We all know that storytelling is big business at the box office, but it’s just as big for branding in the marketing world. Global companies pour funds into generating content that speaks to the generalities of life— shared impulses, emotions, triumphs and heartbreaks—because they know that a good story can sway opinion and drive action like nothing else.
Yet most companies don’t really do it. Why? Because it’s difficult, and it takes time, and effort, and (like almost anything interesting in the content marketing sphere) it’s viewed as ‘risky’, yes; but mainly because it takes a significant commitment without promising immediate results.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experiment with storytelling in your content marketing approach unless you have a giant budget. In fact, the best stories often grow from humble beginnings. Let’s take a look at how you can start sprinkling some narrative magic on your content marketing approach.
Do Competitor Research for Content Marketing
If you want to be a writer, you do a lot of reading. If you want to market with stories, you take a shameless look at the stories the top dogs in your industry are already telling (or take note of the vacuum if you’re operating in an untapped sector, however unlikely that is).
After all, though storytelling is absolutely a creative approach at heart, you still need to be analytical— it’s always the data that matters in the end.
To do this, head to their YouTube channels, social media accounts, websites, and blogs, and see what you make of their efforts. What works about them? What utterly fails? Are they funny where they’re intended to be, or poignant, or inspirational? What characters do they feature, if any? How direct is the promotional element?
You don’t have to do anything vaguely close to what other companies have done, of course. You’re completely free to go in a totally new direction. The research simply helps you figure out what fits your style and what has previously gone down well with your target audience.
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Become More Conversational in Your Content Marketing Approach
This is a step plenty of people find really challenging because it’s set in their minds that business needs to be a certain way. Stoic, matter-of-fact, cold and detached— all the qualities that prompt us to call someone ‘all business’ or ‘strictly business’.
Stories are for personal time, but business time is for business, right? Suits! Ties! Staplers! Vigilant adherence to company policies!
Then factor in the ever-lurking set of fears that comes with any thought of going out on a creative limb; what if people don’t like your content? What if they find it unprofessional for you to express yourself? What if your writing upsets them through its content, execution, or both?
What if you hated that line about vigilant adherence to company policies?
You can’t operate effective content marketing approach of any kind if you’re so mortally afraid of people thinking you’re unprofessional, so just start emoting in your copy. Imagine you’re talking to someone you know. Relax. Throw in some anecdotes, a metaphor or two, a silly aside from time to time.
People will respond far better when they feel like they’re reading something that was actually written by a person instead of glued together from jargon on an assembly line by a robot. Letting the story of your life seep through your copy imbues it with a greater meaning.
Write Your Narrative
The one story every business should write down is its own. How it began, how it changed, and where it’s going. You might well think that your story isn’t a particularly interesting one, but tastes vary, and you never know with whom your words will resonate.
For my part, I follow a lot of ecommerce communities, and I find something valuable to take from every last story I read about an entrepreneur’s quest to achieve their dreams.
But one thing is mandatory: positivity. You won’t sell anyone anything other than despair with a story like “When I first decided to build an ecommerce store, I thought it wouldn’t work out— and I was right, it didn’t, so I gave up”, which is why I like reading Shopify’s success stories page. It’s just that: success stories of people who faced challenges and overcame them.
So above everything else, strike an optimistic tone. The negatives in the past just drove you ahead. You have a bright future, there’s something special about you that makes you distinct from other companies, and people should invest in your journey.
Fail, Then Write About It in Your Content Marketing Approach
Suppose that you bite the bullet, take the steps we’ve covered so far, and loosen up. You start telling anyone who’ll listen about the story of your business, and being less formal in your content, and developing a tonal style for your company. After a short while, you’ll look back at the first things you wrote after you changed direction— and you’ll hate them.
You’ll wonder what you could possibly have been thinking to produce such utter tripe. You’ll cringe at your wording and perhaps even turn a luminous shade of crimson. But fear not! That’s completely normal, and a sign of progress, but it’s also valuable fodder for your future content.
Because people will love to read about your early failures. We all get things wrong, and it’s nice to share it, especially when we can talk about how mistakes often lead to growth and improvement. The longer you honestly chronicle your story, and the more bumps there are along the way, the more interesting and endearing it will become. Not too shabby!
There’s no shortcut to becoming a good storyteller; it’s really just a matter of trying, trying, and trying again, getting a little bit better every time. Listen to feedback from your friends, colleagues and customers, refine your style, and eventually you’ll find that your content is getting better results than you ever thought you could achieve.
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Victoria Greene is an ecommerce marketing expert and freelance writer who finds that empathy is a key sales driver. You can read more of her work on her blog Victoria Ecommerce.