Crafting Powerful Stories
Updated: Sep 15
with Jennifer Roth, Founder Content x Design
Storytelling has been a big buzzword when it comes to creating content. How do you cut through the mediocre content to make you and your business stand out? Jennifer Roth of Content x Design shares how she helps companies craft powerful stories to authentically relate and connect to their audience. She breaks down what makes a good story and the key to building personal connections online.
Notes from the Show
We’re all aware of how the scope of the business world was changed by the pandemic. Jennifer's inspiration for Content x Design and the work she does was sparked by this sense of a foundational shift in the ways companies needed to communicate in the wake of COVID-19. The most obvious shift was in the channels of communication, while most moved to remote work settings communication shifted to an online channel for employee meetings, client contact, sales, etc. Additionally, there was a generation shift in the differentiation of the talent pool. Millennials and Gen Z employees in the workforce brought forth new values and priorities.
Now in a place of making first contact online, the key to building personal connections online is to make digital touchpoints feel more human, and the human touchpoints more informed by digital technology. Everyone's an expert in what they do, but it’s important to realize you don’t know everything about your client. Be curious and ask questions. Learn your audience and then build your story around the answers. With personal connections, there is value in authenticity, this comes down to how you share about yourself before the questions.
Jennifer and I remark on the millions of pieces of content out there, most being mediocre content for the sake of content. So how do you cut through the noise? How do you make your story interesting? Whether you’re a creative mind or a technical mind, a good story is dependent on how your audience reacts to it. Just creating content doesn't make you stand out. What stops the noise is the right questions and the story crafted around it: Who is your audience? What does your audience care about? What do you have to say about it that brings value? Be thoughtful, be authentic. Be real, be on brand.
Jennifer has a lot of great advice for business owners old and new on creating the story that represents their brand in the most advantageous way. She also shares some interesting trends in content that really shift the way we think about marketing, such as ads directed to employees instead of customers. You can find out more about Jennifer Roth and her work at the Content x Design website, connect with Jennifer on LinkedIn, or reach her via email.
Change Catalysts: Why and how we need to change how we communicate.
How to cut through the noise in a marketplace packed with mediocre content.
How people with technical mindsets can better connect with their audiences.
The Digital Touch; Building personal connections online.
Mentioned in this Episode:
Transcribed by AI Susan Tatum 0:37
Welcome back to stop the noise. Today I'm talking with Jennifer Roth, who is the founder and CEO of Content by Design. Welcome, Jennifer.
Jennifer Roth 0:46
Thank you so much, Susan. It's great to be here.
Susan Tatum 0:49
It's wonderful to talk to you. I know you've got some really interesting things to say, before we get started, for anybody that's listening, that may not be familiar with your work, tell us really quickly, what do you do?
Jennifer Roth 1:02
So I have a three year old daughter. And when she asked what I do for work, I usually say I help people tell their stories. And that feels the most true to me. So I've always loved narrative, I have a degree in English literature, I started my career in book publishing. But today, storytelling is omnipresent. You just you don't just find it in books, obviously, it's part of our personal lives, how we connect to other people, by sharing stories. And increasingly, as companies recognize the importance of authentic and engaging communication, it's part of the business world. So what I do is help companies really tell their stories, or individuals tell their stories. And that can be in marketing. But it can be in internal storytelling, really, anytime you want to motivate, inform, or guide people, the best way to do that is through a story. So that to me is what content strategy and content by design are all about.
Susan Tatum 2:09
So I feel like I've we've certainly seen a lot about storytelling in the past couple of years. And I feel like I've seen some data that says that humans are, we've evolved are just going way back to the very beginning. Storytelling was the way of communicating. And we have this innate ability to understand and remember stories better than data or something that's being thrown at us.
Jennifer Roth 2:38
Yes, absolutely. So there's, there's a whole psychological piece and science behind this. And I think what's changed is really just the amount of space that people on companies have to tell their stories today. If you think about all the digital channels out there, you don't have to buy ad space, you don't have to buy a billboard, to get your story out there. You can have a website, podcast, social media page. And so there's so much opportunity for stories to be created and shared. And if you have a good strategic, yet authentic story, it will find its audience.
Susan Tatum 3:22
So it also seems to be a bit more complex, because of all of the different ways that you have to get your message out there. And I think when we talked earlier, we talked about we talked about change and catalyst for change. And you had on one, I don't want to put words in your mouth. But I understood you to say that COVID And all of the things that we've been through recently created this great catalyst for change.
