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Tapping the Power of Arguments

  |  June 20, 2014   |  Comments

If you - or your firm - has a strong point of view, there's no better way to brand yourself as a leader than to throw down the gauntlet. While cultivating and curating arguments isn't for everybody, it can break through the clutter better than any other form of discourse.

Every content marketing team is subject to writer's block. One area worth considering when attempting to break the creative logjam is starting an argument. Controversy is almost always interesting and share-worthy, at least within a specific audience. When one person speaks, it's a monologue you can either pay attention to or ignore. But when two people are hashing out an issue in public - especially if there's something real at stake and passions begin to heat up - a crowd will quickly gather.

Many of us work in industries that are "boring," at least by comparison to those professions we see glamorized on television (e.g. cops, bounty hunters, spies, soldiers, etc.). But if you talk to anyone who actually works in law enforcement or espionage, you'll quickly learn that these professions are probably just as boring as the one you're in - maybe worse.

The truth is that there's drama, conflict, and arguments everywhere, in every profession. You just have to look a bit harder. There are issues - burning ones - in every business, and if you want to tap into the power of arguments, your job is to dig them up, frame them, show your audience what's at stake, and show your audience why things have to be reformed.

Not every argument you start will go viral or elicit the response you expect, however, arguments certainly break your team out of their writer's block. Here are some tips about finding controversy and mining the power of arguments in whatever business you're in:

1. Start With the Data.

Editorials are easier to write if they are simple opinion, and those may work in some instances. However, if you are looking to build respect, better to start with data. Nobody cares very much about assertions that can't be proven ("I think the sky is red, not blue."). But if you can find data showing that "20 percent of New Yorkers think the sky is gray," you've got an argument. Data - especially if it's contestable - is an essential seed around which long running arguments may crystallize.

2. Follow Up.

Once you've got a genuine argument happening, make the most of it. You can't control where the argument is going to go, but you can influence how it's framed. Write some follow-up articles that amplify and support your argument. These can take the form of Q&As or interviews. Get a press release out announcing that you are "sticking to your guns;" and reiterate the data you used in your "argument." If you move quickly, you can have a lot of fun at this stage.

3. Know When to Walk Away.

No argument goes on forever, and it's a mistake to prolong any controversy once the world moves on. Don't worry about "settling" the argument online - you never will. Once you've made all the points you want to make, walk away and move on before things get stale. Write one more article summing up the debate/argument/controversy, and move on.

4. Respect the Opposing View.

Many will fight your data with opinion. They are likely wrong (assuming the data is accurate), but there is no need to get personal. One can point out the folly of an opinion-based argument without crossing the line of personal attacks (even if they use personal attacks against you).

Some Words of Caution

Arguments - if they're managed correctly - can gain you traffic, media interest, and distinguish you as someone who has a strong point of view who's unafraid to take on the status quo - in other words, a leader in your industry.

Doing so, however, carries with it some inherent risks, including:

1. Clients.

Your clients may or may not enjoy being associated with a firm with a strong point of view. Some may not want to be associated with any kind of controversy at all. You'll never get client buy-in when you decide to launch an argument online. If you can't afford to stick your neck out in this way, pull it back in, and leave the arguing to firms better prepared to assume the risk.

2. Competitors.

If you're arguing that "ad agency sites are horrible because they abuse Flash," make sure you're not doing the same thing. If you happen to score some real points against your competitors, expect them to strike back - that's what competitors do.

3. Control.

Once an argument reaches critical mass, it could go in any direction (that's why people find arguments irresistible). Arguments can spin wildly, digress, and get very personal. Make sure you've got the stomach for this kind of unpredictable gladiatorial contest.

If you - or your firm - has a strong point of view, there's no better way to brand yourself as a leader than to throw down the gauntlet. While cultivating and curating arguments isn't for everybody, it can break through the clutter better than any other form of discourse. Plus, arguments get a lot of visibility, increasing awareness of you and your company, and do indeed often result in links, which still form the basis of SEO.

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Kevin Lee

Kevin Lee, Didit cofounder and executive chairman, has been an acknowledged search engine marketing expert since 1995. His years of SEM expertise provide the foundation for Didit's proprietary Maestro search campaign technology. The company's unparalleled results, custom strategies, and client growth have earned it recognition not only among marketers but also as part of the 2007 Inc 500 (No. 137) as well as three-time Deloitte's Fast 500 placement. Kevin's latest book, "Search Engine Advertising" has been widely praised.

Industry leadership includes being a founding board member of SEMPO and its first elected chairman. "The Wall St. Journal," "BusinessWeek," "The New York Times," Bloomberg, CNET, "USA Today," "San Jose Mercury News," and other press quote Kevin regularly. Kevin lectures at leading industry conferences, plus New York, Columbia, Fordham, and Pace universities. Kevin earned his MBA from the Yale School of Management in 1992 and lives in Manhattan with his wife, a New York psychologist and children.

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