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In this edition: ​
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  • What is the role of conflict?
  • Internal vs External conflict
  • Progressive complications
  • Story structure in public speaking.
  • Jacob McMillen edits.

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Let’s go!

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Top of mind:

We are at a crossroads.

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On social media and in my private conversations, B2B creators all seem to feel a bit… lost.

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The old ways are working less, the new ways aren’t apparent, and in the meantime, we have to stay on the hamster wheel while we figure it out.

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This newsletter is really only 14 issues old, and the more I write it, the clearer I get on its purpose and the role I want it to play during this inflection point in our industry.

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It’s time to teach hard things.

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Durable things. Concepts that are not digestible in a single session, but require you to read, bookmark, revisit, and get something new each time.

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I want to help you create work with replay value – because without return visitors, you’ll never end up in the consideration set.

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I say all this because I want to set the stage for our new series on conflict and the role it plays in B2B content marketing.

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What is the role of conflict?

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Without conflict, there are no obstacles. Without obstacles, there is no story.

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Our job as creators isn’t to present information; it’s to make meaning of it and, if we’re lucky, play a small role in altering our reader’s story.

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B2B creators are luckier than most, as our protagonists aren’t works of fiction but real people we can talk to and follow on social media.

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We also have tools that give us a tiny glimpse into their challenges.

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But we’re unluckier than most writers because we fear straying away from empirical evidence.

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Because our reader is flesh and bone, they’re unlikely to let their guard down and share their inner-most concerns, so while we may extract valuable insights from “customer research,” if we always take our reader at their word, those learnings will always be surface-level and skin deep.

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Indeed, we must walk a fine line between fact and fiction, using our observations to fabricate a reality that still rings truthful to our readers.

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Without conflict, we produce factually correct information that solves the problem under ideal circumstances—which is never the reality.

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What is the role of conflict?

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Simply put, to keep the content grounded.

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Let’s dig deeper.

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The 3 Types of Conflict

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Robert McKee, author of Story, separates conflicts into three layers.
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The Three layers of conflict - Inner conflicts, Personal conflicts, Extra-personal conflict

Inner: Our relationship with ourselves, connected to our mind, body, or emotions.

Personal: Our relationships with other people, like friends, family, lovers, and co-workers

Extra-personal: Our relationship with our environment, social institutions, and roles in society.

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An example of this for a B2B audience might be:

  • Inner: Self-doubt
  • Personal: A specific co-worker
  • Extra-personal: Budget cuts

Without any details, I bet you can spin up half a dozen scenarios using just those three elements.

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As you approach any topic, simply pitting the reader against a single threat like deadlines, budgets, or resources, will instantly make it more compelling.

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James Bond doesn’t deal with inner conflict or complicated relationships. All he needs is to save the world from some extra-personal threat and look cool doing it.

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That said, conflicts on two or three layers can make for more complex and nuanced stories.

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Take Jason Bourne. He doesn’t know:

  • Who he is or how he got his skills (inner)
  • Who he can trust (personal)
  • Why everybody wants to kill him (Extra-personal)

Conflict across all three levels vs. one is what makes Bourne and Bond very different spy-thrillers and very different movies.

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Is one better than the other? That’s a matter of preference.

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Why we need conflict in B2B content

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At this point, I think that’s clear, so let’s demonstrate with a fairly standard blog post:

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Repurposing content

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The popular narrative looks something like this.

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Content repurposing is a great way to grow your brand’s online presence.

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All you have to do is:

  • Make one piece of long-form content.
  • Cut it into smaller pieces.
  • Distribute everywhere.
  • Grow your reach.

The standard post then fills in the blanks on what to do, without providing resources on how to do it.

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This is a prime example of giving the reader what they want, but not what they need to be successful.

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The true story looks more like this:

  • People don’t speak in soundbites.
  • Finding the right thing to clip is hard.
  • 2-3 one-minute shorts take a long time to edit.
  • Doing it yourself means acquiring a new skill set.
  • Outsourcing means spending money on an editor.
  • Hiring means finding someone who can execute.
  • Hiring also means you must learn to communicate your vision.
  • Hiring especially means relinquishing control.
  • And then you have to do this all on top of your normal, everyday work.

Conflict creates credibility, and showing you understand the progressive complications of each step makes you an authority.

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As the creator, the instinct is to be concerned about overwhelming the reader. But the truth is, each complication provides an opportunity to give the reader a reason to keep returning until they believe the thing you sell is the perfect solution to their problem—because you understand the problem so well.

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What’s next?

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In the next three parts of this series, we’ll explore each conflict layer and ways it can make the work better.

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In the meantime, here’s what I want you to do.

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When you review your next piece, note what obstacles would prevent the reader from doing what you’re suggesting. Also note whether it is an internal, personal, or extra-personal conflict.

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You don’t have to do anything with this just yet, but I guarantee it will strengthen the work.
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Until then…

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Thank you to our sponsor aHrefs



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What’s on our radar? – Video Edition

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👊🏼 How to create conflict​

😵‍💫 Internal vs external conflict​

🤓 More on the purpose of conflict​

😩 More on progressive complications​
📝 Raising the story’s stakes​

Let’s get social

​Oli Gardner is one of my earliest influences and what he’s talking about in this post is a different application of many of the same principles we’ve been talking about.
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Oli is a master storyteller and public speaker, and the PDF he’s giving away is a perfect demonstration of why.


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From “The Vault”

​The Vault is a collection of articles that have been edited by guest editors on The Cutting Room.

Look at raw drafts and see how editors from companies like Writer.com, Calendly, Airtable, and more give their feedback in the doc.


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In this early episode of The Cutting Room, Jacob McMillen starts by asking one of the most important questions.
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​Jump into the document. ​
​Watch the video as Jacob edits live. ​

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Tommy Walker | The Content Studio

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