Repeat After Me: Producing Content Does Not Equal Storytelling | Marketing Maestros | Blogs | ANA

Repeat After Me: Producing Content Does Not Equal Storytelling

October 29, 2019

By Erin Craft

AndSim/Getty Images

Our brains are wired for stories — to crave them, to devote attention to them, to believe and then act on them. Evolutionary biologists confirm that 100,000 years of reliance on stories have hardwired human brains to prefer stories and to think in story structures (see Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story, by scientist and engineer Kendall Haven). Stories seep into our conscious mind and stay in our memory, and they are far more likely to be recalled accurately and acted upon than pure data and details, according to research.

You still need the data and details, though. You still need content, i.e., product specifications and case studies. But marketers have to understand the difference between inspiring and informing. They also need to recognize the moment when they should switch from one to the other. Most B2B marketers get it, at least in theory. Yet in execution, things can get muddled.

Let’s consider the differences between story and content, how they each map to the B2B customer journey, and how B2B brands can unlock a treasure trove of stories.


What Story Is, and What Isn’t

Stories have elements that content does not. For starters, characters and emotions. Humans don’t form connections with facts. They connect with people. So, a story needs characters to evoke emotion, empathy, or a feeling of recognition from your audience. This doesn’t mean a story can’t have some facts in it — it can. But character and plot come first.

Tell a story your audience cares about, and they will, by virtue, begin to care about you and want to know more. It’s like when you watch a movie and you like it so much; you want to see the behind-the-scenes footage. Use story to set up an emotional attachment to your brand. Then pay off that investment with facts (read: content).


When to Use Story Versus Content

Knowing when to transition from story to content requires an in-depth understanding of each audience and their path to purchase. Exactly when varies depending on your brand, or even the specific product you are marketing or audience group you are targeting. That is one of my problems with the visual representation of the marketing funnel. In some depictions, it suggests that each stage of the customer journey is the same length, which tempts marketers to oversimplify, creating, say, two upper-funnel pieces, two consideration pieces, etc.

In general, you will switch to content more quickly if you have strong brand recognition. On the other hand, if you are trying to break into a new market, reach a new audience group, or change perceptions, you will need to elongate the story portion of your marketing strategy to establish that emotional connection. The “discovery” stage could be 80% of your funnel! Or, it could be quite small.


Where to Hide Your Stories (Hint: In Plain Sight)

For B2B brands, the easiest place to draw a story from is client and partner relationships. They are your readymade characters. Draw on their experiences and emotions to create powerful stories your audience relates to and cares about.

Remember, these stories aren’t case studies. “We installed this machine for our client and the result was XYZ” might be part of supporting content, but it is not a story. The story is the movie, and the detailed case study is the behind-the-scenes — the peek behind the curtain.


Whoops: The Mistake Marketers Keep Making

So why and how do things go wrong? Marketers are responsible for supporting the whole funnel. They are creating assets and strategies for every phase, on a budget and on a timeline. That is hard, and mistakes, understandably, happen. Rarely does someone shove story into content, but people do try to shoehorn content into story.

Think about it. How many times have you or someone on the team reviewed a story and asked, “Can’t we get them to say this one word or add this one fact about the product?” The logic is sound: add the messaging to cement the connection between the story and the supporting content. But your audience is smart. Shoving messaging into story ruins the flow, detracting from the story’s quality and power. Story can, and should, have a call to action (CTA). Maybe it is to consume the supporting piece of content or watch another story. But that is different from forcing the marketing line into the narrative.

Choosing to focus on story on the frontend of the buyer journey does not negate the need for content. In fact, it makes that need stronger, and that content more effective. Just be sure you understand the difference.

Erin Craft is VP at Centerline Digital.

The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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