How to go from content owner to storyteller

by Stratton Craig

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‘People don’t buy products; they buy the personalities and meanings associated with the story of those products.’ – Thomson Dawson, Four Methods of Strategic Brand Building.

Storytelling is one of the most powerful elements of today’s digital marketing strategies. When surveyed about what they hope to achieve in 2017, content marketers placed the ability to tell a story as a top priority. We tell stories every day in real life, but it doesn’t always come naturally in business branding. As a content creator, you may not stick to one particular digital marketing strategy. There are three key camps for effective content production: content owner, thought leader, and storyteller. Depending on your business, you may work out of one or more of these camps for a holistic approach. But as separate routes to content, the effects and outcomes are quite different. So how do we move from content owner to storyteller? Or more specifically, how do you go from creating content that makes people aware, to creating content that inspires and creates demand?
Step one – Understand your objectives and your audience
As a content owner, you will be creating content that makes people aware, gains their trust, and generates great ideas. In order to move your business towards the persona of storyteller, you need to reassess your business objectives. Think about why digital content marketing is an ongoing process that moves you towards your goals. Remind yourselves what you want to achieve with content marketing and realise who your content is aimed at. Carry out user research through techniques like search engines, social insights and social listening to understand the different user personas. Through this, you can then understand the content needs of each user persona, and begin to plan your content as a storyteller – your story will offer something different and create the demand.
Before moving towards a storytelling strategy, it may help to gain status as a thought leader in order to better understand your market and meet audience demands. Being a thought leader requires generosity in that you are giving away information to audiences. By being a fountain of knowledge, you present your business as experts in the field, and you are therefore credible, trustworthy, accountable and connected. Becoming a thought leader will depend on your budget, but by knowing what is out there and meeting demands, you are better informed and will have formed opportunities to gain new business.
Step two – Look for inspiration
While being a storyteller is about having an original idea, it doesn’t mean that you can’t look to others. The key to this is watching or reading a successful ad campaign and thinking about how it impacts you. Identify the emotions you feel and analyse what language, image or section of the ad made you feel that way. For example, watch an ad campaign like Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches and take notes – Dove are successful storytellers that have educated and inspired audiences and created a demand for healthier body images. These ads are created to move you, so in your research, can you pinpoint the moment that gives you a lump in your throat? Any specific words? Likewise, Nike’s recent campaigns exhibit the notion that everyone who has a body is an athlete, and their Unlimited Youth advert champions sport and athleticism at all ages, focusing on an elderly nun who competes in a triathlon. Through this inspiring and unique content, Nike has differentiated itself from other sports brands and created a demand for customers – if the nun can, you can, and you should.
Analysing the work of big, international brands like Nike and Dove can teach us a lot when creating content, regardless of what sector you’re in.
Step three – Create
It’s unlikely that your vision will come to you overnight. Be patient in the content producing process. Really think about what doesn’t work as much as what does. Test your campaigns to gauge initial reactions, and depending on your product and service, realise that some audiences may be easier to reach than you think: ‘people clump together into common world views. Find a clump and frame a story for their world view.’ – Seth Godin, writer of All Marketers Are Liars.
Carry out exercises with your team to share ideas and get a wider perspective of how the company is viewed. Employee stories are a great method of storytelling – customers are interested in the people behind the brand and this adds a personal touch and a realness to your content. The opposite of this would therefore be something with a statistical focus, or an abstract, intangible tale that doesn’t resonate with audience’s emotions.
Organise your ideas through simple frameworks like a story planning sheet. Form a table or a spreadsheet that maps out your ideas, or create a storyboard. Consider these points to help you:
• Outline your idea and summarise it in a few simple sentences.
• Work towards a theme. List your target audience(s).
• Decide what emotions you want to evoke.
• Go back to your business objectives – what is the purpose of the story.
• What people are going to be involved in telling the story – who is your campaign about?
Transformative content, fluid content
Remember the rule for content creation – 70% should be planned, 20% should be reactive and 10% should be opportunist. Think about a long-term plan – storytelling can serve as the most powerful outlet for building your brand.
Knowing your audience and their needs is key to a successful digital marketing strategy. But as a storyteller, you need to bring something else to the table. Taking the evangelist role, you are lighting the way for all interested parties: inspiring customers, influencing the competition, and building your brand culture.
There is no limit on what you can achieve with a storytelling digital marketing strategy. Taking contexts into consideration, any idea can be adapted to suit your desired strategy. Trends change, but people will always be moved by stories.

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