Don't Boil the Ocean and Other Best Practices for Marketers to Embrace Storytelling In a survey, executives said they want content from brands that is transparent, useful and selfless.

By Ted Birkhahn

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As business owners, we are always thinking about ways to gain an edge, to grow our top and bottom lines and keep the new business pipeline robust and healthy. It's a constant struggle to evaluate and choose where to invest marketing dollars that will return the most value and have a direct impact on lead generation, new sales and organic growth.

Today, we are witnessing a resurgence in the role and value that content plays to help businesses grow. The emergence of digital-publishing tools and social-media platforms has leveled the playing field for many businesses, allowing marketers to self-publish and use content as a strategic marketing weapon.

Related: Why Your Business Needs One of the New Breed of Internet Marketing Masters

However, research shows us that marketers still have a lot to learn when it comes to using content strategically. Working in close collaboration with The Economist Group's Content Solutions Unit, we recently surveyed 500 global business executives and 500 marketers about their perceptions, habits and needs regarding content.

Business executives were forthright in their message to marketers: stop marketing to me. Instead, they want content from brands that is transparent, useful and selfless. Our study, "Missing the Mark: Global Content Survey of Brand Marketers and their B2B Audiences," found that global business executives are seeking substance, while marketers are largely still marketing.

"The challenge," says Jeff Pundyk, global vice president of content solutions at The Economist Group, "is to create content that rises above the crowd. There are simply too many alternatives. Content marketers need to serve their readers or somebody else will."

So how do you transform your marketing department into a band of strategic storytellers? Here are a few best practices to get you started.

1. Don't try to boil the ocean.

Stick to what you know best and try to own it. Too often, marketers try to position their brands as experts on everything under the sun. But what happens is that the marketing effort (and its budget) gets spread too thinly and it lessens the impact on the audience.

Instead, pick a few of the most important issues facing your customers and invest most, if not all, of your time developing content that offers unique, compelling points of view.

2. Tell me something I don't know.

If your content is not introducing something new or providing a fresh perspective to an existing topic, it will be ignored. Our survey indicates that business executives want content that enhances their company's thinking on critical issues.

Related: Here's How to Really Measure the ROI of Your Content-Marketing Strategy

In fact, 75 percent of the executives said that their primary purpose for seeking content is to research a business idea. What's more, 67 percent said that content containing timely or unique information has a meaningful impact on their perception of the brand that is the source of the information.

3. Use content to differentiate yourself.

The world is a cluttered place. Busy, distracted business executives with short attention spans have choices when it comes to content. To rise above the fray, content with compelling points of view that buck the status quo is more likely to be heard, engaged with and shared by the audiences that matter most.

4. Keep it simple.

Business is complex. Content should be simple. Sixty percent of our survey respondents stressed that they use business content to help them understand complex issues in simple terms. The content should advance the discussion, not confuse it, and it should be succinct.

5. Stop marketing to me.

There will always be a role and a place for promotional content (although the world would be a better place without it), but content that succeeds in differentiating and elevating a brand is more about storytelling than it is about marketing. Seventy-one percent of executives surveyed made it clear that they shun content that is more like a sales pitch than valuable information. But, of the marketers who completed the study, 93 percent said that they connect their content directly to a product or service.

"The first rule of publishing is to put the readers first," Pundyk says. "It's a rule that can serve marketers well."

In the end, ask yourself: Would I find my own content useful? Does it provide a unique perspective on an existing issue or introduce a new angle altogether? Can it help me simplify a complex issue or shed light on a substantial business challenge?

Truthful answers to these questions can help your marketing team evaluate where they are and what they need to do to become strategic storytellers.

Related: Content Is a Kingmaker. Borrow This Blueprint for Fashioning Your Own.

Ted Birkhahn

President and Partner at Peppercomm

Ted Birkhahn is president and partner at Peppercomm and is in charge of client services and managing agency operations for the 100+ integrated marketing and communications firm. During his 15-year tenure at Peppercomm, Birkhahn’s work has included managing some of the firm’s largest and fastest-growing accounts, launching a number of Peppercomm’s practice areas and spearheading the firm’s acquisition strategy.

Birkhahn is a member of the Counselors Academy, a professional interest section of the Public Relations Society of America, and serves on the College of Charleston’s Department of Communication Advisory Council. He is also a member of PageUp, a division of the Arthur W. Page Society and serves as a national advisory board member for Youth About Business, a non-profit organizations that provides leadership training programs for high school students in underserved communities.

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