Content marketing is a popular topic for B2B digital marketers today. It’s not hard to see why; according to a Demand Gen report, 96% of B2B buyers report they want content with more input from industry leaders. While not every company has a documented content marketing strategy, many have begun implementing tactics like blogging, native advertising, and social media. Anyone with a computer and internet connection can produce content. And given the state of technology and automation, we may be quickly approaching an era where people may not have to produce content at all. Marketing automation will hit a whole new level.
But do we want to automate storytelling?
First Things First – What is Content Marketing
I’ve written several pieces that draw parallels between content marketing and storytelling, and I believe that to do the former well you have to be great at the latter. With all the definitions of what content marketing is (and isn’t), let’s look at what it really means. In most cases, we see content marketing defined as the strategy of providing valuable, educational (non-promotional) content to a defined audience with the intention of garnering interest in one’s products/services.
Let’s distil that down for the sake of this article…
Content marketing is providing great content.
So How Do We Provide Great Content?
Where does great content start? First, I like to point out what I consider to be some cornerstone principles to great content and content marketing:
- Empathy – Selflessness bred with compassion that sows the seed from which great relationships bloom and grow
- Honesty – Honesty about your product or brand’s shortcomings make you appear relatable and trustworthy
- Commitment – Open (and free) sharing – whether of information or personal stories or important data – draws people in and piques their attention.
- Humility – Don’t be a self-serving jerk
Great content has to be rooted in things that people can relate to. We’ve probably all seen content farm blogs that produce a keyword-rich jumble of paragraphs devoid of meaning. Great content is more than just catering to Google and Bing. It’s people – not machines – who are going to take interest in what you have to say. While there are certainly best SEO practices to follow, stories resonate with people, not robots.
Great Content is Human
This article goes a little more in-depth into how each of those work as the foundation for a content marketing strategy. If we boil it down even further, I believe we arrive at this fact: great content (marketing) is founded in humanity.
If we look at the Merriam-Webster definition of “humanity” (ugh, definitions – I know, so cliche. Bear with me), the second entry defines humanity as:
A: The quality or state of being human joined together by their common humanity
B: humanities plural: human attributes or qualities
Why is this important? Because content should be based on commonalities – those attributes and qualities that make us the same. If great content marketing is really just great storytelling, this all makes sense.
Think about the best stories you’ve heard – and the best storytellers you know – and hone in on the qualities that make them memorable. The stories that resonate most with us are the ones we can relate to on a personal level. We find a commonality in the tale being told and we hold onto it like a firefly on a warm summer’s night. We put it in our jar (mind) and meditate on it, and while we may not hold onto it forever, it has left an impression.
Similarly, great storytellers find ways to connect with their audience. They spread eye contact out to each and every person in their audience at just the right time. The compel intrigue with a raised eyebrow or magical gesture of the hand. They vary their tone and voice depending on where they are at in the story – deepening the voice as the plot thickens and quickening pace near the peak of conflict.
These seemingly minor nuances are actually the linchpins that forge a connection between the story, the storyteller and the audience.
Great storytellers draw upon their own experience – how they felt in a situation, the sounds they heard, the sensations they felt – and they help to recreate those experiences so that the audience can feel them, too. This ability to pull from our own experiences and to recreate those experiences for others is a truly human thing.
And so it is the same with content. Great content producers get into the skin of their audience and dig deep to understand what they are feeling (empathy), including pain points, challenges, frustrations, and motivations. They use those human qualities to create content that speaks to each in a relatable way.
Just as our hypothetical storyteller was able to shift tone and voice, so too can content marketers adjust based on where the content is being promoted, the audience to whom the content is being delivered, and the topics on which the content is created.
As this Forbes article points out, there are some other qualities and distinctions that separate good storytelling from great storytelling. The main points boil down to three key facts:
- Your story is more interesting to you than it is to others.
- Takeaway: Great content marketing is audience-centric. While you may use your own experience to build relatable stories, you’ll want to be sure the overarching theme appeals to your core audience.
- Great stories have conflicts and are told honestly.
- Translation: Be human. In 2017, people want to cut to the chase. They have seen the same tired advertising from companies boasting “industry-leading feature X”. Dig into your story further and use your “realness” to intrigue your audience. No company, product, or service is perfect, and companies shouldn’t be afraid to shine a little (well-crafted) light onto the darker areas. Getting real with people can foster relationships built on trust.
- Every great story has a resolution.
- Translation: Give your audience the ending they need. If your content focuses on an industry pain point or challenge, provide the solution to that challenge. Remember, content marketing is meant to be educational, not self-promotional. While your product or service may be part of the solution, it’s not always wise to focus on that alone. Paint a broad picture and allow your audience to come to their own conclusions.
With access to Big Data and marketing automation tools, it seems as though we have the ability to be hands-off when it comes to content creation and content marketing. With technology at our fingertips, it can be tempting to dive headfirst into that “set it and forget it” mentality and let robots step in and handle everything. But ask yourself how real human connections are built – online and offline – and honestly consider if mechanical content marketing is right for your company or brand…or if would be a mistake.
To err is human – and to create great stories is, too.