That message was underscored at the recent Content Marketing Institute’s Content Marketing World 2014, during which Kevin Spacey was one of the guest speakers.
“Good content marketing is not a crap shoot — it has always been about the story,” Spacey said.
Spacey used examples of popular TV shows when discussing the art of storytelling, like “Breaking Bad” and his new show, “House of Cards.”
That’s all well and good, but how do you tell a great story when you’re writing for or own a waste management company, for example?
It starts with content that your audience can relate to or see a bit of themselves in.
Take the real estate industry for an example. Odds are good that you already own a home, have owned before or you’re thinking about buying instead of renting.
So, as an exercise, look up the phrase “why you should buy a home.” Google turned up a shade under 700,000 hits on that search. And some of the stories are pretty good, too.
One of the first stories to appear in the search engine results is this one by U.S. News & World Report, re-published by MSN Real Estate: “5 reasons you should buy a small house.” It’s a perfect example of writing relatable copy.
It starts by putting the reader into a situation they’re all too familiar with: shopping for a new home and – admit it, we all do this – checking out some McMansions. It goes on to point out how inexpensive these homes are these days, due to the troubled real estate market.
Then, it forces the reader to consider a few questions: Even if you could afford one of these homes, should you? And are you sure you want to live in a home that large?
All this takes place within the first paragraph.
Sure, this story won’t win any high-falutin’ journalism awards, but it played on the readers’ emotions – and by doing that, it was read and shared by thousands of people. (See the bottom of this post if you’d like to learn how to promote your content.)
The devil is in the details
That same blog post was packed with great information. It had context about where the housing market is now compared to what it used to be. It explained how much larger homes are today as compared to just a few decades ago. And everything was backed by statistics.
The story not only puts readers in a situation they can relate to, it also uses details to tie it all together.
“People like to read about people, and everyone has a story to tell,” says Charlie Moore, business editor for the Albuquerque Journal, in an exclusive interview with Article-Writing. “And, yes, one good detail can make a story.
“What makes a good detail? Something that is emblematic of what you’re writing about, or of the person’s life, or maybe just something that hits you as particularly poignant.”
Be careful with those details, though. A 5,000 word opus extoling the uses of CNC mills would probably even put the CEO of an engraving company to sleep. The same goes for using jargon that only people in the industry you’re writing about would understand.
“What’s difficult, sometimes, is getting someone to talk in detail about a job or process that they are intimately familiar with,” Moore said. “They may take for granted something that is completely familiar to them, but which may be a ‘Huh, I didn’t know that’ moment for someone outside their world.”
There’s No Such Thing as a Boring Story, Only a Boring Storyteller
Take a look at some of the TV shows on cable. You’ll find everything from shows about bathroom remodeling to house flipping to lumber jacks – and all are watched by hundreds of thousands of people.
“Let’s say you’re a steel manufacturer,” Moore said. “Just how hot is that furnace? What is it the equivalent of? What does it look like to turn raw iron into steel? There’s also probably some fascinating history there.”
There’s a simple exercise you can perform to turn the seemingly boring into something interesting: Talk about it out loud with your family, friends or colleagues. Explain to them the story you’re trying to write and the audience you’re trying to reach. By doing this, they’ll either directly relate to the story you’re about to tell them, or they’ll understand your objectives. Remember, too, to include the most important and interesting details, but don’t bog them down with minutia.
The end result? You just told an interesting story.