Beginner’s Guide to Blogging 6/10: The Telephone

Blogging isn’t going out of style any time soon; with the ascent of content marketing, blogging, podcasting and video are on the minds of marketers and PR professionals all the time. In this 10-part Beginner’s Guide to Blogging series, we’re going to explore what makes a blog great and give you some structures and frameworks to help make blogging easier. Take from it what works and leave behind what doesn’t work!

Beginner's Guide to Blogging Series:

The Telephone

The Telephone is one of the more unusual blogging structures, named after the children’s game, in which kids sit around and pass information via whispers in a circle.


In a Telephone post, you never overtly state the objective. You simply write around it. This style of post is especially useful for political campaigns where you want to publish a series of talking points that highlight an opponent’s weakness without overtly naming the opponent. For marketers and PR professionals, the same is true; the Telephone lets you lay out all of the reasons not to buy from competitors without overtly stating, “Don’t buy from X.”


Let’s return to our archetypical coffee shop to demonstrate how the Telephone might work. Let’s say there’s a competing coffee shop in town that brings in pre-roasted beans and sells an inexpensive but reasonable cup of coffee in a styrofoam cup. Our fictional shop, Todd and Jim’s Coffee Emporium, roasts and grinds on-site and sells coffee in recycled paper cups at a premium price.

Opening Salvo: Not every cup of coffee is the same. Yes, fundamentally, coffee is the process of dissolving solids from the roasted pit of the coffee cherry into water, but there are so many ways that a cup of coffee can go wrong.

Whisper 1: Coffee beans, once roasted, have a very short lifespan. The chemicals that give coffee its wonderful flavor degrade within a week, and become undrinkable inside of a month. If your coffee is made with pre-roasted beans, you don’t know how long they’ve been sitting around, losing flavor without you.

Whisper 2: Much has been said about paper vs. styrofoam when it comes to coffee cup waste. Even though styrofoam cups are cheap, they take centuries to degrade in a landfill – and there’s enough trash in the world, don’t you think?

Whisper 3: There’s an old axiom: fast, cheap, good: choose any two. If you chase after the cheapest cup of coffee, what are you trading in exchange for a few coins per day? Do you want your coffee served promptly? Do you want service with a smile at a place that will remember your name – and how you like your coffee? If cheap matters most, you’ll have to give up one of these two choices.

Conclusion: Todd and Jim’s Coffee Emporium roasts on-site, giving you maximum flavor in every guilt-free cup. Toss your cup in the recycling bin when you’re done and you’ll keep one more piece of trash out of the landfill – and our baristas will thank you by name when you do, because we pay them enough to care.

Use Cases

The Telephone is a blog post structure that you should use when you need to avoid mentioning a competitor, but highlight problems that competitor doesn’t solve. It’s especially useful for challenger brands who want to challenge the status quo without giving any more overt attention to their dominant competitor.

The Telephone is predicated on your customers caring about those problems, and it can be a very tricky blog structure to pull off with class and good taste. It’s very easy to cross the line into mean-spiritedness, so use your best judgement when writing with it and make sure others in your marketing or communications team or agency have a chance to read it and offer counsel.

In the next blog post in this series, we’ll paint some pictures together with words.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Beginner's Guide to Blogging Series:

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Posted on November 11, 2014 in Blogging, Content Marketing, Marketing, Strategy, Writing

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About the Author

Christopher S. Penn is an authority on digital marketing and marketing technology. A recognized thought leader, author, and speaker, he has shaped three key fields in the marketing industry: Google Analytics adoption, data-driven marketing and PR, and email marketing. Known for his high-octane, here’s how to get it done approach, his expertise benefits companies such as Citrix Systems, McDonald’s, GoDaddy, McKesson, and many others. His latest work, Leading Innovation, teaches organizations how to implement and scale innovative practices to direct change. Christopher is a highly-sought keynote speaker thanks to his energetic, informative talks. In 2015, he delivered insightful, innovative talks on all aspects of marketing and analytics at over 30 events to critical acclaim. He is a founding member of IBM’s Watson Analytics Predictioneers, co-founder of the groundbreaking PodCamp Conference, and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast. Christopher is a Google Analytics Certified Professional and a Google AdWords Certified Professional. He is the author of over two dozen marketing books including bestsellers such as Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer, Marketing Red Belt: Connecting With Your Creative Mind, and Marketing Blue Belt: From Data Zero to Marketing Hero.
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