Telling A Story With Content Marketing.

Painting of an adult reading to a child

It doesn’t take long for a term in content marketing to become overused. Heck, some have argued that the term “content marketing” itself needs to go away and die. Lately the term that reminds me of nails on a chalkboard is “storytelling.” It seems like the advice of the year is, “Oh, all you’ve got to do is tell a story.” And I agree that storytelling is essential to marketing, but I think most of the people who promote the concept don’t actually understand its use.

When we look into the nuts and bolts of telling a story, there are actually a lot of ways we can apply the concept. I think most of the time the idea is taken too literally, as in “once upon a time.” So let’s start with that version.

Once Upon A Time

The “once upon a time” version deals with telling an actual story. Maybe you cover your journey to the top. Maybe you talk about your company’s humble beginnings. As an example, we wrote an article titled Old Macdonald has a blog. This was a fictional story that showed an example of how a company could build a comprehensive content marketing strategy using a number of tactics.

Another example would be non-profits. If you are a non-profit you are most likely going to tell stories of sorrow. Stories about how important it is for people to help your charity feed the poor, or protect the children of Africa from the bloodshed bought on by civil war.

Those are very compelling examples of telling a “once upon a time” story, but this doesn’t work for every market or company. If you can’t tell a literal story, what do you do?

The Subliminal

There is another type of story I am going to call the subliminal story. This story is a little more creative. You are telling people a story they want to believe, a story that shows a better version of their life. And guess what? That better version involves using your product or services.

Some examples of this would be a story in which your product saves people a large amount of time at their job. This frees them up to do more important tasks. This story leaves the reader thinking of all the new hobbies they can take up. Or maybe it allows them more time with their family, and so they start planning the vacation they have been putting off.

Picture from the Xero homepage

In the above example Xero, an online accounting software company, tells the story of a small business slowly growing into a much larger, more complex organization. We would be remiss if we didn’t think maybe this software could be a big part of their success.

This type of storytelling can be very effective, if done tastefully. When telling a subliminal story it is important to remain truthful and transparent. Lying will not get you very far when telling this kind of story. While we would like to tell people that our company has the greatest product around, the story we decide to tell needs to be believable.

The Power of the Parable

The last type of storytelling is the parable. A parable is generally a fictional story that teaches a principle. This is by far my favorite type of story. Not because it is more effective; I simply love the deep meanings that can be drawn from the analogies in a parable. A great example would be AJ Kohn’s article titled SEO is Stone Soup. AJ uses the old tale of the traveler making stone soup to illustrate why he markets search engine optimization in his business.

That is the beauty of a parable: telling a story with a strong message just underneath the surface. The home run for telling parables comes when you can link that message with selling your product or service.

When we’re marketing our businesses, we are telling some sort of story. And it is a challenging story to tell. Sure, finding a creative way to educate people about your company in a way that is not off-putting is hard. But there is still something harder about marketing than that. It is the creative process of blending your company’s goals and your customer’s goals into a story where both parties benefit; where both parties want to be involved.

It All Comes Down To One Thing…

To close let me leave you with this: no matter what version of the story you’re telling, in the end we are all selling the same thing. Freedom. Everything can be tied to freedom.

  • Financial freedom
  • Personal freedom
  • Creative freedom
  • Educational freedom

So no matter what story you tell, make sure the reader can see a clear path to the most important thing of all: freedom. And selling freedom starts with selling solutions, not features (that’s right, another future post).

What’s your company’s story? Are you even telling a story with content marketing?

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