We all think that content marketing is new, however, that’s not the case. It turns out that brands have been telling stories to attract and retain customers for hundreds of years. After all, brands are not always products for sale — sometimes they are ideologies, religions or nationalities, and all of these have stories that illustrate their principles or beliefs. If you think about it, the storyteller in the village was the original marketing guru. He or she told everyone through stories what they should think, say or do.
So if stories have been around since the dawn of time, what are some of the earliest known signs of content marketing? Archeologists have found cave paintings dating back to 4200 B.C. that illustrate “six ways a spear can save you from a wild boar.” Jump to 1895, when John Deere launched a customer magazine called “The Furrow,” which still exists today. And in 1900, Michelin developed its “Michelin Guide,” helping drivers maintain their cars. What do these brands have in common? They are still around and thriving today.
So what is different today? The barriers to entry no longer exist to get into the publishing (storytelling) arena. Today, we have the Internet, which can host any type of content, typically for free.
What do we do with all of this newfound freedom to tell our stories? And why should we even bother to navigate these waters? The power of the story is undeniable, based on history, making it more important than ever. To truly sell it we have to find the story in our product or service. How does it relate to an individual or a group? What has been someone’s experience with our service?
Ultimately, for those of us who have been marketing for a long time, we have to change our mindset about how to think about everything that we want to promote. Naturally we have to know what our product is; the benefits and features. But to truly sell it with content we have to find the story in our product or service. How does it relate to an individual or a group? What has been someone’s experience with our service?
A great way to get stories is to talk to people and let them tell you their stories. Many people think that testimonials are stories and they are, but be careful to not overuse them. A story can be simple and consist of favorites that people choose to share. Favorite classes, favorite exercises, tips for doing things a better way, reasons to not eat a certain food, results from a new program for an individual with a fear of something. The list is infinite.
Stories don’t have to be long. Twitter allows you 140 characters. Facebook postings should be fairly succinct. Instagram is generally pictures of food or selfies with a hashtag or other reference. My last Facebook posting was a picture of the kids in our nursery sitting and playing in a tall box that our Canon Supply delivery guy left behind. We let the kids play in it all day, posted a picture on Facebook and the parents went wild for it.
Takeaway: Start thinking about how all our messaging is really a story. Stories rule the world by penetrating our minds and hearts. Our hearts make most of our buying decisions, so let the story find the heart and you’re home free.
Linda Mitchell is the director of public relations and community partners for Newtown Athletic Club. For questions on marketing, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.