Category Archives: Hallmarks of Strong Narratives

Answer These Four Key Questions to Boost B2B Content Marketing Effectiveness

Share

Four-Qs-B2B-Mktg-EffectivenessContent marketing fever has swept the business world.  According to the most recent survey of content marketing practices and trends among B2B companies by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and Marketing Profs, just under nine in 10 participating professionals said their organization uses content marketing, and three-quarters indicated their organization will produce more content in 2016 than in 2015.  Furthermore nearly 30 percent of the average marketing budget is now earmarked for content marketing, and just over half of survey participants expect to increase their spending on content marketing in the next 12 months.

Unfortunately, however, increased attention to content marketing hasn’t necessarily translated into positive returns for organizations.  In fact, the effectiveness of content marketing is on the decline.  Just 30 percent of respondents in the CMI/Marketing Profs survey rated their organization’s use of content marketing as effective, down eight points from the previous year.  In other words, in seven in 10 companies, content marketing just isn’t getting the job done.

This study clearly shows that marketers still have a lot of work to do to capitalize on content marketing’s massive potential.  To that end, answering four key questions can help.

Do I have the right goals?

Survey respondents cited numerous goals for their content marketing efforts (Figure 1).  The most commonly mentioned were lead generation and sales.  Not far behind were lead nurturing, brand awareness, engagement, and customer retention/loyalty.

Figure 1:  Most commonly mentioned content marketing goals

Answer Four Questions_Figure 1

Few would argue that these are unworthy goals.  However, one objective missing from the list—and critically important for many B2B segments—is the establishment of a thought leadership position in one’s chosen markets.  Being seen as an expert is vital to differentiating a company from competitors, enhancing the firm’s brand, commanding a pricing premium, and providing a “safe haven” for buyers in times of economic upheaval.

For example, a B2B company’s offering and value proposition often can be quite complex and difficult to describe.   That’s especially true in the case of companies that sell highly technical products that typical business professionals may have trouble fully understanding.  Despite this, product companies’ marketing content often is laden with descriptions of an offering’s features and functions but is largely missing the key element that business buyers care about:  how the product can benefit their company tangibly and financially.  If a B2B company uses its marketing content to convey thought leadership—in other words, emphasizing how the company’s products embody the enterprise’s collective expertise in solving critical business problems—a product company can more effectively communicate the value its products generate for customers and, thus, connect with its target audience and move them to action.

In professional services firms, the challenge is equally difficult:  how to describe and communicate what is largely an intangible offering, i.e., expertise delivered via people.  With no product to “put through its paces,” a services firm has to rely on other ways to convince prospects that what it espouses—its advice—really works.  Gearing marketing content toward establishing thought leadership, a firm can demonstrate its unique insights into a business problem its clients are facing, its experience in solving the problem with other clients, the results from those experiences, and the firm’s approach to doing the work.  In other words, the firm enables clients and prospects to “sample” its expertise through its content, which can help clients understand the value of the firm’s services and significantly shorten the sales cycle.

Am I producing the right kind of content?

While survey respondents noted they have ramped up the creation of content in the past year, many still struggle to produce the right kind of content.  To wit, 60 percent said producing engaging content is one of the biggest challenges they face (Figure 2).

Figure 2:  Biggest content marketing challenges

Answer Four Questions_Figure 2

One of the ways companies can address that challenge is by sharpening their focus on the quality of the content they produce.  Quite simply, high-quality content is more likely to be noticed, consumed and remembered by the target audience.

What makes content “high quality”?  There are many factors, but a useful guide to content quality are the following eight hallmarks that we’ve identified in our client work:

Corporate Narratives Hallmarks

A critical enabler of such focus is a well-defined strategy and editorial mission statement that spell out exactly what the organization hopes to accomplish with content marketing and the topics and themes its content will cover.  Yet the CMI-Marketing Profs survey found just 32 percent of organizations have a documented content marketing strategy and only 28 percent have a documented editorial mission statement.

In our experience, one of the best ways to ensure that an organization’s content is aligned with and supports the company’s overall business—and engages audiences with relevant, compelling ideas—is to take a portfolio management approach to content.  This involves collecting, assessing, developing and writing about a balanced array of ideas to ensure that the company has the right mix between short-term bets (ideas ready to market now) and long-term bets (ideas needing more extensive development and investment). Doing so supports demand generation in the current quarter as well as over a year or multiple-year period—and, ultimately, enhances the effectiveness of and return on that content.

Am I using the right resources?

