Killer Content Strategy in 2 Hours

To efficiently get your team to a killer content strategy you need a common framework that can be applied to all your content decisions, as well as a simplified planning process that connects your approach to your audience and business goals.

MeetingTo efficiently get your team to a killer content strategy you need a common framework that can be applied to all your content decisions, as well as a simplified planning process that connects your approach to your audience and business goals.

The Conversation Framework

We often talk about digital content as a storytelling medium, but that assumes a one-sided relationship with one storyteller and one or many listeners.

I prefer to think of it as a conversation that may include stories. In a best case scenario, your content resembles an ongoing dialogue with your audiences that you can learn from over time, just as a good conversation requires listening and thoughtful reaction.

If you think about content planning in this context of a natural dialogue you will find there are certain elements that impact the direction and elements of the varied kinds of conversation that we all engage in day to day:

  • Depth of relationship: You talk about different things and in a different cadence and tone with strangers or new friends than with those you know well.
  • Frequency of touch point: Catching up with a long lost friend takes on a different flavor than conversing with another friend that you see more regularly.
  • Passion point: If you have something in common with someone that can often become the central theme of your interactions.
  • Attention: Is it a passing opportunity to chat or do you have uninterrupted hours to spend together?
  • One-to-one or one-to-many: Are you addressing a group or having a private conversation?
  • Utility: Is the focus on getting something specific accomplished?
  • Conversation initiation: Are you initiating the conversation? If so, you carry the burden of the setting the clear direction, pace and tone.
  • Intent: Are you trying to persuade? Entertain? Educate? All require different approaches and info.
  • Channel conventions: What’s accepted and commonplace in some channels may not be in others.
  • Format: Content can take many forms including visual, audio, interactive, etc… and the format will influence the structure and flow of the conversation.
  • Language or tone varies based on norms for the intended audience: Certainly age and other demographics but also take into account regional flavor, language preferences or degree of formality.
  • Investment: Depending on how important the interaction is to your goals you may invest your time or other resources more or less liberally, including using paid media to maximize reach.
  • Content authorship: Are you using your own stories and content or sharing something that someone else created?

You can quickly see how these and many other subtleties impact the flavor and flow of our conversations and how they could also influence your content choices. Once you have that conversational framework in mind you can get through the actual planning pretty swiftly.

Simplified Content Planning Process

Now to break down the two-hour planning process into managable 30-minute chunks.

It’s Good to Be a Stranger in a Strange Land

We should all play at being a tourist from time to time. But the question is, are you going to be the tourist who gets sucked into all the tourist-trap locations and activities — with cheesy souvenirs galore — or are you going to be the tourist who does some research and hunts down all the local hot spots, exploring neighborhoods and connecting with the community?

VisitAllthePlacesWe should all play at being a tourist from time to time.

But the question is, are you going to be the tourist who gets sucked into all the tourist-trap locations and activities — with cheesy souvenirs galore — or are you going to be the tourist who does some research and hunts down all the local hot spots, exploring neighborhoods and connecting with the community?

Hint: It’s a better experience usually if you go with Option No. 2. And the same rings true when you play tourist in the professional world.

Last Thursday I attended the first day of the NY Travel Fest in Brooklyn (my favorite borough), which was cool for two reasons:

  1. Travel is awesome, and getting to talk about it — and how people market traveling — is doubly awesome.
  2. It’s fascinating being a fly on the wall of a world that isn’t your own.

As we explore more of the vertical industries within the realm of marketing, me and my fellow editors are finding ways to learn more about them in any way we can. So when Roni Weiss, the founder and organizer of the NY Travel Fest invited me up, my response was an enthusiastic “yes!”

During a day packed with sessions and networking, I absorbed some interesting things that are specific to travel, as well as things that not only resonated with me — as someone who writes about marketing — but with the larger marketing population.

Here are some of my favorites:

• Travel is an “Industry of Relationships.” I had never heard that phrase before, but really, I think it extends to all marketing. Or at least the good stuff. We want to have connections with our customers, and if you think of that connection as a relationship, then perhaps you’ll take better care of it.

• Different platforms allow you to tell different stories. Panelists during the session titled “The Evolving Media Landscape: Perspectives on How to Maximize Your Media Interactions” explained that first you must consider the type of story you want to tell, and then figure out the platform that fits it best.

