An important part of content marketing is about telling stories that consumers can identify with on some level. 

Think about the John Lewis Christmas ad from last year – rather than shouting about its latest iPad offer it focused on the spirit of Christmas and families sharing gifts.

The importance of including a narrative within content marketing was the topic of a talk given by Caliber’s Ian Humphreys at The Content Marketing Show on Tuesday.

He suggested that marketers need to create a narrative that fills the middle ground between the story the brand wants to tell and the story the customer wants to hear.

The likes of Apple, Samsung and Microsoft are all using this tactic at the moment to advertise new phones.

The marketing messages don’t really mention the features of the phone, instead they sell a lifestyle and imply that the product will allow you to go on great adventures.

He also highlighted an ad created by Chevrolet called ‘My Dad’s Car’. It tells the story of a son who sets out to find his dad’s old Chevy that he had to sell in the eighties when times were tough.

Though perhaps slightly cheesy by UK standards, Humphreys says the ad is a great narrative as it includes three key factors:

  1. Brand. It tells a powerful story about the product by showing how much it means to the family and the fact that it still works after 40 years.
  2. Audience. It’s a true American tale as it celebrates the iconography built up around cars, as well as identifying the vehicle with a coming of age story.
  3. Personal element. The story is about families and people connecting over time, not necessarily about Chevrolet.

Another example is Burberry’s Art of the Trench campaign, where it sent a fashion blogger to cities around the world to collect consumer stories about their trench coats. It also asked people to upload their own photos and post comments.

It’s a really powerful way for Burberry to tell its own story then turn it over to users to hear their stories.

To achieve similar results, brands need to follow three steps:

  • Set a narrative. Find a setting for the brand to tell a story.
  • Populate. Create the content that you want to promote to customers.
  • Encourage customers to share. In order to make the most of great content brands should give consumers the space to share and contribute, whether that is through Facebook, Twitter or some other means. 

Humphreys said point three is particularly important as it ensures that consumers properly engage with the brand.

He gave the example of listening to one of your friends tell a story at a dinner party. 

The natural reaction is to listen to their story, but be thinking about the story you are going to tell next that’s way better than theirs is.

Content marketing allows you to do both, which is why brands need to let consumers tell their own stories as well.