so they need to find a different way to scale.
Potential solution: An AI tool that can scale content output fast.
Before putting pen to paper, ask yourself:
- What is The Ghost?
- What is The Lie?
- Do they get what they want?
- What is The Truth they need to accept
- Do they get what they need?
- Do we feed The Lie or tease the future?
Answer these questions in great detail if you want to get in the reader’s headspace before they read your article (or watch your video, etc).
Here’s how you could address them all in a single blog post.
Title: Should I replace my writers with AI?
What is The Ghost: Burned by freelancers
What is The Lie: AI can replace freelancers and create content that will help me rank
Do they get what they want: Yes
What is The Truth: Content, without strategy, won’t get you far
Do they get what they need: No
(Note: There are 264 words worth of notes I took ahead of time, this is just shortened to keep the email going.)
AI will always deliver on time, never misspell, always be grammatically correct, produce a ton of content at breakneck speeds, will never give excuses, and barely need editing.
…all at a fraction of the cost of a freelancer or agency.
Just tell it what you want, and with a little bit of prompting, you’re off to the races.
That said, there are some things you need to consider if you’re contemplating replacing your writers with AI.
At this point, the article could go either way. We will present the reader with both The Lie (AI can completely replace writers) and The Truth (always needing humans) in various scenarios.
We will give them exactly what they want.
How much weight you give to feeding The Lie or teasing the future depends on your brand’s overarching position.
Neither is wrong because the goal of good marketing is to simultaneously attract the right customer, and repel the wrong one.
Keeping all of that in mind, here’s how we might close out this piece if we were to feed The Lie for the reader who is strongly biased toward replacing writers with AI.
Outro 1 – Feed The Lie.
There’s a lot to consider.
AI is capable of replacing writers in many ways and will only continue to improve. Going all in now means your skills will evolve as the tech matures and you can scale content faster than ever before without the need of freelancers or agencies.
Human writers will always have a place.
The question is, what place do they have in your business?
That’s something only you can decide.
Notice how I’m feeding into The Lie, but I’m not lying. They wanted to believe coming in they could replace their writers, and I am confirming that belief.
I’ve given them what they wanted.
By saying human writers will have their place, I’ve also stated The Truth but left it ambiguous.
Given their bias, I don’t have a hard time imagining they will ignore that truth.
Therefore, I have also not given them what they needed.
Ok, let’s do it again…
Outro 2. Tease the future.
There’s a lot to consider.
AI tools are evolving fast and can make average writers good, good writers great, and great writers excellent.
Put in the right hands, AI tools can help a team double or even triple their output without losing quality.
AI won’t fix your underlying strategy, but it will help you create an unprecedented amount of content right now that can be distributed over social and Google, increasing your visibility across the web.
Now the only question is, when do you start?
In this outro, the reader is still biased against human writers, but now I’m teasing the future by letting the reader know AI can make average writers better, and that they can create a lot of content quickly.
I’ve given them what they want.
This also acknowledges The Truth by saying people are necessary and AI won’t solve strategy, but since I am intentionally glossing past that, I’m not giving the reader what they truly need.
One last thing
A common hallmark of the bittersweet ending is closing on a note of ambiguity.
The protagonist ignored the lesson and still got what they wanted, but there’s a glimmer of hope they will eventually embrace the truth and have their needs satisfied.
It’s that uncertain future we, the audience, leave the character with that makes the ending satisfying. We can’t help but wonder, “are they really going to be ok?”
This is great for B2B storytellers, because while in a film that means the story’s over, for us, it gives our reader more and more reasons to keep coming back for more.
Thank you to our sponsor aHrefs
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What’s on our radar?
Studio Insider Spotlight
Jess Cook and Camille Trent discuss Jess’s journey from Junior Copywriter to Creative Director and the lessons and mistakes she made along the way.
- The first 30 days as a content leader
- The power of internal sharing
- Understanding budget and resources
Well worth the listen if you’ve just gotten promoted or have switched roles.
Let’s get social
Pretty straightforward, but a great reminder.
Previously on The Cutting Room
Studio Insider Exclusive: Wants vs Needs explained
This is a raw, live conversation about Wants vs Needs where I explain further and answer audience questions along the way.
How to Run a One-Person Content Team ft. Eric Doty
From “The Vault”
While there are many developmental edits that happen on the show, Melissa Eisenberg of DocuSign shows us that cutting unnecessary words from an average piece can make it so much stronger.
Click here to see the article
Click here to watch her walk through her edits
What are YOU working on?
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See you in the next one ✌️
Tommy Walker | The Content Studio