October 17, 2018

7 Storytelling Ideas For Your Content Marketing


shelves full of books
So many stories. Photo courtesy Ugur Akdemir

There’s something magical that happens when you read the words “Once Upon a Time….”  Stories draw you in, and content marketing is, in its essence, storytelling. A ‘just the facts, ma’am’ approach will not get your audience’s attention, nor will it convert them to leads. Instead, you need to build narratives that potential customers can relate to as they browse topics related to your company and industry.

That’s not a shocker. To any experienced content marketer, this emphasis on storytelling is common knowledge. Taking the next step, though, is just a bit more difficult. How do you know where to start?

Finding good stories to tell is easier than it might seem. You just have to know where to look. Consider these 7 ideas to get you started. Use them to go beyond fact land and journey into the fascinating world of marketing stories.

1) The Brand Origin Story

The basic truth about your business is also a significant storytelling opportunity. In fact, you’ve probably told it countless times. Just where did your brand come from? How did it first originate, and how has it developed to the point where it is now?

Don’t limit yourself to official dates, founder names, or a mission statement. Instead, build a story around it. Start with the impetus to build a business, and what prompted it. Introduce the characters involved. Describe how the need to solve a core challenge has evolved over the years. Keep it in a narrative format to spark and maintain audience attention.

Consider how Levi’s tells its history in a story that closely connects the brand with American values and is steeped in nostalgia.

2) The Grand Vision

Just as you can (and should) look backwards, the way ahead offers another great opportunity. Any forward-facing company has ideas about how the industry, and as a result, the brand will develop over the next few years. Now, it’s time to turn those thoughts into action. Why not make that vision accessible to your audience in the form of a story?

This type of vision-focused content works best when subtly supported by third-party evidence. That might be recent consumer survey data, or an independent expert who makes a similar prediction. It is, in a way, a more comprehensive and narrative version of your vision statement.

In one example, the University of Ottawa outlines its vision for the future in the framework of larger educational goals:

3) The Behind the Scenes Look

Going behind the scenes of your brand’s physical or digital facade is one of the core tactics in content marketing. To turn these into good stories to tell your audience, consider going beyond the raw footage of your mail room or production facility. Instead, find a focal point, and build your story around it.

That focal point may be an employee who plays a hidden but crucial part in getting your customers their product or service. It may be a seemingly complex process that is interesting to show and explain. Or it may simply be a fun video designed not for insight, but humor.

DollarShaveClub’s introductory viral ad from 2012 is the perfect example of the latter. Warning: The following contains as much fun as valuable information about the company.


4) The Customer as Hero

Every story needs a hero. For your company, that hero is most likely to be the customer. So why not position them accordingly? Consider building stories that focus not on your own brands, but those that benefit from it.

Ideally, this type of content takes a classic problem-solution storytelling approach: a customer encounters a problem, which initially seems insurmountable. Through your product or service, they are able to solve it. But again, be careful about making that process too straightforward. Instead, build a narrative that helps your audience relate to the protagonist, and be relieved that they found a solution in the end.

This type of story can shine through in a variety of ways. In one video, Under Armour positions ballet star Misty Copeland as an underdog everyone can relate to, a hero worthy of admiration and empathy alike:

5) The Metaphor-Driven Approach

Almost every message, even those that aren’t natural fits for traditional storytelling, can be enhanced through metaphors. Forbes.com offers the example of explaining the difference between inbound and outbound marketing through a pizza party metaphor. The same general concept can work well in a number of other scenarios as well.

First, find metaphors that your target audience would relate to. Next, find overlaps between the topics you’re looking to cover in your content calendar, and these metaphors. Then use the intersection between both to build more relatable content in a wide range of topics.

6) The Challenge to Overcome

Overhead view of two people shaking hands over a table

Similar to the ‘customer as hero’ story idea, this approach takes advantage of the basic human need for resolution. Go into depths explaining a particular challenge that your company recently encountered. This might have been a failed business goal, a PR issue that potential customers have heard about, or something else. Then, build towards the ways in which you plan to or have already overcome that challenge.

Emphasizing the business challenges you face in relatable ways builds a connection to potential and current customers, who tend to appreciate the honesty. You can even leave this story somewhat open-ended, ready for suggestions on how to overcome it or potential customer involvement to move forward. Once you get your audience to buy in, their loyalty to your brand will increase drastically.

7) The Industry Deep Dive

Finally, don’t be afraid to go beyond your own company. Stories are waiting in every aspect of business, and that includes the larger industry in which you operate. For example, you can pick up on a key industry trend that might become relevant to your customers in the near future. Outline the trend in broad strokes, and build content around how your company might be able to solve it.

Similar to the grand vision, this type of story works best with external support. The more you involve external sources in a relatable way, the more believable your solution will be once presented. Don’t be afraid to dive deep into the details of your industry if you feel confident that you can explain it in terms your audience can understand.

Building Better Content Marketing Through Storytelling

Of course, none of the above exist in isolation. Rome wasn’t built just by stone masons. Instead, get creative. Combine a number of these story ideas to make your content even more compelling. A metaphor, for instance, may be perfect to explain industry details that are otherwise difficult to understand.

Still, a key fact remains: there are countless stories out there, just waiting to be told. Even within these 7 examples, you can build a comprehensive content strategy designed to leverage audience attention. And once the ideas start flowing, you can even go beyond them. Contact us to maximize your storytelling opportunity through more effective content marketing.