Why You Need Narrative in Content Marketing

Narrative is just the English major word for story. If I suggest that a piece of marketing needs a narrative arc, I’m just telling you that your piece needs to have a story with a beginning, middle, and end. That may not seem immediately applicable if you work with something very technical like AI, or biotechnology, but stories have the power to forge connections.

For some people, arranging information in story-form is completely natural. I have a hard time talking about anything without turning it into a story. I look for the stories in the things other people are saying. When I meet people, I hoard the information they reveal about themselves in order to create a story that will help me remember them.

Content marketing, even in the most staid industries, needs to tell a story in order to be effective. That story can be conveyed through a theme, a convention such as a metaphor or simile, or it can be a traditional narrative.

One example of a common way to use story-telling in content marketing is the use of case studies. A case study tells the story of how a customer uses a product or service to solve a problem in their business.

You’ve probably heard that good marketing requires good storytelling, but you may not have considered exactly how the two go together, especially if your product or service is particularly technical. Stories provide context, and having context helps people remember your brand.

Without a story, your content is like a barely open sunflower — it has plenty of potential, but it isn’t quite realized.


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Crying for Strangers

a gray winter sky, trees with no leaves
The gray days of winter are part of life

Each night, my partner and I watch the World News. During the interviews with the bereaved, nurses, doctors, or others working in hospitals, I cry.

Well-meaning friends and family invariably suggest I stop watching the news if it makes me cry, but I’ve found that it’s helping me process the big emotions of our time. Everyone I know is suffering some level of anxiety, fear, or grief. It would be so easy to slide down that slippery slope that leads to a pit of depression.

Taking a few moments each day to cry for strangers feels right.

One of the most human conditions is that of grief. We all know it. We all understand and can relate to how it feels to lose a loved one. Sharing the grief of so many people who are suffering now is one way I can feel more connected to my fellow-humans.

The few moments of grief each evening is, for me, a self-care tool. You’re probably reading about how important it is to exercise, to practice good hygiene, and to take care of yourself during these turbulent times. The website of the National Association of Social Workers has a section on self-care during a pandemic. It recommends self-reflection, staying connected with colleagues and friends, and finding ways to take part in social justice work, among others.

In the face of advice on self-care, you might feel like you need to put on a happy face and maintain a positive attitude.

But is suppressing grief really a good idea? If you’ve ever tried to fake-it-until-you-make-it through trauma, you might have found that squishing the pain down isn’t so helpful. My mother passed away when I was in high school. One of the first things that struck me was that the world just continued spinning, which seemed like a grave injustice. Eventually, I fell back into all the routines of high school, and pretended everything was fine. About a year later, I found myself battling suicidal ideation, and taking unnecessary (and out-of-character) risks. Looking back, I can see clearly how my failure to deal with the grief and trauma of losing my mom led to the depression later.

My nightly grief is, I hope, helping me to process all the pain of this pandemic now, so that I don’t need to revisit it.

If you’re feeling the weight of grief on your chest, and you keep shaking it off by going for a run or baking another loaf of bread, consider exploring it. You may just find that working through the grief leaves more room for love.

Grief.com is a website founded by one of the world’s foremost experts on grief, David Kessler. You may have seen the recently published essay That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief published by Harvard Business Review, that contains an interview with Kessler where he talks about the types of grief we’re all feeling right now. In the FAQs section on grief.com, one question is, “Why not just avoid grief?”

“We think we want to avoid grief, but really it is the pain of the loss we want to avoid. Grief is the healing process that ultimately brings us comfort in our pain,” is the answer Kessler gives.

After I cry for a few minutes, I wipe my eyes, and turn my attention to dinner, or my garden, or my pets. It’s important not to linger in the grief. Acknowledge it, honor it. Feel it. Allow yourself to mourn for that which others have lost.