  • Do you have a lot of images to share? Consider Instagram for its editorial look and feel.
  • Want to bring your audience into the moment? Think about using Periscope to record live video and have someone maintain the live chat.

And these are just social platforms to consider … the possibilities are endless for storytelling, ranging from video to print content and everything in between.

• Align yourself with influencers. You’ve heard it a million times before, but here it is again. Influencers — who often identify as social media-savvy bloggers — can help you tell your story through organic content creation. Since they’re outside your organization, they can bring fresh ideas to the table and help you create an unforgettable campaign. (Don’t believe me? Check out the #WurstAdventure). However, be sure to thoroughly ask yourself why you want to work with an influencer and which influencer in particular.

• You can’t ignore negative reviews. Genna Gold of Yelp brought this up, and explained that a study showed people found no response from a business to a negative review was worse than if the business responded in a not-so-polite way (e.g., calling someone a jerk for writing a negative review). And with 92 percent of consumers reading online reviews to determine whether a business is a good business, according to Bright Local, you can’t afford to ignore the review space, no matter what your business is!

• You need strong visual anchors. Ask yourself: What’s the story … what are the visuals … what are people connecting to? Humans are a visual bunch, and we respond to visual storytelling.

30th Street StationMTA subway seatWelcome to Brooklyn
Brooklyn Bridge
Rocco's Tacos Chandelier
Negroni Pie from Butter & Scotch
See? Using my Instagram photos I’ve managed to tell a quick story about my day in Brooklyn, instead of writing about it for 200 to 400 words.

So go ahead … be a stranger in a strange land when you’re able. You never know what you’re going to learn, who you’re going to meet and what slice of pie you’re going to have.

You’ll Get My Attention With a Giant Squirrel

Almost anyone who’s flown more than a couple of times knows what the safety instructions entail on a commercial flight. And so most of us ignore them. Delta Airlines recognized this, and chose to create a series of safety videos full of pop culture references and humor to convince even the most seasoned flier to pay attention.

Delta squirrelI recently got back from a short vacation to Key West (yeah, yeah, humble brag), but I’m not going to regale you with photos. What I want to talk about is Delta’s airline safety, content marketing and storytelling.

I’ve been flying for 28 years, so I’m a pretty seasoned airline traveler. I jockey for a good position in line as I wait for my zone to be called, focus on getting my gear stowed, butt in my seat, seat belt buckled and book out to read as quickly as possible. I don’t mess around.

I also have heard the safety announcements so many times that I tune them out, a problem Eddie Izzard recognized during his comedy show, “Glorious.”

For my flight to Key West, I was prepared to do my usual ignoring of the flight attendants. Instead they announced there’d be a safety video. Oh goodie. Yawn.

But when I saw out of the corner of my eye a giant squirrel putting an oversized acorn into the overhead compartment within the first 13 seconds of the video, I stopped reading, and slipped my bookmark between the pages.

I watched the rest of the 4 minute and 39 second video. I heard people giggling. The kids behind me exclaimed, “Mom! Mom! It’s Yo Gabba Gabba!”

That’s right.

https://youtu.be/kfFHn6DxvEg

When the safety video ended, I was smiling. Delta had entertained me, reminded me about the usual safety drills, and managed to stay in the forefront of my mind for a solid week between my flight and when I wrote this week’s post. I told my aunt and uncle about the video when I met up with them in Key West. I sent links to the video to my best friend as I was writing this post. I told my dad — also a seasoned traveler — about the video Sunday night on the phone.

You’d think Florence + The Machine dropped a new album. Or that Jon Bonham had come back from the dead. Nope. A Delta airlines’ safety video had me talking.

As I think about it more, the entertaining safety video shows me that there are some creative problem solvers at Delta. The problem they faced was that most passengers tune out the flight attendants sharing safety instructions.

The solution, then, was to use the airline’s sense of humor to tell a story of safety, creatively. From Delta’s News Hub:

Delta launched a series of safety videos beginning in late 2012 meant to grab the attention of even the most seasoned travelers by using pop culture references, surprises and guest appearances — all to communicate important safety messages.

The video I saw during my flight, launched in August 2015, has over 250,000 views on YouTube. The description below the video on the YouTube page reads:

Safety information is information that no one should miss, even if they’ve heard it a dozen times. So to help encourage even the most frequent of frequent fliers to pay attention we’re constantly adding fresh scenes and moments of fun. It’s part of Delta’s commitment to making every part of our passengers’ flight a memorable one.

