Content marketing has often been labelled as storytelling. Indeed, content marketing authority Joe Pulizzi describes a theoretical head of content marketing position as the ‘chief storyteller’.
However, too frequently, good storytelling is not on the agenda of those working in content.
The question is, why is this? What are the causes? And how do we become better storytellers with our digital content?
Good content should have a beginning, a middle and an end
The old adage of narratives should apply to content marketing if we subscribe to the view touted by the experts.
However, if we look at how we assess content marketing (and I include myself at times in this broad generalisation), we typically review our messages in piece-meal format. I.e. the amount of likes or re-shares a given piece of content receives, or the CTR from our closing calls-to-action in blog postings.
But are we trying to tell our content story in one tweet or Facebook post? Or are we telling a far deeper, richer and arguably more effective story through multiple content objects working harmoniously together?
Assessing each content object in isolation appears contrary to the art of storytelling and limits our understanding of our content endeavours. We become channel-centric, with expectations placed on the distribution platform used, rather than the broader story told.
Essentially, we’re judging the merits of the story we are telling, by the response from our clients to the book cover.
This channel view is problematic as it limits monitoring and management of content marketing to story ‘snippets’, rather than the full story presented to customers.
We know our customers may well receive an email, visit a third-party blog with a customer review of our products, or see an update from ourselves via their Twitter feed in the space of a working day, but for many of us, our lack of sophistication in our assessment of content marketing means we are not reviewing the broader story we are trying to communicate.
Cumulative measurement of content marketing
So rather than assess each content object in isolation, we should look at trying to tie our stories together and measure the overall reaction to that story.
If we’re clever enough, and have the technical expertise available to us either within our organisations, or through external partners, we can produce full user journeys detailing exactly which content objects any given customer was exposed to over the life of a campaign.
More likely however, we have to make assumptions as well as have faith in our stories; not every content object you distribute via the myriad of channels available will even be received, let alone acted upon.
But you can use channel analysis, or even more roughly, rules of thumb, to approximate the population who may have received multiple content objects, and still proceeded to the content campaign’s objective.
Equally, in our role as storytellers we must try to dissuade ourselves from casting aspersions on our stories without looking at the bigger picture.
That’s not to say we should throw analytics out as old-hat, far from it. Simple A/B tests can still be utilised at channel level, but also consider the emotional and cognitive reception to the entire campaign.
This can be tricky if the aforementioned measurement of user journeys is not in place, but if you have a singular end goal of a campaign, then this is an obvious start. Did the content marketing campaign, rather than the content object, for all intents and purpose, succeed?
Or, you can return to traditional campaign measurement methods such as campaign recall or perception monitoring. This is particularly relevant for products or services with long lead times.
It’s easy to approach short-term, low-cost buys with single source attribution modelling, but if the sale process takes months from acquisition to completion, and content campaigns are built across this duration then simple attribution modelling is no longer relevant.
Content marketing: the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning?
The other big contributing factor to why content marketing campaigns fail to deliver good storytelling is that we forget that most obvious of challenges with digital media, the narrative is often non-linear.
While we are taught to place prominent call-to-actions and attempt to anticipate (and at times, control) our customers’ interactions with the brand, we may well be failing to react to that customer having had numerous prior contacts with us.
Indeed, for us in the B2B field, and particularly those of us who still rely on field-based sales teams, we have to ensure that we are building on content objects that exist outside of our remit.
What might be presented in a closed pitch may have an audience of one or two, but in big-ticket items this can be a massive impact on the bottom line, so we have to ensure our content objects sing from the same hymn sheet and do not create muddied views of the story we tell.
Consistently inconsistent content marketing
This brings us on nicely to the final factor inhibiting digital marketers’ storytelling in content marketing, the beast that is consistency.
We know we may well be running multiple content campaigns or stories at any given point in time. Within typical narrative forms, there’s a degree of expectation, while we can expect the odd plot twist in our books or movies, if the story becomes incomprehensible with too many tangents or erratic in relation to prior story elements, it becomes nonsense and the audience is lost.
So we should be consistent with our content stories, and understand that if we do have different target audiences of our products, with their own content campaigns, they should be mutually supportive, rather than confusing or contradictory.
To bring this particular story to an end, consider how to measure content campaigns as a whole rather than as separate parts, acknowledge and react to the understanding that audiences might be dipping into our content story at any given chapter, and be consistent in our big brand stories.