Antonio is curious. Or maybe skeptical is a better word.
“Can there really be much difference between content marketing and storytelling?” he asks. We’re sitting at his desk in the Argentina office, scrolling through pages of the website and conducting a content audit.
“Come with me to Smeterling, and I’ll show you.”
We’re buzzed entrance into the French-inspired shoebox of a bakery in Recoleta, what could be considered Buenos Aires’ Uptown Manhattan equivalent.
Immediately, Antonio’s drawn to the window-front display case with rows of powdered and fruit-topped pastries. Each seduces with temptations of satisfaction, forcing him into indecision. He’s torn between a lemon cake with coconut cream cheese icing and a death-by-chocolate covered in a thick raspberry chocolate ganache. One promises a bright, refreshing taste. The other a moment of rich decadence that smolders long after the first bite.
“So, what are you thinking?” I ask.
“I shall have the limon,” his decadent accent lingers, lacing itself into the cocoa-infused air.
“Good choice.” I turn to the baker standing behind a long counter and smashing walnuts with the flat-edge of a large knife. “Un limon y un chocolate, por favor.”
We find two stools at the same counter. White walls and open black shelves create modern, clean lines not found most places in the city. Antonio asks, “So what does cake have to do with storytelling? Why did you bring me here?”
“How much time did you give that plain vanilla, icing-less cake?” I ask.
He turns around and scans the rows, then turns, tilts his head. “What are you talking about? I do not see one. ”
“Right. Why would the baker even bother putting it out? No matter how great the taste, he knows after witnessing the first two harp-worthy options, you won’t even bother. Content marketing is vanilla cake. All well and good, sufficient as a last resort, but when compared to storytelling, forgotten. Or worse, overlooked from the start.
That isn’t to say content marketing isn’t useful. Storytelling itself, in the business sphere, often takes this form. However, not all content marketing tastes of storytelling. Just like the cakes, they can be very similar, even made of the same ingredients, and yet be worlds apart. The difference lies in the finesse of approach and information delivery.”
Two plates arrive in front of us. Antonio closes his eyes and takes a moment, savoring the taste. “Ay dios mio,” he gushes. “Que fantastico!”
When he reopens his eyes, I ask, “Why did you pick this one?”
“How could I not?” He gestures with open palms, as one might when motioning to the Mona Lisa. “Never have I had anything like this before.”
“You just hit the nail on the head. That’s the difference between content marketing and storytelling.
Content marketing often comes to the conversation straightforward. ‘At Bob’s Kayaking, we offer expeditions, training, and group packages.’ Regular ol’ vanilla cake.’ Storytelling, on the other hand, like your lemon concoction there, draws you in, welcomes you into the group, wraps an arm around you and says ‘Let me tell you about that time we took six people a mile off the coast of Tarifa, and a whale jumped up right in front of us.’
So now, you’re leaning in. Captivated. You imagine yourself in the kayak, wondering how you would react, thinking of people with whom you’d want to share that experience, mentally scouring your calendar for possible trip dates. In the first scenario—“
“Wait, what first scenario?” he asks.
“Exactly. You’re still in the boat.
Head turning, attention holding, persuasive, memorable.”
How to Make Anything into a Story
“Of course, of course, maybe that works for blog posts or ebook or white papers, but that won’t work all the time. What about pieces not typically known to have a form that affords the space for storytelling?”
“You can make a story out of just about anything,” I say.
He raises an eyebrow and takes another bite.
Antonio thinks for a second and then smiles broadly. “A checklist. Something like, here are the items you’ll need to climb the Andes: Waterproof boots, two pairs of socks, waterproof jacket, etc., etc., etc.” He rolls his hands in the air to forward the idea. “Not much room for story. Not much room for anything except what you need for a hike.”
“Maybe. Or maybe you can find a way.”
“Give me a second,” I say, taking a long sip of my Irish Coffee, rimmed with brown sugar and topped with a few of those crushed walnuts.
