By Raf Stevens published November 17, 2011

How to Give a Gift of Emotionally Engaging Content

Many companies have no clue what the difference is between good and boring content. I’ll go even further than that.  Many organizations are not even aware that their message has lost all connection with their audience, and some even seem to excel at finding ways to render their content marketing completely pointless. You can follow as many checklists and steps as you want, but without engaging content that makes your audience stick like superglue, your content marketing is doomed.

The strange thing with all this is that the solution to creating compelling content is so obvious: Use stories and storytelling. Stories are how we convey our deepest emotions and talk about the things we value the most. Everyone has a story to tell. I believe stories are the most effective vehicle to drive the heart of a message to the heart of an audience.  Exploring these stories should be at the core of every organization’s content marketing strategy.

Now let me ask you this: Do you think that you or your business is in touch with its own stories? And can they be told in a way that connects them with their audience in this hyper-connected world? Chances are this might not be the case if you have trouble answering any of the following questions:

  • What story really defines you?
  • How does your story fit with the heart of your organization?
  • How is your story emotionally engaging to your audience?
  • Can your audiences retell your story?
  • In what ways can they develop trust in your story and act upon it?

Believe me, I know how challenging it can be to produce smart, highly targeted, and truly innovative stories. So allow me to bring all my trials and errors from my own storytelling experiences together in one simple storytelling principle: Only create content that can be regarded as a little gift to your community. It is this type of content that can be used to help you reconnect with your audience and gain (or regain) trust. I like to call this The New Trade.

Trade is generally considered to be an exchange of currency for goods and services, but this is only one way to think of it. Basically, trade is anything that you can acquire by giving up something else. In this sense, information sharing can be considered a trade. But within the New Trade, you do not necessarily have to give up something. You can share something — like information or a story — for free, making it what we commonly call a “gift.”

Making your content a gift

What do I mean by gift content in this context?

  • It doesn’t try to sell anything or provide “empty calories” that just waste people’s time.
  • It is offered for free.
  • It makes your story part of your audience’s story.
  • It makes your story emotionally engaging.

Sharing your content in the form of a human story gives others more reason to care about you. And don’t forget — the impression you make will depend on how much you reveal about yourself.

Most marketing content rarely connects with an audience

You know why? Because it doesn’t make them feel anything. People connect with a story when they “feel” your story is credible and when they understand where your messages are coming from. They will make your story their own if they can identify with the elements within the story, respond to the narrative emotionally, and have it serve their interests and agendas.

What helps great content to spread is how compelling and inspiring the message is, not how it slants toward positioning your company as the only one to buy from. Content should make connections. I’ll go even further than that. Content follows connection. First, you need to engage, build rapport, and make your audience trust you.  Pure information or marketing messages do not make that happen. If you communicate in facts and figures, you are communicating “brain to brain. ”  To be a successful storyteller, you need to communicate human to human, heart to heart, and emotion to emotion.

Over the last years, I have tried to walk the talk myself, and here are some of the ways I have been telling my story:

  • Archiving dozens of blog posts, and their comments, for my audience to use as a resource.
  • Sharing 3-5 posts by other writers every day on Twitter
  • Initiating regular discussions with my network on LinkedIn
  • Sharing presentations via Slideshare and Prezi
  • Sharing all the research I did for my book, “No Story, No Fans,” on Delicious

In telling my stories on all these channels, I’ve shown my audience that I am not a faceless “box house,” simply taking orders blindly and shipping thoughtlessly. I have demonstrated that I am passionate about what I do and how I do it. My stories have given me (and my company) a human face that shows I care. And from the reactions I have gotten, I can tell my stories have become little gifts to the people in my professional network.

Creating your story

So what are the main considerations for creating content that will be perceived as a gift to your audience? Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you choose your focus, design your story, and bring your content from deadly boring to emotionally engaging:

  • What was your inspiration for starting your business? What ignited your passion? Did you have an “ah-ha!” moment that drove you in your current direction?
  • Have you ever faced rejection? Did you start your business from the ground up? Achieve success against the odds?
  • Who helped you along the way? Who was your first customer? When did you clinch that initial big client or order that catapulted you from mom-and-pop shop to having multiple outlets? When was it clear you had built something special?
  • What was your first big break? What moved you from the “small pond” to the “big pond?”
  • Is there a non-profit organization or cause that your business supports in a big way? What does it mean to you? To your brand?

Telling your story

And once you’ve created emotionally engaging stories, you have to connect those stories to your audience and their interests. Here is what I believe is important:

  • Use your story to emotionally engage people enough to keep them reading or watching. Ideally, they must care about the central character, deeply relate to what he or she is going through, and want to see the character solve the problem.
  • Demonstrate that you truly care about others by addressing their relevant pain points or connecting your story to issues that they will be familiar with.
  • Encourage your audience to share their stories, and pay attention to them. Your story may not be important to other people, but your efforts to help promote their story will be. Whenever possible, use your content to provide opportunities for your audience to comment or provide their own ideas.
  • Remember the universal truth: Nobody wants to be sold, but everyone wants to be helped. Create content that answers your audience’s questions, provides them with answers and solutions or demonstrates how your offerings can help them in their every day lives.
  • Build trust. Honesty among people is important, but trust is critical for marketers to gain audience support. So make sure your story demonstrates why you are worthy of your audience’s trust.

So what’s your story? What other elements or features do you think are important to create emotionally engaging content? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

Author: Raf Stevens

A storythinker and storyteller, Raf Stevens takes a crazy, flip-the-script attitude toward everything he does. He is the author of the newly published book, No Story, No Fans. His work is based on a simple motto: If you want to make your message stick, you have to tell a story. His blog www.corporatestoryteller.be has amassed a considerable audience. Share your story with him on Twitter @rafstevens.

Other posts by Raf Stevens

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  • http://twitter.com/msbuller Michael Buller

    Raf – I love your post. As someone who entered custom publishing (now content marketing) from the writer/editor side, I often read posts about “storytelling” with a grain of salt. Not this one. Well said.

    • Rafstevens

      Thank you Michael. I know what you mean. I love content marketing but I often wonder if story marketing would not be a better word :-) And when I see some companies struggling with their content marketing stuff I can’t stop wondering if these companies really understand THE power of just telling a simple and authentic story. A story that truly engages their audience.
      Best to you.
      Raf

  • Anonymous

    I’m a couple days behind reading my RSS feeds, but I’m really glad I took the time to read this one! I haven’t read this perspective on what content/content marketing is and I love it. I also love that you weren’t afraid to call it like it is-a lot of website/blog content is absolutely awful. The worse part though is that so many people can’t or refuse to see it when it really wouldn’t take that much to fix if they were willing.

    Thanks for sharing this. I hope to see more from you here in the future.

  • http://twitter.com/Storyteller Sean Buvala

    Nice primer on the basics. Raf. I do like your story-starter ideas for the beginner.

    However, no one can tell a story unless they are looking into the eyes of their listeners. You can write a good story, you can use video to show a good story, you can dance a story. All of those methods of story expression are one-sided favoring the creator of the story. In order to tell a story, you need to be with the audience and open to the idea that your story may or may not come out as your practiced it. My blog posts use stories rather consistently but I’m writing a story not telling a story.

    Storytelling= live audience, spoken word, fluid story.