I’ve just returned from Content Marketing World New York – and boy did we ever have alot of fun. Many of the comments afterward were how much the attendees liked the exercise of getting to “story” as opposed to “plot” – so it inspired a quick blog post on my way home.
As marketers, don’t we dream of capturing the hearts of our consumers so that they become loyal? As content marketers – our goal is to not only grab the attention of our audiences, but to engage, inform, entertain and ultimately influence them to maintain or change a behavior. As marketing storytellers we do all this with our content. We do it with the hope that our audiences become so engaged with our content that they ultimately “subscribe” to our brand – and will themselves actively share our story and build the success of our business.
But in order to do this – we marketers must often get out of our own way. I know it’s true for me anyway. We must allow our consumers an easy way into our world. We spend so much of our time crafting amazingly well-thought out, thickly filled content. We focus on content that informs and positions our brand as the leader in the space, and that illustrates that we really do have a big idea to share. But we’re often so focused on WHAT we’re producing – that we often lose the WHY we are doing it in the first place.
Unless we layer in what it all *really means* – to our brand (our organization) and what the ultimate “throughline” is – our content marketing efforts are ultimately at risk of just being more meaningless data that serves our competition as well as it does us.
Difference Between Plot Vs. Story
When you read a book, watch a television show or go to a movie and you feel emotionally connected – it’s because the storyteller has given you a way into that main character’s struggles and dreams. And this is very often quite different than the main plot. When you walk out of a movie feeling disconnected (I’m looking at you Total Recall remake) or close the novel feeling unfulfilled it’s usually because the writer didn’t give you that way in. You were just an observer of the plot. And while you may have been sympathetic at times – and maybe even rooted for the character to win – you didn’t get emotionally connected.
Let’s take one of my favorite movies – Star Wars as an example (I dare say I won’t spoil the ending for anyone). We’re dazzled by the light saber duels, the space ships and the romantic adventure. But that’s not what hooks us emotionally. It’s Luke – staring out over the sand dunes…having just argued with his uncle about leaving home… Luke feels trapped by his circumstances – and family commitments… He’s wants to get out of his small world and go do something big… and THAT’s what we engage with when this scene plays…
Now argue as we may about the strength of that emotional connection – the fact that it is still the second highest grossing film ever in the US says it resonated.… That one minute scene tees up the rest of the entire series. Now, when Luke goes through those adventures, we go with him – connected. We have been given an opening into our hero and we can now ride along with him – not only just rooting for him – but now emotionally attached.
By the way… just in case you think that’s not purposely designed – The Binary Sunset Music that you hear in that scene is one of the most recognizable pieces of John Williams’ score. Across all six movies, it is used most prominently in this 30 second scene. And, it’s only used when Luke is “expanding his world” or when Ben Kenobi is present. Check out this write up.
Data Vs. Content Marketing
The same holds true with our content marketing. Take for example, a content-driven startup company I worked with recently. They had, literally, mountains of data (hundreds of thousands of web content pages) to back up their claim to be the “owner” of information on their particular topic. They owned the domain name that was basically the “industry.com” of their space. Their site was beautiful and slick (rounded corners and everything). And they owned the front page of Google for their key search terms. And, yet there was zero engagement. They couldn’t get conversions – and they couldn’t keep people on their site. Why?
It’s because they were providing a plot – with dazzling special effects and set pieces – with absolutely no way in for the visitor to become emotionally engaged. The user searched for some data, visited the page, got the answer they were looking for – and then went elsewhere to be engaged.
Build Ways Into The Throughlines Of Your Brand Heroes
I’ve written about this a bit before over on the Content Marketing Institute site – when I wrote What Your Content Marketing Is Really About.
As a content marketer, you’ve got to understand the difference between your brand plotlines and your brand’s throughlines. Plotlines are the WHAT. The content you’re producing; the wonderful, engaging and thought-provoking content you create and use to drive a marketing result. The throughlines are the WHY – they drive the emotional connection to this content.
Remember this: Content developed without a “WHY” is just data – and you might as well cross-post it to your competitors’ sites as well.
Character Driven Content Marketing
We’ve got to make sure that we’re making personal connections to the WHY we are driving this content forward.
We struggle with this for sure. It’s hard to let people into our brand mission. We boast to our boards, our families and our investors about why we want to change the world. But for some reason we hide it in our content. We want to hide our foibles – our limitations – our hopes and dreams. But this is precisely what gives our audience a reason to identify with us – to go on the journey WITH us.
Look at any content marketing success story – and you’ll see this emotional connection whether it’s actually planned or not.
Our consumers are inherently aware of when the story is broken. And, in our case, when we don’t create it – it’s a lack of engagement, decreasing conversions and no bottom-line results that will tell that story.
In the book Managing Content Marketing (shameless plug) – Joe Pulizzi and I frame this as identifying “The Challenge”. If we take the time to clearly identify our brand purpose – and WHY we want to “change the world” – our content will become something much more than just a plotline of data illustrating how “smart” or “entertaining” we can be. We can infuse our content with an emotional connection – and that’s what will engage our audiences and produce the bottom-line results we all want.
Our content marketing should be unique. It should tell OUR story. It should be meaningful, evoke emotion and represent the big ways in which we want to change the world.
Why should we settle for less?