Authentic stories give life to content.
Stories let your marketing team show the real-life application and benefits of your products and services. They give context and meaning to what you offer—and can even create a need, desire, or ideal that didn’t exist in a consumer’s mind before. Research and customer testimonials prove that stories change the brain to stimulate emotional reactions. This emotional surge triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone that makes people more trusting, generous, empathetic, and charitable—essentially, more persuadable.
There are countless types of stories to tell: customer successes, community impact, employee spotlights, innovation stories, and more. Whichever type of storytelling serves your marketing best, you’ll likely reach a point during the ideation process where you struggle to find new, important stories to tell.
Have you tried looking in the coworker’s cubicle next to you?
Your internal peers are often the best place to start for story sourcing. On the frontlines of product development, customer sales and support, corporate branding, and human resources, they are innately part of your brand storytelling, whether they realize it or not.
Not everyone is attuned to surfacing stories like content marketers, so it often takes prompting or prying to find and solicit them. But it doesn’t have to be such a burden. There are some simple and scalable ways to make it easy—even exciting—for your coworkers to get involved in your organization’s content marketing efforts.
First things first, does your team know why you need stories? Have you done a good job at explaining what exactly you’re looking for? Storytelling as a concept can seem abstract to non-marketers, so define what you mean, and give them specific story categories and examples. Then they’ll have a clear vision of how stories are integrated in your marketing efforts.
Take advantage of in-person opportunities when you have a captive audience like company-wide meetings or department statuses. Create a brief presentation that outlines your storytelling strategy, and ask your executive team to weigh in with their support. If your coworkers see executive buy-in, they won’t write it off as a marketing team stunt.
Consider how you can insert brand storytelling in various messaging apps or communication platforms that teams use frequently. Dave Lastovskiy, director of marketing at Bus.com, shares, “We’ve created a [Slack] channel to highlight any particularly interesting organizations leveraging our service. This allows us to have daily conversations surrounding specific opportunities cross-departmentally.”
Meet your coworkers where they already are. To ease the process for your internal marketing team, you can even automate the process using email or various apps. Set up an automated email distributed at a regular cadence (monthly, quarterly, etc.) across the company that links to a survey and includes any incentives.
Michael Alexis, director of marketing at Museum Hack, uses Zapier integrations. He expands, “We’ve automated the process for internal story inspiration. The best example of this process is that we use an automation tool, Zapier, to post a message to our company message board several times per month. The messages include simple prompts like, ‘@salesreps Did we have a great client success story recently? Fill out this form and marketing will write up a case study!’ We’ve found this process works well because it doesn’t rely on memory or ongoing effort; it just happens.” Use any chance to insert your brand storytelling asks in daily conversations.
Don’t forget about the data. Vanity metrics like impressions or shares won’t mean much to non-marketers. Show them the real-life impact of brand storytelling. Highlight any big wins related to the ROI and sales or conversion results of marketing. This takes the concept of storytelling from a fun idea to a business tactic.
Lastovskiy recommends weekly customer spotlights based on his work at Bus.com: “If there are customers that especially liked our service or really disliked it we will highlight them and discuss how we can improve their experience in the future. This allows everyone from a developer to a data scientist to understand the value of our organization—not to mention, helps marketing identify content opportunities.”
Some might be self-motivated to help your internal marketing team—but a little incentive never hurts. And it doesn’t have to be compensation. Tracy Julien, vice president of marketing for retirement planning firm GuidedChoice, explains, “Adding on extra work for employees is usually received with push back. [Incentives like] a work-from-home day, extra PTO, gift cards, or team happy hours are a few ways to get your employees to participate in your program.”
Incentives aside, tap into the ego with thought leadership opportunities to increase internal visibility and external credibility. Featuring employee quotes, client success stories that revolve around their team, and employee profiles are ways to incentivize participation organically. You can even feature participants in internal newsletters or at company-wide meetings for recognition by their managers and peers.
To be sustainable and scalable, you will probably need the help of a few tools. This doesn’t mean you have to invest in anything new—and it’s probably better if you don’t. Use the current tools available that your coworkers are familiar with and use frequently like Slack, Yammer, and so on. While you definitely need to be wary of over-surveying, brief surveys and forms are a great way to collect story leads.
When I worked at Uber, we frequently distributed surveys to riders and drivers through email to submit fun stories that happened on the road to include in our content. Now in my work at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, we use surveys to gather positive stories that happen at the schools and parishes in Southern California. Google Forms, Survey Monkey, and Typeform are great options.
Don’t make the surveys extensive, but get enough information to follow up for more details if needed. Megan Robinson, vice president of marketing at Chicago-based agency @revenue, also takes this approach: “A quick Google Form with no more than three to five short-form responses is much faster and flexible than scheduling time with all employees.”
Dedicate a lengthy period of time solely for content curation. Storytelling sprints or roadshows can take shape in a variety of ways. They can be day-long listening sessions where your marketing team shadows specific meetings or schedules a series of interviews for an afternoon. They can also be more robust like week-long trips to production sites or client offices to capture interviews, photography, or videos.
It isn’t always feasible for internal marketing teams to set aside time for a sprint, but it’s an effective way to gather a backlog of stories to fuel your content marketing for months or even the entire year. You can even hire freelance reporters, photographers, and videographers to support your content curation. Since my team at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is fairly nimble, we’re hiring freelancers to travel to several schools to capture stories with accompanying photography and videos.
Nicole Rohde, senior international PR executive for luxury fashion brand Maxwell-Scott, visits the factory to develop behind-the-scenes editorial content. “We produce all of your products in Italy and in order to use that for marketing we have traveled to the factory and interviewed the production staff—some of them have been working in the industry for over 40 years. As they are not used to being interviewed we found it was easier to just chat informally and extract the stories from those conversations later.”
Image attribution: Kaledico
Make brand storytelling part of your company culture, so it becomes natural for people to want to share their insights. Start at top with executive buy-in and advocacy. If the boss says it’s important, everyone else will listen. You all should be thinking in storylines anyway to communicate the value of what you offer. Set the standard by launching your story strategy at an all-hands meeting or department statuses. Work with department leads to create relevant incentives for their teams. And know the strengths of each team.
Jonathan Jenkins, founder and CEO of LoftyRankings, advises documenting each employee’s background and specialties. He explains, “This is very helpful when assigning an employee to an account, but it also helps a lot when you’re looking for someone internal to chime in on a specific topic. This way we can get a quote, case-study, or just an experienced perspective, from the most relevant people on our team.”
Working to surface stories within company walls can seem daunting, yet it is entirely doable if implemented through scalable and efficient tactics. Choose an approach that works for your business model, corporate culture, and geographic scope. And don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t get stellar results at first. Continue to test and iterate until you establish a steady stream of stories.
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Featured image attribution: Mimi Thian