Somewhere along the way, a marketing person (or, to be fair, a bunch of marketing people) put forward the idea that “story telling” was one of the keys to better marketing.
That includes some serious players in marketing land, including Simon Sinek with “people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it” and sort of culminated in Donald Miller's excellent book “Building a Story Brand”.
And all of the things they said were correct: story telling can be a compelling way to share more than just “facts”, inject more personality into our content marketing, and create tendrils of connection with our potential clients which otherwise wouldn't come through with dry academic pieces.
But let's be honest – we've kind of taken it to extremes.
Story Time with Chris
Now, in order to be told that I should probably register my trademark, I need to wade through a story about how you were brushing your teeth one day and noticed the brand of the toothbrush in the mirror, which sparked an interest about branding and the particular item in question, which in turn (after your morning coffee and crossword, which was surprisingly difficult that day) you found that the toothbrush company in question hadn't protected its mark in your country, and you reached out to them and helped them out, and 240 exchanges later VOILA – lesson learned, everyone should register their trademarks.
Or for a classic non-legal example, have you tried looking up a recipe these days? I've got the perfect roast lamb recipe for you. But first I need to tell you about my family's connection with lamb, because it's a special meat to us. About 250 years ago, my ancestors knew somebody who owned a lamb, you see, and they were quite jealous. One day they decided to steal the lamb from its owner, so they could have a lamb of their own. [insert rest of story here – 38 pages later you'll find out that we rub it with salt and push some rosemary into it before roasting for around 20 minutes per half kg at 180c].
And, of course, we have the problem that lots of people can't come up with an interesting story and so they just lie. Or, of course, you could just claim other people's stories as your own like Liz Haigh (allegedly) did…
Finally, if you've been on LinkedIn recently, I'm sure you'll have noticed that some people have become experts in one line paragraphs…
with stories that go on…
and on…[emoji emoji emoji]
and on…[emoji goes here]
[emoji]to make a simple point.
Babies and Bathwater
Despite the slightly negative opening, I actually embrace the idea of story telling forming part of a good content marketing strategy.
What I don't embrace is the idea that every single thing you write, record, share or post has to involve a detailed personal story of some kind.
Because let's be honest – sometimes that's just wasting your readers' time. The story isn't necessary, and you're wedging it in there because somebody told you that story telling made for good marketing.
So let's not necessarily toss the baby out with the bathwater and avoid story telling altogether.
Let's just do it properly.
How to Use Story Telling Effectively in Content Marketing
So there are a few questions to ask.
First – does the story itself actually add to your content? Does it make it funnier, more relatable, relevant or readable?
Next – do all the elements of the story meet the description in (1) or not?
Then – is all your content some kind of massive story – is it getting a bit old?
And… – where are you posting this story? Does the ecosystem of the channel allow for story telling of the kind you're trying to engage in?
Finally – does telling this story more likely than not invite your readers to take an action that you want them to take? Does it raise the bar of being known, liked and trusted more than NOT including the story would?
Just a few relevant questions to ask.
Story telling is awesome. But do it right.