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Content vs Storytelling

Content Marketing and storytelling.I hosted a panel the Content Marketing Association Summit in November 2013, and soaked in a lot of information from great speakers and panellists.

But with all this talk of content I started to wonder about the usefulness of the term.

As we heard from Twitter, Facebook, Coca Cola, The Economist and many other big digital brands, it became clear that what people mean by the term ‘content’ varies enormously.

Depending on context, content can be:

  • A feature article
  • A news story
  • Native advertising
  • A tweet
  • A Facebook update
  • An experience
  • A photograph
  • A piece of music
  • A movie
  • A short video
  • Computer software

I could go on, but you get the idea – it’s basically everything or anything that engages an audience.

This isn’t a new thing. If you go back to 1996 and Bill Gates’s famous ‘Content is king’ article, he says:

When it comes to an interactive network such as the Internet, the definition of “content” becomes very wide.

He goes on to define popular content as: ‘not just software and news, but also games, entertainment, sports programming, directories, classified advertising, and on-line communities devoted to major interests.’

Even brand advertising (which we’ve begun to believe is largely a form of interruption marketing and as such antithetical to content marketing) is now deemed ‘content’ if it captures attention and moves people to engage with and share it – as high profile examples like the John Lewis Bear and the Hare Christmas advert have shown.

Content is everything – so what?

The problem becomes – if content can be any or all of these things, does the concept of ‘content marketing’ have any real usefulness? Isn’t it just a by-word for ‘good communication’?

Related to this is another concern – that once every brand starts to publish increasingly large amounts of content online, are we heading towards a ‘dead end’ of information overload, as outlined in Mark Schaefer’s recent explosive blog post: Content Shock (a must-read for content marketers)? 

I’m still trying to work these things out and will continue to do so on this blog and beyond.

However, I’m starting to believe that a better concept for ‘marketers and influencers’ is not to focus on ‘content’ but rather on ‘storytelling‘. Because what we’re often talking about when we talk about content marketing is the ability to tell a story about your brand, product or service – and make it meaningful for your customers and prospects.

The channel, platform and media that delivers these stories is enormously diverse and will continue to be – but it’s the story that counts.

I admit, I’m being a little vague here about the distinction – and we need to nail down exactly what we mean by ‘storytelling’ (which I’ll leave for a future post). But I’m keen to explore all aspects of ‘content strategy’ and ‘storytelling’ on this blog, so let me know if you have any thoughts on the topic in the comments below.

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Toby Smeeton January 10, 2014, 4:50 pm

    I totally agree.
    There’s a world of difference between quantity (and/or box-ticking), and proper, engaging, high quality, story-telling.
    Which is why I disagree with Mark Schaefer’s blog post: Content Shock. This isn’t a numbers game, it’s a quality game. Yes – of course deep pockets win, and larger organisations have greater muscle, but they also, I would argue, generally produce better quality content. Content that isn’t writer/content-generator focused, but audience focused – as you say ‘content that is meaningful’.
    Like any other marketing discipline, quality story-telling costs money but importantly has a measurable return. There’s a world of difference between a post about someone’s cat on Facebook (content) and a brand creating wide audience engagement through content such as Red Bull (story-telling).

  • Mick Mack January 23, 2014, 4:17 am

    If ‘story-telling’ is all about marketing and getting ‘a return’ in this context, then it’s not story-telling, but marketing that uses a story to sell products or services – i.e it’s ‘story-selling.’ Story-telling is about humans relinquishing emotional content for their own reasons, to share and be heard and pass on their experiences for the social well-being.

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