Based on what the speakers have had to say in the past 48 hours at the 2012 Content Marketing World Conference (CMW) in Columbus Ohio, it's clear that the lines between PR and marketing are growing ever more blurry. Marketers are increasingly looking to mine their companies for storytelling opportunities.
Dan Grantham, editorial director at CE Publishing, who has over 16 years experience in custom content creation, leads a creative group that produces stories across multiple platforms including print magazines, Web sites, tweets and tablet magazines. Here are 6 tips from Grantham from CMW to use in order keep PR on top as chief brand storytellers.
Telling your brand's story: Are you funny, serious, book smart or streetwise? Which character would you be on Friends? Which movie character closely resembles your brand? "These are seemingly silly questions to ask that serve as great ways to launch into discussing whether you're adventurous, conservative and can help define what your story is," says Grantham.
Authority to publish: You need to be speaking about a thought-process related to your brand, says Grantham. It doesn't have to be just about your products or employees. For example: Procter & Gamble made the site HomeMadeSimple.com for all things related to the care of the home.
American Express made OpenForum.com, a site with tips on running a small business. "You may be thinking, a credit card company speaking about running a small business site?" says Grantham. "However, they produce great content from their own writers, and get experts from the field and leverage information beyond the traditional boundaries of what their core product or service is—and it works."
Unilver - Degree for Men, an antiperspirant company, made TheAdrenalist.com, a site that has adventurous stories about living life on the edge. "These don't necessarily tie back to perspiration—thats not the main focus," says Grantham. "But they've gone out and gotten experts to expand their reach." (Visitors: 168,661)
Where to look: Now that you know which stories you want to tell, where do you go to find them?
Marketing: The marketing department tends to know what stories they'd like to tell, and have a good sense of who the audience is, says Grantham.
Sales: These are your frontline soldiers. "They have access to testimonials and success stories—the happy sides of the story to be told," says Grantham. The flip side is…
Customer service: These are the people that are sitting on a wealth of unwritten tips stories, and know what the important issues for customers are. "They can address what are the customers' questions, and what are we not communicating with them at first," say Grantham.
Business units: Tapping into your company's business units is a great way to get information on where the company is heading. What are its innovations? What are they working on? What is the market perspective? "The more you can be in touch with these guys the better you will be in terms of lead time and editorial scheduling," says Grantham.
What to look for: Context and Character
Context is what differentiates content marketing from any other type of marketing out there—it creates authenticity and demonstrates relevance. "Most of marketing is 'why our product is better, why you should try us,'" says Grantham. "The beauty of content marketing is that it puts that content in context and shows your product in the context of people living their lives."
Character: People, people, people. Write profiles (someone within the company who developed that product) and anecdotal leads to increase interest value. "People are more interested in reading stories about people—they identify and can empathize with people more than brands," says Grantham. "Whenever you can, establish your brand as the expert on a subject matter."
Having to Tell a Bad Story: This all sounds great until you run into the person at your company who tells you you're wrong about storytelling, and forces you to push their story. So, what's the cure for a "bad" story that you're now being forced to tell—how can you sell it by disguising it as something interesting and entertaining? "We find the most effective way to deal with off-target messaging and content is to hide the elements that make it a bad narrative," said Grantham, who recommended the following tactics: Turn it into a list; make it a graphic; set it up as a quiz; develop it as a flow chart.
Grantham said that a brand's editorial position is the midpoint between what your customers need in terms of information, and what they're looking for in terms of answers and the benefits of your product. Great stories allow the storyteller to connect with the listener, and that happens best when stories are personal.
Follow Bill Miltenberg: @bmiltenberg