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Tales Keep Prospects Talking

Why stories make a difference for your content marketing strategy.

We all talk about defining leads, managing leads, the nurturing process and other facets of lead generation, but the most important component of good lead generation is overlooked - the content strategy. Demand generation communications are often approached in a one-off fashion as a reaction to an upcoming milestone, like a new product launch, or an event, such as webinar registration. When that’s over, the campaign is discarded in favor of the next “hot” idea in the market. We talk at our prospects and customers in single threaded, one-way electronic statements – when we have the opportunity to have ongoing, interactive conversations that keep them talking.

Lois Kelly sums it up succinctly when she says, “…the goal of marketing is not to assert conclusions but to engage an audience in a dialogue, which leads people to discoveries of their own.” [Beyond Buzz, 2007] What she’s referring to is a well thought out marketing story—sharing something meaningful that positions your company as an expert who understands your prospect’s problems and needs, while showing them how you can help solve theirs, as well.

Stories engage people because they can easily put themselves into the same situation, if only for a moment. The beauty of a good marketing story is that customers feel empowered—they feel that they were responsible for seeing, and reaching out for, their own solution. Getting their attention and compelling them to learn more, is the goal of lead generation. Without that, leads are just an anonymous contact listing in your database.

But what constitutes a content marketing strategy?  Essence. The essence of your company is the core element that drives your company to create products and your customers to use them. Once you get to the core of your essence, the pure value you offer to your customers, you can generate an infinite array of stories. More importantly, the right content strategy will drive faster sales cycles, build stronger customer loyalty and increase your revenues. Story, used in the right way, is a significant competitive differentiator.

Let’s talk about the fictional Wiz Company. Their product is a software system that collects information about online user preferences. Their customers can leverage those insights to personalize communications. The Wiz Company’s essence is Intelligence. So, their marketing strategy is focused around ideas that relate to explaining intelligence, why it’s critical to market success, how to use it to streamline productivity, etc. Every campaign reflects the “intelligence” theme. Their prospects and customers grow to think of them as “The Intelligence Company,” knowing that the Wiz Company is who they turn to whenever they need to improve how they use, think about or apply intelligence.

The core element provides a frame on which to hang all of the stories about your company. It’s not a tagline or a slogan. It’s fundamental to everything your company does. By tying together your communications strategy with a contextual premise, your messaging will define your company, establish your expertise and generate conversations.

Why Stories Work
Stories create pull. By their very nature, stories are about people, which is infinitely more interesting and compelling than product-based messaging. Stories help people put ideas into a personal context. The decision they make is stronger, because they have a bigger investment by choosing to act.

Stories work better than typical marketing messaging that essentially says, “Pick our widget, it’s the best choice. Look at all our features.” It’s gotten to the point that, if you believe the marketing, every product out there is the “best” one. We all use the same words to describe our products and services, so we lose our differentiation within the jargon. When’s the last time you saw an “About” page that didn’t define the company as the “leading provider of…?” When’s the last time you believed them?

Breaking the status quo is one of the biggest challenges of lead generation. If you think about it, it’s the same challenge for all of marketing—getting people to change the way they do things today. “Because that’s the way it’s always been done” is a cultural death sentence to change. Why should people change the way they do things now? Change involves risk. How do they know things will be better? How do they know they can execute the change effectively? What will they gain, and how can you prove it? Stories help prospects understand impacts and opportunities. People can utilize the context of a story to easily explain value to other decision makers. It’s a lot easier than reciting a litany of specifications or facts without any context.

People need to believe that what you say about your products is true and that they can reap the benefits you promise. By using stories, you can show them how other customers, who appear to have the same problems as they do, have done just that. I bet you use a version of these stories today. They’re called case studies. The best ones allow the prospect to step into the shoes of the customer and envision how their world will change if they use your product.

The point is that stories are easily ingestible. People can absorb them and use their own filters to create a personal connection to the story. People ultimately like to make their own choices. What they need from you is the proof and support to justify those choices.

Story As Guide to Content Strategy
The framework for telling a story can become the structure for your communications strategy. If done well, stories will permeate your company, crossing departments by orchestrating all the conversations with and among customers, prospects, employees and vendors. Effective stories reinforce your brand and what it stands for.

Construct your stories as a connected series of communications. If each communication reveals something unexpected that prompts the person to ask a new question or think differently about the idea you’ve introduced, their propensity to take action increases.

Great stories can appeal to a variety of potential buyers, since each person brings their own personal perceptions and needs to the communication. A single great story can be relevant to a variety of different people, for varying reasons – increasing its reach and usability for you. The goal is to get each of them to take action, to reach out to you for the outcome your story promotes.
In the book, Made to Stick, stories are referred to as “mental flight simulators.” They allow people to take ideas and project them onto their situations with a new perspective. Instead of flat data, people can actually “see” the outcome and “taste” the results.

The difference between product-based communications and stories is that facts are not influential unless they mean something. Stories deliver meaning by putting circumstances into context and providing a foundation for consideration. Introducing a new perspective can help people see things differently. It can help you break through the status quo that keeps so many prospects inert. After all, any time we’re talking about generating leads, we’re talking about getting someone to take the first step to change, take a risk and make a choice.

Great stories compel prospective buyers to talk to you about putting their ideas into action with the experts they trust—your company.

More Stories By Ardath Albee

Ardath Albee, CEO & B2B Marketing Strategist of her firm Marketing Interactions, helps companies with complex sales increase and quantify marketing effectiveness by developing and executing interactive eMarketing strategies driven by compelling content.

Her book, eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale, was published by McGraw-Hill.

Her articles and blog posts have been used for university ezines, published in CRM Today, Selling Power, Rain Today and Enterprise CRM News. Marketing Profs has incorporated her blog posts into a number of their "Get to The Point" newsletters.