To produce high-quality, effective content, an organization needs a strong team with the right skills and capabilities.  That’s especially true as companies continue to increase the amount of content they produce.  But for many companies, hiring a full-time content marketing team may not be practical or even possible.  Budget constraints, intense competition for talent, or simply a desire to remain organizationally lean and nimble may lead to gaps in a company’s content marketing resources that can prevent them from developing content that generates results.

One of the biggest such gaps we see is in writing talent:  the people whose job it is to turn nascent ideas into compelling prose.  Many companies opt to fill this gap by using external writers for content creation—either solely or as a complement to their in-house writing resources. Indeed, external writers can be important contributors to content marketers’ efforts, as they can help a company develop its publications strategy and editorial mission, serve as “editor-in-chief” to ensure content focus and quality, and provide specific subject matter expertise on pieces that require it.  However, it’s critical that when using outside writers, companies make sure they carefully match the writer to the job. Many people from outside the writing profession believe “writing is writing,” but that’s far from the case. The writing skills for great website copy, brochures, white papers, books, news releases, proposals, advertisements and videos can vary significantly. Each requires distinct skills (Figure 3).

Figure 3:  Matching the writing skills to the task

 GreatWriting_Figure 3

Source:  Alterra Group

For instance, overtly sales-oriented pieces such as brochures and advertisements need writers who can spin creative, punchy, engaging copy that relies less on facts and more on flair to get the message across.  More straightforward content such as short case studies and web copy require writers who can convey information with good grammar, proper sentence structure, clarity, and readability.  Educational content, including bylined articles and other “thought pieces,” are best served by writers who can tell a logical, compelling story that doesn’t resort to breathless phrases or unfounded claims of superiority.  And the most complex type of content—including research reports, major white papers, and books—need writers who are skilled at shaping ideas and concepts and have significant knowledge of the industry or subject matter on which they are writing.

Individuals who are retained for setting content strategy and direction should have deep experience managing a publications program, while an editor-in-chief must be adept at identifying and correcting flaws in logic, structure, and grammar while ensuring tight and compelling prose.

Am I using the right metrics?

One of the most intriguing survey findings involves measures.  Just under six in 10 survey participants indicated one of their top challenges is measuring content effectiveness and 65 percent said one of their top priorities this year is gaining a better understanding of what content is and isn’t effective.  Employing the right metrics can help.

What are the “right” metrics?  Certainly, non-financial ones are important.  Such metrics as website traffic, sales lead quantity, and sales lead quality can help marketers understand if their content is broadly resonating with their target audiences.  But ultimately, the true test of content effectiveness is if it leads to business:  people actually buying from the company.  While an increase in eyeballs on the website or better sales leads are helpful, they don’t carry nearly the weight in the executive suite as business results such as sales do.  Drawing a direct connection between content produced and sales generated illustrates what is genuinely “effective” in the eyes of customers and prospects, and helps justify further investments in content marketing.

Encouragingly, this year’s CMI-Marketing Profs survey suggests content marketers have gotten the message.  In the past few years, survey participants were asked to indicate which measures they used, and most focused primarily on non-financial metrics:  web traffic (63 percent) and sales lead quality (54 percent), followed by social media sharing (50 percent) and sales lead quantity (48 percent).  Direct sales was cited by only 39 percent and, according to the study’s authors, that figure had been dropping steadily for four years.  It was almost as if these data suggested content marketers were finding it too hard to tie their efforts to real business results, so instead, were basically giving up and focusing on secondary measures they could easily track and directly influence.

This year, the survey asked which metrics participants consider most important, and results indicate that business results are in favor (Figure 4).  While sales lead quality was most frequently cited as important (by 87 percent), it was closely followed by sales (84 percent) and higher conversion rates (82 percent).   Whether participants are actually using such metrics is not known, as the question was not asked.  However, the fact that such a high percentage of content marketers acknowledge that financial metrics are vital suggests they are putting themselves in a better position to demonstrate their true value, and the value of their output, to the larger enterprise.

Figure 4:  Most important content marketing metrics

Answer Four Questions_Figure 4

*     *     *     *     *

As the CMI/Marketing Profs research shows, content marketing among B2B companies is certainly on the rise.  However, as they boost their attention to and investment in content, marketers need to make sure they are not generating content for content’s sake.  Having the right goals and strategies for their content marketing efforts, using the right resources (including external providers) to develop the right kind of content, and measuring the impact of that content appropriately, are critical to the continued growth and value of the content marketing discipline.

