How to Use Storytelling for More Effective Content Marketing

Guest post by Natalie Smith.

Marketing involves, of course, much more than just advertisements and sales pitches – it includes all activities and processes used to communicate and exchange offers that have value for customers.

While communicating offers to your clients, you can use advertisements and sales pitches, but you can also use other tools, including content marketing. Just one aspect of content marketing – storytelling – can make your website come alive, humanize B2B marketing content, attract visitors and expose the world to the value you provide.

How to use storytelling in content marketing

Image credit: 742680 on Pixabay

Attention-grabbing content keeps visitors on your website, so give it to them by writing stories that make readers want to come back for more.

By incorporating storytelling into your marketing strategy, you break away from traditional “marketing speak,” replacing it with narratives that reflect the values of your brand. As visitors return to read new and updated stories, some will start the journey to becoming your customers. The following tips will help you to more effectively use storytelling as a marketing tool.
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What Exactly Do You Do?

“So—what exactly do you do?” the delightful Shelly Kramer asked me when I met her recently face-to-face for the first time, at a Minneapolis internet marketing event.

A common enough question, but it got me thinking: in more than five years and nearly 500 posts about web presence optimization, SEO, SEM, content marketing, social media, and inbound marketing on this blog, I’ve never actually answered that question here.

The Web Presence Optimization Model - WPO

(click to enlarge)

I guess that’s because I’ve always wanted this blog to be about you, the reader, and your need for digital marketing information and guidance. Not a place for me to “sell.”

But I probably should answer that question, and this is particularly good time to do so, as a small agency I do a fair amount of work with recently lost a sizable client–not unhappy by any means, we just helped make them so successful they were acquired by a larger industry player. It happens.

So—I’m a digital marketing consultant who helps B2B clients improve their online visibility and business results through SEO, search and social advertising, content marketing, and social media. All components of the web presence optimization (WPO) model: content strategy and development, optimization and promotion, and actionable analytics.

A few quick notes regarding the client mentioned above: prior to the acquisition, the company’s total website traffic had increased on a year-over-year basis for 11 straight months. Monthly pageviews rose 80% over than time period, and monthly white paper downloads 50%. A weekly industry news roundup I introduced on their blog helped double visits to the “news” category on the company blog in less than a year.

So—if your business could use help in these areas, or you know of someone who could, let’s connect on Twitter, LinkedIn, or email (tomATtompick.com).

And thanks as always for reading the Webbiquity blog. So, what exactly do you do?

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31 Shopworn Catch Phrases to Avoid Like the Plague

What would business communication be without catch phrases? (Other than clearer and more authentic.) Those bits of business wisdom or profound insights captured in clever metaphors are indispensable to the corporate world. Who doesn’t want to take an idea offline and bounce it off the wall to see what sticks, every now and then?

Business buzzwords to avoid

Image credit: AMP Agency

The problem of course is that over time, such phrases go from popular to common to annoying—much like an over-played pop song (anybody want to whoop it Gangnam style just one more time? Call me maybe).

Travis Bradberry recently compiled a list of 25 ridiculously overused phrases on Inc. Inspired by that, here are 31 more cliches to shun (the first 10 from a subsequent Twitter conversation).

To avoid sounding like a character out of Office Space (yeah, that would be great), try to stay away from these long-in-the-tooth, over the hill, Elvis (has left the building) expressions.

1-10

Business catch phrases to avoid

Some catch phrases come from the sports world. It would be better if these were all left on the field.

11. Slam dunk (as in an obviously great idea or foregone conclusion)

12. Skate to where the puck will be

13. You miss all the shots you don’t take

Some (many actually) come from the movies. Thankfully, almost no one says “make my day” or “surely you aren’t serious” (yes I am—and stop calling me Shirley) any more, but some of these moldy quotes refuse to disappear.

14. Carpe diem

15. You can’t handle the truth

16. Life is like a box of chocolates

17. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for (using any other word in place of “droids”)

And some come from the world of advertising. After 31 years, people have (generally) stopped asking where the beef is, but one still occasionally hears an updated product described as “not your father’s (fill in the blank).” (That’s #18.) Ugh.

