Corporate storytelling is everywhere—here’s how to make your efforts count

Earlier this year, I stumbled upon a job opening for a corporate storytelling director “responsible for managing a best-in-class multi-channel and measurable corporate newsroom, editorial content strategy and digital storytelling hub.” The company hiring for the role? Walgreens. (Or, depending on where you are, Duane Reade or Boots.) Expectations for content are clearly changing.

Another example of this changing reality arrived in my inbox recently: the “Snoozeletter” from mattress company Casper. Among the featured topics were an in-depth piece on how much sleep people need—including an interactive sleep calculator to assess an individual’s needs—and an overview of sleep apnea. Both topics that, in the old days, people might discuss with their healthcare provider.

The takeaway? It’s no longer enough to be a conveniently located pharmacy or to make a great mattress. Using content to position yourself as an expert—for instance, about all things sleep-related—is not a new strategy; thought leadership has been around for a long time. But with the rise of “corporate storytelling”—essentially, content that supports brand-building—seemingly every company is doing so. And there’s a glut of content and major competition for the limited (and often fleeting) attention of consumers.

So what’s a company to do? There are several ways to help your content rise above the noise.

Find a unique angle

Companies can distinguish their content in a crowded marketplace by giving people something only they can—or by providing sharper insight or more entertaining perspectives on well-trodden ground. Take Casper. There’s plenty of information on the internet, from multiple sources, on how much sleep people really need, but Casper’s interactive calculator provides personalized recommendations and a bit of fun. By focusing on those angles your company can own, you’ll get more out of your content and more engagement with users.

Put a face on it

Everyone loves stories. (Joan Didion fans will agree.) We particularly love stories that come from other people—not brands. So when brands are getting in the storytelling game, one way to stand out is to make sure the narrative and the content comes from a person. It can be as simple as bylining articles or putting people front and center through video, podcast, or other conversational mediums.

Patagonia is a brand that does this exceptionally well. Its robust “Stories” section is a collection of articles on a number of topics, from interviews to feature pieces. All of their content names an author whose bio is listed at the end—people who truly represent the brand, from National Geographic journalists to outdoor enthusiasts. One bio at the end of an article reads: “Maaruk, Warren Jones…is an Alaska Salmon Fellow with the Alaska Humanities Forum and the former Governance Fellow at First Alaskans Institute. Warren is a steward of Northern philosophy, investigating the philosophies unique to the circumpolar North. He is an award-winning journalist and published poet, and a stay-at-home dad of four.” The piece comes from a person readers can connect to, someone whose own narrative aligns with Patagonia’s brand values and thinking.

Follow the data

To successfully connect with people, companies should use data and analytics to figure out what their audience wants from them. On your site, in your social channels, or in a newsletter, what are people clicking on? Are there patterns? For example, a global professional services firm found that many of the top-performing pieces on their content hub were related to climate risk and how to address it. That insight ultimately informed their overall content strategy, and climate became a key theme for the hub, helping establish the firm’s authority and expertise in that area. Focusing on what people are interacting with—the type of content, the level of depth, the format—will help ensure you direct resources to the story people want from you, not just the one you want to tell.

Alia Samhat

Alia is a partner at Leff. Her expertise is in creative strategy and content development. She spends her time working with writers, marketers, designers, video producers, analysts, and subject matter experts to produce meaningful work.

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