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I participated in a recent tweet chat, and the topic for the week was storytelling, which seems to be the latest marketing buzzword, although corporate storytelling isn't anything new.

Keep in mind that storytelling is less about creating a mini-episode on your website or broadcast commercial, and more about communicating the story of your brand in a meaningful way so that your audience gets what you are about, remembers you, and advocates you and your cause.

You should be doing that sort of communication with every piece of content—telling your story in a personal, authentic way that engages your reader to take action. You connect with your audience through your brand; you tell them who you are, what you do, why they should care and trust you, and why you can help them.

And to do that, you must reach and speak to each person on an individual and personal level.

I call that "Argo-izing" your content.

I hope you either saw Argo or heard someone talking about the film. There is no doubt why the film won the Best Picture Oscar. The filmmakers followed what I now call the Argo rule: Lure them in, keep them engaged end-to-end, and keep them talking about you long after it is over.

So how do you go about Argo-izing your content?

Four Rules

1. Plan each piece of your content

What is your objective? Who do you want to reach? What story do you want to tell? How do you tie your brand story into this piece of content?

Take a page out of Hollywood's playbook and storyboard your content. If you watched Argo, storyboards came in handy for the crew. Outline each idea. What is the objective? What is the journey you want the reader to take with your content? What response do you want the audience to have? Connect these ideas.

I am sure you know that your content has to have a beginning, middle, and end. Do you also have to have a "character" in each piece of content? Not necessarily, but it helps. Perhaps one of the personas you have researched can be your lead character. Emotion drives response, so your audience should be emotionally connected somehow to your content or the characters you use in your content.

Being authentic and genuine will give your content what it needs to connect with your audience on an emotional and personal level.

2. Ensure your brand story is consistent across all communication channels and with other pieces of content

Speaking Farsi helped the Argo crew communicate and be believable. Speak your reader's language and communicate a consistent message through your content on your website, posts on social channels, posts and comments you make on online communities and elsewhere, etc. because you never know who is reading at any given moment.

Remember, it takes 6-12 touchpoints for someone to trust what you say and take action to contact you.

3. Ensure you are reaching and engaging your audience

The Argo crew members had to venture out into, and engage with, the outside world to move their plan forward. How are you engaging your audience through your content? What reaction do you want them to make? Are you emotionally connecting with your audience? Is the connection authentic?

Be authentic and personal. When you create your content, create it as if for one person and have a conversation with that person. When you do, your message will resonate with your reader and they will engage.

4. Keep your readers on the edge of their seat wanting more

Were you cheering for the Argo crew to board the plane and get out of Iran? When your audience is emotionally engaged, they will cheer for you and want more from you. Lead your reader to take action. Give them a taste but don't give up the store. After reading your content, they should be emotionally invested and ready to act.

What response do you want them to make? Do you want them to share the content? Do you want them to comment? Do you want them to take the next step? And, if so, have you defined what that next step looks like? Whether it is to view the next piece of content, download a whitepaper, attend a webinar, etc., the next step should be logical, so nurture them along a path that makes sense.

From the Trenches

I have always been interested in storytelling. Some of my fondest memories are of the time when I was a professional script-reader. (Script-readers are in the development departments of film production companies, and they read scripts and recommend whether films get made.) The scripts I loved reading were the ones that emotionally drew me in (though the build-up and scene-connection had to be logical), kept me engaged throughout, and left me wanting more. Those are the good stories.

So I decided to ask a couple of award-winning filmmakers about their ideas of great storytelling.

Kathi Carey says "the most important points to keep in mind about storytelling are the things that are going to engage your audience—anticipation, theme, and heart. Give your audience just enough information to get them interested to stick with you." Help lead them along so they want to follow you. Kathi says "the theme is the spine of the story, it's the reason you are telling the story." Definitely have a plan on why the story is important and why it is important for your audience to hear the story. And, "heart is the feeling of the story, the emotion you want people to feel as you tell the story." The reader must have an emotional connection to the content, otherwise they won't care and you might just be remembered... for wasting their time.

Donna Wheeler says "good storytelling is most engaging when it deals with the basis of introducing characters in a way that sets them apart, gives them context that is universal and easy to understand, then introduces the conflict or problem, and shows what they do to overcome their conflicts and move into a new world as a result of their journey." That is a perfect example of Argo-izing content. And Donna notes that it is important to engage with the audience by "having them be part of the story, part of how it builds and how it gets resolved, and allowing them to influence the outcome... which leads to more engagement."

Readers' involvement, while they are experiencing your content, will help you in your nurturing efforts and getting them to take the next step.

* * *

A few years back, I read Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling, which was originally tweeted by Emma Coats, a former Pixar storyboard artist. Several, if not all, of these rules should be applied when telling your brand story. It serves as a pretty good checklist.

What storytelling attributes are important in your content marketing? This writer's inquiring mind wants to know.

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Sue Duris is president of M4 Communications Inc., a Palo Alto, CA-based marketing strategy and communications firmthat helps technology, entertainment and nonprofit organizations build and extend their brands. Reach her via

Twitter: @M4_Comm
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