It’s a common complaint that all business intelligence websites look and sound the same. But why is that?
Technology marketers have long ignored what storytellers have relied upon for centuries as a critical shaping force in the creation of their story: genre.
Aristotle’s Poetics is perhaps the oldest study of dramatic theory, and in it he defines the genres and sub-genres of poetry including the epic, the comedy, and the tragedy.
Since then, authors, playwrights, and screenwriters have understood the value of applying certain conventions to guide their storytelling decisions and assist the audience with familiarity.
A quick view of how technology companies talk about themselves would make you think there was just one genre: innovation. But there are in fact are six genres.
Here’s a guide to help you decide which genre your company belongs to and the conventions you should use to develop your original brand voice:
Convention: Truly game-changing technology present, but not felt; simplicity leads.
Apple and Google live here, as well as Netflix and Amazon with their brilliant recommendation engines. But this is a high-risk, high-reward genre. It must be simple. If you’ve made a phone that my mother needed no help to start using, then you’re good. But anything less and your voice will be riddled with clichés or lies.
Convention: An existing experience vastly improved; productivity and efficiency reign.
Dropbox is the classic example, solving the pain point of storing and sharing files when we didn’t even know it existed. But would you believe Uber belongs here too? At least with their original ambition of improving city travel through a better taxi experience.
Convention: Experiences outweigh features; the group is the product.
Social networks like Facebook and enthusiast communities like Houzz belong here, but so too does GoPro. What makes them so effective is that while other camera companies drone on about specs, they talk only about what you can experience with their product.
Convention: Technology embraced in a way that builds value and trust; expertise is king.
These companies don’t hide their technical skills; they celebrate them so customers and partners pay highly for them. Dolby has built decades of value out of their acoustic engineering excellence, while the creative community reveres Adobe products.
Convention: Breakthrough technology is still very present, but design and images are the drivers.
Like all others, these are technology companies at their core, but they recognized early that design would be essential to their product category or competitive advantage. Think Jawbone, FitBit, and even Tesla.
Convention: The engine under a business’s hood, it’s all about return and results.
Just about every business-to-business infrastructure company resides here, especially the global leaders: IBM. SAP. Cisco. But that doesn’t mean they all have to sound the same. IBM has done an excellent job of separating from the pack with their "Smarter Planet" campaign. They emphasize societal impact over technical performance. Brilliant.
At this point, I expect the reaction of Tesla employees to be, "We’re a vanity product?! We are revolutionizing the automotive category!" And that brings up the beautiful thing about genres: they are fluid, constantly evolving, and combining to create subgenres. Just about every company will combine aspects of multiple genres.
Tesla definitely has elements of Accessible Innovation and Technical Excellence in their story. But just as in film, there needs to be a dominant genre. And today, most people I know buy a Tesla for its status, not its braking system.
There is no excuse for all business intelligence companies to sound the same. Once you identify your genre, you will realize that it not only reveals your company voice, but also your strategy, and it binds the two together. And then, just like it does for the screenwriter, it provides helpful guardrails letting you know what belongs in your story and what does not.
—Clay Hausmann is a marketing consultant and Sundance Screenwriters Lab finalist who helps companies create their original brand voice through the methods of screenwriting. His approach has been utilized by start-ups and public companies for everything from marketing launches to product development processes. To learn more, visit www.treatmentofstory.com.