Then, tie up your running shoes, check on your dough, or spend some time in your garden, and remember this isn’t the first pandemic humanity has faced, and yet we’re here. This, too, shall pass.

a bright blue sky with white puffy clouds, trees with leaves and a green field
But the bright days of summer return

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It’s Most Difficult at the Beginning

I am back to square one, maybe even square negative five, regarding my fitness level. Similarly, but much less drastically, I’m at a low point in client numbers. Fitness and business have always swung along the same pendulum in my life, likely because they both depend solely on my own motivation and willingness to do the work. At this particular moment in time, I’m working on the basics for good health and for a prosperous business. You know, paying attention to what and how much I eat, making a point of doing some form of exercise everyday, making marketing calls, sending out queries, referring back to my business plan.

And it’s freaking hard.

Easing myself into things, as I do, I started counting calories two weeks ago, and have kept it up. Now it’s time to add in exercise, and that is tougher. I’m trying to follow a fun, slightly silly workout plan, that uses the language of RPG (roll playing games). It’s called The Hero’s Journey, and it looks pretty simple. Except, on the first day, I am supposed to do 100 reps of four bodyweight exercises. I’m going to try, but don’t have much faith that I’ll be able to do it. The first set of 25 almost killed me.

Similarly, I started sending out marketing emails a week or two ago, but I know that to see real results, I’m going to have to do much more. Like make 10 calls a day, every day, for a month or two, and continue to send out several emails per day. That’s just how it works. For someone like me, who feels weird and awkward on the phone, and who struggles with any kind of social interaction, this stuff is hard. Probably not as hard as getting back in shape, but still not exactly as easy as writing a blog post.

The important thing to remember at times like this is that it’s only hard for a little while. It won’t take long before I’m looking forward to working out, or before the marketing has done what it always does and I only need to send out 2-3 queries each week to stay busy. Everything in life is that way. When I first built my flower garden, it took a lot of work to break up the grass and fluff up the dirt. But the next spring was easier, and every one after has been too. Any BIG THING is that way. You have to approach it a bit at a time and know that it will get easier.

A friend learned to play guitar as a teenager. Then she got a job, raised some children, and didn’t play. Recently she picked it back up and says the same thing about her practice sessions. They are tough, but she knows they will get easier.

Have you ever started over with something? How did it go for you?

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Walking the Freelancer Tightrope

The fourth quarter of 2014 was my most lucrative quarter as a business owner to date. It was the kind of quarter that makes you reevaluate and scale up your goals, and spurs you to begin dropping your lower-tier clients. It felt good.

(You know what happened next, don’t you? It’s so sadly predictable!)

The first two months of 2015 have been less than stellar. They haven’t been my worst months ever — not by a long shot — but my earnings did drop to about 30% of what they were in the two previous months. There are many reasons for the drastic drop, and most of them are related to the delicate balance business owners much strike between feeling good and feeling a little worried.

When I’m a little worried, I pay more attention to marketing — it’s just naturally on my mind more. Since it’s on my mind, I see opportunities while reading for pleasure, browsing online, having conversations with colleagues, as well as randomly in the middle of the night. I’m just more open to finding new work.

On the other hand, when I have lots of work, I’m thinking about getting that work done all of the time. I’m making connections to whatever it is I’m writing — and that is good. It gives my work more depth, and sometimes shines a new light on a topic.

When things are tighter, I tend to hoard my pennies, and my time. I don’t invest much in things like software, or in taking time off from writing to go to lunch or to events. Of course those things can, and do, generate new business.

You might imagine that less work = more time for other projects, but that hasn’t been the case in my experience. For example, when I had more deadlines than usual, I got up between 30 minutes and one hour early everyday to work on my fiction projects. Scheduling becomes more important when you are busy, and sticking to the schedule is critical.

When I have fewer deadlines I tend to let things slide, thinking, “Eh. I don’t have anything scheduled for the afternoon. There’s no harm in sleeping in this morning.” Or watching a movie, or baking some bread, or whatever other purple squirrel I can come up with that day.

Luckily, I’ve been working on my own for long enough that I have some safeguards in place to deal with the current situation. I have a long list of publications to contact, and another list of businesses and organizations that might need my services. I have a plan that I can pull up and follow the moment I realize things are off-track.

