By Manya Chylinski published October 7, 2012

How to Create More Powerful Content Marketing Stories

powerful content marketing stories, CMIThese days, we hear a lot about the fact that content marketers need to be storytellers. That sounds great in theory, but what does it really mean in practice?

Stories have always been around, but they haven’t always been a big part of the marketer’s tool kit. As more of us are creating content, the importance of finding a way to stand out from the crowd increases exponentially. Telling a personal story is a great way to do this.

A story helps you explain what makes your brand, company, product, or service unique, and do so in a compelling way. Humans are wired to appreciate a good story. We have been telling them for thousands of years — as spoken words, acted out at campfires, drawn on cave walls, carved into stone, painted on canvas… you get the idea. 

What is a story? 

At its simplest, a story is an accounting of an incident or event — a way to share information. At its most complex and dramatic, a story is a tool that we use to make sense of the world around us. For example, fairy tales teach us lessons; funny stories lighten the mood; serious stories remind us of what is important in life. In the context of content marketing, stories serve these same functions — just wrapped up in a slightly different package than are stories meant purely for entertainment. This package is the voice of the company, brand, product, or service that you are representing.

A brand story 

Can a stop-motion video about a pig farmer really impart information and make a difference for consumers?

In 2011, Chipotle Mexican Grill created a video it planned to show on YouTube to tell a story about the heart and values behind the company — and the people who work there. “Back to the Start” became a sensation, winning awards and eventually making it on to television for broadcast during the 2012 Grammy Award show. It was so popular, it became Chipotle’s first national TV commercial.

However you feel about the message of the video, it is proof that a unique story told in a compelling way resonates with and is remembered by audiences. Almost 7 million people have viewed “Back to the Start” on YouTube alone, and probably millions more have seen it on television. Chipotle then took advantage of this phenomenon to tell the story of the making of the video, as well, drawing the audience to engage more deeply in the brand through its content-based messaging efforts.

Why is this such a powerful story?

  • It’s emotional. Viewers can connect with the characters through the video and the music, which are more powerful because they are used together.
  • It is unique. The story is about developing a sustainable food supply in support of Chipotle’s corporate commitment to food with integrity and respect for the animals, the environment, and the farmers involved. It is a foundational story, told from this company’s distinctive vantage point.
  • It’s simple. The underlying story of factory farming versus small-scale farming is actually quite complex, with strong emotions on both sides. The video simplifies the story with an easy-to-follow flow and timeline, and brings a personal touch to the concept — what farming means to this one farmer.
  • It’s shareable. Because the message is straightforward and told via a medium that is designed for sharing, this story was primed to reach a very broad audience.

How can you likewise take advantage of the power of story in your own marketing content?

Use emotion 

Emotion is at the heart of every good story. Stories that make us laugh or cry or feel connected — or just feel — are the ones we enjoy hearing and the ones we remember. Putting emotion into a story about a business is not as hard as you might imagine.

The emotion is already there; you just have to uncover it. Perhaps you manufacture a consumer product with a celebrated history; you might find stories that tie into history and nostalgia, like Levis. Perhaps your company makes a component part of an airplane; you might find stories that can talk about your role in helping people get from one place to another. Stories in the B2C space tend to be a little more entertainment-focused, while stories in the B2B space are less so. But the use of emotion spans both audiences.

Share your uniqueness 

Your brand and company have unique attributes, even if you don’t happen to have a charismatic founder or globally significant mission. To find stories, look at your company, product or service, and customers with a creative eye and think about what makes you special.

