Tell me a story


Note – this post originally appeared on my agency’s blog.

Many, many brands have jumped on the content marketing bandwagon —from huge companies practically morphing into quasi-news organizations to mom-and-pops blogging to boost SEO. Content, to borrow a cliché, is king. But, the question is, what content? Recent research from the UK suggests eight out of ten readers are more likely to engage with brands that tell stories as a key part of their content marketing. Here are some guidelines on “storifying” your content to make it more attractive to your audience:

Include a human element

Consider the most mundane content you produce – is there a way to add a human element to it? Find the person behind the new product. Who came up with the innovation you’re announcing to the world in that news release? Is there someone who you can profile whose life has been improved by your offering? These are far more compelling than the typical dry lists of features and benefits. Chipotle could have produced a video of its CEO espousing brand values around nutrition and animal rights, but instead it produced a dramatic, remarkable animated short film that gathered 6 million views and won a Lion at Cannes. Now, I realize you might not have the budget Chipotle had, but that shouldn’t stop you from finding the human element to your content.

A great way to find the people behind your product is to connect with your internal audience – your employees – to gather true stories of the connections they make every day. So often they go beyond what’s required to truly make a difference in your customers’ lives.

Feature everyday people

The research also shows your content will benefit from featuring real people, saying those provide the best, most relatable stories. This means your content will gain more traction if it features a customer (or “regular” employee, as mentioned in the point above) than if it features a CEO or celebrity. You see examples of this in the content shared by RedBull and GoPro.

Have a sense of humor

Humor is another key element in successful brand stories, with a majority of respondents saying they believe it’s the genre that makes the best brand stories. In addition, consumers of all ages say they prefer humorous stories instead of inspirational or surprising ones. That might be why satirical news outlet The Onion has opened up its own content studio creating “Onionized” content for brands, including a video series poking fun of fantasy football for Lenovo.

Humanity, featuring everyday people, and a dash of humor will help engage your audience with authentic content.

Three reasons higher ed can win at content marketing

I spent some time on the campus of a local university yesterday talking about marketing and communications. A good hunk of my career has been spent on campus or in higher education organizations. There’s a lot of great things about working in higher ed – the energy of a college campus is amazing, and working with young people starting out in their careers is always a joy. What can be annoying is the slow pace of some higher ed professionals compared with those in the higher sector. But one area higher ed is winning is content marketing- here are three reasons why:

An alumni or university magazine is, essentially, a content marketing piece. That content needs to live beyond the 36 pages/3 times a year the magazine appears. Come back to that content to feed social media updates, development materials and recruitment pieces. Here’s how this could play out: Let’s say you write a great feature about a graduate who has gone on to be a successful actress in Hollywood. A year after the feature appears the actress gets another leading role in a TV show. If you’ve got a savvy social media strategy with an “always on” mindset, this news needs to be shared through all social media channels, but link back to the original story for context and background. An abbreviated version of the story can add some credibility to recruitment materials, and I think the fact that your fine arts program turned out a successful actress is darned sight more compelling than the usual “letter from the dean” asking for money.

The second way higher ed can win is to leverage students on campus to help produce the content. Journalism/PR students would love the chance to get a work sample, so why not assign some feature content to them? Student blogs are also a great opportunity to engage students and develop authentic content from enthusiastic undergrads.

Finally, I think universities and other higher education organizations can leverage the content already being produced by professors around campus to build a robust, compelling content calendar. I’m not suggesting colleges post the 200 page dissertation Dr. Smith did on the mating habits of the fruit fly, but if there are some fun bits of information that can be shared based on the paper. It means your marketing people or editors have to be plugged in to the academics around campus, but they already are, aren’t they?

Yet another best-of

ImageAs we wrap up 2012, add this to the pile of ‘best of’ articles to read. Ad Age shows us a collection of some of the better “native advertising”/content marketing campaigns of the year. One thing to not about each of these campaigns – they fit in nicely with the brand they represent. I saw Red Bull’s printed magazine the other day while waiting for my car to be finished at the shop and was really impressed – it totally reflects the hyper-caffeinated lifestyle of every Red Bull drinker I’ve met. What are your favorite content marketing campaigns of ’12?