The Importance of Personal Narrative in Content Marketing
Storytelling Content Creation

The Importance of Personal Narrative in Content Marketing

Every time I check Facebook, I notice the same things. Someone’s engaged, someone’s breaking up, and someone is posting a personal narrative that’s paragraphs long. I try to ignore these ramblings, but sometimes it’s hard not to pay attention. Once, I got sucked into the story of someone I hadn’t talked to since high school. She was fundraising for a 5K she was running, for cancer research in honor of her late father. I thought I was apathetic to the life of someone I don’t speak to anymore, but minutes later, I was reaching for my wallet and a box of tissues.

Stories, delivered from a first-hand account, have a way of getting to you.

Personal narratives sell—just ask Taylor Swift and her slew of number-one hits. When people share their stories with us, our emotional reaction is stronger than any hypothetical situation could produce. Real life experience, told from the person who lived it, gives a piece credibility through vulnerability. Writing in the first-person isn’t appropriate for every content marketing program or article, but from parenting tips to recruiting for IT companies, the voice of a writer can enhance a piece beyond the generic and connect with readers.

As a writer, you’ve interviewed people and told the story of others. Whatever your past is, you might think there isn’t a place for those experiences in your content pieces. But this isn’t an either-or situation. Personal narratives can be the heart (and entire body) of your piece, or they can be a utility player, called upon when you need just the perfect example or frame for your story.

Determining how much first-person narrative to include in your content marketing piece isn’t easy. If you’re not careful, you can quickly slip from the sweet spot to TMI that even your aunt doesn’t care about. When crafting your personal narrative, here are some key content creation tips to keep in mind:

Personal Story1. Don’t Get Bogged Down in the Details

If you’ve ever been to a house party, you’ve probably listened to a never-ending story. While you just want to grab another drink, your storytelling comrade is getting caught up on what color shirt he was wearing that one time he helped an old lady cross the street. Maybe it was nighttime—maybe the shirt was actually yellow. Regardless, you’re caught up in the heroism and how this story relates to your life, not the details of the attire.

The same goes for your content marketing piece. You don’t need to explain the entire story, just the part that relates to the topic at hand and your audience. Take this piece from IBM (disclosure: IBM is a Skyword client). The writer briefly describes how he relates to the situation of security experts needing professional development, but he spares you the details. His experiences at these conferences aren’t what you came to this article for — it’s the lack of professional development in IT. Instead, he uses his experience to establish himself as a voice of authority on this topic. That authority doesn’t come from when or where he attended these conferences, but the fact that he was there and saw certain things.

Find the part of your personal narrative that can enhance your article and omit the rest.

2. Always Come Back to Your Story

Whether you’re using your personal experience to teach the dangers of cyber-bullying or describing a cyber convention, don’t just tell your story and drop it. You might make your reader feel tricked or confused if you never explain yourself. Everything you write should have a purpose. If you start your story with a personal anecdote, then reference it at least once in the body and circle back at the end.

Or, if you use it as the body of your story, then keep the introduction and conclusion more general, like this article about losing a loved one from Dignity Health (also a Skyword client). It’s an article that mainly focuses on one person’s story of grief but then directly connects to anyone dealing with grief by the end. Your story shouldn’t seem out-of-place in the article, but also make sure to leave room for other aspects, too.

3. Find a Connecting Theme

Content marketing isn’t a game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but there are more intertwining webs than you think. The key is finding the longest, most intricate one. If you try to connect your personal story to every point you want to make, you’ll start compromising. Instead, introduce the narrative and loop back to it when appropriate.

Not every tip has to be related to your life. Use your personal story to enhance the ideas that are and use outside sources for the others. Stay focused on your mission and use your first-hand experience to give your piece authority and drag people to it. Your writing and reporting skills can do the rest.

Personal Story - Healthcare4. Think Beyond the Subject Matter, But Don’t Force It

Your professional and life experience brought you to this article, so why not use it? Go into your piece knowing you’re the perfect person to write this story, even if it doesn’t directly relate. When you’ve found the spot in your piece to include your own life, make sure it makes sense and is relevant. You’ll want to emphasize what connects your story to this one. You don’t want to be the person who just came here to talk about herself. A personal narrative that doesn’t serve a purpose can derail a piece into something self-indulgent and possibly turn a reader off.

The author of this story about the power of wisdom and decision-making for Dignity Health found the perfect balance. Originally, you wouldn’t think a story about deciding to homeschool your kids would relate to procuring health care. But the author doesn’t make the anecdote about homeschooling, she makes it about how she made a tough decision. Finding the right health care is all about making the right decision in stressful situations. If the author couldn’t find that connecting tissue, her piece would have suffered and not had nearly as much emotional impact. People looking for information about making decisions about health care would have stopped reading.

Everyone has a story to tell. Usually, it’s not what story you tell, but how. When putting yourself, and your personal story, at the forefront of your content, you won’t just be sharing an aspect of your life. You’ll be asking the readers to do the same.

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