This post is the first in a five-part blog series centered on the digital marketing topics that we most frequently discuss with our brand customers. Read on!
I recently read an article shared on The Huffington Post entitled "What Brands can Learn about Content Marketing from Disney." I thought it was a clever title--and post--since Disney is, as authors Genevieve Walker and Amanda Fayer note, the ultimate storyteller. While the post offered helpful insight into Disney's current content marketing strategy, I started to think about why Disney's tried-and-true narratives have endured since the company’s creation. Beyond that, I began to consider the fairy tale foundation that Disney sprung from. What was it about the Brothers Grimm and their 18th century "folk tale" curation that ultimately spawned a wildly successful film and entertainment franchise--thanks also to the savvy and acumen of Walt Disney--hundreds of years later?
Bear with me...
While "storytelling" has become something of a buzzword in the content marketing arena--its value and dare I say hype are warranted. And that's because the foundation for storytelling is always about relatability. At their core, I believe that fairy tales are also about common, everlasting themes that every child and young adult can relate to and learn from.
Case in point:
- Cinderella: inner beauty is integral to long-term success and happiness
- Snow White: narcissism will cause your demise
- Rapunzel: the human spirit is resilient
So what does all of this have to do with content marketing?
Well, there's a reason why fairy tales endure for generations, slightly retooled for each new audience: we all want to be entertained, and we're drawn to messages and themes--even lessons--that we find relatable. This is true in our everyday lives and in business. Thus, storytelling is integral to both brand building and sales. And, just as fairy tales have seen success throughout the ages, so too will content marketing. Here's why:
Content Marketing Helps us to Solve Common Problems
In my own experience, I seek out content from brands when I'm trying to solve a problem or gain insight into an issue I'm desperately trying to learn more about. For instance, have you written an ebook about taking advantage of Pinterest in a B2B setting? Most likely, I've downloaded it. Or, are you an expert on social media analytics and consistently blog about the latest related trends and processes? I need to start following you on Twitter, stat. Do you produce a video series about best practices for LinkedIn group management? Please send me a link to your video portal.
In this era of the anti-sales pitch, we search for information on our own before we sign up to be contacted by a sales team member. And, even if we know we're going to be added to a brand's prospecting database if we download a piece of collateral, we're still likely to do so if we think we might benefit from the information contained within. And the beauty is: once you've initiated the download, or bookmarked the blog post, it's yours to keep. You can consistently refer to it for insight and best practices, until an updated version comes along. It's also always nice to know that if there has been a piece of content created around a specific topic, then most likely other people in your profession/area of expertise are struggling with the same issues that you are. Strength in numbers! But, it's not enough to just have access to content. I want it to be interesting, relevant, delightful and teach me something that I don't already know.
Owned Media's Longer Shelf Life Gives it an Edge over "Rented" Media
While advertising has a shelf life, the benefits of content marketing can last forever. A great piece of content, ripe with appropriate keywords, can continue to boost SEO, generate traffic and drive leads long after its premiere. And, again, content that portrays authenticity and works to address a key pain point or core issue--that your audience can relate to and identify with--will retain its relevance far longer than an ad that is tied to a specific point in time or passing trend. That's not to say that advertising isn't valuable. A digital marketing strategy that accounts for both online ads (preferably video!) and original content will ultimately drive the greatest brand awareness and conversion.
Storytelling and the Customer Journey
The Content Marketing Institute has championed the various roles of content marketing throughout the customer journey. This post specifically discusses the "brand hero's" storytelling journey. I love the way the post's author Robert Rose details the progression of brand from status quo to innovator. Essentially, in order to transform into a powerhouse, revered content marketer, brands must:
- Be honest about their current market standing
- Identify the challenges associated with moving their brand forward and growing or establishing a leadership position
- Dismiss any challenges as insignificant
- Determine the best spokesperson to deliver the brand message
- Take a leap of faith by exploring new communications channels
- Do a SWOT analysis
- Define a "be all end all" end game and then execute on it
- Embrace their newfound position as a leading innovator in their space (what content marketing should always be about).
In Rose's analysis, brands (the hero) are the underdog that will ultimately triumph. Sounds like something a Disney character would do, right? And, harkening back to the fairy tale analogy again, there's a beginning, a middle and an end--plus a relatable "moral of the story"--for all successful content marketing plans.
Marketers are Placing their Bets on Content
Developing a solid, effective content marketing strategy takes a tremendous amount of work. It's not easy to develop a brand narrative that’s compelling, makes sense to all of your various audiences, is entertaining and engaging and--ultimately--also positively influences your bottom line. But, despite the struggle, brands are overwhelmingly committed to this process. Consider the fact that 95 percent of B2B companies use content marketing already, and 46 percent of organizations in the B2B realm will increase their content marketing spend this year. The marketers and operational executives approving these expenses are smart people, and they're doing so for a reason: they recognize the long-term value of quality content and understand that the effort they put forth now will offer a positive return for months--or years--to come.
So what's the moral of my story with this long and slightly convoluted blog post? Storytelling is an original art form that has prevailed for centuries for a reason: it's built upon relatability, empathy and universal themes. Given the medium's history, it's surprising that is has taken brands so long to understand the value of speaking about their businesses in a way--both useful and entertaining--that their target market(s) can identify with. But, now that they have, the possibilities for success with content marketing are endless. Undoubtedly, content marketing, like its storytelling, fairy tale counterpart that came before, has a long and fruitful future.