Recognizing the downward turn and taking the steps necessary to correct it are two different things, of course, but that’s where experience comes into play. It may take me a month or two to see what’s going on, but once I do, it’s easier to take action.

Here are a few of the specific steps I’m taking now:

1. Sending out a set number of letters of introduction or pitches each week. My number is 10. I do a fair amount of research before contacting a prospect so more than 10 becomes overwhelming.

2. Contacting all former clients with whom I enjoyed working. This one is self-explanatory, and just common sense. It also tends to yield the fastest results.

3. Closely evaluating how my time is spent. If there is “spare” time, I try to fill it with either planning, research, or working on my fiction projects. It feels terrible to realize I’ve wasted time on social media or playing games when a glance at my bookkeeping software clearly says I should have been doing something to support my income! When it comes to my bookkeeping, I might take the advice of friends who recommend that I consider utilizing taxes for freelancers done by an experienced CPA.

4. Getting back to my plan. In November and December, I put together a detailed plan for the next year. It has some good stuff in it, and pulling it out and following the steps is helping me stay on track.

5. Making sure the basics are covered. A couple of weeks ago, this site went down because I forgot to pay my hosting bill. That is just a bad way to run a business!

Have you ever corrected a downturn in your business? What are your best tips for avoiding a slump?

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Refusing the Fear

One of my big things for 2015 is publishing fiction. It was one of my big things for 2014, too, but it didn’t happen. Lots of other good things happened, but I didn’t publish any fiction. This year, I’m taking a few proactive steps to push myself along:

I’ve taken a spot on the calendar of a very in-demand professional editor. In December, she announced that her first available opening for 2015 was August, and I grabbed the slot. So, I now have a deadline.

Writing fiction is scheduled, just like my client work. Each day begins with #firsthourforfiction. (Except today. Today I’m sick and haven’t written any fiction yet. Having that time as part of my daily schedule makes doing the work easier. Just like when I rode the city bus to school and walked to class. Exercise was a built-in part of my day and much easier to fit in.

Daily reporting on what I’m working on will give me a good reason to actually do the work. I’m posting #firsthourforfiction reports on my public Google+ profile, and have also joined a couple of accountability groups.

All of those things may seem like normal, common sense things, but in reality, they are tactics for dealing with fear. Feeling afraid of writing is something new for me. Writing is what I do; it’s what I’ve always done. Writing is how I make decisions, it’s how I work out tangled emotions, it’s how I speak most clearly. I write hundreds — often thousands — of words almost everyday. I’ve written and published a non-fiction book without the least bit of fear. Articles don’t scare me, nor blog posts.

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Why is fiction scary?

It’s not because it’s a window into my soul or anything cliche like that. I have no plans to write any kind of ground-breaking literature. I just want to tell a story. This book will be the equivalent of a TV show you might watch for entertainment. I’m not trying to change minds or say anything important
with it.

It’s not because I fear rejection. Since I’m going to self-publish, there won’t be anyone to reject it. I don’t expect it to be a best seller or anything like that. If things go according to my long term plans, it will simply be the first of many entertaining stories that will provide some small income for my retirement years. I have no plans to market this one story at all. I will simply write it, polish it, and publish it, then move on to writing the next one.

I think it is scary because some people I respect will read it, and maybe they won’t like it. Writing is the only thing I’ve ever been good at. People pay me money to write things. If the people I respect don’t like the stories I write, maybe I’m not really good at it. Then, I’m not good at anything.

Now, that is the deep, dark, sinister voice inside me. It’s not the optimistic, bright outlook I work for, or even the logical, calm train of thought that I rely on. It’s the ugly thing that I try to ignore.

It won’t be ignored, though. It asserts itself. It’s the reason this novel has not yet been published. It’s the reason so many other stories are sitting, half finished, in my documents list. It’s the reason I’m still a wannabe and cannot speak about writing fiction from a position of authority and experience.

2015 is the year of seeing projects through in spite of the fear. It’s the year of having a little courage.

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