Change is the only constant (19), so there are catch phrases describing different degrees of it:

20. Move the needle (a small but significant change)

21. Game changer (an idea with a larger impact)

22. Paradigm shift (a really big change)

Famous quotes often become catch phrases. Please don’t be the one billionth person to trot out Einstein’s definition of insanity (23) or what Henry Ford said about faster horses (24).

And some come from…elsewhere. News events, misplaced metaphors, late nights at the bar, etc..

25. Make the pie bigger

26. Place at the table

27. Preaching to the choir

28. Drinking the Kool-Aid

29. Put on your big boy (or girl) pants

30. Open the kimono (please, no, this one hits a trifecta: overused, creepy, and vaguely racist)

Finally—catch phrases don’t have to be old to be annoying. They can reach eye-rolling, wince-inducing, fingernails-on-chalkboard status quickly through overuse, misuse and abuse. Case in point:

31. Growth hacking

What catch phrases would you advise others to avoid?

 

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7 Helpful Copywriting Guides and Tips For Content Marketers

While content certainly doesn’t always end up as written words on a screen or page, it almost always starts with writing. Not just articles and blog posts, but video storyboards, podcast scripts, and infographic creative briefs rely on effective writing.

There’s no question that attention-grabbing headlines are vital to standing out in a sea of content, but what are the best techniques for crafting them? What are the secrets to getting and holding a reader’s attention? With all of the recent changes to search engine algorithms, what are today’s best practices for writing content that appeals to both human readers and search engines?

Find the answers to those questions and more here in seven noteworthy copywriting guides from seven content experts.

Tips for Headlines and Copywriting

How to Create Viral Worthy Content Every Time by Assist Social Media

Pauline MagnussonPauline Magnusson outlines three key principles for writing compelling, share-worthy copy, including “Be bold. While I’m getting tired of the saying, ‘go big or go home,’ there’s something to be said for the willingness to make an audacious claim online, if you have research, experience, or a well reasoned opinion to back it up.”

How to Become A Great Brand Journalist To Augment Your Content Marketing Strategy by Forbes

Jayson DeMersJayson DeMers explains how to use the principals of journalism to write compelling brand content, such as writing a “show-stopping headline” and a great lead-in to the story: “Your piece’s introduction needs to grab your reader by the brain or by the heart strings and not let go until the last word.”

5 Back-to-Basics Principles for B2B Storytelling by velocidi

Christopher StellaChristopher Stella shares five principles for crafting B2B stories, among them making your customer the hero (“Showcase your customer’s success, and how your services empowered them to make an impact”) and knowing your role (“You’re not the hero of the story, but your brand and services are the critical tools that set your customer on the path to heroism”).

Aliens Converge on Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in Quest of Killer Headline by Business2Community
***** 5 STARS

Lou HoffmanLou Hoffman’s must-read guide to writing headlines combines humor with solid fundamentals in a concise package. His advice on far to take a headline: “as far as possible without losing sight of the actual story.”

Tips for Writing Search-Optimized Content

How the Google Zoo Has Forever Changed SEO Copywriting by Just Ask Kim

Karon ThackstonCopywriting for SEO has changed from the old days of “writing for keyword density ratios, including key phrases in every file name, every page name and every tag,” and Karon Thackston here supplies a concise but excellent summary of which old practices to throw by the wayside, and the new practices copywriters should embrace.

The Ultimate Content Marketing Myth by FindandConvert

Josh SmithJosh Smith identifies what he terms the biggest myth in content marketing—”if you post it, they will come”—and explains how to promote yourself and build an audience to draw traffic from a well diversified collection of sources.

Send the right search signals with social content optimization by Success Works

Dana LookadoDana Lookadoo shares five tips for generating more social sharing and search traffic for your content, such as making your posts look good (“Once you hit the Enter key to share your post on Google+ or Facebook, you want it to look attractive with an eye-catching image and descriptive text”), and identifies “the most important aspect that applies to both social and SEO.”

This was post #4 of Content Marketing Week on Webbiquity.

