Show, Don’t Tell Applies to Business As Much as Writing
Updated: Mar 22
Ah yes... “Show, Don’t Tell,” the Golden Rule of writing…
The saw that every aspiring wordsmith cuts their teeth on…
Before I get carried away with all that: I think Show, Don’t Tell should also be known as the golden rule of communicating as a business.
What is Show, Don’t Tell?
I first learned about Show, Don’t Tell from the acclaimed novelist Stephen King, and many writers today attribute the golden rule to him. Others attribute it to the famous playwright Anton Chekhov, who’s quoted as saying
"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
Very poetic, but how would that flowery language serve your business blog?
I don’t think it would, Jason wrote, using it in his business blog.
(Look Mom, that’s irony! I’m using my English degree in real life after all!)
Jokes aside, I don’t expect people to hire me (or any writer) for being able to come up with flowery prose like that. Don’t get me wrong, I most certainly can weave words together with the elegance of playing a harp, but the concept as I understand it is about showing, not showing off.
Showing The Value of Your Business Rather Than Telling It
Let’s start with conceptualizing the “Show, Don’t Tell” rule as it applies to the reputation of your business.
Let’s say you need to replace a leaky faucet. You go to the nearest hardware store and ask where to find a replacement part. The guy tells you it’s in aisle six.
You go to aisle six. There’s all sorts of faucets there. Which is the right one? Do you need other parts? What’s the fastest, easiest, cheapest way to do it yourself?
Ask any of those questions and you’ll get pointed to another aisle, another department…
So in frustration you leave the store and go out of your way to a different store where someone hears your question, takes you to the right aisle and shows you what you need and how to use it.
So the next time you need to go to a hardware store, you don’t even bother stopping by the closer one. You go out of your way to do business with someone you can trust.
When someone reads your article, you want to give them the same experience as the second hardware store.
Otherwise you’re just pointing them in a direction they may or may not take.
It’s simple to appear first on google. Pay for the ads so you can tell people you rank first on google. What does that say about your business?
But when someone is referred to you, whether by a search engine or a friend’s post on social media, what does that say about your business?
Show You Know Who You’re Talking To
The advantage you want to have in content marketing is being able to anticipate what questions potential customers are asking, and then presenting clear answers. A professional content writer knows how to accomplish that for you with five simple steps:
1. research what questions people are asking,
2. Interpret those questions as problems that you can solve
3. Represent those questions in a well-formatted article
4. Come up with good answers
5. Present it in your brand’s voice
Pro tip: if you’re able to write the questions into your article exactly how people are searching for them, that helps immensely with SEO. Of course, these questions change over time, and that’s why it can be valuable for some businesses to “refresh” content for SEO purposes by tweaking headlines and subheadings.
If you’re able to put out content that answers the exact question someone has, you’re showing your customers you understand them. You’re showing them that they’re asking good questions, because you’re prepared with the answers.
You’re showing them that you can be trusted. And that builds more value than just views, conversions, and sales.
It builds reputation.
Having good SEO is the equivalent of being the closer hardware store--you might get some quick sales here and there, but eventually the competitor who is perceived as a trustworthy expert will gain business from his or her reputation.
Show You Know What You’re Talking About
This almost goes without saying: hire a writer who can understand your product inside and out well enough to sell it on a sales floor.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you hire someone who is already familiar with your industry (though that usually helps, of course), but it’s easier to teach a writer about your brand, industry, product, etc. than it is to teach someone how to sell.
Because content writing that presents an expert opinion about the best product is one thing, content writing that presents the best product for the reader is another.
Show You Know Your Industry
When you write content like “How New Technology is Changing the Game for Voice Actors,” or “Everything You Need to Know About How Covid-19 Affects Organic Farming,” you’re positioning yourself as a source of news, information, and expertise.
If nothing else, even if you’re just starting to build your content marketing presence, you’re showing you have a finger on the pulse of your industry.
And that’s better than someone who’s just anxiously vomiting “Covid-19 is hard for everyone but don’t worry we can help.”
For brands that are new to establishing a presence with content marketing, I like to brainstorm relevant, trending topics and present the opinions of opinion leaders. If possible, it’s good to interview the bigger fish in your network so that they weigh in on your topic and share your article with their following.
Eventually as you gain consistent views, followers, engagement, etc. you’ll be perceived as an expert. People will go to your brand for advice.
Show You Love Your Community
A lot of companies like to say things like “we’re proud to donate 1% of all our profits to this wonderful charity” as if that’s a powerful statement on its own.
Rather than telling people you support charity, show them the impact. Show them you’re engaged and that you care with articles that start with:
“Thanks for helping GranolaGram raise $50,000 for wildlife conservation.”
“Our CFO Mary-Sue beat her best time at Fillmore Financial's annual Walk to Cure Cancer event.”
“Congratulations to the Wildcats for a great season, it was a pleasure serving your game night dinners this year”
Content writing is not always about getting eyes on your website with SEO keywords and telling people to buy buy buy buy buy. It’s about showing people why your brand exists.
Show You Mean Business With Professional Content Writers
Do you want to be the guy who goes viral? Or do you want to be the go-to-guy?
Your customers could not care less where you rank on Google. And frankly, neither do I. I’m interested in the impact my content writing has on the people who read it--because Google is not the one signing up for your mailing list, Google is not clicking somewhere to learn more about your services, Google is not buying your product.
So why are we all so hung up on Daddy Google’s approval?
Yes, it’s important to mind Google’s algorithms that will punish you if you try to write repetitive copy or the same keyword a thousand times, so don’t do that. But also don’t do that because at the end of the day, search engines don’t read your blogs--people do. Search engines present your blogs, and.. Oh yeah. So do people.
Share this article with someone who needs to hire a better content writer. My email is email@example.com if anyone has any questions.