Why Storytelling is NOT for Content Marketing

Stories attract and engage your audience along the different stages of the buyer’s journey. That is what the “Content” in Content Marketing is all about, right? So why is it wrong to tell stories for Content Marketing?

All brands that engage in Content Marketing are essentially “Broadcasters”. Content Marketers are essentially “Programming Managers”. We decide the types of content or programme to have for our brand.

When I first joined the TV industry, I was told that the role of public service broadcast media is to inform, educate and entertain. This is achieved through the programme offering; the content or stories told through various genres (news, documentary, drama, comedy etc). During one of the subsequent strategic planning retreats, I proposed that this was what the company does. But it doesn’t consider how the viewers’ needs are met. If we look from the consumers’ point of view, then it is no longer just “informing” but “engaging”. It is no longer “educating” but “inspiring”. It is no longer “entertaining” but “escaping (from reality)”.

Engage Inspire Escape

Inform » Engage; Educate » Inspire; Entertain » Escape

The key difference between the two set of roles lies in the starting point. The first set starts with the broadcaster, what we want to “inform, educate or entertain” the viewers on. It is pretty much a top-down approach, pushing content to the viewers. The second, on the other hand, starts with the viewers and considers how they would benefit. It acknowledges that the audience is not just passively receiving all the content thrown their way. Instead, it seeks to invite the audience to be part of the Content, investing their emotions into the Content.

When Content Marketers seek to tell a story, there is a tendency to start from the brand: We have a “brand story” that we want to tell our viewers. We want to “inform” them of what our brand stands for. We want to “educate” them on what our brand can do for them. We want to “entertain” them with our brand character and personality.

In Storytelling, every brand wants to be the hero in the story. This form of storytelling is a “legacy” from the days when brands have the power to tell customers what they want (through advertising and public relations). Everything about the brand is controlled by the brand. This is pretty much the same mentality of the early broadcasters.

Ironically, from the very beginning of “marketing”, it has always been about the customer. Businesses exist because they can help customers fulfil a need.

happy customer
A happy customer is the centre of marketing
Times have changed of course. With the power shift to the customers in the digital age, the focus is now firmly on the customer. A brand story is no longer told by the brand alone. Every customer is equipped (using just a smart phone) to add and change your story narrative… if they even choose to consume the content in the first place.

So, if storytelling is not the way to go, what is? The answer is what I call Story Inception.

Story Inception: planting ideas through stories

Story Inception is the design of a story world that attracts and engages the audience to be part of the story and guides their experience with the brand virtually and in reality.

In Christopher Nolan’s film, Inception, the story introduces the concept of a shared dream space where the skilled extractors can enter into and extract information hidden in the dreamer’s subconscious. It then reverses the concept with the main characters having to plant an idea into the mind of their target.

What Content Marketing seeks to achieve therefore, is not to push a story to our audience through Storytelling. When we want our audience to be able to escape from reality, to be engaged and to be inspired to act with our brand, we need to pull them into our story world and allow them to interact with our brand to build their stories.

Although our story world is not a dream space like that in the film, our goal nevertheless is similar… to seed an idea to our audience and allow them to create their own story, within our story world… creating a psychological bond between them with our brand.

That would be the ultimate Content Marketing. That would be Story Inception.

This article was first published in Medium