#1: Content Marketing Week Starts Tomorrow!

#2: 30 Remarkable Content Marketing Facts and Statistics for 2013 (and 2014)

#3: 18 of the Best Content Marketing Strategy Guides of 2013

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33 Phenomenal Content Marketing and Copywriting Guides and Tips

Content marketing represents the most fundamental and widespread rethinking of marketing practices in decades. Unlike other modifiers attached to the discipline (consumer marketing, b2b marketing, trade show marketing, digital marketing), the term “content marketing” doesn’t describe an audience, tactic, or channel, but rather a completely different approach to marketing.

Content and Branding InfographicContent marketing turns the dominant paradigm of the last half-century—interruption-based mass marketing—on its head. Rather than interrupting prospective customers with content they generally didn’t want (product pitches) while they were consuming content they did (entertainment or news), content marketing entices targeted buyers with entertaining (consumer) or informative (b2b) content that also happens to reflect the company’s brand messages or product/service strengths.

Disruptive as it is, this philosophical shift has spread widely and quickly: according to recent research, “86 percent of companies serving consumers and 92 percent of ‘business to business’ companies now use content marketing.”

Since content marketing itself is no longer a differentiator, practitioners are asking questions like: how can I efficiently create a steady stream of fresh, relevant content? What types of content are most valuable to my sales prospects? How can content be optimized to support search engine optimization (SEO) efforts? What metrics are most helpful in measuring success and support continual improvement?

Discover the answers to these questions and many more here in more than 30 of the best content marketing articles and blog posts of the past year.

Content Marketing Guides, Tips and Tactics

5 Ways to Clone Great Social Media Content by SteamFeed

Jennifer KaneHelpfully pointing out that “You likely already have strong content on hand (either on-line somewhere or even stuck in a file cabinet in your office.) Instead of developing new stuff from scratch, riff on/reuse this stockpile of awesomesauce and use it more strategically,” Jennifer Kane proposes a handful of techniques to get more mileage out of existing content, such as “Drill down or spiral off on your content themes…if a piece of your preexisting content has resonated with your audience, consider using it as source material for a more in-depth examination of the topic or to jump off on a sub-topic tangent that will enable you to expand the perception your audience has of your brand.”

Digital Natives: How They Are Changing the Content Marketing Game by Content Marketing Institute

Patricia RedsickerPatricia Redsicker presents six strategies content marketers need to embrace in order to address the information needs and wants of digital natives–those born “between the mid-1970s and the late 1990s, (who) have grown up during our current golden age of digital technology. Now in their mid-teens to mid-thirties, people in this generation came of age knowing how to interact with technology and are comfortable using it to their advantage.” Among her recommendations are focusing on content that builds trust, that efficiently answers simple questions quickly, and that makes content consumers feel valued.

Corporate Content Marketing for Best in Class Results by Creative Marketing Channel

Catherine LockeyNoting that “Best in class companies utilize content marketing for brand awareness, customer acquisition, lead generation, and customer retention” and that most companies plan to increase budgets in this area, Catherine Lockey answers six key questions about content marketing, such as “How do best in class companies create all of their great content?” The answer to that one is outsourcing; roughly half of all small companies and three-quarters of large firms outsource at least a portion of their content creation efforts.

Seeking Marketing Alpha by Propel Growth Blog

Candyce EdelenThough the panel discussion this post was written to promote is long past, the thoughts about content marketing shared here by  Candyce Edelen are still well worth a read. “The Internet and email make it easier and cheaper to make noise, resulting in a virtual cacophony of marketing claims barraging customers every day – with everyone claiming to be ‘the leading, number-one, unique, value-added, trusted provider’ of ‘robust, innovative, cutting-edge, high-performance, ultra low-latency technology….’ Yawn. How can every vendor be the ‘leading provider’ anyway?”

Content Marketing in 6 Steps by Social Media Today

Steven Van BelleghemSteven Van Belleghem lays out “the 6 crucial steps to take in order to end up with a good content strategy,” starting with topic selection (determining what’s at the intersection of your company’s unique internal expertise and the information needs/wants of your market) and proceeding through measuring marketing performance (based on the content marketing objectives you’ve established).

