By Pamela Muldoon published October 9, 2014

Using Backstories as a Way to Connect with Your Audience

content-marketing-backstoryWho doesn’t love a good backstory? If you’re hearing the story, it feels like you’re getting information that no one else has. Or, if you’re telling the story, you get to make a connection that can’t be achieved in any other way.

This week, Content Marketing Institute launches the CMI Podcast Network with our new podcast, The Pivot: Marketing Backstories, hosted by Todd Wheatland, Head of Global Strategy for King Content. As the title suggests, the podcast will be focused on sharing unexpected stories from content marketing professionals and leaders with a focus on what pivots people’s lives have taken that have led them to where they are today. This is a perfect podcast for anyone who enjoys learning what makes people tick, and we hope it will always serve up a hearty dose of inspiration.

Todd knew he wanted to create an interview-driven format for his show, but he was also very aware that he wanted it to stand out. While sharing educational content is one way to engender trust, Todd wanted to create a different connection. For the past year, while attending conferences and industry meetings, Todd, with recorder in hand, sat down with some of his friends to have frank, one-on-one discussions. The Pivot is the culmination of these conversations.

In Todd’s words:

Marketing today is a cross-section of people trying to establish the new rules. There are no university courses (yet) to teach people what actually works. My guests are succeeding in the new environment, but there’s no linear path that existed to get them here. From filmmaking to funeral homes, newspapers to orchards, they’ve pivoted direction — often many times — into the opportunities of modern marketing.

In Todd’s first episode, he sits down with Joe Pulizzi, Founder of Content Marketing Institute, to peel back some of Joe’s layers and provide a marketing backstory we each can relate to in our own way. I’ll walk you through the various types of backstories Todd explores, give an example from his interview with Joe, and pull out the lessons you can learn.

Share your personal path

Sharing personal backstories does not mean revealing things that are shocking. Rather, getting personal can simply mean peeling back the layers just a bit, pulling aside the professional curtain to get a glimpse of what motivates people.

For instance, one of the fun things about working in our relatively new industry is that there is no typical content marketing career path. None of us magically sprouted up from the ground as fully formed content marketing professionals. We each had a professional life that existed before our current iteration. As Todd says, for many of us, becoming a content marketer was not a linear process; we followed many turns, weaves, and bends in the road to arrive here.

In the case of Joe’s story, Todd gets him to describe his life before Content Marketing Institute and talk about how close he was to joining his family business of funeral directors. Choosing to follow an unexpected path to pursue your passion can often feel risky. But the rewards can be just as great.

The takeaway: There is something endearing about hearing how our peers ended up where they are today — and any brand can benefit from sharing this, either as a brand story or as stories from people who work for that company. When your audience members can relate their own backstory to yours, it helps forge a deeper connection. This is creating community. And isn’t that one of our content marketing goals?

Divulge your failures

Backstories that emphasize failure also work well. Whether it’s a business, a major project, or a creative endeavor, we have all felt a sense of failure at some point. Now, the mentors and leaders will remind you that it’s not really failure, just an opportunity to learn and be better. Though there is a lot of truth to that, for a small while, it definitely feels like success has taken a backseat.

Joe knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur for most of his adult life. He enjoyed working at Penton Media and loved the people on his team. But something was missing. As he shared in a recent post, he wanted to be able to have influence over the direction of the company he was working for. He left his comfortable job and started his first business venture, Junta42. Though moderately successful, the financial model did not have longevity. Hearing Joe share his turning point of standing in his backyard, knowing he had to make that tough decision, and feeling the pain of his failure creates a strong sense of empathy.

The takeaway: A willingness to show your vulnerability and share what hasn’t worked is something that will likely resonate with your audience and create empathy. An empathic audience member is one that sticks around, wanting to hear more, rooting for you. Who wouldn’t want their customers rooting for them?

Reveal your pivot point

You know what’s great about experiencing failure? You have less fear when you next need to pick yourself up and try again. Each episode of Todd’s show will share “The Pivot,” a turning point that shifted the lives of each of his guests. The Pivot may be a big swing or a small movement. But it is one of the moments in their lives where a change was made  a change that moved them forward in some way.

For Joe, realizing his first business was not working, owning that reality, and making the decision to get back up was his pivot point. Joe knew that marketing professionals were craving education and information on this discipline. He launched Content Marketing Institute in 2010 and continues to be the number one resource for all things content marketing. Creating a business name professionals could search, focusing on what did work, and putting a plan in place to move forward allowed Joe the freedom to create exactly what he wanted… and what others were seeking. Too often we try to be too many things to too many people. Making that decision to get focused was critical to the current success of Content Marketing Institute.

The takeaway: Evaluate what you might need to change or eliminate to allow for a tighter focus in your company, on your team, or with your brand. What big swing, or small movement, could you make that might be a benefit to your current situation? Perhaps a pivot is what your content marketing team needs to allow room for new ideas and a better way of thinking to emerge.

Subscribe to The Pivot

To listen to the full interview, we invite you to check out The Pivot: Marketing Backstories with Todd Wheatland. Subscribe to the show on iTunes or on Stitcher to ensure you get each weekly episode. If you are willing to leave a review while you are there, Todd would appreciate that, too.

Cover image by Alejandro Escamilla via Unsplash

Author: Pamela Muldoon

Pamela Muldoon is the Podcast Network Director for the CMI Podcast Network. In her role with CMI, she assists the podcast hosts with the development, production, distribution and promotion of their shows. Pamela is a veteran podcaster who can be heard on the CMI Podcast Network with her latest show "Content Marketing NEXT". To date, she has interviewed over 200 business and marketing professionals as part of her podcast formats. She is also a professional VoiceOver talent specializing in commercial, narration, eLearning, and promo projects. Learn more at or Follow her on Twitter @pamelamuldoon.

Other posts by Pamela Muldoon

Join Over 170,000 of your Peers!

Get daily articles and news delivered to your email inbox and get CMI’s exclusive e-book Get Inspired: 75 (More) Content Marketing Examples FREE!

  • Kostas Chiotis

    Excellent post Pamela! I think that anything we can do to be more approachable and more real is something that will help readers to engage with us. I think it is essential that we inject some personal things into whatever we write.

    • Pamela Muldoon

      Thank you, Kostas! I agree; getting to the heart of a person’s story can be very powerful. It truly is what sets us apart and often provides the special something that makes for a wonderful connection. I am so glad Todd Wheatland has chosen to focus on this aspect for his new podcast, The Pivot. I hope you get the chance to check it out!

  • Cris Antonio

    Definitely! Everytime we share something personal (but not too much!), we get to connect with our readers. Ultimately, content marketing is more of helping others – not just our websites and clients. One way I use this strategy is by injecting just a paragraph or so into some of my articles and blogs. I’ll be sure to share your article with my fellow writers. Thanks!