Jennifer Roth 3:52
salutely So one of the reasons I started my business is that I sensed a foundational shift in the kinds of communication that were needed for companies to succeed following COVID-19. And like, most change, really, it didn't come out of nowhere. COVID-19 itself may have seemed like it came out of nowhere. But the business trends that followed, were not brand new. In most cases, they were just catalyzed and accelerated by the disruption of COVID-19. So a few of those trends, remote and hybrid work. A lot of teams, especially globally distributed brands and companies, were already having people, you know, work remotely, work hybrid in terms of, you know, collate, you know, distributed versus collate Keating teams. And so, you know, communication for those teams is already starting to change, but it was at a smaller scale, it was maybe a few teams or a few individuals. And so that just, you know, grew.
Susan Tatum 4:58
So when you were talking about change in that context, is it the way that you communicate or the importance of storytelling? Or the the channels that we're using? Or the need for difference? Do we need different stories for different people what I mean, what I know physically what changed, and I know that these zoom conversations that we're having a perfect example of a lot of companies that just really wouldn't have anything to do with it until they had to. So that's a new way that we're learning to communicate but what What is really the what is what is the change that we're talking about?
Jennifer Roth 5:39
I think there's a mix of all of the different trends you talked about. So there are obviously new channels. For many companies, at least for several months or years, and for some companies now permanently with remote, you can't gather everyone into a conference room, you have to be a little more planned and intentional about how you create those kinds of townhall communications and opportunities. So that is an example of like a channel shift. But there's also the need for differentiation, that I think that's another of the trends that has been accelerated. So the labor and talent pool, I think most people would agree now is increasingly seeking more than just a paycheck and more than just, I'm going to come in, do my job and leave at the end of the day. So there was a, there was a generational shift piece, I think there with the influx of millennials and Gen Z into the workforce. And now in addition to that, there's kind of a seize the day moment for workers of all ages, who realized, hey, life is short. work isn't everything. And you're gonna have to motivate me a little bit differently than you might have before. So you have to change that message and make it a more compelling story. Because your workers are a lot less likely to listen to go here, press this button, do this thing. And they're more looking for a reason to believe.
Susan Tatum 7:30
So that's the internal aspect of the communication. What about how does that affect the marketplace?
Jennifer Roth 7:40
Absolutely. So there's been a blending of digital into everything over a period of years with digitalization, but it's happened at different paces for different kinds of companies and industries. And I think what's kind of shifted with recent trends is we knew, obviously, you can sell any b2c product online. And Amazon has proven that. But I feel like increasingly, you can see that you can also sell any b2b professional service fully online. So what does that mean for, you know, how we talk to customers and market and communicate to customers? And the answer is, it's just because you're moving to a less traditionally personal channel. That doesn't mean personal relationships can't exist. It has to be personal. It has to be human.
Susan Tatum 8:40
Right? But and you're not saying you're not saying automate everything you're saying you were still we still have to be human to human. But we may not be face to face in a physical space.
Jennifer Roth 8:54
Exactly. So yes, Susan, there's a great example of how we connect it. So really, I'm here because you reached out to me with a LinkedIn message that was so clearly real, I get a lot of LinkedIn messages. And we all do, right. And 95% of them are just totally generic, but you read my profile, and you told me what you thought was interesting and unique about it. And that cut through the noise. So it really showed that even if you make that first personal connection online, which is usually the case these days, you have to really make it personal. And the key to building personal relationships online is to make those digital touch points feel more human. And the human touch points more informed by technology, because you use the information on my profile to really form that connection.
Susan Tatum 9:52
Yeah, I mean, I would say and thank you for bringing that up. That's kind of my thing is is that we need to be you know, humans are really good at recognizing fake and recognizing robots and you just I think you have to be real and it works when you know when you reach out to somebody like that in an in a sincere way. And I've completely lost my train of thought so I'm gonna go on to something else. So what you were talking about differentiation being important and God I hope everybody hears you say that because there's so much of me to stuff going on across the board and a lot of different a different areas. But do you think that to go back to what you said earlier, Jennifer, do you think that the market may be buyers are saying I'm not going to put up with your buzzwords and your and your generic content? Because I don't I don't have to and I'm going to make my decisions based on on things that are important to me. And that is a change in the way I see a lot of marketing communication being done today.
Jennifer Roth 11:00
Yeah, I think that's a great point. So people and consumers increasingly expect personalization, they expect to be catered to. And part of that is the increasing use of all the data we put out there about ourselves. So companies are not only, you know, using that data, but expected to use that data. So I think, even 10 years ago, people were a little freaked out when they would get an email, or something that said their name or clearly knew who they were and what they cared about. And now that's kind of table stakes. That's how marketing is done.