Long Live Content Marketing by Rebelations

Rebel BrownRebel Brown offers practical guidance on how to avoid self-promotion and salesy content that “will send your audiences running” and instead focus on providing value: “For example, let’s say your audience is challenged by performance problems with their applications. Don’t send them a piece of content all about your faster processor, database, system or whatever. That’s obnoxious and pretty blatant self-promotion!  Instead,  share a piece of content about the key aspects of their infrastructure that they might want to check for problems. Share your expertise to guide them through the process to better understand their issues.”

5 CEO-Worthy Metrics for Demonstrating Inbound Marketing Success by Marketo B2B Marketing Blog

Jon MillerJon Miller outlines five key inbound marketing metrics to measure and continually improve content marketing success, such as lead generation by content and channel: “Beyond core organic traffic and leads, track lead generation by content asset and source.  What sources are driving the most traffic? What kinds of content drive the most leads? The most revenue?  It can also be insightful to track how these vary by product line or business unit.”

Feeding The Content Marketing Beast – 7 Places to Find Cheap Content by Heidi Cohen

Heidi CohenNoting that two of the biggest challenges content marketers face are “producing sufficient content” and “having enough budget to cover the cost of content,” Heidi Cohen has compiled almost two dozen recommendations for developing content cost-effectively, from repurposing speeches delivered by company executives and soliciting employee contributions to reworking content from your distributors and suppliers.

What Tech Buyers Want From Content by Marketing Interactions

Ardath AlbeeArdath Albee reveals three key attributes that technology buyers value in marketing content, including freshness: “58% (of technology buyers in a UBM TechWeb survey) said they wanted content that was timely and current (while) only 11% said they’d consider content more than 18 moths old.” If you’ve got older content that is still relevant to buyers, refresh it to keep it current with the state of your industry.

Don’t Forget the ‘Marketing’ in Content Marketing by The Content Cocktail

Christina PappasChristina Pappas shares a seven-step checklist for making sure that your content contributes to company goals, without being too pushy or salesy, among them “Make sure there is an offer or connection to your product in every piece of content…every piece of content you publish should have some tie-back to your company and the solutions you provide to the market. This doesn’t have to be obvious and it doesn’t have to be smothered all over the thing, but it should be there somewhere,” such as links to white papers or other related assets at the end of a blog post or report.

Exploring the Five Cs of Content Marketing at Cisco by IT Services Marketing Association

Sherri LieboSherri Liebo identifies the “5 Cs” that Cisco Services looks at to better listen to customers when creating and sharing marketing content, including Customers (“What are customers looking for?”),  Competition (“What is the competition doing? How does Cisco Services compare?”) and Collaborators (“What is happening with our channel and strategic partners?”).

Research: B2B Buyers Want Content by Social Marketing Forum

J-P DeClerckJ-P De Clerck summarizes findings from Base One’s Buyersphere Survey regarding the content needs of business buyers. While the study focused on Europe, its findings are more broadly applicable, such as that “87% of…buyers look for advice before buying…The first source when doing so: Web searches. With 71% of respondents who look for information, searches are by far the main source of information.” Among other findings:

  • • Business buyers are most active in sharing content on forums, LinkedIn and blogs;
  • • Younger members of the buying team are most likely to read white papers and blogs, and attend webinars; and
  • • Buyers “who are working in IT were more likely to have downloaded whitepapers (36%) or read blogs (28%)” than those in other industries.

J-P has also launched a blog, Content Marketing Experience, focused exclusively on content marketing issues and guidance. His post Five Reasons No One Shares Your Content is spot on and well worth a read.

Content Marketing: 3 tips for how to get started by MarketingSherpa

Daniel BursteinDaniel Burstein dispels three myths than hold content marketers back or prevent them from getting the support they need within the organization, such as “‘We don’t want to give away our secrets.’
If you can’t give potential customers enough information about how you do what you do (whether that is fixing plumbing leaks or improving marketing performance), then why should they trust you with their business?” And McDonald’s “secret sauce” is (shhhh)…Thousand Island dressing.

