Content Strategy as Storytelling
“Stories are just data with a soul.” – Brene Brown
‘Content’ is seen as being a complicated business, we talk about UX and SEO and ROI’s and other acronyms. We forget that, at its essence, good content is just like a good story in that it has to be engaging if it wants to get passed on.
People love stories and storytelling itself is as old as verbal communication, written into our cultural DNA. We grow up with stories, learning our earliest lessons from Aesop, Andersen and Disney. Buddha and Jesus both chose stories as effective means of communicating their ideas. Psychology research shows that our attitudes, fears, hopes, and values are strongly influenced by story. Stories are more effective at changing beliefs than writing that is specifically designed to persuade through argument and evidence. So what can we learn from great story tellers that will help us create great content?
Engage your audience
Gone are the days of broadcast when the brand transmitted information and the audience passively consumed it. The digital audience is hungry for news but they also yearn to be part of the story. Dickens and Rowling transport you in an instant into Victorian England or Diagon Alley. Like them, let your user feel part of your brand story, encourage them to contribute and make them part of the tale you are trying to tell. As part of Google’s ‘Art, Copy, Code’ initiative, they teamed up with Burberry to create the Burberry Kisses campaign allowing people to send a personalised love letter anywhere in the world, sealed with a kiss! At the same time ushering the humble love letter into the 21st century.
All good content has a hook
Every great adventure story has a good hook. Do you think Bilbo would have ever left the Shire if he knew what he would get up to? Personally I think Alice would’ve told the bunny to get stewed if she even suspected Wonderland! Red Bull found the most incredible hook of all with the ‘Stratos’ stunt. Felix Baumgartner’s jump not only sailed into the record books but left 3 million impressions on Twitter and the event was shared worldwide millions of times over. In the real world, sales of the brand jumped 17% in the US alone. Red Bull clearly knows creating events that keep viewers on the edge of their seats and sharing with their friends keeps them in the forefront of viewers’ minds. The good news is, we don’t all have to match Red bull’s efforts and get someone to bungy from the outer limits of space to get brand engagement!
Be an authority
Good books get passed around, yellowed and dog-eared; good content can stack up views in the tens of millions. Everybody knows that one friend who knows which books you would like or a movie buff buddy who knows what should be next on your Foxtel queue. Follow in the footsteps of sites like Mashable and PSFK which have a limited amount of original content but earn their fame from curating the best of the web. Build a reputation for yourself as a thought leader – find articles, videos, memes, and other stuff that you think your core audience will appreciate and will want to share and then share it consistently, over time that appreciative audience will grow.
Personalise the experience
Remember the old ‘Choose your adventure’ books? Well, they’ve gone digital now! TAC sent a chilling message to young texters by engaging them through their Facebook page in the ‘Road Trip Forever’ campaign. Let the user tell you about them and most of them will. Then use that information to personalise their story as much as possible, letting them immerse themselves in the experience. Use their name. Let them design an avatar. Use Facebook info. Ask them questions about themselves and adjust your content accordingly.
Surprise your audience
“Luke, I am your father,” that one (misquoted!) line blew the socks off an entire generation of Star Wars fans and redefined a genre. Use the same principal – surprise your user by leading them to expect something, perhaps even to feel clever about expecting it, and then providing them with something entirely different. Most successful viral videos follow this formula, after all everyone loves a good plot twist! Don’t be afraid to have fun!
Good content is visual
Great stories live in movies, in comic books and video games, what do these mediums have in common? They’re largely visual. 90% of the information processed by your brain is visual – pander to human nature, make sure any information you want to convey is succinct and visual. Make use of infographics when sharing significant milestones or data. Instead of a wall of text, why not use images to communicate those same ideas? Make sure to choose relevant and attention grabbing images that represent your brand’s story and message. Incorporate video into your story telling strategy – add a video of yourself as part of your About page, connect with people where they are already engaged – take advantage of the popularity of social video sharing sites like Vine and Instagram. Consider using User Generated Content as part of your story telling strategy, create contests or ask your customers to send in their videos related to a campaign you’re running. That way they too can participate in telling their stories and feel like a part of your community.
Last impressions last
Think back to how you felt in the final moments of the movie ‘Inception’, as the credits rolled you had this dawning realization that you had just witnessed greatness and then you probably tweeted about it! It’s in the first 20 seconds or so after engaging with your content that your user’s going to decide whether or not to hit the ‘share’ button. So don’t leave them with a bad taste in their mouth – put some thought into that final part of the experience. Don’t just hit them with a popup inviting them to share with friends, unless you’re absolutely sure that your content is that good. Remember that if users share your content with friends, that sharing will be their first contact with your content. So make sure your last impression with your users will leave a good first impression on their friends & family.
All great writers and directors honed their craft and their skills over time. So even if you start small, the longer you create content, the better you become at it and over time more and more spectators will be converted into subscribers.
Image Credit: The Grandfather Tells A Story, by Albert Anker, ca. 1884 under the Creative Commons License