Marketing & Advertising

5 Storytelling Mistakes That Content Marketers Must Avoid

Content marketing has the potential to engage shoppers and develop loyal, repeat customers. But when marketers tell misleading stories or waste someone’s time there may be a negative impact on business too.

Some marketers believe that one of the most powerful forms of content marketing is storytelling or the act of sharing brand or business messages in the form of a story intended to evoke an emotional response that leads audience members to take some action. Storytelling relies on the idea that people naturally communicate and persuade with stories.

Consider the Troy Library’s Story

As an example of using stories to communicate a marketing message, consider the case of the Troy, Michigan Public Library. In 2011, the library was running out of funding. If the city did not pass a tax increase, it would close. To prevent this, the library hired a Detroit-based advertising agency, which told a little story, equating closing the library with burning books. The story was so compelling that voters came out in record numbers to support the tax increase.

The video below, from the agency’s YouTube channel, describes how this story worked. Take three minutes and watch it.

Storytelling is Tangible, Human-to-Human Communication

Perhaps, the reason that the Troy Library story worked — and regardless of what one thinks of the approach, it worked — is that it offered a tangible idea, burning books, at a human level of communication.

“Human-to-human connections are the heart and soul of business. At the end of the day, you’re dealing with people — your company is solving problems, alleviating pain points, and providing delightful customer experiences,” wrote Neil Patel and Ritika Puri in Quick Sprout’s “The Beginners Guide to Online Marketing,” adding, “Revenue is something that happens as a byproduct of a sound business model and a positive customer experience.

“Storytelling,” Patel and Puri continued, “is a powerful technique for building relationships. It’s an age-old concept that brings people together and keeps them engaged. … Storytelling and marketing go hand-in-hand.”

Unfortunately, Sometimes Stories Go Bad

Thus far, you have seen an example of a successful campaign and learned, perhaps, that storytelling is a human-to-human endeavor. Unfortunately, sometimes stories go bad. Or, at least, sometimes marketers make mistakes when they tell stories. Storytelling mistakes can take many forms. What follows are five such mistakes.

Mistake No. 1: Telling Lies

When a shopper engages with your company’s stories, that shopper is, to some degree, trusting your business and learning from what you tell them. So it is vital that you do nothing to break that trust.

Simply don’t tell lies. Storytelling lies might consist of mistakes in the facts presented, or they might take the form of omitting important information that would change the way an audience member understands the story.

Mistake No. 2: Telling Useless Business Stories

A novel is a story. A movie is a story. But, in most cases, an Elizabethan screen drama is not going to help an online store sell more t-shirts. The story might be great, but there is a sense in which it is useless to the business releasing it. It is, if you will, the wrong story to tell.

Similarly, a superbly written story of Amelia Earhart’s life might not engage the right sort of customer for a store selling men’s swimsuits.

To avoid this mistake, tell stories that make sense in the context of your business.

Mistake No. 3: Telling Tired, Boilerplate, Cliché Stores

Girl meets boy. Girl and boy fall in love. Girl and boy face some problem. Girl and boy break up. Girl and boy go to extraordinary measures to get back together.

The five sentences above describe the plot of many books and films. Granted, some variations can be interesting and engaging, but this is still, in my opinion, a somewhat tired or cliché tale.

In content marketing, try to tell unique, meaningful stories about your company and your products.

Mistake No. 4: Telling Good Stories Badly

Storytelling is an art to a greater degree than other forms of content marketing. While there is certainly something artful about a well-done listicle or how-to video, there is a significant difference between writing or producing content about the proper way to weld a rolling cart and telling the welder’s story.

Both have an important place in content marketing, but they each require a different level of expertise and skill.

This does not mean that some marketers or content producers are incapable of storytelling; rather, to avoid this mistake, pay attention to the craft of telling the story.

Mistake No. 5: Telling Controversial, Unpopular, Unnecessary Stories

Sometimes companies tell controversial, divisive, or unpopular stores when they did not need too. When there was not a good business reason to do so.

With some exceptions, businesses should probably avoid hot political or social topics that are not directly related to the industry served.

Avoiding the Storytelling Buzz

As a final consideration, storytelling is something of a content marketing buzzword at the moment. When something reaches buzz status, it may be a good idea to treat it gingerly.

Storytelling deserves a place in content marketing, but not all content marketing is storytelling. In September 2014, WordStream published a good article about storytelling that began with a video from graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister.

“I am really quite critical of the storytelling theme. I think that all the storytellers are not storytellers,” Sagmeister said. “Recently, I read an interview with somebody who designs roller coasters, and he referred to himself as a storyteller. No … you are not a storyteller, you’re a roller coaster designer and that’s fantastic.”

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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