Consider these as resources for inspiring your own powerful story:

  • People: Who are the people who manufacture your product or provide your service? What makes them special individually and as a group? How do they go about their jobs every day? Where do they come from — in terms of geography, or politics, or education, or some aspect relevant to your audience?
  • Purchasers: Who are your customers and what makes them special? Why do they buy your product or service? How does it help them solve a problem or meet a need? What do they like or hate about your product or service?
  • Product: What is special about your product and the way it’s made (or your service and the way it’s delivered)? How or why was it designed the way it was? When was it first designed, and how has that changed over time? Who developed or designed your product or service?
  • Processes: How do you manufacture your product or structure your service, and how is that different than what your competitors are doing? Why did you start doing things this way? Who developed the process you use when you decided to upgrade a process or take a different approach?

And one more thing: Don’t let the fear that your story may not be all that compelling stop you from finding a way to tell it. Remember that Chipotle’s story is about the process of farming — something many of us may not find inherently exciting.

Once you find some stories you’d like to tell, think about how to tell them from several different angles. Be as creative as you can when thinking about the approach you want to take for telling your story — this can even enable you to get multiple pieces of content from just one topic idea. Here are a few thoughts to get you started:

  • Have your designer talk about plans and product testing.
  • Ask the people who manufacture your product to talk about their experiences.
  • Get someone from your sales team to talk about how she works with customers.
  • Find a customer to talk about how your product or service has changed her business, or even her life.

Keep it simple 

Think about the stories that you remember best or those you recall the longest. Most of them can be boiled down to just a few sentences or a key lesson (like many of the fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm boil down to: Don’t talk to strangers). You do not have to tell it simply or in only a few sentences, but as long as the essence is uncomplicated you’ll be creating a story that people can recall and retell easily.

Make it shareable 

Good stories have a message that the audience likes or appreciates and wants to share. When you consider how or where to tell that story, think about how people consume information about your company. Are they typically on social media sites, or do they visit your website? Do they watch TV, or read magazines or newspapers? Just as is the case with other forms of content, it may be best to mix up the types of media you use, vary your content length, and use a variety of formats to give your story some diversity.

Storytelling is something we all do in our personal lives. It’s a short leap to helping your company tell its story as part of your content marketing.

What techniques help you identify and tell the best stories?

Want more content marketing inspiration? Download our ultimate eBook with 100 content marketing examples.

Author: Manya Chylinski

Manya Chylinski is a marketing consultant and writer helping B2B companies create compelling content and share thought leadership and success stories. Founder of Alley424 Communications, Manya has experience in a variety of industries including technology, higher education, financial services, government, and consulting.

Other posts by Manya Chylinski

  • Sergio Jesus Zaragoza Sicre

    Nice post.. liked it a lot!. Story telling captivates humankind.

  • http://www.facebook.com/storytellingnl Bas Meijerink

    It’s not just another company story

    It’s about the bigger idea that this brand represents.

    That gives an answer to a broader, social situation that
    affects all people.

    Through universal emotions brands can connect people.

    That’s why I love it

    And the content marketeer who makes it simple and shareable

    That’s why I want to share it

  • Digett

    I’ve never actually seen this video, but it’s certainly compelling. It does a great job of conveying Chipotle’s culture and values — without words too, which is doubly awesome.

    It’s also a fairly divisive subject: small farm operations vs. larger ones. I bet that contributed to even more conversations, some positive some negative.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rbucks Ryan Buckley

    What better way to tell your company story than to ask a community of screenwriters? There are many writing services out there, and a handful really offer high quality writers with a passion for storytelling. Of course I suggest Scripted.com, but I’m curious what other services are successful at getting to the heart of content marketing from a storyteller’s perspective?

  • Barb Sawyers

    Nice post. Let me add that a story needs a plot, that is driven by conflict.

  • http://twitter.com/nemiccolo Andrew Nemiccolo

    Manya, thanks for sharing your insight on this campaign! Your 4 questions about People, Purchasers, Product and Process are very helpful, because before the right story can be told, a lot of questions and listening are required. Storymining is one term to use.

    http://sevenstorylearning.com/story/mining-for-story-gold/

    It’s clear that Chipotle some listening to discover what was important to consumers. Any other tips for unearthing good story ideas that you’d suggest?