This post originally appeared on NewsCred.
Part 2 in a series on creating content at scale. Click here for part 1.
Humans live, breathe, and dream stories. Most people know this intuitively, but there is also research to support storytelling as a primary basis for how we categorize, remember, and make meaning.
For example, a recent collaborative study between Harvard’s Computer Science Department and cognitive scientists from MIT found that when it comes to visual content, the strongest responses were to human and human-recognizable imagery.
Image credit: thinkinc.com
Another study from last fall describes how we use specific examples from the past to categorize new experiences that come in:
“We found that brain states during category decisions were significantly more consistent with latent model representations from exemplar rather than prototype theory.”
This means that when we see a new kind of car, for example, we rely on a scan of individual experiences from the past when categorizing and making sense of it—and not a prototype or model of how all cars look and function. This has powerful implications for anyone creating content, but while marketers seem to understand the importance of storytelling, the rush to create large quantities of content has come at the cost of creating compelling storylines and insights, especially for B2B marketers.
Last week, in our introduction to creating content at scale, we looked at what happens to the creative process when a story isn’t well defined. In particular, not having clear storylines or overall insights for your brand means that narrative is likely to change multiple times throughout the process—costing time, money, and creativity as everyone involved becomes frustrated.
Today, we’ll look at how marketers can quickly find, define, and use data and stories from both internal and external sources to go beyond traditional marketing content like trend reviews and case studies.
A note on thinking like a journalist: Something to keep in mind is that both journalists and marketers can can learn from each other. For marketers, this means getting better at things like attribution, interpreting/understanding data, and framing stories. While going to journalism school isn’t on the slate for most marketers, there are a number of free and/or easy to access resources to help you start thinking like a journalist.
The Data Journalism Handbook, for example, includes details on learning to scrape data from the web, finding stories in data sets, and some good arguments for the value of data stories over time.
Other resources include practical news gathering & presentation tips and low-cost webinars from Poynter.org, and the Storyboard Project by Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, which features interviews and insights on storytelling across mediums.
This change in mindset is probably the most difficult for B2B marketers—product specs, features, and other heavier, more traditional marketing content are rarely written with the same approach that a journalist might take, but it also means there’s a serious opportunity for those B2B brands that break from the pack.
With that said, let’s look at some places where marketers can find compelling stories:
Internal Data, Insights, and Stories
One of the common mistakes that marketers make when creating and publishing content is talking about themselves too much.
Somewhere around 5,000 posts, this topic turned mundane. That doesn’t mean that internal data and stories aren’t valuable. In fact, there are an almost infinite number of ideas within a company.
In the past, these have come from marketing/communications, research, and human resources departments, but other disciplines can be sources of relevant and useful insight as well. Here are a several internal sources you can look to for stories, insights, and data that can feed into your content creation efforts:
- Analytics—and, in particular, inbound search information, can reveal a lot about what your audiences are looking for or compelled by.
- Follow the customer journey through your platform/product/service—what does it look like from start to finish? Show, don’t tell, that experience.
- UX designers are storytellers by their nature; sitting down with them and talking about the experience that customers and prospects have often uncovers ideas worth sharing.
- Sales—this is a traditional place to look for case studies and whitepapers, but there are other opportunities as well, like taking a more journalism-focused approach to interviewing and writing about your customers.
- Product—product managers and others involved in customer development, user testing, etc. are constantly asking clients things like “How did that work for you?” and/or “How did you get here/where did you come from?” Responses to those questions are extremely helpful when developing and testing content for prospects.
- Human Resources—are they fostering CSR efforts? Volunteering? Company culture?
- Team and department culture—what stories bind them together, what problems do they face, and more importantly, what are they learning? If you choose to go this route, remember that a key part is being honest about the challenges you face and where you come up short.
- Executive suite—founders and senior leadership often have valuable insights that can be turned into more conversational content (aka thought leadership). This is also a great way to use marketing to build team culture.
Note: It’s helpful to look for problems, ideas, and data sets that tell a story that can also be turned into micro-content, something we’ll address in detail later in this series when we take a look at defining channels and formats.
External Data, Insights, and Stories
Probably the most traditional part of this post, external research is all about understanding and telling stories around the market your company exists within.
The key here is to create content about the world outside of your company that aligns with your business goals. For example, if you’re a B2C company with an app that helps people manage finances (say, Mint.com or YNAB) and your target audience is Millennials, you may want to start by looking for data that describes how that age group perceives spending, debt, and earnings.
Here are a few more place you can quickly gather ideas or data from to start telling stories that relate to how you fit into the market:
- Industry forums, bulletin boards, and conversations via online and offline conferences.
- Use Google Trends for search trends to see what’s rising in popularity within specific topics/category areas.
- Think tanks/research organizations (e.g., the Pew Trends study linked above or government-based research agencies like the National Center for Education Research).
- Aspirational culture—find, learn about, and cover strong culture initiatives like Zappos Insider. These can be valuable for both inspiring your own team, as well as describing and providing insights into what you see as the core for any strong brand.
Once you’ve got the insights, data, and storylines ready to go, it’s time to make sure they don’t languish in spreadsheets and docs. In the next post in this series, we’ll take look at how you can visually represent and map them to your business goals—along with some tools and practical examples.
- Find out how to get the most mileage from your content by Maximizing Your Publishing with Microcontent.
- Learn everything you need to know about visual content in The Ultimate Guide to Visual Content Marketing.
- Get the most eyes on your content by reading The Ultimate Guide to Content Distribution.