How to Bring Narratives to Life: Insights on Storytelling and Strategy
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Strategy

How to Bring Narratives to Life: Insights on Storytelling and Strategy

by Dawn PapandreaNovember 1, 2018

Any brand can tell great stories, but that’s not enough for successful content marketing. In order for your content marketing to be effective, you have to have a strategy, a purpose, and a plan. That was the overarching theme at one of the most popular panels at NewsCred’s ThinkContent New York 2018: “How to Bring Narratives to Life: Insights on Storytelling and Strategy.”

On stage were:

  • Mousa Ackall, Vice President, Marketing, WorkMarket
  • Cara Friedman, Director of Content and Community, ClassPass
  • Brooke Sinclair, Head of Media, Away
  • Jennifer Vande Zande, Managing Editor & Copywriter | Content Marketing & Strategy, SAP Hybris

These marketing powerhouses shared their insider strategies for telling the brand story in a compelling way that engages audiences while driving results. Here are the key takeaways of their discussion:

Know where your content lies on the customer journey

Content is an important tool for informing their entire purpose funnel, says Cara Friedman, director of content and community for the ClassPass fitness membership platform. However, the focus of their storytelling is mostly on introducing ClassPass to as many people as possible. “As they’re trying to decide ‘Is this the right product and solution for me?’ our content is answering every one of their questions to help push them over the finish line to become a subscriber,” she adds.

For WorkMarket, an enterprise software platform recently acquired by ADP, content educates their B2B clients, says Mousa Ackall. “Our content strategy is simultaneously educating enterprises of the benefits of an agile workforce and different trends in the future of work, while at the same time, building thought leadership and using some of that longer form content as a lead generation mechanism,” he says. While there are different schools of thought on what type of content to gate, Ackall says the more valuable your content, the more inclined you should be to ask for customer information. 

WorkMarket amplifies its message by telling the stories of its top customers like Warby Parker and Walgreens, as well as partnering with The New York Times. “Being able to tell those stories while simultaneously using some of those content for lead generation allows us to serve both functions,” says Ackall.

Take risks when you hit publish

Taking risks is difficult at a big enterprise, but it’s incredibly valuable, says Jennifer Vande Zande, managing editor at SAP Hybris. “We have a thought leadership site, and we’ve taken some risks and done some things that have been supported in the organization, especially regarding women in tech and equality. We had a lot of engagement, articles were picked up and syndicated. There’s always that fear of hitting the publish button, but it’s worked out really well.” 

As for her advice? “Know your audience and be prepared to say it might not work. But believe in what you’re doing.”

For Away, publishing a print magazine was a big risk for the brand. “It’s a major investment in something we weren’t totally sure would be successful,” says Brooke Sinclair, head of media. “But Away is good at encouraging teams to take calculated risks. With a company that is first to market with something, there is no playbook. So the key is that your definition of success is going to evolve over time.” By encouraging a culture where there is a lot of room for iteration, it allows your team to take risks in a comfortable environment, she adds.

Away’s media division was born out of a white space they saw in the travel media industry. “We weren’t seeing the travel stories we wanted to read. Customers were reaching out to us for recommendations on what to do and where to go,” says Sinclair. The magazine investment helped the brand put a stake in the ground. “It’s nice to be able to tell our story through something you can touch and feel.”

[For more about Away’s content strategy, read our interview with the brand’s president and editorial director.]

ClassPass also has a culture of experimentation, says Friedman. “Sometimes you have to assess and say ‘We could do something small today, but if we took the time for a big risk, would it have a much larger payoff?’” For example, although their consumer blog “The Warm Up” has been really successful around lifestyle fitness content that answers questions about studio fitness classes, they realized there was an opportunity to also support and engage studio partners. “There was no resource for them, so we also created the After Class blog. It’s B2B-focused, talking about ways to run your business,” says Friedman.

Use data, but keep stories human

One of the most important things in content in today’s world is not actually the content itself, but the “less sexy” underlying infrastructure and foundation to make sure you’re measuring and evaluating how effective the content is, says Ackall. “We make sure we use Salesforce, Marketo, etc. – that’s how you make decisions, how you prioritize. There’s a saying: ‘In God we trust, but in everything else, bring data,’” he says.

While she acknowledges the importance of data analytics, Vande Zande says that you also have to study the human connections behind your messaging. “That means getting to know your customer, building that trust, and as more data comes into play, don’t lose the human element in the rise of the robots,” she says.

Watch all the sessions from ThinkContent New York 2018 here. 

Dawn Papandrea is a NewsCred Contributor.