4 secrets to successful content marketing by iMedia Connection

Jacqueline McDermott LiskWriting that “the digital world allows us to measure just about anything, including three factors that help marketers gauge the success of their content: click-through rates, time spent on content, and shares via social media,” Jacqueline McDermott Lisk outlines strategies for producing high-quality content that will both improve these statistics and drive business results.

Sweet talk your leads and move them through the sales funnel by Polaris B

Shelley PringleBecause not all “leads” are ready to turn immediately into buyers, Shelley Pringle outlines a four-step process for converting those leads into customers over time. The process starts with understanding your prospects’ buying cycle and creating content for the top, middle and bottom of the sales funnel.

Sourcing B2B Content For Marketing Strategy! 11 Timeless Examples #FTW by aimClear Blog

Marty WeintraubMarty Weintraub presents “11 timeless content creation examples that have always worked,” among them demystifying myths (“Nearly every sales process is up against some level of customers’ misconceptions and other informational obstacles. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and address these sales impediments head on”), covering industry events in real time, excerpting white papers (a great content idea), and interviewing industry experts.

Content Marketing and SEO

10 Reasons Why You Need an Optimized Content Strategy Now by iMedia Connection

Krista LaRiviereKrista LaRiviere, CEO of web presence optimization software vendor gShift Labs, explains how recent Google algorithm changes (including more emphasis on social signals, the clampdown on low-value backlinks, the Google +1 button, and freshness updates) now make optimized, user-focused content more important than ever for search rankings.

How to create search friendly content by Bing Blogs

This post explains how to create optimized content more efficiently by creating a template or repeatable process for content development, and presents seven tips for discovering tinely topics to write about, incorporating keywords, using hooks to capture readers’ attention, and more.

Content Marketing – Think Campaigns Not Just Links, Your Guide to TOFU by SEOmoz

Kieran FlanaganNoting that “From an SEO viewpoint, the interest in great content is to attract links, where as a lot of what Google is looking to eliminate are examples of where content is used to build links”—particularly in the wake of its Panda and Penguin updates—Kieran Flanagan steps through an approach that puts business objectives first, with links and shares tracked but not viewed as the primary goal.

Infographics, Images and Video

5 Content Marketing Ideas Worth Stealing by jeffbullas.com

Jeff BullasJeff Bullas recommends five content marketing techniques for obtaining and retaining the attention of your prospective buyers by going beyond text: “Sometimes you need some inspiration and you need to try some new ideas and different media that may provide a nudge to try something different and creative outside your comfort zone…Images and photos are much more likely to be shared than an article or a white paper. Videos or infographics will be shared at high velocity compared the the humble ‘written word’ that have been with us for millenia.”

7 Steps to Make Your Infographic a Success by SEOmoz

Slavik VolinskyInfographics can be great for generating re-posts and inbound linke—if done properly. Slavik Volinsky explains what works (e.g., start with a great idea and great distribution plan: “To create a great distribution plan, approach your industry’s ‘big minds’ and ask for their feedback with full intention of listening & improving the infographic”) and what doesn’t.

The History of Content Marketing [Infographic] – Corporate Storytelling is Not New by Content Marketing Institute

Joe PulizziContent marketing guru Joe Pulizzi presents a fascinating history of content marketing, from cave paintings and 19th-century “customer magazines” through the emergence of corporate blogs, business video, microsites, and the proliferation of content marketing sites, books and resources.

Content Marketing and SEO: The world doesn’t need another blog post by MarketingSherpa

Advising marketers to “focus on the message, not the medium” Daniel Burstein (again) offers half a dozen suggestions for taking content beyond blog posts and white papers, like creating a mobile app or a useful online tool “Like the ESPinator from ClickMail Marketing, which helps email marketers choose an ESP that helps them best fit their needs.”