10 Keys to Getting the Most from Thought Leadership Marketing Surveys

Share

Ten-Keys-SurveysSurveys have become one of the most important items in a professional services marketers’ toolkit.  When done right, they can help companies demonstrate their insights on important business topics and generate awareness of the company overall.  Yet many marketers struggle to create surveys that provide sufficient return on investment.

What separates companies whose surveys are powerful lead and awareness generators from those whose surveys fall flat?  In our experience, 10 key practices make the difference:

  1. Get all key stakeholders involved early in the process—especially in the identification of the research topic and design of the research.  The most successful research projects have strong participation from the head of the sponsoring practice or company, appropriate subject-matter experts, account managers and business developers, and marketers throughout design, analysis and communication of the findings.
  2. Conduct comprehensive secondary research on the broad research topic before designing the research.  Doing so enables you to both identify material already published on the topic (and, thus, differentiate your research) as well as pinpoint aspects of the topic that have not been adequately covered by other organizations (and, thus, provide fresh new insights your audience will value).
  3. Always use hypotheses to ensure the research generates useful data.   They’re absolutely vital to ensuring you understand what you hope to prove with the research and keeping research execution activities focused on that goal. Hypotheses should not be so broad that they can’t be covered adequately by a survey and not so narrow that new discoveries are difficult.
  4. In crafting the survey questionnaire, devise four or five questions to probe each hypothesis.  If a hypothesis needs more than five questions to probe it, it is probably too broad and should be narrowed in scope. Questions should be easy for targets to answer and well within their professional purview.  Nothing turns off prospective participants faster than overly complex questions that take a lot of time to answer or those that are irrelevant to their area of expertise.
  5. Avoid the “C-level trap”: Trying and failing to target the most senior executives possible.  Many companies mistakenly think that the results of their surveys will be credible only if top-level executives participated in it. In fact, surveys on business or management topics often are best taken by professionals at the manager, director or vice president level because these individuals have the most intimate knowledge of the topic at hand and are more likely to engage with the survey.
  6. Create incentives for participation that provide both business and personal value.  Topical incentives such as early access to research findings or a personalized benchmark report can be paired with items such as drawings for iPods or gift certificates to most effectively drive participation. One would be surprised to find that even highly compensated executives still are attracted to incentives they find personally valuable.
  7. Don’t simply report interesting answers to questions:  Take sufficient time in analysis (and use the hypotheses as a guide) to determine the most compelling story (or stories) the data is telling and use that storyline as the basis of a compelling, well-written research report.  This is where we find surveys typically fail most frequently. Many companies spend considerable time and money collecting data, but then skimp on analysis—which can compromise the strength of the findings and squander the investments made in data collection.
  8. To help ensure that the research findings are consistently communicated externally, sufficiently train all relevant personnel on the findings and methodology—including marketing and media relations professionals, as well as any client-facing professionals.  Make sure these employees understand and can communicate the linkage between the research findings, the implications for clients, and the services your company can offer to help.
  9. Create and execute a full marketing plan around the findings. Within this plan, maximize the marketing opportunity the survey provides by releasing different sections of the results (such as specific industry or functional findings) in addition to marketing the overall findings. Use social media channels to broadcast the most interesting findings, and consider online channels and discussion groups as mechanisms to continue the dialog on the research topic and further engage clients and prospects. Offer to prepare and deliver tailored presentations on the survey findings to the management teams of each of the companies that participated in the research and to key target accounts.
  10. “Institutionalize” the research: make it an annual, semi-annual or quarterly initiative.  In doing so, your company ultimately will increase brand awareness, create anticipation for the research among target executives and be able to provide longitudinal comparisons.  This will help cement your company’s reputation as the “voice of authority” on the topic in the eyes of customers, prospects and the media LI Posts.

Survey research should play a central role in any professional services company’s marketing strategy. Executed well, surveys enable companies to generate interesting and useful content that attracts prospective buyers’ attention while demonstrating that the company understands the challenges these executives face. Many of the world’s leading professional services companies have multiple surveys in the field at once, and many of those surveys recur year after year, with a loyal and engaged audience looking forward to both participating in and learning from the research. A simple, yet rigorous approach to survey research can increase the odds that a company’s survey makes an impact in its chosen market by providing a platform from which a company can demonstrate its expertise, as well as a basis for meaningful discussions between a company’s client-facing professionals and their most important contacts.

