Content marketing became more than a strategy or tactic in 2016; it flowered into full-blown buzz-phrase. So, logically, you’ll want to quickly distance yourself from it. In fact, I’d encourage you to reject the title of this short piece. Instead, let’s say that the five items below are rules for brand storytelling in 2017 and, if followed, they will set you apart from the white noise content marketing has become.
- Don’t start out to deliver a message. Instead, start out to deliver value. The most important message for prospects and customers is that what you’re writing addresses a problem they’re having, whether they know it or not.
- Spotlight real people and real problems. If you’re trying to help physicians, a good portion of the piece should feature a physician. Yes, it can be hard to find a customer (or prospect) willing/able to speak and or comment, but without this there’s really no narrative to follow.
- Don’t “create” thought leaders – enable them. Content marketing lost its mojo when anyone with a byline was dubbed thought leader. They probably weren’t. You’ll recognize thought leaders because their words always come with value attached – an aha, a great story, a lesson, etc.
- Don’t write pieces in isolation. Your goal should be to start and sustain a conversation that lasts all year, and beyond. A true thought leader has more to say than a single article or post can cover.
- End every piece with a take-away. This isn’t easy. And by take-away I don’t mean your message, your call to action or your website address. The take-away, mentioned above as the aha, story, lesson, etc., will be the catalyst that begins the alchemy of turning interest and desire into action.
To adhere to these five rules, you must rethink some commonly accepted doctrines of marketing. First, messaging is important, but not more than telling an authentic story that is real to prospects.
Second, focusing on real people and real problems will make some content harder to assemble and sometimes costlier to develop. Take our storytelling for Sheridan Healthcare and Quest Diagnostics, for example; it features health system professionals and physicians guiding peers through pressing issues such as value-based care, MACRA and physician utilization, and their insights are always topical, timely and authentic – that’s what makes them valuable.
The higher costs of brand storytelling (versus vanilla content marketing) will yield higher value if you stick with it, so you’ll need to assiduously measure and compare approaches. Our 2016 marketing dashboards prove that, in most cases, high-value content outperformed generic, often “re-purposed,” content, generating more marketing qualified leads for lower overall investment. It’s what you want to see.
Lastly, you’ll need move away from “designing” thought leaders from whole cloth and, instead, mine (or hire) passionate experts with whom your audience can closely identify and trust. Again, the wisdom of doing this can be seen in the higher performance of content distributed on behalf of these more qualified and relevant brand storytellers.
I’ve given you five take-aways from this piece in the form of storytelling rules. If you disagree with them or believe I’ve missed any, I’m all ears.