Lance Armstrong, Manti Te’o & the Power of Content

A good story can get you everything – fame, money, sympathy, even consideration for a Heisman trophy. While our initial fascination with athletes is because of their physical prowess, we’re seeing the power of the story (content) more and more in sports.

Lance Armstrong

bike-raceLance Armstrong was already an amazing athlete, but what put him on the map was winning the Tour de France after defeating cancer.

In American culture, cyclists don’t get the same respect as other athletes – nobody collects cyclist trading cards or has a fantasy peloton. But someone who defeats testicular cancer and then wins a major sporting event becomes a hero.

It’s this comeback story that made him so amazing. Other riders, even other Americans, won the Tour de France multiple times – it was the hero story that engaged the American public and made Lance a star.

Businesses can copy the good parts of Lance’s success. Founders usually have a compelling start-up story, and they’ve usually overcome grave threats to their business. This content, presented as a tale of heroes overcoming challenges:

  • Humanizes your company, becoming more relatable and trustworthy.
  • Creates a positive, compelling story to emotionally bind readers and clients.
  • Fully utilizes your About Us page.

Lance’s insistence that he didn’t use performance-enhancing drugs made the story that much stronger but his downfall that much harder.

To bring this down a notch and back to content, it’s a case of a bad sales pitch. Lance’s pitch was that he won without doping. While he did win, it wasn’t without doping. This is like promising that you’ll get to the top of the rankings without black hat techniques and then being hit with penalties.

Adjust the sales pitch to accurately reflect your product or service to avoid backlash.

Manti Te’o

Manti Te’o shows us what too much conflicting content can create. As with Armstrong, Te’o’s sports prowess was overshadowed by the story surrounding his achievements. He had just lost his grandmother the day before the big game.

This arc is enough to press the right emotional buttons and achieve his goal, namely becoming a finalist for the Heisman trophy. However, Te’o went one step further – he claimed that his girlfriend died the same day. She didn’t – she didn’t exist – and this fiasco may negatively impact his NFL career.

Here, we can take some lessons from spin control:

  • Know what will convert your audience and to stop there. You don’t have to overload your visitors with options that may just distract them.
  • Give real case studies. Interview your clients and use their stories, even if you can’t disclose their names. The more details you can provide the more effective the case study will be. Don’t make up a case study. Even the most convincing online profiles can be uncovered, and a fake case study, like a fake girlfriend, will distract from your solid product or service. Granted Te’o may have believed she existed, but just as the sports fans are confused and unsure about Te’o’s credibility, your clients will feel duped if they discover that your stats are made up.
  • Control your message. The controversy is now about whether this was a hoax or a lie. The fact that Te’o put in a great performance after his grandmother died has been obscured. In business, instead of feeding the frenzy, and doing interview over interview about a tangential issue, re-focus on what you do best and what you bring to the table. Shift your answers to address the real concerns.

Businesses, like athletes, may engage in “doping” SEO practices. The best way to avoid bad press is to follow white hat principles, or at least fully disclose and explain any gray hat principles to your client.

Create a compelling story of your founders’ vision and humanize your company to your clients. If a project blows up, admit mistakes but focus on the good and the benefits that occurred. Don’t let one mistake ruin your business.

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