The Future Of Content Marketing: The Story

Jennifer Schulze

Content has been king for more than a decade now, but proliferation has diluted much of the monarch’s might. And when a king’s rule becomes irrelevant to his people, expect a transition of power. In the future of marketing, content will surrender authority to story.

Regardless of your industry, storytelling will become the critical marketing skill across all formats and mediums. What story you tell, how you tell it, and how well you tell it will determine the success of your marketing strategy.

What is your company’s story?

The answer is everything.

Customers engage with an organization’s content marketing, but they also look at websites, product brochures, and advertisements. They engage with customer service, sales, and other departments. Every interaction a customer has with your brand is part of your story, which means every asset and every experience needs to tell the same story and in the same voice.

To accomplish this unified storytelling approach, business leaders must rethink and expand marketing’s role within their organizations. Marketing needs a seat at the table to ask, “How will this affect how customers perceive our brand?” In essence, how will this change our story?

Who tells your story? It’s not who you think

Customers—not you—control the kingdom of content. They decide what is relevant, which mediums and formats work best, and when they will (and won’t) engage. In the past, we may have tried to manipulate customer reactions and behaviors, or worse, ignored customer data altogether and created campaigns based on our own objectives.

Make no mistake: those days are over.

Digitally savvy and increasingly social customers demand that organizations interact with them on their terms. Embrace this new dynamic and learn to create content that positions customers as the heart and hero of your tale. They are your audience, main characters, and co-authors. Digital tools enable real-time customer conversations, A/B testing, and instant feedback, allowing you to share stories and create better experiences collaboratively.

Tell better stories

Your customers decide what stories you tell, but it still takes creativity to make the magic happen. Regardless of the medium—written blog, image, or video—if you can’t tell a compelling story, you can’t cut through the noise.

How do you tell better stories? By studying the art form:

  • Read great writing. Essays, fiction, poetry—read beyond your usual interest and outside your comfort zone.
  • Study style to see what works. In all storytelling mediums, creators make conscious decisions to manipulate emotions. Pay attention to word choice, camera angles, color palettes, etc.
  • Engage in creative play. The pressure to produce day-in and day-out can dull our creative senses over time. Give yourself, and your team, time to create without pressure.

How you tell the story matters

Traditional marketing wisdom calls for campaigns that attract, engage, and persuade leads to move through a funnel toward a sales handoff. But the rise of the always-on, always-connected consumer has made linear campaigns obsolete. People go where they want, when they want, creating their own unique buying journey along the way.

There is no funnel; the traditional campaign is dead, but content will survive the revolution.

In lieu of the straightaway campaign, marketers must build a continuous ecosystem of modular content. By studying your audience data—when they engage, on what platforms and where they go next—you can create a map of customer engagement points. Overlay this map with customer expectations, questions, and needs to determine the topics and information your content will need to address.

Finally, gather all of your assets together and group them by customer interest, topic, theme, or moment of opportunity—heck, group them in all these ways—and decide what stories you need to tell and how you can best tell them. With a modular content strategy, pieces of content click together based on a customer’s actions, creating a story uniquely tailored to that customer. It’s like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book where all the endings are happily-ever-after for you and your customer.

Content’s reign over marketing may never truly end because people will always need information. But in the future, it will have to share sovereignty with its powerful, enigmatic, and adaptable queen: the well-told, highly relevant story.

For more insight on customer-centric marketing, see Empathy And Collaboration: The Lucky Cards Of Customer Success.

About Jennifer Schulze

Jennifer Schulze is Vice President of marketing for SAP. In her role, she manages customer marketing as part of the office of the COO. She has over 15 years of technology marketing and management experience and is a small business owner in the San Francisco Bay area.