How To Use Storytelling In Your Content Marketing Program

How To Use Storytelling In Your Content Marketing Program

A few months ago, I wrote an article about storytelling’s newfound renaissance. It seems to me that the term “storytelling” gets thrown around in marketing departments without much thought to what it truly means. I worry that storytelling will become a hackneyed term and lose its impact. If storytelling is the new black, how can a marketer implement this technique into their program? 

Step One: Realize Storytelling Is A Different Approach

As a marketer, you are trained to persuade your prospects that your products and services are the best. However, marketing to your prospects has become more complicated. You are now competing not only for your prospects e-mail box, but also their attention. Three-quarters of all adults now regularly use a social networking site. There are more active wireless devices in the United States (326 million) than there are human beings (314 million). More than 6 billion hours of video are watched on YouTube every month. If you are going to capture your audience attention, you need to have something valuable and relevant to say.

Marketers never had to worry how to connect with their prospects. We would send emails, postcards, and collateral out and those interested would contact us, and the cycle would continue until the prospect purchased. In today’s market prospects are in control. A Corporate Executive Board (CEB) study of more than 1,400 B2B customers across industries revealed that 57% of a typical purchase decision is made before a customer even talk to a supplier. The game is changing and marketers need to find new ways to connect, and do it much earlier in the sales cycle than ever before. It’s no longer sufficient for marketers to create content; now you have to figure out how to break through the noise and resonate.

It’s all about understanding how the customers or products highlighted in our corporate stories relate. Your corporate story is beyond brand: it’s about how you connect with your prospect’s challenges with your solutions. It is a different approach because marketers need to think beyond just getting their message out in the market, but also how it can resonate and connect. Your prospects are already engaged with your company directly or indirectly on social media creating unique conversations daily. SAP’s Chief Storyteller, Julie Roehm said it best, “to break through the clutter, meaningful, one to one conversations with our customer is now more important than ever.” 

Step Two: You Need Buy-In

Storytelling sounds simple in concept, but your internal stakeholders will not understand why they need to change. Whether it is your sales, product or services teams, they are only interested if you send out the email or promotion, they do not care if the message works. That is not their interest. Your stakeholders just want to make sure the tactic has been accomplished, but little time is devoted to whether it performed well.  Marketers know performance trumps activity.  Marketers are the customer’s advocate and the only team invested in representing their concerns, pain points, and challenges. So, you need to help your stakeholders understand why defining the customer, understanding their pain points, addressing their concerns will be beneficial. This change is the hardest piece to storytelling and often overlooked.

So, how do you get change with your internal teams? You need a corporate sponsor. Someone in your organization that your internal teams report to that understands and supports what you are trying to achieve. Think executive or someone of influence. Executive support takes understanding what motivates them and illustrating what success will look like when you are done. Be clear that storytelling is not a fad, but a way to tell the story to the client about how your company can help them.

Step Three: Define Your Audience

Now that you have everyone on board to be storytellers, it’s time to define your audience. If you have developed personas for your marketing, use those to help develop your stories. If you do not have personas, here is why you need them: Personas help define who will consume the new content you are about to create.

Personas are profiles of your customer. They are a snapshot into what motivates that customer to buy your products or services. Questions to consider when developing personas: what makes the audience engage? Why should they care? What’s in it for them? What do you want the audience to do after reading your story?

Creating personas will take time. You will need to do some interviewing of current clients as well as stakeholders who work directly with them. A great example of how to research your audience is look at job postings in your field. I am currently working in the energy space and was having trouble understanding who works in the energy space. I started looking at job postings to find out who the utilities were trying to employ and use this as the foundation for me to build my personas. It wasn’t perfect, but with the requirements I understood what was needed in their roles which in turn helped me figure out pain points and motivators. I used this as the foundation to build the personas and peppered subject matter interviews to refine the personas. 

Step Four: Get Organized

Managing multiple themes and getting your story out in the market will take planning and organization. Editorial calendars will be your new favorite tool in 2014.

Editorial calendars help organizations organize multiple themes, platforms, team members, and manage the process of creation. Pam Dyer, a Social Media Today contributor, wrote that editorial calendars should be viewed as a roadmap to ensure your content is optimized to meet your business goals and targets the right audience. It will also provide assurance that your contributors, stakeholders, and distribution channels are working in concert. I love that because as marketers we sometimes neglect the planning and organizing internal resources to create content.

As the Director of Content Marketing, I see my role as the CEO of content. I help plan, but also I make sure all folks contributing understand they are accountable to delivering the content. The editorial calendar is a great tool to work with multiple stakeholders to understand where their content will be distributed and manage deadlines. I would also stress that the editorial calendar is not static, but ever evolving. I am constantly changing themes and distribution of content based on changes of my contributors or marketplace. A great example was my firm’s recent whitepaper on the polar vortex affect the U.S. energy market ability to respond to extreme weather. Based on small changes to timing we were able to capitalize on great earned media opportunities in the national press and trade publications.

Editorial calendars also help me manage the contributors and foresee holes in the plan. It can also be a great source to help you generate ideas for future contributions and repurpose opportunities. Don’t think you can use only one story at a time, you can repurpose several content pieces for different platforms such as social and offline.

Storytelling is not a new concept, but is more challenging to use in today’s noisy marketplace. Marketers who effectively use this technique will take time planning and getting executive buy in. It’s not only about the planning, but also the stories themselves. Do you have a corporate story that will resonate and cut through the noise?