Content marketers are learning to become storytellers. The practice helps them connect what matters about their products and services to both existing and new markets. In telling stories, the new marketers look a lot like publishers, offering an opportunity for people working in both industries.
Storytelling itself is in our nature. We could reach back to cave drawings to see the power of telling stories. They kept us alive, or fed. They showed the advantages of working together for a common cause.
From there, we know the progression: spoken words, then written words, followed by performance of those written words using shared events. Theater, movies, radio and television provided us with opportunities to tell our stories to larger and more dispersed audiences.
The growth of media provided reach for the stories we wanted to tell. It also put someone else between the story and the audiences.
That was never ideal, but in the second half of the 20th century, “reach” won out. Mass-market magazines sold audiences by the millions, as long as your story fit in a page or a spread. Television sold audiences by the tens of millions, if you could squeeze your story into 60, or 30, or (by the end of the 90s) 15 seconds.
Connecting with audiences
The rise of the internet shifted pricing power away from media and toward marketers. That shift isn’t over yet. But the focus on business models misses something that good content marketers are doing directly: telling stories.
Relying on content to sell products isn’t new. Higher end catalog merchants – J. Peterman, for example, and L.L. Bean – have been telling stories for a long time.
Think about the early days of the automotive brand Saturn, now defunct. People embraced the car, and Saturn embraced the people who embraced the car. The little unit from General Motors told stories that built a culture around extraordinary service and customer-first sales practices.
The web made it possible for manufacturers to tell stories that established direct relationships with potential and actual buyers. This is what good content means for your company: It provides an opportunity to connect with your audience in ways that helps them understand where your product or service fits in their lives.
The “fit” could be utilitarian: “Teach me how to forage for food.” Or it could be aspirational: “Help me become the person my dog thinks I am.” And it should be conversational: “Let’s find a way to solve this together.”
The new publishing
Increasingly, the new content marketing looks a lot like publishing, connecting products to markets. Publishers could learn a lot from marketers who know how to start a conversation. At the same time, marketers could learn a great deal from publishers who truly understand how to tell a story.
Whether publishers join in or not, content marketers are becoming storytellers. Using content to connect their products and services to markets, they represent a new kind of publishing. The market shift offers opportunity for people working in marketing and publishing, alike.