Storytelling is one of the best ways to create a bond with people, and content marketers should use it and other creative techniques to make their materials stand out.

This year the ‘Jerusalem’ cookbook is a hit. Written by an Arab and a Jew from Jerusalem who now live and work in London, more than 400,000 copies are in print in the US and UK , easily 10 times more than most other cookbooks.

What makes Jerusalem stand out is a number of things, including how tasty its recipes are, but also that it tells a story.

Of course, there is the story of a Jew and Arab from Jerusalem working together, with its unspoken suggestion that “if they can do it…”

But the book also tells the story of the cuisine, each individual dish, where it came from, and how it fits into the region and the authors’ lives (“…based on a dish Sami’s mum, Na’ama, used to cook for him when he was a child in Muslim east Jerusalem. At around the same time, in the Jewish west of the city, Yotam’s dad, Michael, was making a very similar dish.”)

And the book is full of beautiful, colour photos of not just the dishes (why doesn’t every cookbook have colour photos of its dishes?) but of Jerusalem and its people, too. Beyond cooking, you can just sit down and read  – and savour – this book.

Compare that to a traditional cookbook such as “The Joy of Cooking”, which comes off as a set of near-scientific formulas in comparison:

Does that look very joyful to you?

Which approach are you using for your content marketing? Are you creating content that you would want to consume?

Today, marketers need to think more like publishers.

Content marketing is the new black. There’s no doubt that it can have impressive results, and create brand preference before the buyer is very far into the purchase cycle. Marketers are significantly increasing their content marketing spend. The number of blog posts, webinars, infographics, videos, ROI calculators and other means of content marketing is growing rapidly.

However, there are over a trillion web pages, and that number is doubling every few years. And “pages” doesn’t even truly measure the vast size of the internet, as so much content is now dynamically reconfigured based on what the person is searching for, navigating to, or their previous behaviour, and content is being sliced and diced differently for desktop web pages, mobile, social, etc.

So what does this mean for marketers? It means that your content is going to be buried in a tidal wave. How will you make your content marketing budget effective?

Since the digital marketplace is global, competition for eyeballs is fierce. As each digital marketing channel comes on, the opportunities are greatest for the early adopters. Over time, that advantage shrinks or disappears entirely:

  • It was easy to game the early search engines and get high rankings, especially since the amount of internet content was so much smaller. Today at least two-thirds of searches are done on Google (more, in the experience of my clients), and over half the clicks are on the first three or four links on the page one results.
  • Google AdWords keywords are becoming more and more expensive in many verticals so that the profit margin is now often low, or negative. Some companies are finding it’s no longer worth advertising.
  • Facebook is so 2010, and usage is declining among young people as they move to SnapChat and other social networks.

So how are we going to get our content noticed in this tsunami? Are we putting out the equivalent of “The Joy of Cooking”, or “Jerusalem”? We need to make our content really useful, entertaining, and shareable. Two out of three ain’t bad.

Let’s look at a few examples.

  • Focus: There are hundreds (thousands?) of marketing blogs. You may not be able to rank in the top 100 in your industry (yours truly doesn’t), but you can still reach a micro-audience that’s very important to you. Just as SEO has increasingly become focused on long-tail keywords, your blog can have an important message for a particular audience in your industry or region.  ISITE Design’s CMS Myth blog is a good example of a blog with a strong point of view on a particular industry; it’s been cited as one of the top five blogs in its field.
  • Get to the point: People aren’t reading long white papers much anymore, and in my experience after 20 or 30 minutes most people aren’t paying attention to a one-hour webinar. So how about 15 minute webinars? I produced a series of these when at Overdrive Interactive and found that both attendance and engagement were better than the one-hour version.
  • Entertain: Entertaining includes telling a story, and there’s far too little of this going on. And whether you’re in B2B or B2C, you can entertain while communicating important information.

More than 58m people have watched this Volkswagen ad.

More than 12m people watched Felix Baumgartner’s space jump live, gaining a ton of brand impressions for sponsor Red Bull. Then tens of millions of additional viewers watched several versions of the jump on YouTube:

Over 25m people have watched this GoPro camera product demo video:

Over a million people have watched this entertaining ad for Google Analytics:

Tens of thousands of people have watched this video about a new Cisco router, of all things, produced by Tim Washer, who really believes in the power of humorous B2B content:

And a blog post on the Nine Things Successful People do Differently was the most read Harvard Business Review blog post of 2011.

So we need valuable or entertaining content. And we also need different content for different stages of the buyer’s journey. The GoPro and Cisco videos, and VW ad, may be great for generating interest and a strong emotional connection to the product and company, but at some point the buyer may also want to look at specs, ROI, and other information, too, before buying. After all, people buy on emotion but justify with logic.

The fact that people are choosing to look at this content is incredibly important – they are far more likely to consider it valuable than if you force it on them – and you can’t do better than creating content that’s so valuable and/or entertaining that people share it. But even though people will share valuable content, you may want to gate some of it.

Some companies don’t gate early stage content so it will be shared as much as possible, but they do gate mid- and late-stage content so they are sure to capture the contact information of people who are well into the buying cycle and likely to be very good prospects.

Properly conceived and executed, a content strategy can reap a company huge rewards.