Storytelling in Content Marketing: A Collaboration With Your Audience


At the recent Content Marketing World 2014, actor Kevin Spacey spoke as the closing night’s headliner about the importance—not of conversions or metrics—but of stories. When it comes to everything from classical literature to TV shows to fast-food ads, he remarked, “it has always been about the story.”

Anyone in the content marketing field knows that the word “stories” has been a major buzzword for years. “People love stories,” you’ve likely heard someone say. In other words, people love to be entertained, and stories are an effective way of getting someone’s attention, no matter the format. When content marketing can tell an interesting story, a brand distinguishes itself from the crowd and can connect with consumers like nothing else can.

But what does storytelling really mean? How does a campaign tell a story? And how is that different from any other creative endeavor?

Defining Storytelling for Marketers

In an episode of Mad Men, Don Draper explains to a colleague that a particular ad campaign shouldn’t be about just selling a company’s services. Selling an emotion, not just being provocative, is what can hook people. “You feeling something,” he says. “That’s what sells.”

Storytelling in marketing functions much the same way, but on a more sophisticated scale. A story itself consists of characters, conflict, and resolution, and can take many different forms. The story your company tells could be about what motivated you to start your business or how your business helps consumers solve a problem, get something accomplished or have fun. This kind of content gives consumers a look at the people behind a brand or of those who support it.

It also allows you to both showcase your brand and transcend it at the same time. Your products or services become one small component of a larger story. People respond to it more favorably than a purely promotional hard sell, and a good story is something that will likely germinate as consumers share and discuss it.

Speaking Your Customer’s Language

When you’ve already started your content marketing efforts and have an audience following you, you may feel that you’ve made a great accomplishment, and the truth is that you have. You may also feel as if your work is already done.

What you’ll soon learn is that content marketing is an ongoing process that involves keeping a conversation happening with your audience. In order to make content marketing work, it’s not only about connecting with an audience and winning them over after making that first impression. It’s about continuing to connect with them, and a way of being able to do that is to let your storytelling be a collaborative process with your audience.

Think of storytelling as consisting of two phases: establishing a connection and then maintaining it through the feedback, behavior, and preferences of your audience. By gathering data on what they respond to (as well as dislike), you’ll be able to have a solid foundation upon which to build effective campaigns through engaging content that resonates with your consumers. In order to establish that initial connection, it’s crucial that you have a strategic content promotion plan in place in order to connect with your target audience. Then as your storytelling is happening in a collaborative way with consumers, you’ll never run out of things to say.

Getting Your Story Straight

For many content marketers, a “story” is a catch-all phrase that can refer to nearly any creative effort. A clever ad might get hundreds of thousands of views, but it’s just that: an ad, not a story. When you weave together characters, conflict, and resolution in a campaign, then you can say you’re engaging in storytelling.

Psychologists and scientists tell us that it’s no accident storytelling is something we all respond to. By being able to entertain an audience with something that they can relate to, you’ll be able to convey a great deal about the identity of your company. You’ll also have the potential to create a base of support that can lead to a community of enthusiasts who will each have stories of their own about why they support you.