A few months prior, Delta released “The Internetest video on the Internet” featuring 22 Internet memes and clocking in at more than 9.5 million views after going viral.

https://youtu.be/Vttuonfu2BM

Finally, taking this all to the next level, Delta hosted the SAFETYS on Feb. 28, right before the Academy Awards. Following its Twitter feed starting at 5 p.m., the airline revealed which characters from its previous safety videos were up for a SAFETY award, as well as its newest safety video.

https://youtu.be/OiBIPNqmfEk

Suffice to say, Delta gets it. The airline understands its core business, sure. But it also understands the importance of storytelling and content marketing, of delighting its customers, and also keeping them safe. And, of course, all of this factors into the airline’s unique selling proposition (USP).

After enduring a stream of disappointing flights on a different airline — ranging from poor customer service to cancelled flights — my flight with Delta really showed what Denny Hatch calls “Customer Relationship Magic.” From the free snacks to the entertaining safety video, as well as arriving at my destination early, Delta wowed me. I look forward to racking up frequent flyer miles with them, especially if they feature more giant squirrels in their videos.

10 Storytelling-in-Content Marketing Lessons Learned

Storytelling lifts content marketing into more powerful messaging. Today we share 10 lessons learned as a result of a content marketing series. This campaign was designed to energize volunteers and a base of followers, build a larger base of supporters and strengthen a brand with the long-term goal of monetization through product and

Storytelling lifts content marketing into more powerful messaging. Today we share 10 lessons learned as a result of a content marketing series. This campaign was designed to energize volunteers and a base of followers, build a larger base of supporters and strengthen a brand with the long-term goal of monetization through product and event sales.

During this campaign, we’ve seen, first-hand, the power of story with diverse styles of video content marketing that included interviews, behind-the-scenes stories building up to a major event, and the high viewership of the final long-form video

Regular readers of our blog may be aware that I am a member of a world-class international Barbershop Harmony Society champion chorus (we recently won our 12th Gold Medal competing among 31 groups from four countries in front of a live audience of 7,000 plus thousands tuning in via webcast). I handle the marketing for the organization (with assistance from Reinventing Direct co-author Perry Alexander). We have the latitude to explore new approaches, and we share them from time-to-time with readers like you.

Because it’s a music-based organization, and because we frequently use video as the primary messaging vehicle, we have come to realize the power of not just music, but overlaying storytelling.

Now that the six-month pre-contest campaign has concluded, we share 10 lessons we’ve learned from this campaign about storytelling and content marketing.

  1. Stimulate interest/earn trust: You audience probably isn’t interested in what you have to sell until you have stimulated their interest and earned their trust in your value to making their lives better.
  2. Give them unusual access: They want to be let in on what’s behind-the-scenes. Video can deliver this experience better than any other channel.
  3. Build tension/release with joy: Like any good story, add an element of tension, but let the audience experience joy. People will remember you for how you made them feel.
  4. Give context in your story: As an insider, it is your responsibility, as a storyteller, to set the stage. Refrain from using acronyms and jargon, so the viewer can appreciate the importance of an upcoming element of the story.
  5. Leverage the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO): Craft your story so it builds from one part to the next, so your audience, while fearing they’ll miss something, is looking for your message.
  6. Let characters be stars: If you have multiple people in the story, creatively develop a delivery vehicle so everyone can participate. (We had a crazy idea about how to include over 140 people, including myself, in a video. See the result here.)
  7. Put your audience inside the story. Don’t be detached. Invite them to come along with you.
  8. Encourage comments and reviews. Your audience will tell you what they think, so invite participation.
  9. The story dictates length: Many claim videos must be short. Not necessarily true. They must be tightly edited and move the story along. The final video in this series was 36 minutes long, and YouTube audience retention was higher than average, all the way to the end. Use YouTube analytics to reveal where fall-offs occur and to improve your overall storytelling.
  10. Strategically monetize: Think long-term about monetizing content marketing. In this series, coming into the all-important fourth quarter, this audience is pumped, which makes selling performance tickets, recordings and fundraising all the easier.