Susan Tatum 11:43
So we talk to you do a lot of work, I think, with people that have a technical mindset, and communicating their value propositions to people who may not be in love with their technology. So let's talk about that. Because I think that's really important. And I think that it's not just the technology industry, it could be anything that we're we get so into our process and our you know, what the details of what we're doing, when we should be focusing on the problems we're solving.
Jennifer Roth 12:21
Absolutely. I do often work with engineers, or other people with highly technical skills and expertise. But it can absolutely apply to anyone who offers a professional service, where your expertise is really, you know, kind of part of your brand and part of your story. But you have to be really mindful of how you present that without coming off as potentially dry or in the weeds, at least to others. So basically, if you are, you could be the best accountant in the world, you know, you could just have the best skills, you're gonna save people so much money on their taxes. But if you start just talking about all the nuts and bolts of what your accounting practice does, that's different, it may not really resonate with your audience. So instead, just like you were saying, you really need to focus on the value you can provide to them. And I also think it's also very important to remain curious. So you are an expert on what you do, right? But there's, there are things you don't know that your client knows. So I often find that that's kind of a good way to start bridging the gap. When if you're in like a one on one situation, where you have a lot of technical expertise to bring to the table, but maybe you're not sure exactly. Without talking to that person more how you're going to bring value to them. So instead of just starting to talk about what you do, and waiting to see kind of what resonates with them, start asking questions, and ask questions about you don't know, and then use the information that you learned there to kind of shape how you tell your story. So it's really about learning about your audience, just like it is when marketing and sales, you get to know that person, and then you craft the story around it. And that can work in really any kind of professional environment where you're trying to get to know someone trying to figure out how you can bring them value
Susan Tatum 14:27
so you know, I find that they're so conventional sales processes would would say, you you ask them questions about their business, and there used to be or the problems are and there used to be like that, that what is keeping you awake at night question that, you know, that thank God is I think, gone away. But I think what I see is that people move too quickly into asking questions that the, the other person may not be quite ready to, to answer yet. So what can what would be examples of that? So you know, say if you're having the conversation for the first time, how do you open that door? To be not threatening in the questions that you're asking or not, you know, putting somebody else off.
Jennifer Roth 15:13
That comes down to authenticity, and the way you share about yourself before you ask the question, because you're absolutely right, if you just come out box and want to know everything about someone that puts them in edge as well. So you don't want to come out and give them you know, a whole spiel about how you have this fantastic 12 step process and it's going to change the world. But you also don't want to go hounding them for Every personal detail about themselves. So I think, you know, an example of I can, because a lot of the storytelling and work that I do is in a digital platform. So one of the things that I like to do is you can create like a post on LinkedIn, it was not a one to one. So it's a little less intimidating to people. And you can share something that shows your knowledge, but in, you know, kind of a more light way, and then ask a question. So it might be, here's something I found really interesting, because XYZ, what do you think about this, it can be super open, super casual. And it gets your kind of target audience and an open mindset. So you clearly are showing you have something to learn from your clients. But if you do that in a good way, they recognize they also have more to learn from you.
Susan Tatum 16:41
So it in that case, would it be a kind of a business related question like what are you seeing around? You know, what is? What is difficult in your world about conducting your job? Kind of a thing? But it's it's kind of a benign question. It's not asking specifically for How late are you filing your taxes or, you know, anything like that, that somebody is going to feel weird about answering is that? Would you agree with that?
Jennifer Roth 17:13
Yes. And I think that kind of plays into, you know, I know, you work on LinkedIn a lot. And so do I. And we've seen this trend of people maybe going online to getting too personal. So I do think it is important that it be, you know, business related. And so, you know, be thoughtful and mindful of kind of the level of how personal do you get versus, you know, how much do you, you don't want to be fluffy, you don't want to just be putting something out there strictly to get a response, regardless of the quality. But I think it's aboard basically, my role is be real, but beyond brand. So if if you care about something, and it's part of who you are, then it's a good place to start creating content. And if it doesn't fit that bill, then probably not a good fit.
Susan Tatum 18:09
So let's circle back around just the word story. And you know, and a couple of times you said you you, you want to tell your story. But Jennifer, what is that actually when you what is someone's story? Is it something like how did I? How did I get to doing this? How did I realize that there was a problem that I set out to solve? I'm thinking of somebody with a with a technical background. And we and we don't want them to talk about the specifics and the all of the details that go into the the product or the framework or the or the service? What are what are what would the market be interested in hearing about in terms of story? And I know I threw that question at you. But it just occurred to me while we were talking that. What, like you talk to your daughter, you tell your daughter stories all the time, I'm sure. So if you're if you were talking to a client about and they have been in the past and boring everybody to tears with talking about basically things that no one's interested in? How do you get them to work them towards an interesting story?
