Engaging communities and accomplishing goals with first-rate story-telling is the essence of content marketing and brand journalism, two disciplines taking off with social media’s skyrocketing growth. Being able to speak directly to your audience by publishing content and forgoing the often large and costly effort involved in media relations or push marketing, is an incredible boon to organizations. Done well it can massively boost companies’ fortunes by attracting new customers, increasing market share and, when executed with precision, building an audience of disciples not just followers.
River Pools, profiled in Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman’s Content Rules a top-notch content creation guide, provides an outstanding example of how superlative content marketing and spot-on story telling can kick a company’s engine into high gear. In a few years, its social media strategy propelled it into the top five per cent of all in-ground pool companies in the USA. Not bad for a single shop business in Virginia facing bankruptcy in 2009. River Pools is not alone in its success; other companies killing it with virtuoso story-telling include Cisco, Home Depot and Boeing.
Not everyone, however, is hitting it out of the ballpark. In fact, some are missing the ball entirely, wasting valuable resources developing stories that fail to connect with the target audience. Writing narratives that hook the reader and leave them wanting more is an easy enough goal to achieve, it just requires knowing and employing the key fundamentals to good storytelling. Here are the ones I keep top-of-mind when aiming for the bleachers:
- Know your target audience: Creating content that grabs your audiences’ attention with a herculean grip and doesn’t let go until the story is finished requires a solid understanding of your audience. Develop a true appreciation of the attributes that characterize and distinguish this key group. Knowing their needs, interests and concerns and, as Handley and Chapman say “what keeps them up at night” equips you to develop captivating customer-centric stories. Audience knowledge is also pivotal to developing a unique and relatable voice, my next tip.
- Develop a distinct and relatable voice: Voice is a concept just as essential to brand journalism and organizational storytelling as it is to good fiction. Be sure to write with a voice, or style, that reflects your brand’s identity and relates to your target audience. For example, if you’re aiming your arrow at university students avoid language that’s formal, staid or laden with business babble. Instead give your story vibrancy by peppering it with dynamic phrasing, words and colloquialisms they use.
- Inform, educate, inspire or entertain: High value content, or in other words content that benefits the target market in some way by informing, educating, inspiring or entertaining them is critical to creating a compelling narrative. Identify your target audience’s top issues and concerns and use those hot topics as the basis for a story. Leveraging your expertise to answer questions or solve problems is a sure-fire route to success and it positions you as a thought leader, an awesome tactic for developing a committed and loyal audience. Avoid self-promotion as the net effect typically is an audience that turns off and tunes out. Instead take a page out of Home Depot’s book; it avoids the hard sell by sharing its DIY knowledge in a strictly informational way and in the process moves a lot of product.
- Keep it real: “Authentic” and “factual” are critical components to developing credibility with your target audience. Avoid spin at all costs; it reeks with an odour easily identifiable by even the most naïve of audiences. Not only will they disconnect from the story but your reputation as a great source of top notch information wafts away. Provide rich examples, speak from the heart and let people know you’re human. Thoroughly review the context and wording to ensure it’s an honest and transparent representation of the situation. When dealing with statistics be especially careful as small changes to wording can result in a big change when it comes to the meaning of the numbers.
- Polish it so it shines: Edit, proof-read and polish your story so that it’s as dynamic and sharp as it can possibly be. Typos, awkward phrasing or excess words distract the reader from the story and the message is lost in the verbiage. Keep it bright and as light as possible with ruthless editing that strengthens rather than diminishes impact or meaning.
Bottomline, if you’re not leveraging brand journalism to move your organization’s goals forward you’re missing out on a massive opportunity. Capitalize on it by underpinning your stories with these core principles and create content that is beneficial, relevant, authentic and relatable. If you do, you’ll hit it out of the ballpark every time.