How to Use Storytelling in Content Marketing

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What would a Digital Marketer want with storytelling? Sounds like the start of a story, doesn’t it? Well, that’s kinda the point. It’s an interesting opener; a way to draw the reader into the article and pique your interest so you read on. In other words, it’s an act of storytelling, and just because it’s in a blog about marketing doesn’t mean it’s any less an act of storytelling than the words in a novel. Digital Marketers might not be dreaming up characters or inventing worlds like novelists do, but those skills are just as necessary for us as they are for Dickens, Orwell, or Rowling.

Think about it. How many times have you seen ad copy, read a news story, or started going through a blog post only to give up because the content simply doesn’t grab you? Probably quite a few times, right? Well, that’s a failure of storytelling. The copywriter hasn’t given you a reason to keep reading because he or she hasn’t told a story. So how can you avoid a similar fate? As with all good stories, it’s about a three-act structure, and in this article, we’re going to take you through those three key steps to success.

Idea Development

An unprecedented amount of data is now available to marketers, and it's easy to think that every decision should be driven by that data. It shouldn't. Data doesn't tell us everything; it only tells us what's already out there and not what could be out there. Content writers need to explore new ground as well as that which is already well-trodden, otherwise you’re just churning out variations on the same old worn out ideas. Innovation is key.

For example, let's say you're developing a digital strategy for an automobile brand and you want to write some good quality content. You're at the idea development stage, working out what kind of content you can write. You check the search volume, research backlinks, and explore shares on social media. You notice there's a lot of interest in second hand car buying guides. Plenty of search volume, significant links back to already-existing content, and lots of shares and interactions on social media. Great! Let's get writing a guide to buying second hand cars!

Hold on! The fact there's a lot of successful guide content doesn't just prove that content like that does well, it proves there's a lot of content out there like that already. What's more, there's no insight into sentiment. Those shares and interactions may be from people complaining about the content. The data is only giving you half the story, and even if you have that additional contextualising information, do you really want to be just another voice saying the same old thing? It's lazy, it's trite, and above all, it's boring.

Don't be boring. Use data creatively. If people are reacting to guide-based content, that’s great insight. Use it to inspire what you’re doing but don’t let it dictate it. Think about your business. What are your strengths? What image do you want to portray? What do you want to say? Find out what makes you unique and what you can offer that isn’t already there, and emphasise it.

Content Creation

We’ve discussed the key tenets of good copywriting in a previous article, so we won’t go over them in too much detail. Suffice to say, it’s all about making your writing pop with excitement, clarity and good, significant information. Storytelling, of course, plays an important role too, and if you don’t believe us, here’s an explanation from legendary novelist Raymond Chandler.

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Chandler may be talking about writing pulp fiction here, but his advice is true for any piece of good copy. Details matter because they aid the storytelling. Just as Chandler needed to haunt the reader with his victim’s troublesome paperclip, the copywriter needs to find a way to haunt their reader, ensuring that their point lingers like Chandler’s “tormented grin”. In copywriting, how you say something is just as important as what you’re actually saying. So focus on more than just the action.

Outreach

The content may be complete, but that doesn’t mean the storytelling is over. Content amplification and outreach – whether done to support an SEO campaign or as part of an overall PR push – is your final paragraph, and as with all good stories, it’s important you end with a flourish. After all, there’s no sense in spending time creating a perfectly crafted piece of content, but then squandering its potential with poor outreach that doesn’t target the right audience or engage the people you’re contacting.

That’s not easy though. You’re just one of dozens of brands who are bombarding publishers (either mainstream websites or privately run blogs) with content each and every day. GIFs, images, infographics, articles, videos. Over and over and over again. Endless emails, all asking for the same thing: please feature this on your website! So it’s important to get into your target’s head and, when approaching them, ask not just ‘will they publish this?’ but also, ‘what can I do to compel them to publish this?'

These are two very similar but fundamentally different questions. “Will they publish this?” is about targeting the kind of people you believe (through research or assumption) will publish your post. It’s an important question, but it limits your reach. By asking what you can do to compel someone to publish your post, you’re doing much more. You’re finding a story and telling it to people. You’re also doing half your target’s job. Through storytelling, you’re showing you understand their needs and giving them inspiration for how they can present it to their readers. For busy publishers, that’s a vital approach that makes their lives easier and your content so much more attractive.

Conclusion

Life revolves around storytelling, so why would marketing be any different? This is an industry of communication, so it’s up to you as a marketer or a copywriter to communicate clearly, concisely and compellingly. So find your story and tell it. Storytelling is about much more than ‘Once Upon A Times’, and in marketing, it’ll help you and your business live happily ever after...

What do you think of storytelling through copywriting and content marketing? Have you had any significant successes with marketing storytelling? Tweet us over on @FastWebMedia.

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