From your company’s site search engine ranking to the number of quality sales leads you receive, good storytelling and valued content reaps reward
Whether your company’s digital marketing strategy is successful or not depends on one key element: consistently producing and publishing great content.
Online and offline, we are bombarded by an unending stream of corporate messaging and advertising wherever we look or go. Naturally, we ignore content that does not interest us or that we regard as hype.
Entertaining and interesting content that centres on your audience’s interests or needs, meanwhile, spikes engagement levels, builds brand loyalty and trust, strengthens your website’s organic search engine ranking, and lifts your sales figures.
Think about it. You’re a consumer, too. When you’re online, what grabs your attention? Content and messaging rife with corporate jargon, spelling errors, and poor grammar? Or content that clearly and succinctly addresses a challenge you face, is educational, or useful to you in some way?
Can You Tell Your Customers’ Story Effectively?
Fifteen seconds. According to digital content analytics company Chartbeat, that’s about the average length of time visitors to your website spend reading your content.
And don’t be coaxed into thinking if someone socially shares a link to one of your webpages or blogs that they read it first. Some social sharers do, but many don’t. A joint study by researchers at Columbia University and the French National Institute revealed, “though social networks commonly measure a story’s popularity in shares, researchers found that 59% of all links shared in their sample went unclicked, and presumably unread.”
But here’s more promising news: data from the Pew Research Center finds smartphone users will spend an average of one to two minutes reading news articles provided they are well-written and of interest to them. Additionally, having a mobile-friendly website goes a long way toward attracting and retaining mobile-based audiences.
Nevertheless, it still presents you with a formidable challenge. And if you’re still reading this article, consider you need to be able to produce impactful, compelling, and SEO-optimized content that is of interest to your intended audience for a broad range of digital and print properties, including:
- Thought-leadership articles
- Customer-facing emails
- Social media channels
- Digital and traditional advertisements
- Printed trade show marketing collateral
- Case studies
- White papers
- Video scripts
In light of the above, there are other important factors to weigh. Can you tell your target customers’ story well? Can you write concisely about how your company and its products and services solve people’s problems? Do you have the time to do it on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis consistently? And do you have the bandwidth and know-how to track the effectiveness of your content marketing efforts?
Admittedly, that last one was a trick question. Determining how strong your content’s performance is (the return-on-investment) at increasing your sales leads and revenues is no simple feat. Why? Because content marketing is a long play, and you need to decide which metrics are important to track.
For example, many companies and publications are taking a different approach to online measurement. By switching from solely tracking the number of pageviews and click-thrus to including time-on-site and other attention-focussed metrics, their goal is to try to infer which content resonates with their audiences most.
Good Storytelling Creates Value
Good storytelling stirs interest and creates meaning, fosters contemplation in its readers, and in turn, becomes valuable to your intended audience. But not everyone is a natural storyteller. And not many business owners or leaders can commit the time to writing engaging content for all of their company’s marketing needs.
You need to be able to weave a compelling tale; to sell without selling. In short, you may need to hire a ghostwriter, aka an anonymous writer, to tell your customers’ story (and subsequently yours) to the world.
Some of the world’s most important literary works were written by anonymous writers. And the practice of hiring a professional writer to write on another’s behalf is as common today for everything from business books to marketing collateral to thought-leadership articles, blogs, and company websites.
But you’re keen to write your company’s content yourself. Okay, what do you need to do? How much time can you commit to writing? And how do you go about writing stories and marketing content that appeals to your existing and prospective customers intellectually or emotionally? Try these tactics:
- Find the right topics. The notion of brainstorming with others is dead, and besides, there are no guarantees it will work. Does that mean you need to dismiss collaborating with a group of people altogether and go it alone? Not necessarily. Conferring and working with trusted sources to come up with important topics and an editorial calendar, or to discuss how to approach writing about a particular subject can produce great results. Most importantly, think about your customers and the questions they have for your company. Arrange to have an informal discussion with one of your longtime customers to get their thoughts if you’re uncertain. Or tell a story about how you failed at something – reading someone else’s account of how they mucked up badly, but who ultimately learned from the mistake and went on to succeed never gets old. You can also create a list of what are referred to as “evergreen topics”. Evergreen stories are based on broad subjects that have lasting appeal like why content marketing is important.
- Manage your time efficiently. Just as you would plot the tasks involved in conducting any other aspect of business, build an executable schedule that divides up the work you need to do, and don’t waver from it. As you begin to write, different things will occur to you, so allow for lots of revision and editing time.
- Research your topic. Once you know what to write about, hop online and find statistics, as well as the supporting or opposing points of views of others and link to them (or cite them accordingly). Depending on what your topic is, and if you can’t find useful sources to cite, you can always get help from a librarian in your community.
- Write your first draft. Ernest Hemingway is famously quoted for allegedly remarking, “The first draft of anything is shit.” Whether he uttered those words or not, there is truth in the sentiment, and it is this: don’t get emotionally attached to the first draft of anything you write. Let it ferment in your head. Read it aloud. Have others proofread it for errors. Get the feedback of others you trust, and don’t be hurt by their constructive criticisms, mull them over. Then revise your first draft – and second, third, or fourth drafts if necessary.
Any literate person can write, but writing well is hard work, and you need to be damn good to attract and retain an audience, especially online.
It takes a significant amount of time to adequately research, write, edit, and produce good content for different media types and audiences. You need to discover what your brand’s voice is, determine your writing style, and commit to the craft on a daily basis.
In her 1969 autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, American poet, author, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou wrote, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I couldn’t agree more. But sometimes, you need a professional writer’s help to tell that tale effectively and generate the reaction you desire.