Jennifer Roth 19:37
Well, I think it goes back to what you mentioned before with differentiation. So the test of a good story is how other people react to it. And that other person is not always in the same position. So I think a good first step is testing whether your your story or your message is gonna resonate with others. So talk to somebody who is interested in your area of expertise, but is has a different level of interest and knowledge then you do. And I think you just have to work on developing your set of stories. It's not one story. I don't have one story, you don't have one story. It's knowing, taking a really close look at what are your values? What do you care about? And how do you want others to see you and your brand and your company? But then taking a step back and talking with people and see well is what matters to me, what matters to them or what piece of my story is appealing to them. And that's how you start crafting, the more powerful stories, it cannot be done in a silo, it has to be done through communication with other people.
Susan Tatum 20:39
Well, it would seem that the, one of the best places to get information would be from existing clients, and finding out what is it that you value most about? What I do for you?
Jennifer Roth 20:51
Absolutely, and I think that's actually one of the powerful things that we have in our pocket as, as business owners, and independent consultants, is that you can have that conversation and ask, you know, check in, you want to always check in on your relationships. So ask them, you know, what is what is it that I do? That's, that's different from others? What do you value? And you can even ask what, what isn't resonating with you as well. So open and honest communication is not only going to help you build a better relationship with that client. But like you said, also, you take those lessons learned away, and you figure out how best to replicate that relationship.
Susan Tatum 21:39
That makes perfect sense. So the name of this podcast to remind anybody listening that has forgotten to stop the noise. And we see a lot of we think I think it's fair to say that the marketplace is packed with content, that's just noise. And by that, I mean, it's we many companies, it seems, are at a point where they're just creating content, because they're looking for the amount of content they're doing, and not necessarily the quality of the content. And and, you know, I think that consumers, buyers, whether b2b or b2c have gotten to the point where they're just ignoring a lot of it. So how can you break through a noisy marketplace that's packed with mediocre content? What can what can a, an expert, a business owner, a marketing team, whatever? What can they do to break through that?
Jennifer Roth 22:39
Absolutely right. I was thinking about the phase like content is king, which was so big, like 10 years ago, but it's not big anymore, because it's not a monarchy, it's a democracy, everyone and their mother is a content creator. And so, you know, just creating content doesn't make you stand out. You have to make it meaningful to your audience. So again, goes back to knowing who are the people that I want to reach? Who are the people I'm wanting to make an impact on. And you need to be, you'd have something to say to that audience to bring value. You can't just I know that there are rules out there, if you should post X amount of content X often, I don't really follow that rule, because I think quality is more important than quantity. So that's something to think about is, you know, who am I talking to? What do they care about? And what do I have to say about a topic that actually is adding to the conversation. And you have to be authentic, which I think comes along with those because if you are just posting to check a box and say, Alright, we did a social media post today, people sense that, they sense the intent behind your action. So I think it's always important to just be be mindful, you know, practice, the quality versus quantity, kind of mantra, and, you know, be thoughtful, be authentic. And make sure that you are considering how your words will come across to others and what kind of impact you want to make on them.
Susan Tatum 24:29
So think that's really, really good advice for LinkedIn, and probably any kind of social media where you're, you're actually trying to start conversations, you know, and I would think what you're saying it's certainly what comes to my mind is blogs. And there can be such generic I mean, when you when you go to a blog, and you see the same types of articles that have been written a gazillion times by other people. And it you could Google the topic and you and 100,000 articles come up with that same topic. You're not going to break through the noise or do anybody any favors, including yourself by creating that kind of content, and just having it be under your name. I mean, I think people are looking for something different. And I also see a disconnect to your point about, understand who you're talking to, and you're trying to provide value for with your content. I see a lot of blogs, I'm gonna, I'm gonna stick with blogs here for for a minute. But they're extremely tactical blog articles, like step one, step two, step three or five ways to do whatever, when the company or the person itself is actually selling strategy or targeting, you know, wants to be a thought leader, or something like that. It just, there's something that needs to elevate the thinking that goes into any kind of content, I think.
