How to Find the Competitive Edge Your Content Marketing Program Needs

A few years ago, a pale woman with crazy eyebrows and a keytar strapped to her back shot a home video.

Standing on a street corner in Melbourne, Australia, at dusk, she wore a kimono and held up Sharpied signs. One by one, the signs flipped. They explained that the woman had spent the past four years writing songs.

She was a musician. She had parted ways with her record label, which wanted to charge an outrageous amount to produce her next album. She and her bandmates were happy to no longer be with the label, and they had worked hard to create some great new music and art. But they couldn’t finish producing the record on their own. If their new business—independent music—was going to get off the ground, they needed people’s help.

“This is the future of music,” one of her signs read. Another: “I love you.”

Then she posted the video on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter.

In 30 days, the video raised $1.2 million—more than 10 times her goal. Nearly 25,000 people preordered the album, bought artwork, or simply donated money. The album and tour became a huge success, and the artist turned her music into a profitable business.

The woman in the kimono was named Amanda Palmer. She changed the game for independent musicians with that campaign. And she didn’t do it by asking for money. She did it by telling her story.

Storytelling Is More Than a Buzzword

Every few minutes, a new buzzword rips through the business world, gets a bunch of blog posts written about it, and ends up in a pile of tired terms next to “synergy.” Today, one of the biggest corporate buzzwords is “storytelling.”

Funny thing is, “storytelling” has been the buzzword off and on since the advent of advertising. It keeps rising to the top of the pile because it’s timeless. Stories have driven human behavior throughout history—for good and for ill.

And in the digital age, businesses, workers, and leaders have more opportunities than ever to stand out, spread their message, and spark change through stories.

Stories are the reason thousands of creators like Amanda Palmer have rallied the support of millions on Kickstarter, and Kickstarter knows this. It doesn’t just allow creators to tell their story; it requires it. Every project must have a video in which the creators explain what they’re doing and why they need help.

As Internet, mobile messaging, and sharing tools transform our lives, storytelling is becoming an essential skill in any job. As we spend more and more time consuming information by the streamful, storytelling is a core skill that every business—and individual—will need to master.

Unfortunately, in the era of PowerPoints and status updates, many of us have forgotten how to tell a good story.

Businesses Need to Tell Good Stories

According to Yahoo Advertising Research, 78 percent of chief marketing officers at big companies think that content—which is to say information, entertainment, and education, that in an ideal world comes in the form of or is a piece of a story—is the future of their job. Two-thirds of brand marketers think that content is better than most types of advertising. That’s huge.

This is largely because social media has gotten us comfortable conversing with anyone and any company. It’s now commonplace to find “brand content” in our Facebook streams next to pictures of our loved ones and stories from the New York Times. As the majority of corporations present themselves as publishers, the defining characteristic of success will be the ability to not only put things on the Internet, but also craft compelling stories.

The fact is no one really loves being interrupted with a sales pitch. But everyone likes a good story. The businesses that can tell a good story today will have an advantage tomorrow.

Workers and Leaders Need to Tell Good Stories

All things being equal, people with powerful “personal brands”—that is, great reputations—have a leg up on getting jobs and being promoted to leadership roles. And personal brands are built on the stories we tell and the stories that are told about us.

Stories make presentations better. Stories make ideas stick. Stories help us persuade people. Savvy leaders tell stories to inspire and motivate us. (That’s why so many politicians tell stories in their speeches, and many have backgrounds as authors and entertainers.)

And like Amanda Palmer’s story endeared her to tens of thousands of strangers, our own stories can help us build our businesses and careers, too. Sure, we need science and data to make the right decisions in life and work, but the best business books and keynote speakers use stories to help us remember their ideas even when their stat slides fade from our memory.

Business’s Storytelling Problem

A lot of content marketers talk about the 80/20 rule—that 80 percent of the results you get come from the top 20 percent of content you put out.

But we’re more interested in the 90/5 dynamic—right now, the top 5 percent of branded content garners 90 percent of all engagement with branded content.

This is because while brands have learned how to create content—lots and lots of content—far fewer have mastered how to tell great stories that bring people in, get stuck in their minds, and change the way they think about the brands that tell them those stories.

The internet has a glut of content about content. There’s plenty of people preaching that we should do storytelling for marketing. But there’s a distinct lack of material on what we think is the most important part:

How does great storytelling actually work? And how can a business actually get better at it?

Storytelling is one of the essential parts of being human. Humans told each other stories since we lived in caves and huddled around campfires. We told them to remember. We told them to survive. We told them to build relationships and make people care.

But for the dream of digital marketing to come to fruition, brands and marketers need to do a better job of tapping into their storytelling roots. At Contently, we preach that content is more than a marketing tactic. We believe that great stories are the secret weapon that can make every part of a business better.

That’s why Contently co-founder Shane Snow and I wrote The Storytelling Edge—an Amazon #1 New Release designed to teach business leaders the art and science of storytelling, and how to use it to transform their business. (This article is, in fact, pulled from the intro to the book, where we explain why we wrote it.)

We believe those lessons are both fundamental to who we are as people and to the future of business. And we’re excited to reveal our most important lessons at the ICC Conference on March 22.

If you’re attending, I hope you join us for Joe’s session about the key lessons from our book. As Amanda Palmer might write with her Sharpie: This is the future of business. We love you. And we want to give you an edge.

Get better at your job right now.

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