Are we all sitting comfortably? Good, then I shall begin.

If you’re wondering why I’ve gone all Tom Hardy on you (CBeebies as opposed to the Bronson or Bane version), it’s because today I want to talk about storytelling in the world of content marketing. Not that storytelling in marketing is a new concept by any means, but it is one that I’m surprised that so many brands forget about when they are scratching their heads and wondering why their content is so lacklustre.

After all, winning at content marketing is all about connecting with your audience and getting them interested in what you have to say, and the best way to get those emotive juices flowing is by telling a story. Easier said than done, perhaps, but in this age of content saturation where quality is the only way forward for long-term gain, the better your story, the more likely it is that your products and services will become an offshoot of it – merchandise from your brand’s epic tale. Think George Lucas’ Star Wars and the fact that story can sell anything – I’m looking at you R2D2 aquarium, Chewbacca Crocs and Darth Vadar shower heads.

Here are a few top tricks of the trade to be the best storyteller in the content marketing business:

1. Get some personality

So much content out there is, quite simply, dry as dust to read. To spin a good story, you need to get hold of that rulebook on marketing materials – ads and sales pitches and such like – and chuck it out the window. Focus instead on your brand persona, voice and the sparkling personality that I just know is in there, deep down inside. Bring it to the fore and make your content shine.

2. Construct cool characters

You don’t need to have the next Harry Potter up your sleeve, but creating characters your audience give two hoots about is essential to effective storytelling. Buyer personas or employees can make great characters as you tell a story from their perspective – you’re looking to make those emotional connections so that people actually care, want to know what they have to say and want to know what they’re going to do next.

3. Provide some structure

We all learned this in primary school – stories have a beginning, middle and an end. Set your story’s scene to establish who your characters are and what they’re all about. Move onto a middle, fraught with problems to overcome. End triumphantly or with a twist – be as creative as you like.

4. Stay true to your brand promise

We said be creative but don’t stray so far over the line that the line becomes a dot. Be consistent with your brand message at every stage of the story or you’ll lose your audience in a haze of confusion. And what kills your content more than your audience being bored out of their gourd? Not knowing what the hell is going on.

5. Don’t be too obvious

Having said that, you don’t want to go so far in the other direction that your audience know exactly what is coming and can predict that fairy-tale ending a mile off. Why? Because it’s a one way ticket to Snoresville. Use social media to tease the next part of your story and ensure each piece of the puzzle leads onto the next.

Seeing as you need to master the masters before becoming a pro yourself, let’s take a look at who (aside from Hardy) is doing the storytelling thing best:

Starting with the people’s choice, Apple was voted the UK’s top storytelling brand for the fourth year in a row in a poll by creative agency Aesop last year. It all started with the fact that people really bought into Steve Jobs and invested in this character and his products. Now it has morphed into initiatives like the ‘Start something new’ campaign, showcasing art people are creating with Apple products. Their customers are telling their brand story for them – talk about authenticity to the utmost degree.

Airbnb are another business who ace Storytelling 101. Their content is focused on people – the homeowners and travellers who connect via the brand. Videos and bios of people from around the world humanise the brand and helps people to invest emotionally.

Just time for one more, kids. Nike are old pros and have been at the storytelling game since the late 90s when Michael Jordan was their main man. A highlight for us was ‘The Chance’ a beautifully filmed ad that charted the progress of a young football player living in NYC that proved dreams really do come true – as long as you’re wearing your Nikes.

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