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Show: Tell: Show

A modern formula for sales and marketing content.

There’s an ages-old adage: Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. Had Aristotle a camera and basic editing suite, he would likely have revised his formula: Show them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then show them what you told them.

We gravitate to the visual. We also have a greater tendency to believe what we see, rather than what we read or hear.

Marketers know this, as do strong communicators and elementary school students the world over. (It’s show-and-tell, not tell-and-show, yes?) Because showing makes a product, service, or stuffed animal real. It allows us to step into a story and participate, to see through our own eyes what others see through theirs.

Lucky for us, we carry the tools required to create and share visual stories as never before. Still two tradeoffs persist: quantity and quality. How much to make, and how much time to invest in making it. It’s an eternal balance every business needs to strike. And in an age of content, this balance has become critical to audience engagement.

Quantity is a prerequisite to excellence in any field and creative content is no exception. Call it 10,000 hours, the scientific method of experiment, report, refine, and repeat, or whatever modified approach might resonate with you. The key is to not let up until your stories resonate like a trumpet at dawn.

When I think of storytelling — and committing to an adequate volume of visual content — I keep the following benefits top-of-mind:

  1. More effective customer acquisition and retention: reaching out with updated content is a great way of showing audiences you comprehend their needs and care about meeting them.
  2. Improved digital optimization, including SEO and ads.
  3. More powerful sales and marketing activities, starting with the ability to tailor specific messages and distribution activities to when, where, and how audiences consume content.
  4. The ability to test-drive unique combinations of content+style.

Naturally there’s a point of diminishing returns and not all content creation should be visual. While the show side of the equation has become easier to generate and more expected by audiences, the tell side — written and verbal — remains incredibly powerful and exclusivity doesn’t often equate to highest performance. Balance will always be the name of the game.

Where from here:

  1. If you’re not organizing and filling your content pipeline with a sufficient proportion of show, consider recalibrating. The way things have always been done no longer applies.
  2. Add an extra dose of visual skills to your team. This might mean a full or part-time designer, photographer, videographer, producer, or a marketer with visual storytelling skills.
  3. Think: What if my entire marketing budget were invested in content? What would I do? How would I reach my audience, support my sales team and channel, and measure performance?

I encourage you to do the following: attempt to double your production of visual content for two weeks and see what happens. Are you in better position to show or tell? What are your results? What do you need to deliver more of the former? Regardless of your technique or the duration of your first-party research, one thing is clear: your target audience is watching.


John Tintle is the Director of Content and Communications at Highspot, the leading sales enablement platform for content management, customer engagement, and analytics. Twitter: @highspot. Also: highspot.com.