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Digital Marketing

Inbound Marketing Is Really Just Storytelling with a Purpose

September 27, 2016

I remember my first job in marketing so well like it was yesterday. I started out as a senior content writer for a food start up that was still in the incubation stages. And while writing for the brand was my primary job, I gradually made myself more involved in the bigger, inbound marketing roles of the company. To be honest, I didn’t even know what the heck inbound marketing was all about but I remember being told that it’s got a whole lot to do with efforts you put in to get people to ‘opt into your brand and buy into your sh*t’.

‘Nough said.

Mine was a small team of 3 and we all pitched in to work on all the inbound marketing-related tasks. At that point, and still so early in my career, I didn’t even know what it meant to be a part of inbound marketing. But as time went, and I got more deeply involved with “brand building related projects and tasks, I realized just how interesting this whole thing was.

It’s all about being ‘sticky’

One of the first top-level tasks I got myself involved in was helping the team (yes, still just the 3 of us) figure how the heck we wanted our brand to sound like. I realized that my colleagues had toyed with a couple of voice and tone combinations but nothing quite sounded like our brand.

We decided to entertain us with a little exercise. Lugging 3 books in his hands, my boss (the head of inbound efforts), passed around copies of ‘Made to Stick’ — one of the best reads for those working the inbound marketing and brand management side of things. A couple of weeks later we regrouped to discuss all the relevant things we could pick from the book about creating content that really stood out, and drawing from that we could, then, map our own little branded content strategy.

Of the many things I had underlined (words like ‘curiosity gaps’ and ‘velcro theory of memory’) within the book, I still remember the first chapter most clearly. It spoke about how some urban myths are so acutely etched in our minds, over and above the obvious truths. All of us, at one point or the other, have chosen to believe in certain ideas, knowingly or unknowingly, even though it was clearly propagated by a brand with a poach motive. And that’s only because the said idea was told to us oh-so-effectively that there was no way our minds could deny its acceptance.

Some ideas, no matter how complicated, get ‘stuck’ in our minds because of the way they are told.

If for nothing else, we did manage to create a content hygiene checklist using that book. The checklist is in use even today, I hear. It still lists the 5 things we had first put down on a scrappy bit, detailing in absolute crude words our first ever branded content strategy.

  • Create content that’s reliable and helps
  • Every piece of content should have one and only one hook (a key point of takeaway)
  • The hook should, in some way, tie back to the brand USP
  • Content must be simple but thoroughly enjoyable
  • If you can tell it as a story, do

It turns out that there’s a strong reason that your brand message(s) needs to be told as a story. If we are confronted by a compelling thought, we tend to take and it and internalize it. Irrespective of whether it is true or not. And the best way to put across an idea across is to make it sound uncomplicated and striking, just like a story.

One of my personal favorite brands, Dropbox, has nailed the art of telling compelling branded content that just… well…works. If Dropbox was just another brand in the market, it would say things like it is a ‘file hosting service that offers cloud storage, file synchronization, personal cloud, and client software’. But that’s all business-speak and not evocative at all. There is no human truth and jargons are difficult on the memory. But instead, Dropbox chooses to say just this — get to all your files from anywhere, on any device, and share them with anyone.

Simple. Striking. Effective.

Today’s is a market for compelling ideas, not products.

How we found our brand story

By learning — our product and our people.

“It is with knowledge that you figure out how you can make yourself stand out from all others. Plus, you get to know all the right things to talk about.

Ours was a competitive space and everybody pretty much differentiated themselves from the point of view of price. No one was, yet, talking about product differentiation. And given we never wanted to play in the value space, we decided to understand how we can different our product better. We knew our product was superior in quality, but that needed to be communicated in a compelling way. We went back to books and conducted our own primary research. We eventually figured that people were most inclined to pay a premium for products that were sustainably produced, and given ours was such a product, we decided to let that be the hook for all the stories we would tell about our brand.

How we told our brand story

Truth be told it would have been easy to say things like we are a sustainable produce company that works with certified farms that grow superior quality products in an eco-sensitive way. But it did not talk about any human truth. Nor was there anything evocative about it. It was not a story someone would remember and we needed to make it simple, striking, and really relatable.

We, instead, decided to highlight one of the farms we worked with. It was a family-owned business and had commendable farming ethics. We featured them on our homepage along with text that read — Meet our favorite farmer. He grows the most delicious potatoes you will ever have and that’s because he cares for the land that grows it.

This was one of the first hooks we tried. Over the course of a few months, we tested a couple more hooks and realized that the human truth stories, those that made clear how and where a certain food was grown really resonated with our audiences. We told this story via emails, social media channels, and bloggers who wrote about cooking with sustainable produce. The comments and queries we got week-on-week helped us fine tune our hooks and gave us more ideas for the kind of stories we needed to tell.

The best stories are ones that make people care about your brand.

And when people care about your brand, they do not hesitate to buy from you.

Meeta Sharma

Meeta Sharma is a content marketing specialist and regularly writes about her domain and start-up life.

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