Beyond building the brand (and winning the contest), tangible results of this six-month campaign include combined video views of over 22,000 (still growing daily), website views spiking by four times over average, consistently strong email open and click rates, Facebook Fan page follower increase of 25 percent, and Twitter follower increase of 27 percent.

Bottom line: You must continue to offer multiple reasons using circular viralocity for people to return to your website. You do that by developing a compelling story and content.

Finally, a word about music and the brain, and why this storytelling campaign was so successful: Recent brain imaging studies are telling us more about the importance of singing or playing a musical instrument than we’ve known before. For instance, if you’re a manager or executive, chances are that as a child you sang or played a musical instrument. A recent study reveals that early musical training can be influential in determining an individual’s success.

And there’s more: Emotions encouraged by music activate similar frontal brain regions, and can have a significant impact on your marketing messaging.

Music has the power to create a pleasurable experience that can be described as “chills.” As chills increase, many changes in cerebral blood flow are seen in brain regions such as the amygdala. These same brain areas appear to be linked to reward, motivation, emotion and arousal, and are also activated in other pleasurable situations.

Storytelling works. The inclusion of relevant music in storytelling can stimulate and take people to desirable emotional places. And if you want reaction, make sure the music “chills.”

5 Ancient Storytelling Methods Copywriters Can Use Today

What does Ancient Greek and Shakespearean storytelling have to do with direct marketing today? Perhaps more than you realize. Today we dissect a proven five-step process that has been used for centuries to hold the reader to the end of a story. Direct marketers can use this timeless framework to write compelling copy for

What does Ancient Greek and Shakespearean storytelling have to do with direct marketing today? Perhaps more than you realize. Today we dissect a proven five-step process that has been used for centuries to hold the reader to the end of a story. Direct marketers can use this timeless framework to write compelling copy for storytelling that engages and sells.

Marketers clamor to have their messages go viral. We want our customers to become advocates and evangelists for us. We want them to “like,” comment, and share our messages for us. A mention on the evening news can skyrocket the number of views on a video into the tens of millions, all for a “feel good” moment.

How do you reach a goal to reach the masses? Most likely through effective storytelling, since it’s not too likely your hard-hitting sales message is going to be shared or talked about.

This column was inspired by an article in the Harvard Business Review titled “The Irresistible Power of Storytelling as a Strategic Business Tool.” It reveals how a five-step process in Freytag’s Pyramid has been a successful storytelling framework going back centuries.

Personally, I think storytelling can be used by direct marketers today as part of the “for good movement” that has permeated into our culture, largely fueled by social media. Your challenge is how to engage through story, and effectively monetize these efforts better than your competitors.

To illustrate this point, I turn to an analysis that I completed for an organization that balances “for good movement” messaging with selling. In this case, the “for good movement” messages drive interest and traffic from videos of performance and behind-the-scenes stories. We see the interest build and go viral in the likes, comments and shares of certain types of social media messaging. More importantly, it translates into more web traffic. And more web traffic has translated into more event and product sales. The numbers don’t lie.

A few illustrations:

  • An informal video—recorded on an iPad and put on YouTube—where the organization performs for a boy wounded in a school shooting is posted on Facebook and Twitter, yet is watched thousands of times in just a few days. Nothing was sold here—just the feel good story.
  • A behind-the-scenes interview is watched by thousands so fans get something they don’t hear elsewhere. The video closes with a subtle reminder of an upcoming performance. Again, nothing sold here—just insider information shared.
  • A static post overtly selling an upcoming event doesn’t get much traction for likes, comments or shares. That doesn’t mean it was a failure. It simply says that people don’t want to be sold. They want to choose to buy. And in this case, they choose to buy in bigger numbers when a series of stories have lead up to the event.

People want to be part of a movement, and when they can experience an event, they are ready and willing to buy. When there is product available for sale, demand has already been generated because the customer is ready to buy before you ask them to buy.

With that distinction in selling style, it’s vital that you don’t forget to strategically weave into your “for good” messaging a way to monetize the effort. That doesn’t mean that you add an intrusive sales pitch in the message. It means that you naturally lead your customers and prospects through a planned sequence, timed in a way that takes the individual to the ultimate goal: purchase.

