Part 1: The types of stories that succeed in today’s media landscape

06/23/2020 - Jin Woo

The media landscape continues to evolve every year but this year brought unprecedented changes due to the impact of COVID-19. While the requirements for a solid story remain largely unchanged, the type of stories that publications choose to run continues to be fluid. 

Many of the early stories that coincided with the shelter-in-place order were focused on layoffs, adjusting to remote work, cybersecurity challenges and how IT priorities are (still) changing to support the new workplace environment. 

On a more personal level, now that we’ve been sheltering in place for months, most of us have toilet paper and disinfectant wipes and the fascination with Zoom virtual backgrounds has worn off. Tiger King hype disappeared. And all 10 episodes of The Last Dance have aired. Now we’re talking about the need for haircuts and jokingly shaming those who tried to cut their hair themselves. 

The point being we need ways to overcome the monotony of each day. To do so we need more positivity! So while there’s some coverage about macro trends like the future of cloud with artificial intelligence, many tech companies are struggling to get consistent coverage. 

Through our conversations with reporters, yes — we do pick  up the phone — we’ve identified several types of stories that make for a compelling story. 

Type #1: Human-Interest Stories

To put it simply, we’re fascinated by the life of others. And at the heart of every human interest story are people. A great human interest story is a tale of hardship and overcoming it. These stories touch readers in an emotional and sometimes intimate way with some combination of anger, compassion, sympathy and in some cases empathy. It offers a source of education, motivation, hope and inspiration that challenges us to think about the world around us with a fresh perspective. 

Tech companies sell products, solutions and services that are sold based primarily on technical benefits that helps improve the business outcome. Examples of benefits are in the form of improved speed and efficiency, increased productivity or cost savings. It helps customers address and overcome a technical challenge such as moving data faster, enabling collaboration, creating new revenue streams or making an environment inherently more secure. 

These are all good benefits. But what’s apparent is that there’s sometimes a story behind the story, and often many layers that when peeled back offer a very compelling narrative. We sometimes forget that technology is an enabler. 

One of my fondest memories is of a non-profit organization with the goal to stop human trafficking. A tech company made a sale to the non-profit based on the ability to improve IT performance. But while interviewing the CTO we found that technology played an instrumental role in rescuing case workers who were under attack while trying to rescue victims of human trafficking. 

Another great example was a drug manufacturer who adopted a secure digital signature technology that accelerated FDA approval timelines. Instead of having to print billions of pages then deliver them to the different regulatory agencies via FedEx trucks for approval, a process that often took months or years, now takes just a few weeks. The outcome was not just faster approval but improved outcomes for many cancer patients benefiting from new treatment. 

There are many more great stories like this that have come as a result of our global response to slow down the spread of COVID-19. While we want to be sensitive to the stories we promote during this time, we all could also use more positive stories that give us hope and inspire us. 

How do you uncover these stories? We should all be checking in with our customers to see how we can help them. This not only helps build stronger relationships with the customers but through this effort, you may uncover some very inspirational stories. 

Type #2: Data-Driven Stories

More companies today are employing a data-driven approach to make strategic decisions in an effort to remain relevant, optimize business outcomes and add value. Data-driven approaches offer a powerful way of understanding impact, change in attitude and future direction. The analysis and insights gathered lead to optimizing ways to grow the company, help employees do their job, better engage prospects and serve existing customers. 

Developing business relevant analytics can be challenging. Sourcing data creatively can help your business deliver more value. Some companies may have data that can be collected internally based on customer usage. Other companies leverage surveys but hesitate due to the cost involved. Creativity can help offset some of the costs. One possibility is using public data to analyze impact over time. Another possibility is leveraging multiple data sources to identify trends and variances. Whether you’re already using data-driven approaches or planning to, you can maximize the value of data by using it for multiple purposes. 

Leveraging data for content marketing, social media (social tiles, infographics, blogs) and thought leadership are beneficial for successful campaigns. It also helps to tell the story with the media.  

Type #3: Education through Thought Leadership

Your buyers may not be ready to make a purchase today. However, educating your customers now will lead to greater impact in future purchase decisions as we come out of COVID-19. Whether it’s supporting an entirely remote workforce, supporting the growing number of edge use cases, AI/ML-driven initiatives or as an onramp to 5G. 

Many organizations are already thinking about these initiatives but haven’t quite figured out how to tackle them or are still in the exploratory phase. Having worked with customer references in a variety of capacities, what I’ve learned is that customers appreciate companies that work with them closely, hand-in-hand, as an extension of their internal team. 

It’s becoming increasingly important that companies work with vendors that share the same values, culture and work ethic. I hear this over and over from customers. This leads to longer term relationships that lead to upsell opportunities – both deeper and laterally. And you have the opportunity to work with the customer to solicit feedback earlier in the development phase when delivering new products, solutions and services. 

Even in the perpetual disruption of today’s media landscape, the elements of a successful story remain largely the same. Still, with the doldrums of remote work setting in, companies need to promote fresh perspectives. Focusing on the human elements of technology, letting data drive your storytelling, or educating customers through thought leadership are all great ways to connect to your audience and set your company apart.