Providing quality, relevant, engaging content on a regular basis allows you to build relationships as you interact, inform, and influence your customers and potential customers.
Interaction builds trust without bombarding your audience with sales messages, and drives visitors directly to your website when they click on an article that’s caught their attention.
But in our attempts to dive into this new world of content marketing, it can be easy to slip back into old ways, thinking like a traditional marketer. And in doing so we lose everything that’s so powerful about content marketing, by simply doing traditional marketing through new ‘cooler’ channels!
On a frighteningly regular basis, I’ll receive an email from a client (normally when our relationship is fairly new), outlining the topics they want to use as the basis for their content plan, which covers the following topics:
- What do they want to say about their company
- Products they sell
- Services they offer
- How long they’ve been doing it
- What are their USPs
What’s wrong with this approach?
- It’s been done before, in their websites, brochures etc
- It isn’t sustainable – once the services are covered, what next?
- It’s a one way street – it doesn’t engage or interact with the audience
- It won’t help your audience trust them or like them
The challenge for marketers
How to think less like this…
and more like this…
Stories are captivating, and the oldest form of passing on knowledge because they make messages easier to communicate.
Think back to your time at school. Often the teachers that stick in our memories are the ones who used storytelling techniques to bring dull information to life. If (like me) school was too long ago to remember, there are many examples through the ages to illustrate this point. Aesop’s Fables, for example.
Why tell a story about a lion and a mouse when you could just say “look after the little people because you never know when you might need them”?
What do we mean by brand ‘Storytelling’?
Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to breathe life into your brand. By giving your products and services an identity, and sharing the stories behind them, you can take your audience on a journey they’ll actually enjoy, and keep them coming back for more.
In order for consumers to form a personal connection with your brand, stories must
be authentic, creative and inspirational. Get it right, and you have the potential to drive revenue and increase customer retention by influencing how a person feels about your brand, and by extension, your services/products.
How can ‘Storytelling’ be applied to content marketing?
Storytelling can be applied to your brand’s content at two levels.
Level One: Understanding where each individual piece of content fits into your overarching brand story
Within every story there are chapters or scenes, each with their own mini-story, but part of the bigger story. These are represented by each individual piece of content you produce. They may have their own sub-plot, with a beginning and end, but they should be leading the reader towards the overarching objective and have a place within the overall story.
Define clear objectives before you start: Your desired outcome drives the direction of the piece, gives it focus, and dictates the elements that make up the brand story. Think about the end goal, and that doesn’t always mean selling something! How do you want your audience to feel about your brand.
Remember, stories must be personal if they are to connect at a personal level. Think about how your brand was born, what inspired you to create the company and what your mission is.
Level Two: Applying the principles of storytelling to the structure and content of an individual piece
Every good fairy tale has three acts:
- Set the scene and introduce the characters
- Something bad happens and a quest follows
- The happy ending
A captivating brand story should have four acts:
Set the scene, what’s the background, who’s this article for, how can they expect to benefit from reading it.
What’s the challenge, issue, pain point or headache the reader may be experiencing? This shows both empathy and knowledge, which in turn build trust. You understand the trials and tribulations faced on a daily basis by your audience.
Offer a resolution. Resist the temptation to jump straight in and explain how your product or service is the answer to all their woes! Build some trust and goodwill by sharing best practice and useful advice from various sources first.
A call to action, which is often indirect -The ultimate goal of marketing is to inspire to Think, Feel, or Act
How to generate ideas for compelling content
Generally speaking, I think the three most important rules of content ideation are:
- Think about your audience first
- Think about your audience first
- Think about your audience first
In order to be a good storyteller, you must listen to your audience so you can genuinely understand what makes them ‘tick; desires and concerns, beliefs and attitudes. Then you need to continue listening and measure the reactions of your audience, using them to shape the evolution of your content strategy.
Your customer should always be the main character, with your company serving as the supporting character that assists them to create successful solutions.
