How to Tell Valuable On-Brand Stories People Will Love

Posted October 19, 2017

This is the fourth part in a series on how to create a content strategy.

So far, we’ve introduced the concept, learned how to identify your audience, and identified which marketing channels you should use. After all that, we can finally start talking about the content you plan on creating. Because it’s not going to create itself!

You should spend just as much time on this part of your strategy as you do on identifying your audience. You could tell great stories, but if they don’t line up with a cohesive strategy that creates value for your readers, they’re not going to go anywhere. They won’t help you.

I’m a big believer in the content is king” mantra that’s all the rage in today’s marketing. The internet is an equalizer, and it’s giving all of us a platform to tell our stories. Every brand is becoming their own publisher. But if you use your platform to tell the wrong stories, you might as well not create that content at all.

Before you create any content or tell any of your stories, you need to make sure it’s the right fit for your brand.

It’s easier than you think to identify what’s right or wrong for your platform. I’ve been following Apple for years, and I love writing about the company. But writing about Apple on my design blog is a poor fit. (I do that at Overly Opinionated instead.)

Rather than write about Apple, I’m writing content designed to attract the business owners I’m interested in working in. I want to work with businesses who are interested in cohesive strategies for online-based marketing. Empowering businesses to make the most of their existing website and marketing tools is a great way for me to find that audience.

Some businesses have been designed with their story in mind. There’s an ice cream shop near my apartment called Sweet Jesus. Their entire business model is based around their extremely photogenic ice cream. Let me put it bluntly: this has made them bigon Instagram. They’ve got 110k followers, and they’re a new business. They let their customers tell the story: soft serve, beautifully decorated.

You’ll note the different strategies here. I choose to write and focus on my newsletter. Writing to an audience puts me in a position of power, and (so long as I write clearly and well) gives me a voice of authority on a particular topic.

Sweet Jesus is letting their audience tell their story. They let the pictures do the talking. Apple does the same thing with their Shot on iPhone” campaign.

Storytelling for B2C Businesses

If you’re running a B2C business, giving your customers an incentive to share your story is a powerful marketing tool. Sweet Jesus’ Instagram followers (and long lineups, even during winter) don’t lie. Their audience has built that brand for them at an astonishing pace.

The challenge is finding a way to let your audience tell that story. Here’s a pro tip: find out what differentiates you, and let audiences riff on that. Sweet Jesus makes ice cream look like art. Apple makes the best consumer camera in the world, and it also make phone calls. What’s your differentiator?

If you’ve been following this series, you’ll already have figured some of this out. I’d encourage you to read about identifying your audience, if you haven’t already done so. That article will walk you through identifying the problem you solve for customers — even if it’s an ego-driven or vanity-based problem, like photogenic ice cream.

Storytelling for B2B Businesses

If you run a B2B business, though, your strategy needs to be a little bit different. For almost every B2B business, I recommend the same strategy: give away the farm.

This makes every business owner I’ve ever met cringe. Some of them lean in, appearing interested, but it’s obvious they’re looking for an exit. They don’t want to share what they consider trade secrets. But the thing is, those trade secrets are the reason people buy from you. Sharing them won’t make customers run away. It will make it easier for them to find you.

By telling people how to create a content strategy, I haven’t eliminated the need for my consulting business. If I made a course on how to build a WordPress website, that wouldn’t stop people from asking me for help.

Usually, trade secrets aren’t actually secrets, and they’re rarely proprietary. We all figured out the Big Mac secret sauce recipe years ago (mayo, relish, white vinegar, salt, French dressing, white onion, and sugar, if you’re wondering). But that doesn’t stop us buying the burgers.

Here’s why we keep buying Big Macs: we know we can’t make them better than McDonald’s, and we know McDonald’s has more experience making them than we do. Plus, you know, it’s convenient.

If we all knew how to build a Corolla, it’d still be the best-selling car in North America. And guess how many people would buy Honda’s Corolla clone? Not many. Honda won’t win many Toyota customers by making me-too cars.

If you run a B2B business, you need to find your differentiator. And then you need to share everything you can about it. Tell me how to take better corporate headshots. Teach me how to set up a corporate server. Your experience and firsthand knowledge will make you much better at it than anybody else.

Create Value

At the end of the day, you need to create value for your customers. Make them look cooler on social media. Give them advice they’re looking for. All these things make people seek you out. Your audience will come to you during their buying cycle. And they’ll be more likely to buy from you.

Telling stories like this create value for your customers. They empower them to become better versions of themselves.

The best part is, when you market yourself like this, you have no reason to feel scummy about it. There’s nothing fishy about it. At the end of the day, it’s entirely opt-in. That’s marketing you can be proud of.

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