Sponsored content is different than a sales pitch. For it to work, it needs a specific story angle that’s anchored to the publication’s main theme, otherwise, it becomes food for the trash bin.
If the author of sponsored content only focuses on the product or service, features, and benefits without “wrapping it up” in a story, the campaign may fail from the very start, because it will not connect with the readers on an emotional level.
The truth is that bloggers, authors, and copywriters love to tell stories (and readers love to read them) but they are often afraid to use them because they are not sure this is what their advertiser wants, or whether they will appreciate a bit of personality in the content.
It’s important that you make it clear, before hand, that copywriters can use storytelling when writing sponsored content and are actually encouraged to do so. This also means using personal photos and anecdotes that will suck the reader in. The more personable and relatable the story for the reader, the better chances for your campaign to succeed.
Consider these five reasons to use storytelling in sponsored content:
Donald Whitehead points to reality TV as an example, where realism adds credibility to the overall consumer experience.
“The reader can view the events with a level of realism that they can associate with personally,” Whitehead explains, “It’s first hand! No third parties. It happened to you, so it validates real life, personal events, good or bad. It says that you’re not alone and that there is an answer. There is a certain comfort in that.”
He also adds that he prefers “real life stories over fiction any day for reassurance and getting to the root of answers to real-life problems.”
Deborah Anderson from Social Web Cafe makes the following points on engagement through storytelling:
It really doesn’t matter what topic the story is related to, as long as it grabs the reader in the first sentence or two and continues to be interesting throughout. Personally, I think that it is relevant no matter what type of writing, including sponsored writing.
I believe the issue is that sometimes it is not considered ‘professional enough’ for some contexts. For example, for my doctoral dissertation, everything has to be from a third party and it needs to come from research or peer-reviewed journal articles. Stories are told, sort of, through the relaying of case studies from research, but it doesn’t have that true warmth that a well-written first-person story provides. There’s nothing like it.
David Leonhardt from THGM Ghostwriter Services says storytelling removes the “boring” part of business communications. Storytelling, he points out, is the oldest form of communication. Stories existed before writing as a way to pass down the wisdom of the ages. It’s only natural, then, that stories make business content more engaging.
“Once people start,” Leonhardt says, “they have to keep on reading; everybody wants to know how the story ends.” This is because “people relate more to stories because they are more human, more emotional.” In fact, they can “resist a sales pitch, but they can’t resist product placement.”
Content writer Christopher Jan Benitez says that “[Storytelling] builds trust and authority, which is in line with becoming authentic, [as it] allows for real connections to be formed. The more authentic your sponsored content is, the more effective it will be. [Storytelling] creates a flow in your narrative, making it easier for readers to follow [and] allows you to craft your copywriting skills to write more effective sentences.” Also, “[it is] much easier to write something that comes from experience.”
When I read Danielle Hollis’ post at Writtent.com, what captured me was not the fact that the post opened with a story, but that the story itself was fiction.
If the author of your sponsored content is well-versed in fiction writing or they run a character blog, encourage them to use the storytelling approach. It’s going to work charms for both of you because there are always people with feelings and a daily life behind that screen—people who want information, but perhaps even a reason to laugh and entertain themselves.
I have used this kind of fictional storytelling myself in a sponsored article for a character blog I run. My character (a robot) blogged about remaking his city archives with the help of some Walmart tape.
The downside of giving instructions to copywriters to incorporate storytelling is that they may feel compelled to use tired formulas that will render the final article too stiff, with no natural flow. Here are a few tips for a better end result:
Use phrases like “We would be thrilled to read your personal story about our product!” It’s much different than instructing them to “Use a story format for your post, complete with photos of the product”. In other words, treat your copywriter or blogger as a collaborator, not as a student who just received an assignment.
When you share the sponsored content guidelines, mention storytelling among the first and most important features of the content. Again, be gentle and word it in a way that is respectful of your author’s creative freedom.
When reviewing the submission, ask them to add personal anecdotes and photos if they haven’t already. The review phase is also the best moment to let the blogger know that you appreciate them sharing their personal experience much more than the promotion of features and benefits.
Storytelling is about connecting your product or service to the publication’s readership, but it’s also a kind, humanized way to connect with bloggers, influencers and media outlets. You’ll form long-lasting relationships that will bring benefits to the table for all parties involved. Whenever storytelling seems like the least viable option for sponsored content or when your targeted publication doesn’t want to collaborate, come back to these five reasons for the inspiration you need to convince them otherwise.