Using your imagination, you can see how the five-step process of Freytag’s Pyramid applies to direct marketing copywriting and story:

  1. Exposition
    The exposition is the portion of a story that introduces important background information to the audience; for example, information about the setting, events occurring before the main plot, characters’ back stories, etc. Exposition can be conveyed through dialogues, flashbacks, character’s thoughts, background details, in-universe media or the narrator telling a back-story.
  2. Rising Action
    In the rising action, a series of related incidents build toward the point of greatest interest. The rising action of a story is the series of events that begin immediately after the exposition (introduction) of the story and builds up to the climax. These events are generally the most important parts of the story since the entire plot depends on them to set up the climax, and ultimately the satisfactory resolution of the story itself.
  3. Climax
    The climax is the turning point, which changes the protagonist’s fate. If the story is a comedy, things will have gone badly for the protagonist up to this point; now, the plot will begin to unfold in his or her favor, often requiring the protagonist to draw on hidden inner strengths. If the story is a tragedy, the opposite state of affairs will ensue, with things going from good to bad for the protagonist, often revealing the protagonist’s hidden weaknesses.
  4. Falling Action
    During the falling action, the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist unravels, with the protagonist winning or losing against the antagonist. The falling action may contain a moment of final suspense, in which the final outcome of the conflict is in doubt.
  5. Denouement
    The dénouement comprises events from the end of the falling action to the actual ending scene of the drama or narrative. Conflicts are resolved, creating normality for the characters and a sense of catharsis, or release of tension and anxiety, for the reader.

I wrap-up with an insightful quote from author Maya Angelou that succinctly sums up why storytelling in copywriting is so important:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Feeling good is what effective copy in storytelling, and the “for good movement,” leads to. And leading people to feel good is how you move them to respond.

How to Tell if Your Storytelling Strategy Is a Dud

What do potential and existing customers care about more in your business: Your culture, history of your company, how funny or “human” you are, or your ability to solve problems in innovative ways that help them create distinctive market position and grow? Reality check: Your clients rarely base decisions on starting or continuing to do business based on your corporate culture, attitude, style or personality.

What do potential and existing customers care about more in your business: Your culture, history of your company, how funny or “human” you are, or your ability to solve problems in innovative ways that help them create distinctive market position and grow?

Customers Care Less About Your Story
Reality check: Your clients rarely base decisions on starting or continuing to do business based on your corporate culture, attitude, style or personality.

They care more about their own problems or goals.

That’s why smart B-to-B marketers are asking themselves a tough new question in 2013-to make sure their storytelling strategies actually drive sales.

“If customers make purchase decisions based on how well we solve problems for clients, why is our social media strategy focused on stories and image?”

Connect Stories to Your Selling Process
Telling prospects “I can solve your problem” through a story is weak as compared to the other three-part option:

  1. Getting their attention with a good story;
  2. helping them make better decisions, learn a new skill, avoid dangerous risks and;
  3. doing this in ways that build confidence in themselves, trust in your brand and result in a sales lead.

In my own experience, success starts happening more when I resist telling prospects all about my company’s “unique story,” or those of my clients’.

Instead, I’m connecting my stories to a simple process, a nurturing program. The more I’m promising prospective customers a cure for an expressed pain, and taking them on a journey toward the remedy, the more they’re identifying themselves as leads and transacting with me.

The difference is distinct: Telling disconnected stories that create images versus proving you’re worth consideration by creating micro-successes with prospects. This is the way to start leading prospects toward (or away from) the larger solutions we’re selling.

Here’s How to Get Started
Let’s say you’re using LinkedIn for sales prospecting. When participating in LinkedIn group discussions ask yourself, “How can I get prospects to take an action based on what I know they want?”

Think of a shortcut, a smarter way of achieving a goal or avoiding a risk you can share. Solve a problem for them. But do it in a way that provokes an action-gets readers to more deeply explore the thought you just provoked.

In return you’ll earn a chance at getting their permission to take them on a journey to a better place … to continue a very focused, purpose-driven digital conversation that ultimately you can relate to whatever it is you sell.

If you do this, you’ll have a much easier way figuring out how to create a social media sales strategy that creates sales for you! You’ll be generating B-to-B leads with social media more effectively.

