Upon occasion, I used to be the girl who fell asleep in history class. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true. It’s not that the history didn’t have value; I just didn’t have enough of a connection to the material to pay attention. Maybe it was the vehicle in which the material was being delivered; the textbook and the teachers in some cases, at other times it might’ve been the story itself…
As it relates to our professional lives, we are constantly consuming information and some of it sticks, while some of it doesn’t. Does that immediately correlate to how it’s delivered – blog posts, reports, news media, social or online video? Or is it again, the story and how it’s told? If our audiences don’t have enough of a connection with our content, they’re not going to care enough to consider the value.
Beyond giving value, we need to give context, relatability, intrigue, connectivity… In other words, we need to tell a story.
Storytelling is an art. It takes thoughtful crafting and intuitive development to be effective. It’s something everyone can do, but it’s also something that takes work to perfect. Perhaps it’s also why content marketing research shows that 92% of marketers hold creating high-quality content to be valuable or very valuable, but only 54% can actually execute effectively on that perceived value. If you want your audience to get the most value out of your content, you need to have a good story to support it.
To ensure your content has a story, and that it’s resonating with your audience (and not putting them to sleep at their desks), here are six key questions to ask in order to be effective.
Question 1: Who is the hero?
Any good story has a hero or a focus or a protagonist – do you know who your hero is in your content? Have you established who or what represents the change from real, relatable circumstances to an ideal, desirable end? As marketers, our heroes more often than not are our target audiences – the people who we want to see winning in the end.
Question 2: What is the sequence?
What do you want your readers to take away from your content, and what’s the best way to get them to that end? Does the form of your content suit its intended function? Before you put pen to page, or get cracking on content creation, you need to know what you want to cover, and in what order that material should be presented. Is your story best conveyed in a concise, direct timeline from point A to point B, or are your readers already at point C but unsure of how they got there? If you want to drive conversions with your content, your story needs map to that destination.
Question 3: When is the conflict?
When can you interject a little unexpected punch to keep your readers engaged? When do your readers need a jolt of emotion or intrigue to maintain interest? All good stories have a conflict, a challenge, an unexpected twist, or some kind of problem that readers want to see solved. Sometimes it’s best to set this hook early, sometimes you need to have a decent build up in order to give the conflict enough weight, but it always has to be somewhere in your story. What’s the pain point, and how does it get addressed? What’s keeping your audience up at night, and how do they get better? What’s lurking in the dark, and how do your readers stay safe? For any value you want to convey in your content, your story needs a conflict in order to make that value more meaningful.
Question 4: Where are the facts?
Where do you need your audience to buy in to your story? Where might you lose them if things aren’t adding up? Even the most fanciful stories of fiction are grounded in some truth, so your story always needs a solid foundation of facts. Do you have supporting data? Is there a study you can cite to back up your claim? Just as Aberdeen research shows that it takes 10 marketing touches, on average, to progress a net-new prospect to a closed-won deal, your story also needs to provide enough factual touches to keep your audience’s trust from beginning to end.
Question 5: How does it all come together?
After you’ve built the story – ask yourself these questions again… make sure that your answers are the same and they are achieving what you set out to do with the story. Similar to how a developer would QA their own work, a content creator needs to do the same. You may even perfect all the individual components of your story, but upon review, the piece as a whole may not have the clarity or coherence necessary to be compelling. Do all the individual components of the story add up to one piece, and does the one piece support all of the story’s individual components? For an effective story, both must be true.
Question 6: Why does the audience care?
Why is your story interesting to your audience? As a marketer, you’ll want to answer this this question when promoting your content. Use it as your main theme throughout your promotion campaign. Use it as the title of your story, or your pitched blog posts. Use it however you like, but be sure this interesting aspect is also aligned to the overall value the content is intended to deliver. What’s the biggest takeaway from the story? What will your audience learn? What’s your recommendation? Effective content marketing requires effectively marketed content, so in finalizing your story, be sure that the whole piece still delivers the value it was initially created to convey.
With these six questions in hand, you are now ready to conquer the story writing world. I’m sure you’ve got a fond memory or two from your high school history days, do share your tidbits in the comments section below and make a note on why you felt like that piece of history stuck with you – was it the textbook? the teacher? Or the story itself?
For more useful tips on content marketing, download Aberdeen’s free report, 5 Habits of Highly Effective Content Marketers.