Content marketing involves creating and sharing blogs, videos, podcasts, social media posts, website articles, and other forms of content designed to inform, educate, or entertain your target audiences. It is a method of driving consumer behavior that does not rely on hard sell pitches. To execute a successful content marketing campaign, your brand must offer content that people will actively seek out, eagerly consume, and happily share.
The long-term payoffs of content marketing can include greater brand awareness in your niches, increased site traffic, and higher sales numbers. But in order to achieve those results, you’ll have to create engaging content that really connects with people. This is the reason that any content marketing strategy developed for today must involve storytelling. Why? Let me tell you a story…
Once upon a time there was a very beautiful, kindhearted, and unhappy girl. She was always grimy because her wicked stepmother and stepsisters made her do all the housework. All the girls in her village were invited to a party at the royal palace, but her stepmother refused to allow her to go. She wanted to sneak in, but she was filthy and had nothing to wear. Luckily for her, she made friends with a magical old woman who cleaned her up and gave her a stunning new outfit. She went to the party, met the prince, found her true love, ran away when the magic spell (and her dress) faded, lost a shoe, was reunited with the prince (and the shoe), got married, and lived happily ever after.
What’s the girl’s name?
Ding-ding-ding, you are correct: Cinderella, of course! Though she is also known as Aschenputtel in Germany, Cendrillion in France, Cenerentola in Italy, Yeh-hsien in China, and by many other names around the world. There are over 1,500 versions of Cinderella, most of them centuries old. Charles Perrault published the first known written version in 1697, but people passed this tale down from generation to generation, beginning long before that date. No matter what name she has been called by, the story of this girl’s rise from servant to princess has always captured our ears, hearts, and minds. We’ve remembered and shared it across the ages.
It is human nature that when we love a story, we pass it on. The technology used to share Cinderella’s story has changed rapidly over time, but the plucky heroine has kept up every step of the way. Her story made the leap from oral history to written text, to opera, then movies, television shows, and now the internet. I just Googled Cinderella and found 28,700,000 search results (though to be honest, one of the top hits is about a certain big haired metal band from Philadelphia).
What Cinderella can teach us about online marketing
In the internet age, we can share stories faster and more widely than any generation that came before us. Audience engagement and social sharing are the twin engines that power online marketing today. You don’t need a fairy godmother to conjure up engaging, sharable content. You just have to harness the power of storytelling. The fame and longevity of the Cinderella tale shows us that engaging stories:
— Travel across geographical and cultural borders
— Endure for long stretches of time
— Effortlessly make the leap from medium to medium
Why are these things true? They are true because our brains are wired to pay attention to, remember, and share stories we connect with.
What kinds of stories should you tell?
[quote float=”right”]You don’t have a fairy godmother on staff, but you might have a kind-hearted employee who elevated customer service to an act of heroism and changed a customer’s life.[/quote]Share stories about real people on your website, blog, and social media channels to encourage audience engagement. A marketing firm with a team of creative writers can help you identify which of your stories are more likely to inspire engagement. If you are working on your own content strategy and are looking for simple advice to follow, here it is: Tell stories about people who were transformed in some way by an encounter with your company, products, staff, or industry. You don’t have a fairy godmother on staff, but you might have a kind-hearted employee who elevated customer service to an act of heroism and changed a customer’s life. Clients can and should be heroes of your stories too. Just make sure that whatever story you share is relevant to the audience you want to reach.
How can you tell if a story will serve your business goals?
Developing and implementing a creative online marketing strategy takes time, resources, and energy. To get a return on your investment you’ve got to make sure you are delivering content that serves your company’s marketing and business goals. Your strategy must be based on solid market research that shows how your audience is searching for your products and services online. What keywords do they use? Which subjects are more likely to capture attention and lead to sales? Examine that raw data, combine it with an understanding of the narrative appeal of your company and your product, and then merge these elements in an engaging marketing strategy that can play out in multiple online arenas.
How Outrider USA used storytelling to achieve success
Electric bike manufacturer Outrider USA is one local company that effectively wove storytelling into a successful online marketing campaign. In 2014 the Outrider team waged a Kickstarter campaign to bring a new adaptive electric trike from concept to full production. The Horizon was designed to be an all terrain adventure vehicle that could be ridden by people of all levels of physical ability—including quadriplegics and paraplegics. The marketing for the Horizon Kickstarter was designed around the stories of real people.
In the video that was posted on their Kickstarter site, Outrider co-founders Jesse Lee and Tommy Ausherman tell viewers they were put on the path to creating the Horizon when they received a phone call from Dr. Chris Wenner. Chris then tells his own story in his own words: “I was an avid cyclist in high school and as a kid. I broke my neck at 17, and one of the hardest parts of adjusting was not being able to ride.” Chris has been quadriplegic since that accident, but he never gave up the dream of riding a bike again. He had been working on a prototype for an adaptive bike and contacted the Outrider team to ask them for help. That phone call led to a transformational collaboration. In the same video, Jesse Lee explains that before they began working with Chris on the Horizon, Outrider was solely focused on building high tech bikes that could break records. “We were having a lot of fun but it was definitely missing that bigger purpose. When Chris got in touch and started telling us about the excitement and the freedom he felt riding his trike we knew we were onto something much, much bigger.”
These stories were the heart of the marketing for Outrider’s Kickstarter campaign. The product was super cool—a high tech bike with innovative features. But there are a lot of cool e-bikes on the market. Storytelling made their product stand out, grabbed the attention of their target audience, and drove home the fact that their product was empowering for people of all levels of ability. Chris’s story illustrates that in a way that nothing else could. At the end of the video he says: “The feeling of riding this is exactly like I recall riding my mountain bike in high school before my injury. It was awesome then; it is awesome now.”
These stories garnered a lot of attention for Outrider. Online and print media outlets around the world, including Fast Company, TreeHugger, and Gizmag, reported on the Horizon Kickstarter campaign. Stories about the Horizon and about the collaboration between Chris and Outrider were shared widely through social media channels. Donations poured in. Outrider blew past their original goal and raised a total of $126,231. The first Horizons will be shipping out to customers in 2015.
The moral of the story
Engaging content is much more likely to invite social sharing, build links, increase site traffic, and convert strangers into friends and customers. As the widespread and enduring popularity of the Cinderella tale shows us, stories are one of the most captivating forms of media ever devised. The most successful content marketing strategies today integrate creative storytelling with today’s best practices for SEO, public relations, and social media marketing. Using this method you’ll build brand awareness among the people you want to reach, capture the attention of your audience, and encourage more people to become a fan of your brand. So, what’s your Cinderella story? I’ll be looking for it online.
Mandy Gardner is the Director of Content Development for JB Media Group.