Mythbusting Content Marketing: Storytelling Doesn’t Create Sales

“People do business only with those they know, like and trust.” So just tell compelling, transparent, authentic stories about your brand and watch the sales roll in, right? Wrong. Hope is not an effective strategy. Some B-to-B brands use content marketing to soft sell, essentially disguising what they’re really up to. Others have fallen victim to the “telling a good story” myth-where somehow customers start buying based on emotional pixie dust. The truth is if you want more leads and sales from content marketing, what you publish must ultimately cause customers to become so confident in themselves (as buyers) that they ask you for the sale.

“People do business only with those they know, like and trust.” So just tell compelling, transparent, authentic stories about your brand and watch the sales roll in, right? Wrong. Hope is not an effective strategy.

Some B-to-B brands use content marketing to soft sell, essentially disguising what they’re really up to. Others have fallen victim to the “telling a good story” myth-where somehow customers start buying based on emotional pixie dust. The truth is if you want more leads and sales from content marketing, what you publish must ultimately cause customers to become so confident in themselves (as buyers) that they ask you for the sale.

Create Confidence, Not Content (Nor Stories)
There are a handful of ways to approach effective B-to-B content marketing (that sells). The two big strategies are solving common problems and giving away mini-samples of experiences that relate to your product or service. Yes, yes, content marketing gurus… you can tell a story as part of this formula; however, that story must be meaningful enough to provoke a response that gets “the conversation” going in a direction you can do something with.

My focus today is showing you a way to publish blogs, videos, download-able applications, etc. that creates confidence in buyers’ ability to buy.

Let’s avoid over-thinking this and disconnect from your work life for a minute. Instead, think about the last time you made a purchase-one that you had to really think about. Really… stop reading for a second and think of one. Now, consider the process you went through to arrive at the final point of purchase.

Give Customers a Reason to Believe It Can Happen
In the beginning, you probably had a handful of questions that needed to be answered before you were comfortable enough to see yourself parting with money in exchange for whatever it was. Or you needed to actually experience a little bit of whatever it was you were considering investing in. Those questions-or that free taste-probably had a lot to do with a particular goal you had. Or a fear or worry you had.

Buyers always have questions and are seeking guidance. Or they’re yearning for a sample that gives them a reason to believe (become confident) that it can actually happen for them. They want to be confident. They want to believe that someone (you) can make something they want actually happen for them.

Well, social media gives your brand a chance to be the guide-to answer important questions OR solve problems for customers that relate to what it is you sell. You just need to do it up-front, in ways that give customers something they value. That something is confidence. In exchange, you earn the chance to guide them toward, or away from, your products and services.

You see, this is a system-a logical way to create leads and sales that doesn’t rely on telling a story and walking away. Hope is not a strategy. Best of all you know it works because it’s how you, yourself, often go about the purchase-making decision.

Do Me a Favor?
“People do business only with those they know, like and trust.” How many times have you heard this phrase from consultants and social marketing experts? Now consider how often you hear experts talking about concrete, practical ways to capitalize on this idea using social marketing. Well, that’s what this bi-monthly column is all about-filling that void!

I’m asking for your help. The best way to making my mantra of “make social media sell for you” real in people’s lives is to bring success principles into clear focus. I do this through success stories and lately I need more to profile.

You see, I want to make sure social media sells a lot-for as many businesses as I can reach. It’s why I blog here at Target Marketing. I love helping people make social media sell. This is my business and I literally feed my family by helping people create wealth for themselves.

You also might feel passionate about bringing products or services to market too-or know someone who does. Someone like Rachel Farris of PetRelocation, who I profile in the upcoming December issue of Target Marketing magazine. Or Amanda Kinsella of heating and air conditioning provider, Logan Services.

Do you know someone who is quietly using social media to generate leads and sales using problem solving approaches to business-to-business blogging? On the bottom of this page (in comments) I’d like you to tell me-tell all of us-where you are seeing remarkable successes in B-to-B selling with social marketing. And please let us all know of your success with applying what you’ve learned. Toot your horn! All the best to you, continued success and see you in comments!

Stephanie Miller’s Engagement Matters: Email Storytelling Sells

Combat the fatigue from crowded inboxes by embracing the role of storyteller. Telling a story, rather than just announcing a fact or blasting out an announcement, is a more engaging way to share information. The storytelling approach weaves a relationship through a cadence of touchpoints. Any nurturing or loyalty program is built on the same concept, and many B-to-B marketers are very good at telling stories to move prospects through a buying process.