For example: If you sponsor a campaign to buy new playground equipment for a community centre, the story should focus on –
- Why the equipment is needed?
- Who benefits from it?
- Concentrate on one or two recipients, illustrating what the donation means to their lives?
- Praise should come in the form of a quote from another person not from you?
Meeting the challenge of sustainability
Think about your audience. What are the issues or challenges they face? At the point when they would be interested in your product or service, are there any other related topics they’d probably be considering as well?For example, here at M2 Bespoke, we don’t design or build websites, but if someone is thinking of a new website, we know they should be considering things like content audits and SEO, so we can share best practice in this area knowing it will lead into our services naturally.Are there seasonal factors either within your business or in your audience’s lives that could be supported by content? If you’re WH Smith, then Back to School, Christmas and Valentines day play a massive part in shaping the content plan.
Are there product launches or events to be supported or that could help drive content themselves.What campaigns or activities are already plugged into your traditional marketing plan; could they be supported by content?
I’m not talking about copying them, but looking for gaps, spin-offs, and things you could do better, or with your own angle.
There are many tools available that will give you a good feel for what your target audience is actually talking about and interested in.
Tools like BuzzSumo can help you identify what content in your industry, resonates with your audience.
A good content strategy should be driven by user experience. Search data can inform content, removing the guesswork, by letting you know what your audience is actually searching for. Storytelling is the best way to motivate behaviour, but data and analytics can help us get under the skin of that behaviour.
Reactionary / topical
Demonstrate that you have your finger on the pulse, by commenting on breaking news, technology, trends, innovation, issues etc. The beauty of this is it drives itself, and takes up very little time.
Identify key individuals from different parts of the business, explain what you’re trying to achieve and agree a regular (monthly works in most cases) time when you can prompt them for ideas.If you just ask ‘have you any ideas’ the response will be limited and they will dread your email/call, so agree a handful of questions in collaboration with them, that they feel could prompt or be the catalyst for ideas.For example if the customer services manager reports that the same question keeps being asked by callers, this could indicate an education gap that could be filled by a piece of content. A sales manager should know what the key issues are that his customers are talking about that month.
Most overlooked is the archive of content you may have already built up over the years. Can it be updated/refreshed, repurposed as an infographic or a list? If it’s long format and too ‘boring’ for use in content marketing, can it be chopped up and made more engaging? We recently reviewed one client’s blog going back three years, and used it to generate enough ideas for a new article per day for a whole year!
Some random (but useful) principles
- When crafting your brand story, you must be specific in what you are asking readers to do and illustrate why it is important to their lives.
- Outline actual steps to be taken and show readers how they can recognise the reward.
- The sell must be creative, yet subtle and often it’s indirect.
- Storytelling does not mean inventing a story. The reason why your business exists, why you have developed products and services and why you do what you are all stories. It’s possible to turn an internal sales kit into a narrative about solutions, telling stories people can relate to.
- Testimonials can be your most powerful weapon in building customer loyalty if they are told in the right way; a testimonial that is just a few sentences is forgettable, but a story that delves into a customer’s personal life and challenges, chronicles the lengths an employee goes to solve the problem and illustrates the positive outcome achieved will stick with readers long after they move on from your marketing materials.
- Every good brand ‘story’ has 4 acts –
1. Set the scene
2. Demonstrate your understanding of the challenge or issue
3. Offer a solution
4. A call to action – what should the reader do next?
- Stories must be personal. Feature ‘real’ people wherever possible – customers or your team.
- Think about the needs of the ‘audience’ not what you want to tell them.
- Be a solutions provider, not a product seller.
- Try to share some neutral advice / best practice before introducing your own product or service.
- Develop a briefing template – and use it every time!
- Define clear objectives before you start.
- Consider how you want your audience to Think, Feel, and Act, at the end of the story.
- Find the right medium / format for each story – one size does not fit all.
- Audit existing content and identify what can be repurposed.
- Establish an editorial panel from different parts of your business.