Jennifer Roth 26:06
yeah, that's a good point about kind of the listicles. Turn into, you know, business and professional, everyone wanted to replicate that BuzzFeed formula. And there's you know, there is money to be made. Doing that kind of post if your goal is to just get clicks. But if you want to get conversions, that may not be your best strategy, because all it's doing is saying, I know how to read a listicle. Instead of I have real insights to offer. And, you know, as you know, you really, when you're working with a client, you usually can't just apply a formula, you can't go straight to this is the tactic. If you want to be strategic, again, it depends on your business model. But if you want to be strategic, you need to demonstrate that and really craft your content in a way that establishes thats who you are, you're not someone who comes in and says here, I have all the answers. You're someone who listens. You're someone who caters to the needs and the objectives of your audience. And that is really what is going to help you stand out and cut through the noise.
Susan Tatum 27:27
That's all very good, good advice. Let's, let's change topics just a little bit here and talk about what you see as the challenges and opportunities in the future or near future distant future, whatever for professional services firms for expert, type individuals, what do you see out there?
Jennifer Roth 27:55
So in my personal niche, and space, one of the shifts and trends that I've seen, is expanding the market for powerful strategic campaigns, powerful strategic, internal, or outbound campaigns that are focused on employees. And really, that's very much in response to the labor market today. So a lot of workers like I mentioned before, they have a different perspective on work and life and what they're looking for. So at least for the first time, in my working career, I feel like I'm seeing ads on TV about why I should work for a certain company. So I think that's a really interesting moment in terms of, you know, where content and marketing communications are going in terms of valuing, and realizing that employees are as valuable to the company as customers and often more valuable. So it's, it's interesting in terms of you are telling a story about your brand, but you're telling it to a different audience. And so having to be as mindful about that story. And as putting as much time resources and like full on campaigns into that kind of messaging is an interesting kind of opportunity and trend that I see. But then I think the biggest challenge and opportunity is who knows what will happen next? What will be the catalyst for the next great transformation? And what shifts will that drive? So the big question on a lot of people's minds is, what is the economy going to do over the next year? That's a huge question mark in terms of the labor market, in terms of our consumers going to continue to spend at the rate that they're spending now. As you know, inflation continues to rise. So I am someone who loves learning new things. I love new challenges. So I'm super excited to see what comes next. But I think it's just about you know, seeing and watching the market and seeing okay, what trends are kind of bubbling on the surface today, that Then something happens in the larger marketplace, and really turns up the heat on those trends.
Susan Tatum 30:13
So I hear a lot about hiring freezes going in at the larger companies, which may or may not affect the buying capabilities of people, but when you traditionally, when we do have a slowdown in the economy, people start tightening up, right, wrong or indifferent people freak out. And they they start closing the borders and they start cutting back on things. Are you seeing any changes in your area about the willingness to spend, and tip to build a market? Or are the people that you talk to beginning to get uncomfortable?
Jennifer Roth 30:58
I think there's definitely, you know, smart companies, especially larger companies that have, you know, economic advisors and financial departments are planning ahead, they see the trends in the labor market and the economy. And they see, we need to kind of tighten up the spending on staffing. So there's different trends that come into play there, I think one is trying to use those digital tools to automate tasks that maybe there aren't, there's not a labor market that's ready and willing to do that work anymore, maybe the company doesn't want to allocate the funds in that direction. So digital shifts are definitely in line with that. But then, additionally, you know, thinking of those of us out there who are not employees, of companies that have our own firms, I think one of the main advantages you have in that position, is you don't need to fit a specific job description. And I think that's a huge also skill for people who are coming up today and kind of getting started with their careers is, I think it's advantageous not to lock yourself into a box of I do XYZ, because it's easy for that task to be digitized or deprioritize. Whenever there's, you know, growth and shrinking and the economy. But if you have kind of scalable shiftable skills, and especially as like a sole proprietor, or if you have a small firm, you can grow, change, and adapt as needed, and find the best ways for you to create value for your clients. So that kind of going back to what I said before, you may have to take a look at the way you've been branding yourself, and change the story. Because your clients and your customers are not in the same mindset that they were two years ago. Yeah.
Susan Tatum 32:53
Yeah. Yeah. That's very good advice. Thank you for sharing that. And thank you for stopping by. Before before I let you go for anyone that wants to follow up with you, what's the best way to find you?
Jennifer Roth 33:07
You can find me on LinkedIn or you can go to contentxdesignstrategy.com. And that's with an X content X design strategy. The that was my little play of the whole kind of analytical and data based piece along with storytelling there. So yeah, LinkedIn, Jennifer Roth or contentxbydesignstrategy.com.
Susan Tatum 33:36
Okay, we'll put that in the show notes. And Jennifer it has been fantastic. Thank you so much
Jennifer Roth 33:42
It's been a pleasure.
Susan Tatum 33:47
Take care. Have a wonderful rest of your day.