Gone are the days of the passive email subscriber. Consumers and business professionals tire easily when publishers and marketers broadcast to them. It’s the online equivalent of shouting. Your customers and readers want meaningful conversations — and they know they have other options if you don’t deliver.

Combat the fatigue from crowded inboxes by embracing the role of storyteller. Telling a story, rather than just announcing a fact or blasting out an announcement, is a more engaging way to share information. The storytelling approach weaves a relationship through a cadence of touchpoints. This isn’t complex. Any nurturing or loyalty program is built on the same concept, and many B-to-B marketers are very good at telling stories to move prospects through a buying process.

It’s simply a series of stories about use cases, cool new features and real-life implementation of your editorial, products and services. So invite your subscribers to the proverbial campfire and build their anticipation with a question, “How can I help you today?” Email marketing is great for providing the answer.

Invite subscribers on a story journey
Instead of sending a generic newsletter or “special offers,” invite website visitors to accept a two to five message email series on a particular topic. Make it about how your products, services or content will help them: “Five ways to be beautiful this summer,” “Three strategies for impressing your boss,” “Doctor’s advice on buying contact lenses online,” “Ten things your CEO wants you to know,” “Five great summer games for kids under 10.”

Make it easy to sign up by putting invitations in prominent locations on pages that have related content. And be sure permission is clear. If the offer is just for two to five email messages over the same number of weeks or days, then say so. You’ll likely find a higher sign-up rate and higher response and engagement because the content is so targeted. If you’re also signing them up for your ongoing e-newsletter, be clear about that. There’s no reason you can’t encourage a further subscription after you’ve delivered the series, too. Earn their trust first, then sell. Consider the following strategies:

  • Make your story interactive.
  • Tap the socially connected nature of today’s digital experience.
  • Integrate opportunities for subscribers to share with their social networks or forward to others.
  • Invite subscribers to take a poll or survey or give you feedback.
  • Offer a page where subscribers can upload their own stories or photos, and then share that user-generated content back to the group in your series.
  • Ensure your customer service team monitors these pages so that you can quickly respond to any questions or direct prospects to your sales team or e-commerce site.

Why does it work? An email series strategy is based on a fundamental truth of marketing: Provide something of value and customers will continue to engage. A series makes it easy for you to customize messages to the interests of subscribers at that moment. The topic is top of mind for them, and that creates selling and relationship opportunities for you.

Another benefit is that when your email messages are more relevant, you won’t have as many people clicking the “Report Spam” button, which registers as a complaint at internet service providers like Yahoo or Gmail. Even a small number of complaints can result in a poor sender reputation and a block on all your messages. Make even some of your messages more relevant, and the response rates for all your messages will go up and complaints will go down.

For content, consider the following four options:

1. Make it easy to learn more. Offer website visitors a two- to three-part email series rather than a whitepaper. Most downloaded content never actually gets opened or read. Once a whitepaper is downloaded and saved, it’s out of mind. An email series forces marketers to package up content in bite-sized pieces (you can always link to more detail on your website), and gives them several opportunities over a few weeks to engage. Advertising CPMs for these targeted messages can be at a premium, as well.

2. Comparison shopping. Advertisers know that readers are researching and want publishers to help them shorten sales cycles. Use a series of email messages to help subscribers compare competitive sets — the more honest/nonadvertorial you are, the longer they stay on your site! — find testimonials and bloggers, and make a strong business case.

3. Move free-trial subscribers to paid circulation. A series can give prospects confidence in your content or technology. Help them actually use your service during the trial — help them find the best reviews or product feature comparisons, or let them download tools that help them forecast productivity, revenue or cost savings as a result of making a decision to buy. Test if increasing incentives as prospects move through the cycle helps or hurts your conversion (and margin).

4. Educate. Send one great idea each week, and include ways to practice or implement. The next week, ask for input or a story about how that idea worked or didn’t work. Then, the next day, send the next idea. This interactive cadence will build value for subscribers and let them engage repeatedly over time.

Storytelling lets you retain control over the content while giving subscribers the freedom, choice and interactivity they crave. Successful email marketing is built on a very simple concept: Give subscribers what they want, and they’ll give you what you want. Subscribers want you to help them. When you do, they’ll reward you with higher response and sales, positive buzz and sharing, and stronger brand loyalty.

Let me know what you think by sharing any ideas or comments below.