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I want to tell you a story: Narrative and content strategy

November 8th, 2012

What did you do today? Today I got up, had a shower, rushed out of the house and (just) made my train to Leeds. Then I popped into Pret A Manger (I work in marketing) for a latte (I work in marketing) then snuck in Tesco to pick up a Times (Guardian days are behind me) before making my merry way up to NewsReach’s office.

It’s the details of a fairly humdrum morning. But if you look at it, I’ve done something we all do, every day, without even thinking: Told you a story.

Stories are how we make sense of the world, they are how we give meaning to our lives, constructing our events into a narrative. This content strategy blog isn’t (for the most part) about how important data is to content strategy, or about how a multi-channel, integrated approach is key. Or about bounce rates. Or about editorial calendars.

It’s about something equally as powerful: narrative. How do you make your content engaging? How do you involve your customers in your brand? By telling a story, one that chimes with your customers’ everyday lives.

Once upon a time

Stories are as old as time. As children we read them, we’re read them by parents and as we grow older they form part of our lives. Thinking about storytelling as an approach to content strategy, then, is a great idea – because by constructing narratives you are immediately focusing on engagement, experiences and emotion – central tenets that will appeal to customers.

Because people love stories. They love them more than hard facts and dry data. Stories are interesting, they fizz and pop with life. They are funny, sad, heartbreaking, scary, everything.

But when I talk about the importance of storytelling to content strategy, what do I really mean? One way I like to think of it is that the overarching content strategy is more like a Choose Your Own Adventure than a book with a straight beginning, middle and end.

Underneath this are the little pockets and strands of narratives – all fitting into the overarching narrative. Integrate your brand’s story into the experience your users want to have.

Big picture

Thinking about content strategy as a narrative process helps you to take a step back, look at your ideas in broader context and form the bigger picture. Here’s an example from personal experience.

I’m currently working on a project which requires a lot of management and foresight. Yesterday a colleague and I were working through some content and we decided one way to tackle it would be to ‘storyboard’ it – instead of relying on multiple Google documents.

So we printed them all off, got some Blu-Tack and sellotape out of the cupboard and stuck them all up on the office walls. As another colleague pointed out, we did temporarily transform one corner of the office into what resembled the incident room on The Bill, but here we were mapping a narrative, a ‘content journey’ if you will, and our story was born.

This process allowed us to take a ‘big picture’ view of what we were doing. Instead of micro-focusing on specific elements, we storyboarded our project and had a much clearer view of what we were doing.

User involvement

Content is interactive. In the past, traditional media told a story in the straightforward sense. Today’s digital channels offer a much more open-ended platform through which to tell stories.

Users can be involved in the stories you create. Think of how this works on social media, where campaigns often seek to involve individuals as the central part of a story.

Metrics

We know that strategic thinking is no longer about mere intuition. It’s really about data. Analytics is an increasingly important part of content marketing, and it will continue to define and inform how we approach our thinking. But I feel we mustn’t let the importance of narrative be superseded by data. Storytelling is everywhere, and should be viewed as a specific element of content strategy.

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Rob Taylor is an Assistant Content Manager at NewsReach and is based in the Leeds office. Interested in content strategy, client management and product development, Rob also writes across a range of topics, from electronics to smartphone apps to lifestyle to printer ink.

 

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Image credits: Thinkstock/iStockphoto

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