On fanatics: or, cutting the long tail of company history and focusing on the customer

When you cross the line from general to specific, you also cross the line from tolerant to expectant.

In other words, you’ll be given a pass if you’re talking in generals and leave something out. The second you cross into expert territory, though, you’re running with the big wolves, except these big wolves have specialized nomenclature and a list of best practices and several generations of expert knowledge at their disposal, and they’d love nothing more than to regale you with the details.

It’s scary. You’re immediate inclination is to stand down and allow the experts to control the message.

I’m saying is you don’t have to. Not if you position things correctly.

A Personal Definition of “Work Fanaticism”

First, an aside.

Firefighters love fire trucks.

They adore them. Truck posters are given the same treatment as pin-up models. Long-winded discussions about truck detail and options develop the same intensity as those about politics or sports. Throw a new fire truck in the middle of a group of fire fighters, and you’ll have people snapping pictures.

Taking pictures? Of some random fire truck? Yeah.

This is the mindset of the work fanatic: someone who spends so much time with one subject that it becomes an extension of his or her personal life.

Photographers obsess about their equipment. Web developers constantly think about browsers and computers and code. Fire fighters have both a vested interest and a full-out crush on the newest and best in fire equipment.

The further you get into a more pointed skill, the closer you get to work fanaticism. Whether a product of increased knowledge or of a feeling of expertise, work fanatics do all they can to own a subject,

They’re more sensitive to misconceptions. They’re more critical of mistakes. And they’re watching you like a hawk.

Do you see where we’re going here?

Expert Witnesses

All of this adds up to one thing: there’s a fine line between providing clarity and falling into fanaticism.

Not every marketing manager is an expert on a specific skill. But the position dictates expertise on one specific concept: namely, the history, brand and bottom line of the company.

I’ve found, in general, there are two mindsets when it comes to communicating this expertise.
1. The company is here to serve the goals of our customers, so here’s how we do it.
2. The company IS the goal of the customer, so here’s why we rule.

You can read this another way:
1. Marketing the Way It’s Supposed To Be.
2. Work Fanaticism.

Every person who makes decisions about a company’s communications efforts falls somewhere between these two mindsets. As writers and content wranglers, it’s our goal to straddle this line.

Our foremost goal is one of simplicity: providing Mark Q. Customer information as to why this company is worth paying attention to. On the other hand, we often run smack into the wall of Company Legend, where the WHY is lost in the fog of OUR HISTORY.

And despite our pleas we still have to make allowances for these points.

Oh. Good. Another “Content Strategy” Post.

Well, we’re in luck. There’s one way to handle this: A STRATEGY. Simply tie each piece of information to an actual need.

We’re not talking a full content audit – we’re not talking Web content strategy at all, really. We’re saying simply that each part of a brochure or Web site or television script or whatever should be justified.

Remember the company’s goals for communication. Tie every story, every paragraph, every page, every feature and every archaic company culture term to those goals.

If the goal is to promote product lines and pricing, there’s little need to go in depth with the company’s history. If the goal is to raise funds, you’re excused from providing a detailed list of past board members. If the message doesn’t support the goal, why waste time with it?

Why go through the trouble? Easy. When you lay everything out on the table and show what’s pertinent and what’s unneeded in supporting the client’s goals, you leave little wiggle room for the client to come back and say, “Well, that’s just what we usually do.”

That’s the coolest thing about strategizing content: there is no “what we usually do” anymore.

It may be a fight. It may never happen. But one thing’s for sure: you’ll get people talking about the importance of a clear message, unencumbered by weighty history and aged party lines.

And then, just like that, you’ll have extinguished the first layer of work fanaticism.

Congrats. You’ve just made reaching your client’s goals a lot easier.

(Originally posted at Black Marks on Wood Pulp)