From the Trenches

How to Use Stories From the Field to Bring Content to Life

Right Source | November 14, 2014
How to Integrate Stories from the Field

Countless blog posts, eBooks, and other forms of business-to-business (B2B) content explain concepts, delineate processes, and build a case for one method versus another. While these are all legitimate approaches to quality content, what often gets overlooked in the push to educate and inform is the need to engage our audiences with pure storytelling.

Why do stories matter in B2B marketing? Stories serve as access points for your audiences, providing a way for your readers to connect with your thought processes or relate in a personal way. Stories also help you build trust and credibility with your readers, who want to see the human element behind the information you’re dispensing, and know that your experience extends beyond that of facts and figures.

How, then, can you move past a straightforward, information-spewing approach to content — and use stories from the field to bring your content to life? These tactics can help you get started.

Pull in elements of personal narrative

If you majored in English, you know the elements of personal narrative. If you didn’t, let me give you the rundown. A personal narrative tells a true story of something that happened to you. In your narrative, you might recount what you saw, heard, took part in, felt, or learned from the experience. If you’re a financial advisor writing a blog post about retirement, for instance, you might include a paragraph about the time you figured out a way for your client, a millennial saddled with student loan debt, to set aside a small portion of his salary for the golden years — and why that’s a good idea.

Your firsthand account could be of a client meeting, your thoughts about a recent conference or article, or a few lines conveying a conversation with a colleague. We do advocate that remarkable content have a beginning, middle, and end, but stories within your content don’t necessarily need to follow suit — they can be snippets of something you experienced that relate to your topic.

Of course, the amount of personal information you provide depends in part on the overall style and tone of your content. If the tone is strictly professional, then you’ll want to word your personal stories carefully or keep them to a minimum.

Consider starting with a story

It’s one thing to work a story into the body of your content — it’s another to start your piece with a story. Many writers shy away from this tactic in B2B marketing, but it’s highly effective and serves as a great way to hook readers with something original and entice them to keep reading.

In this post about common mistakes in content marketing, the author, Barry Feldman, starts with something personal: “My family and I went away with friends Labor Day weekend. We stayed at a remote lake house overlooking Lake Englebright in Nevada County, California.”

The writer adds a few lines more about his lake trip — and then transitions seamlessly (and cleverly) to content marketing. He could have started with something more direct: “Mistakes abound in content marketing. Let me share the most common.” But that intro would have engaged far fewer readers than the snippet he wrote.

Tell a story to set up a transition

Stories can also make excellent transitions within your content and give readers the context they need to grasp a point to come. Consider this example from one of our clients, an architecture firm.

“When I was 27, I bought a house for $14,000 in West Baltimore,” a principal at the firm writes in a blog post about affordable housing. Here, the writer recounts a personal story from her past — and uses that story to segue into a more formal exploration of affordable housing. In doing so, she shows that she understands her topic not only on a professional but also a personal level.

Talk about your expertise

In your company, if you’re the one developing the product, solving problems for clients, pitching a service to a partner, or fine-tuning your organization’s infrastructure so it can run smoothly, then you’re the expert in your field — the one with knowledge and insight to share. So as you draft content, ask yourself:

  • What problems do my clients, customers, or partners encounter time and again? What story can I tell about how I helped one overcome a problem?
  • What challenges do I face, and how might I describe how I get past them?
  • What perspective can I share on the unique experience or niche that I have within my industry?
  • Did any past experience, whether at work or not, inform my approach?
  • What articles, books, organizations, and speakers influence me? What conferences or events?  How can I convey that in an anecdote?

Weave the scenarios you come up with into your content, and use them to back up your claims and lend context and clarity to your points. Know, too, that you don’t need to reveal client details in your story. Use your judgment here, and tread carefully with sensitive information like company names or specifics that reveal too much. You can generalize.

Don’t forget the big story

The stories you integrate into your content are really part of your overarching company story — your history, mission, boilerplate, and messaging. So as you figure out what firsthand experiences from the field to share with your audiences, keep the big story in mind, and make sure your anecdotes align with and push forward key company goals. Also make sure they fit the ideas, messages, and themes laid out in your content marketing plan.

Personal stories bring energy to your content and foster connections with your audiences. They help you show the great work you’re doing day in and out in the field, so you don’t have to tell. To learn more about the role of storytelling in content marketing — and how your smaller, everyday stories work in tandem with your overarching company story and content strategy — read “What’s Your Story, Content Marketer?

Need help developing your story? Get in touch.

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