It’s exciting to get to talk to experts about content marketing and how to tell effective stories in your customer experiences, so we were very excited to talk to Ann Handley. Handley is a digital and content marketing expert. She is a partner and Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs and an award-winning author of two books: Everybody Writes and Content Rules. Handley joined us on the Content Matters Podcast to talk about storytelling in B2B Marketing.
Content Marketing is Not a Tactic or a Tool
Content marketing is not new even though we tend to talk about it like it’s only been around the last five to ten years. It’s been around a lot longer than that. What’s different in the last five years, Handley said, is that the tools have finally caught up. Handley said that content marketing is the backbone of marketing, and marketers have embraced that content is a cornerstone of modern marketing.
Handley also said that content marketing is not a tactic or tool; content infuses everything you do (including this podcast). It’s “anything you publish or produce to tell your story.”
What is Storytelling in B2B Marketing
What do we mean by storytelling? Handley explained that it’s about who you are, what value you provide, and how you deliver services. It’s all the touchpoints that make up your story. She said businesses often get caught talking about themselves when they should be reframing their business in the context of why it matters to customers.
Storytelling in a business context makes the customer the hero, eases their pain and shoulders their burdens.
The problem is as a business we still love to talk about ourselves – our products and services. But the reality is that people are super busy and there are too many messages. It’s easy to block out the messages about a company and what it does, choosing instead to look for stories about what the business does for them.
Handley said it’s a subtle shift (and it’s marketing 101), but there’s still a lot of marketing “that looks like marketing.”
Getting Started with a Storytelling Strategy
One of the first things you need to know to start your storytelling strategy is who is a piece of content for, Handley said. Is it for prospects, existing customers, influencers, sales? It varies depending on the objective or role. You have to understand who your customer is for any piece of content.
You also need to ensure a consistent voice across all your content. You may change your tone for a particular audience, Handley said, but your point of view, the words you use – these things don’t change.
When you are creating content for your website, you need to think about the story and how you are describing yourself. Handley said to go to your website and count the number of “you’s” on your webpages; are you talking about them (the audience) or yourself? She said it sounds basic but try it and you’ll likely find you are talking about yourself.
The Written Word vs. Audio vs. Images and Video
In one of Handley’s newsletters, she referenced a comment from Instagram founder Kevin Systrom in Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report on the lack of value in writing today, and I asked her about it. She explained that it’s not a binary choice – the written word or audio or video or images. Writing is the backbone of so much we creators do, she said. It’s not going away because Instagram is exploding or there's more video.
She said that she loved Instagram, but images are a lot stronger when married with some text that describes what’s going on and injects a voice or personality.
Handley also said that writing conveys a nuance that’s hard to do in any medium.
“We need more depth, not scrolling.”
On The Next Big Thing in Content Creation
It’s fine to create content in different mediums, but what you do depends a lot on having the resources and ability to publish that medium in addition to having an audience that wants to consume it.
Handley said you need to get the foundation and the basics right first. Understand your story and how to communicate it in a way that is compelling and don’t innovate until you are ready.
She said focus is important. Marketers need to slow down and figure out what is driving results for them as a company and business. It is really hard to show up consistently in a new area without a lot of resources.
How do you know if your content is driving result? You need to understand the objective of your content. Is it to advance the funnel, get a download or a subscription? Map your content to a goal and then add a “buddy goal” as Avinash Kaushik, Digital Marketing Evangelist at Google suggests. Handley said it’s risky to over-index on a single goal and that matching a goal with a buddy goal keeps you honest.