April 12, 2016
Do a simple Google search with the phrases ‘Storytelling’ and ‘Content Marketing’ and you’ll be hit with a few million results telling you exactly how important it is to incorporate storytelling into your content marketing. You’ll also be overloaded by examples of brands that have done it well and, presumably, won huge results in marketing and conversions.
Are we all destined to become modern-day Scheherazades, weaving tales to prevent our brands from a metaphorical beheading by a bored and slightly malicious King?
What about storytelling? Is the hype really worth it?
While you probably don’t need to take it quite that far, the answer is yes. Storytelling is important – hugely so – and as audiences continue to change, the critical nature of storytelling will only increase.
Storytelling and Content Marketing: A Long and Involved Tale
Have you heard the joke? What do you call an out-of-work journalist? A content marketer.
All hilarity aside, storytelling and content marketing are inexorably intertwined. Ever since marketers began to realize that outbound wasn’t working so well, they’ve been turning to stories to add life and interest to their brands. And for good reason – great storytelling makes a brand infinitely more interesting and relatable. It may also make it more profitable, according to many recent findings about the preferences of today’s consumers.
This is particularly true when it comes to Millennials. There are some 80 million Millennials in the market today and they’re quite a bit different than any marketing group that’s come before them. For one, they’re wealthy – very wealthy. As a generation, they wield an annual spending power of $200 billion.
Secondly, they love storytelling. AdAge recently reported that the average Millennial spends about 25 hours each week online and that most of this time is spent searching for authentic content. What is authentic content, you ask? Authentic content is the type of content that expresses a deep desire to speak directly to its audience. It’s no-holds-barred, funny, honest stuff that is directly driven by the principals of storytelling, and it’s what Millennials love.
While Millennials may be one of the first groups we talk about in relation to brand storytelling, they’re not the only one worth mentioning. In fact, many customers have moved away from the intrusive and stuffy outbound marketing tactics of yesteryear and gravitated toward authentic brand content driven by a great brand story.
Finding Your Brand’s Voice: 5 Tips for Effective Storytelling
1. Authenticity Wins
As I mentioned a moment ago, today’s consumers are hungry for authentic content. To put this another way: they don’t want polished brand stories that reek of creative omission and seem just a bit too good to be true. Nor do they want cardboard product descriptions that read just like everything else on the Web – they want real, gritty, funny, honest stuff.
One of my favorite examples of a brand that’s done this well is Poo-Pourri. I’ve written about them before. In case the name didn’t clue you in, Poo-Pourri is a “Spray before you go” toilet mist that’s gone viral in the short time it’s been on the market. The reason for its success, however, is what I’m really interested in. You see, Poo-Pourri isn’t altogether a unique idea – there are hundreds of products on the market designed to disguise unpleasant bathroom odors. While Poo-Pourri is a reputable product (it has more five-star ratings on Amazon than the iPhone 5, after all), it’s arguable that it’s truly the brand’s storytelling prowess that is responsible for catapulting it to success.
Every inch of the brand’s website is unique, quirky, hilarious, and unflinchingly honest. Headlines like “Girls Don’t Poop” and “Let’s Talk Crap” leap at you from all angles and, while nobody is advocating being excessively crude for the heck of it, it’s clear that people love Poo-Pourri for its willingness to tell it like it is.
With that in mind, it’s clear that the first step to finding your brand’s voice is to get real. The value of sugarcoating things went out the window years ago and, today, customers are more likely to gravitate to your products if they’re wrapped up in authentic, unique storytelling from head to toe.
2. Don’t Blatantly “Market”
I know what you’re thinking – how can I possibly tell a content marketer not to market? While marketing is important in many facets of this business, it shouldn’t be your main focus when writing your brand’s storytelling content. This is because focusing too much on marketing is guaranteed to make your content sound stuffy, sales-y, and stiff – all of which are things that will send customers running for the hills.
Instead of focusing on forcing your brand’s message down your customers’ throats, focus instead on talking about what makes you unique and different. For a fantastic example of a brand that wins at this aspect of storytelling, consider Dollar Shave Club. There are hundreds of razor companies in existence around the globe, but Dollar Shave Club managed to rocket to the front of the pack by providing a brand message that was decidedly…un-salesy.
By focusing on what sets Dollar Shave Club apart from the competitors, this = company managed to overthrow the competition by positioning itself as a brand and a lifestyle.
While it’s certainly important to offer a quality product and to market where you need to, brand storytelling is much less about sales than it is about connections. Keeping this in mind will also help brands that don’t yet have a brand story (per se) develop one. In these cases, brands can do well to continually come back to the question “What makes us different?” and then use that to inform every aspect of their marketing – from their branding to their content. While this seems simple, it’s actually a surefire way to develop an authentic presence and stand out from the crowd from the get-go.
3. Unify Your Presence
If I showed you a piece of Apple’s marketing material right now but blocked the logo out, would you be able to identify it? Of course you would! This is because Apple has built its brand around clean, crisp, minimalist designs, characteristic fonts, and a distinct color palate. These things enable customers to immediately identify the products the brand’s content in a variety of mediums.
While many people think of brand storytelling as being solely about the content your brand writes, it’s actually about much more than that. The fact is that brand storytelling expands into everything from your logo to your Web design and that, by unifying all of those things to provide a consistent presence, you can ensure that your brand is immediately recognizable…no matter where it goes.
4. Take a Backseat
While it’s important to be authentic in your brand storytelling, it’s equally important to avoid being the star of the production. Nobody wants to read 3,000 words on some CEO who made it big. In addition to being obnoxious, this is incredibly alienating for your customers. Instead, focus on making all of your brand storytelling as valuable, helpful, interesting and instructional as possible. While it’s great to talk about your personal experiences, nobody wants to bear witness to a soapbox.
5. Be Relatable to YOUR Fans
No matter where your company is today, I’m willing to bet that there was a time that you struggled with the very problems you’re now solving for your customers. Furthermore, I’m willing to bet that you still struggle with a unique set of issues each year. When it comes to brand storytelling, few things are more important than being relatable. This keeps your content authentic and helps your customers continue to connect with your brand. If you find yourself running into difficulties with brand storytelling, it’s easy to go back to the source by recalling the things you’ve struggled with and what would have been helpful at the time. These roots provide valuable sources of authentic brand content.
There’s no denying that storytelling is an important factor in today’s content marketing environment. From helping customers connect to your brand to making your products more unique, relatable, and exciting, brand storytelling truly has a multitude of purposes. While many marketers have a difficult time approaching brand storytelling, the entire process truly comes down to being authentic. Today’s consumers love authentic content and it’s the companies that are willing to provide this that will stand out in their industries. While the definition of “Authenticity” varies for every brand, brands that hold things like connection, humility, and relevance in high regard are generally better equipped to create stellar marketing content their clients will love. Plus, nobody gets beheaded in the process.
Julia McCoy is a top 30 content marketer and has been named an industry thought leader by several publications. She enjoys making the gray areas of content marketing clear with practical training, teaching, and systems. Her career in content marketing was completely self-taught. In 2011, she dropped out of college to follow her passion in writing, and since then grew her content agency, Express Writers, to thousands of worldwide clients from scratch. Julia is the author of two bestselling books on content marketing and copywriting, and is the host of The Write Podcast. Julia writes as a columnist on leading publications and certifies content strategists in her training course, The Content Strategy & Marketing Course. Julia lives in Austin, Texas with her daughter, husband, and one fur baby.