Content marketing is enjoying its moment in the sun. With the expectation—and added pressure—for brands to create more more content, now is a good time to ask a simple question: What's the content of your content?
Here are three types of questions that every brand should answer to give people a clearer sense of who you are, where you're taking them, and why you matter. (Others, such as author Nancy Duarte and mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell have spoken about storytelling in similar terms.)
1. What does the world look like if you get your way?
When Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, he talked for 11 minutes before he mentioned having a dream. It's known as the "I Have a Dream" speech, however, because of its last five minutes. His vivid description of how the world should be was a guidepost, a rendering of a just society that supporters could work toward building.
Great brands paint a similar picture. Tiny Speck's co-founder Stewart Butterfield put it this way in a memo to his team about Slack, a real-time messaging platform: "We need to make [potential customers] understand what's at the end of the rainbow if they go with Slack…"
When you show people your blueprint for the future, you invite them to help you create it. More of them will apply, join, buy, give, sign up, and sign in when they understand how that action contributes to a larger effort.
Example: IBM envisions a world that's more "Instrumented, Intelligent and Interconnected," so it uses A Smarter Planet to promote that idea.
2. What will it take to get there?
In 1988, a new commercial featured 80-year-old Walt Stack running across the Golden Gate Bridge. His voiceover said, "I run 17 miles every morning. People ask me how I keep my teeth from chattering in the wintertime. I leave them in my locker." Then three words came on the screen for the first time: Just do it. Nike wasn't selling shoes. The company was celebrating grit, determination, and self-belief. Because that's what it takes to create a world where everyone is an athlete.
A few years later, another great brand celebrated rebels, misfits, and troublemakers, the ones you can glorify or vilify but never ignore. Its story was very clear on what it would take change the world. We had to think different.
People want to associate with brands that share their beliefs. If you don't tell them what yours are, you never give them the opportunity to agree with you.
Example: Everlane's concept of Radical Transparency encourages customers to ask how, how much, and why.
3. What are you doing right now to make that world a reality?
Moleskine makes notebooks, right? Yes, but that's not the value it creates for customers. As director of Branding and PR Erik Fabian explains, Moleskine creates "platforms and containers for imagination."
In the world Moleskine is building, imagination thrives. To get there, personal expression and organization are critical. Its products provide the answer, so its stories celebrate what people do with those products.
Your products and services should be proof of the progress toward the world you're trying to build. The stories you tell need to demonstrate how your products and services are helping customers get there, too.
Example: The films in Siemen's Answers series show how its technology makes life better through personal examples.
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There's a second half to Butterfield's quote above: "We need to make [potential customers] understand what's at the end of the rainbow if they go with Slack... and then we have to work our butts off in order to ensure they get there."
Stories work well for brands because of what they reveal about those who tell them. The content of your content is really the content of your character. That's why brands with the most meaningful stories win.
Make sure you're telling them.
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