“Ok, here are a few options off the top of my head:
Something as straightforward as a checklist can be helpful, often included on a site, book, or as part of a planning package. Yet, on its own, a list lacks the power of context. It’s the practical, action-oriented steps someone takes after they’ve already cast themselves as the protagonist in a story. So if you’re going to simply include a checklist, make sure its surrounded by other information that answers readers’ questions and piques their curiosity.
Storytelling doesn’t have to be long. It just has to be entertaining and engaging. In fact, the art of the 100-word story continues to garner attention and momentum. That’s more or less a paragraph.
How could adding 100 words to the top and bottom of your checklist make a difference? It draws the reader in and reinforces the story you’ve presented and they’re considering to be a part of. It reminds them why they came here in the first place. It’s making the planning process (more) fun, which will only heightens their excitement.
Who says (some) of the bullet points can’t also be lines of the story? Something fun and/or factual (appropriately) incorporated that will surprise them, because they’ll be expecting your basic 1, 2, 3, list. And it’ll further their attention to the checklist by forming the question in their minds of “What else did they include in here?” Just those simple changes and additions will not only augment their interest, but 1. Make you seem more enjoyable than your competitors and what they were expecting, 2. Increase their excitement, 3. Relay information in a new, but memorable way.
Well, ideally, you’d combine all the options.”
Antonio remains silent for a minute, his eyes scanning the ceiling. “Perhaps, it wouldn’t even be all that difficult.”
“No. Not really. And this little brainstorm session took place in under five minutes, with just a bit of creativity. Can you imagine if I had more time?”
He nods. “Your version has more strength. More interest.”
“And again, that’s just a checklist. Like you mentioned before, imagine your options for ebooks, case studies, articles. You wouldn’t even necessarily have to recreate all of your material. Just a bit of brainstorming and few tweaks can transform what you already have.”
How to Wrangle Focus in Long Stories
A buzzer sounds overhead, the door opens, and a group of older women squeeze into the space and push themselves up against the bake case.
“In some cases, stories can be long, correct?” Antonio semi-shouts over the orchestra of Spanish verbs and nouns bouncing off the stainless steel appliances.
“For sure, they can be.”
“I’ve heard that people read in sections. Long copy tends to overwhelm. So, how do you handle that?”
“Just like magazine articles. With headers and section breaks. Just like what most blog posts do now.”
“Si, but what about the people who desire quick answers? Who lack the time to read many stories?”
“Well, you can bold the information or highlight it in some way. That’d be easy. You could also do what many nonfiction books do.”
“What’s that? Reinforce their points with stories?”
“Yes, but many include takeaways at the end of the section or chapter. Who’s to say you can’t do that with blog posts or any other material?”
He nods, pressing the pad of his index finger on the plate, combining crumbs together. “Ok, I can see that. So, let’s return to Bob’s kayaking story. You would recommend sharing that story and then including a list of takeaways underneath it?”
“Absolutely. But, keep in mind, it depends on what is in the story. If we assume the main point is that he offers tours, maybe what you include at the bottom is a bulleted list to continue to encourage the mental journey your reader has already gone on.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, since the reader is engaged, they are imagining what it would be like to be there, now you can use this time to encourage that thought process. A video link to beginner kayaking tips. A check list for what they’d need. Possible tour options. You really could include so many things here.”
“And what that does is get the reader more invested in Bob’s rather than some other outfitter?”
“Yeah, basically.” I smile.
“So if it’s better to be limon cupcake or chocolate raspberry, why doesn’t everyone do it?”
I finish the coffee and sigh. “Some simply don’t know better. Some don’t now how. Some are simply fine with vanilla.”
“I do not understand,” he says. “Why would someone choose to be vanilla when they could be something so marvelous as lemon cake with coconut cream cheese icing?”
Key Takeaways from this Story:
- The difference lies in the finesse of approach and information delivery
- A little creativity and time can create something entertaining, educational, and memorable
- You don’t have to scrap all of your old copy and start over again
- To handle long stories, include header and section breaks, bold the information if it makes sense and isn’t too distracting, include takeaways at the end of the section
- Smeterling is adorable and makes great desserts…like really great. If you get the chance to visit BA, make a point to stop by.