In his book The Art of Explanation, Lee LeFever explores The Curse of Knowledge…the phenomenon, when applied to business, of being too close to and too informed about your product or service offering. You simply know too much that you’re no longer helpful to your customers and prospects.
You’ve lived so long in your own world that you struggle to see things from your customers’ perspectives. And so, somewhere along the way you stopped speaking in real terms, and instead, started using words and phrases that only those on the inside understand. You no longer speak of the palpable pains your clients feel or the tangible satisfaction you can provide. It’s all gotten very complex…nebulous…formulaic.
Simply put, the curse of knowledge has made your business story very confusing.
Last month in this space, we shared how to re-simplify your story by asking eight key questions. Now we’re going to put those questions—and the answers you uncovered—into action. We’ll help you create your own Content Style Guide—the remedy to the curse for knowledge.
I grew up in America and took my fair share of English classes. I also took French (français) in high school, and my wife is fluent in German. (Oh, and I also went out with a girl who spoke in tongues at church.) And yet, I’ve found that no amount of linguistic intelligence can help me decipher the jargon, acronyms, and peculiar phrases shared in some initial meetings with my clients.
Answers to simple questions like—”what do you sell?”—shouldn’t result in bewilderment and migraines for the inquisitor. A simple question deserves a simple answer.
But even bigger than the lost-in-translation feeling I get in those meetings, is the awareness that this company has lost sight of how life is on the outside. Their interoffice vernacular tells me that they’re living on an island, disconnected from how outsiders express their pains and needs.
How simple is your answer to that question? Do you need a Content Style Guide?
Here’s an exercise: Ask your mom or husband or sister to read through a brochure or check out your website. Can they easily tell you what you do, what you offer, and how you give it? If not, then you’re a great candidate for a Content Style Guide.
We often associate the term “style guide” with the guidelines for how to maintain a brand’s logo, colors, and typefaces. A Content Style Guide does the same…it’s a reference document. It’s something you and all your employees can and should regularly check when telling your story.
Built off the answers to our “How to Re-Simplify Your Story” questionnaire, the Content Style Guide includes five sections:
In some situations, the guide can be used verbatim, but that’s not its original intent. Rather, it’s designed to offer your company a reference guide when writing new content or speaking to clients directly.
It’s intended to tell your new employees—and remind your veterans—why you do what you do. It’s designed to help everyone speak the same real, comprehensible language. It’s created to eliminate the confusion caused by the curse of knowledge.