Storytelling: Once Upon a Time…In Content Marketing


For this edition of Quarterly Content Corner, I want to highlight the humble story, and discuss storytelling in marketing.

Stories are impactful. And important. A story, crafted well, can have a lasting impact, especially for brands. For us content marketers to capitalize on the opportunity, we must first understand what makes a good story—a real story—and then recognize where and how to use it to its fullest advantage.

There are campfire stories, love stories and bedtime stories. Fictional stories, factual stories and everything in between. There are legends, allegories and cautionary tales. There are one-sentence stories and 1,000-word stories. And what they all have in common is that they’re relatable, memorable and lasting.

But what does that mean for content marketing? After all, we’re not novelists or authors. Or are we? The very word “story” has become yet another industry buzzword. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have Stories. And LinkedIn in planning to rollout Stories very soon. Company websites have entire pages dedicated to “Our Story.” It seems everyone has a story to tell these days. But, contrary to current popular belief, not everything shared is a story. It takes more than a label to make it so.

There’s a (real) story here somewhere

Telling your audience your company started 15 years ago and has grown 300% since then isn’t a story. Sharing with your audience that you were a student desperate to pay back your loans.  That you banded together with other such students to form a crowdsourced funding pool, which led to the creation of a student resource startup…now that’s closer.

Stories are all about bridging gaps with customers in a memorable way. As author Kindra Hall highlights in her book Stories That Stick, “Regardless of the type of gap you face in business, you must master three main elements to have any hope of building a bridge strong enough to get your intended audience—potential customers, key team members, investors, and more—across the great divide: attention, influence and transformation.”

This is where stories come in. Stories can help you create a lasting impression and connect with audiences in memorable, meaningful ways. So how can you better capture and retain your audiences’ attention to elicit an action? It’s in the delivery.

The real story difference: delivery

You can tell your audience that your soda has the best flavor and longest-lasting carbonation. Or you can show them how the beverage first brought together a grandmother and grandson to share a special treat on a porch swing every Sunday morning.

You can say your UPS battery backup is the most powerful, yet most energy-efficient on the market. Or you can bring that feature to life by illustrating how it kept lives safer thanks to powering a hospital data center during a hurricane.

As you can see, storytelling can get to the heart of the matter and more movingly demonstrate how what’s being marketed can positively impact a customer, both in B2B and B2C content marketing. After all, as pointed out in this Forbes article, storytelling should be a marketer’s priority for three main reasons:

  • It fosters deep audience connection and has been the basis of passing along knowledge. Why? Our ancestors told campfire stories to relay parables, lessons and historical events.
  • It’s a powerful learning method that conveys meaning and knowledge in a way few other methods do.
  • It’s an important tactical tool for media engagement that gives your audience a reason to give you their time.

The moral of the marketing story: Tips for telling better tales

While storytelling can greatly benefit a content marketer in his or her pursuit of connecting with an audience, that doesn’t mean everything about a product or service should be conveyed as a story. And, when it is right to take the storytelling route, the way it’s done makes a difference.

This MarTech Advisor article details three classic storytelling techniques that pair perfectly with the digital age:

  • The Hero’s Journey: the hero is an underdog who faces trials and comes out the other side. With this technique, marketers can either share their own experiences or let their customers share their experiences.
  • Sparklines: this uses a visual representation of data to show your customers how you can bridge the gap between their current state and the state they wish to achieve.
  • Converging Ideas: this structure highlights how multiple thoughts or people came together to spark a product, idea or movement.

To help marketers embrace storytelling, and effectively translate it into content marketing, Forbes published this post showcasing 14 lessons that can be learned from storytellers in other fields. Those lessons include:

  • Lead with the lesson/ending first: This is especially effective with digital media, where you can gain attention upfront and then explain how you got there once the audience is on board.
  • Create good story arcs: This means having a beginning, middle, end and moral. Once you have this, you can expand or truncate as needed to fit different delivery methods.
  • Identify the tension: Find the gap between where something is and where something needs to be.
  • Focus on the first sentence: make it surprising, provocative, intriguing, and overall make it powerful enough to entice an audience to want more.

Still not sure how to apply storytelling principles into your marketing practice? Check out this HubSpot post that highlights “45 Engaging Examples of Interactive Storytelling in Content Marketing.” And to dive deeper into the “science” of storytelling, be sure to read this Marketo post detailing the how and why of using scientific principles to create stories that stay top of mind.

…And they all marketed happily ever after

Once upon a time there was a technique that marketers in all the land embraced in order to reach customers. It stood the test of time, and when expertly yielded with the best of intentions, gained favor across the content kingdom. That technique was storytelling. And it’s still one of the most effective ways to reach an audience.

Looking ahead, content marketers will want to keep their finger on the pulse of storytelling practicality and what’s trending around specific tactics. This Digital Marketing Institute article highlights what mediums and methods are trending right now, including immersive storytelling, philanthropic storytelling and dark social.

Stay up-to-date on B2B trends and Outlook client highlights right here on our blog.

And let us know if you have storytelling successes you’d like to share. Or if you’re hearing any buzz about additional storytelling trends in content marketing! Tell us in the comments, or connect with us on TwitterLinkedIn or Facebook





Author: Stacy Greenberg, Content Manager, Outlook Marketing Services


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