The future of content marketing by iMedia Connection

Rebecca LiebRebecca Lieb reports on research showing that larger, more sophisticated content marketers are gradually “lessening their dependence on text-based channels” and focusing more on video and images. Interestingly, she also notes that “Search, email, blogging, digital PR, and  even (brace yourself) advertising have, and will continue to have a place at the table as content marketing grows in importance,” or in other words, that web presence optimization will get more attention.

7 Rules For Writing Awesome Content by Small Business Trends

Lisa BaroneLisa Barone presents seven writing rules to help in crafting content that will inspire customers to act, including telling stories (“If you want to improve your writing, stop lecturing to people and to start telling them stories”); experimenting (“Improve your writing by experimenting with new mediums [videos, infographics, contests, polls, Twitter chats] instead of getting caught in the same pattern of content”); and to avoid generic messages, “write as if you’re writing to one reader.”

Is Content Marketing The New Advertising? by Forbes
***** 5 STARS

Michael BrennerMichael Brenner shares a highly bookmark-worthy infographic that positions 16 different content formats along the dimensions of attention required from the audience and ease of implementation. For example, social media generally requires little attention from the audience (being very short form), and also little effort, while something like an app, telecast or interactive game is at the other end of the spectrum on both dimensions.

How You Can Use Infographics to Tell a Story by Social Media Club

Mireille MassueMireille Massue offers six steps for creating a compelling infographic (such as making it sharable by submitting it to Infographic Directories); nine resources to learn more about infographics; and (of course), an infographic outlining eight steps to create an infographic.

The 6 Best Slideshare Decks on Content Marketing by B2B Marketing Insider

Michel Brenner (again) passes along half a dozen noteworthy slide decks about content marketing, from experts like Rand Fishkin, Joe Pulizzi, and Rebecca Lieb and Charlene Li, whose Winning Content Strategies presentation notes that “77% of Internet users do not engage with online advertising. A shift from ‘push’ to ‘pull’ marketing is imperative to brand survival.”

Expert Copywriting Tips

Harvard Lesson: Verbs Beat Adjectives by Neuromarketing

Roger DooleyRoger Dooley, commenting on one of the toughest sales jobs of all—”selling” yourself to Harvard Business School, where nine out of 10 applicants are rejected—concludes that verbs sell more powerfully than adjectives. Verbs persuade more effectively because they “require actual examples of the behaviors or characteristics in question…These specifics will increase the credibility of the copy, in addition to providing more information than when the adjective-driven shortcut is taken.”

Using Great Storytelling To Grow Your Business by Fast Company

Kaihan KrippendorffFormer McKinsey consultant Kaihan Krippendorff outlines two approaches for producing more compelling content (or presentations): using LOTS (“language of the senses…When telling a story, share with us what you see, smell, feel, taste, and hear. When you trigger a sense in someone, you bring them into the story with you”) and building on your story spine–a structured approach to use in opening a presentation or throughout a longer document.

25-point Web copy checklist: How to write for Google by Success Works
***** 5 STARS

Heather Lloyd-MartinHeather Lloyd-Martin provides a remarkable checklist for creating content that will appeal to human readers and search engines alike, from starting with a customer persona and keyword/topic research to crafting a compelling title and meta description to effectively “sell the click” to searchers.

Copywriting: How to improve headlines on landing pages and blog posts by MarketingSherpa

Adam T. SuttonAdam T. Sutton, noting that “people are busy. You need to write a headline that convinces them to ignore distractions and pay attention,” outlines four attributes of value to consider when crafting headlines along with five tips for writing attention-grabbing headlines, such as front-loading (start with the most valuable phrase, e.g. “Get Paid to Take Online Surveys” is a much better headline than “We Can Help You Get Paid to Take Online Surveys”).

Write the Best Titles for Content Marketing: A 10-Point Checklist by Content Marketing Institute

Roger C. ParkerRoger C. Parker recommends 10 questions to ask when writing headlines, such as “Does your title clearly promise a desired benefit?,” “Did you emphasize your intended readers in your title?” (for example, “C. J. Hayden’s ‘Get Clients Now: A 28-day Marketing Program for Professionals, Coaches, & Consultants’ targets readers by occupation”), and “Does your title include the keywords readers use searching for information online?.”

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