How to Create Content for a Winning Business Book

Share

Create-Business-BookSo you want to write a business book—fantastic.  Business books remain a popular marketing tool for many companies and professionals, especially those involved in the business of dispensing advice (such as consultants, accountants and attorneys).  And for good reason: A book provides an outlet by which professionals can communicate their insights and expertise, and the possibility of becoming a best-selling author can be enticing. Furthermore, having a book as one’s calling card conveys credibility and authority, and instantly sets apart the author and his or her firm from competitors—thus helping to influence prospects and sell more work.

However, despite good intentions, many authors and their firms severely underestimate what it takes to produce a book that generates substantial market impact.  First there’s the issue of time. Paid advisors—whether they are management consultants, auditors, lawyers or accountants—are busy people and are expected to spend their work hours generating and delivering client work. Therefore, much of the work on a book must be done in the author’s spare time. Then there’s the effort required. Few people are so gifted that they can write a compelling book simply by sitting down and “putting pen to paper.” A successful book requires extensive research, rigorous analysis of data, and cogent writing.  The investment can be substantial.

The point is that books can generate significant awareness of authors and their firms, and a really good book can easily recoup its often-hefty investment many times over in both tangible and intangible ways.  On the other hand, poorly executed books—which, unfortunately, are all too common—can squander a firm’s time and money and sometimes even tarnish the reputation of the author and the firm itself.

Based on our experience developing and ghostwriting books, and our observations of others who have done so, we offer four keys to producing a business book that engages readers, provides solutions to a pressing business problem and, most important, generates a lot of business for the firm that authors it.

#1: The Book Comes Last, Not First

Ironically, some of the most successful business books didn’t begin life as books. Rather, the book was simply the culmination of a long series of investments in research, analysis, consulting, and marketing on a topic. By the time the book-writing began, the ideas that formed the basis of the book had already been well-developed and familiar to potential book buyers. This might seem like a minor point but it’s not. Many business books are “rush jobs” launched to capture a new market (such as the current darling, the Internet of Things). In these books, examples are few and superficial (they often are based on newspaper and magazine clippings).  Not incidental is the fact that such books also can be painful to develop because the authors have little to draw on and end up having to “make it up as they go.”  Prescriptions are predictable, generic and unproven, and the core elements of the book rarely go beyond the conceptual.

The problem with books such as these is that their development was totally backwards. Rather than asking, “What book can we quickly write to grab a stake in a new market?”, the authors should have first asked “What topic do we already have some expertise in and experience with today, and how can we take it to market while further developing our ideas through best-practice and other research and eventually write a book?”

When a book is developed in this way, it will have much greater impact because the ideas are more likely to be novel, robust, and backed with rich, compelling examples.

To illustrate, let’s go back to the mid-1990s and Reengineering the Corporation, one of the most successful business books of all time.  The authors, Michael Hammer and James Champy, didn’t set out to write the book when their two companies launched a research program on the management of information technology. It was only after several years of best-practice research across a number of studies, developing a reengineering approach, and gaining reengineering experience through consulting work, that they began to write the book.

The book, of course, was a runaway success:  Reengineering sold millions of copies worldwide, catapulted Champy’s heretofore small and unknown firm, CSC Index, into consulting’s “big leagues,” and made reengineering a household word.  Since then, firms around the world have generated untold hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue in “reengineering” consulting projects.

 #2: The Battle Is Won or Lost in the Content

While many factors contribute to the success of a book, what really distinguishes a successful book from a mediocre performer is strong, compelling content.  And that takes time to develop.  It requires data that supports the relevance of the topic (the “case for action”) and the validity of the authors’ prescriptions (rich case studies). It demands that this data be thoroughly analyzed, and that analysis shaped the argument and not the opposite (which we’ve all too often seen).  This research and analysis, which must be done before any actual writing takes place, can take a minimum of six months and sometimes more. One book we’ve worked on recently began with more than a year’s worth of research that informed the book’s central thesis and frameworks—including interviews with dozens of executives, in-depth case studies on more than 100 companies, mining of current and past related consulting projects, and intensive secondary research.  This was followed by several more months of analysis before we (the writers) were brought in to begin the development of the actual book.

Contrast this with the way many business books are developed and written. A firm sees an emerging market it wants to penetrate and decides having a book is the best way to do so.  With nothing more than a title and a page of bullet points in hand, the firm brings in a ghostwriter to sit down with the authors and “capture” their thinking. The authors have been pondering the topic, perhaps have collected some articles, and maybe pitched some related work or even completed a project or two. Because their ideas are nascent and examples few, there isn’t much for the ghostwriter to capture. Pulling enough material out of the authors to fill an entire book is painful:  Draft after draft is generated, with each only incrementally better than the former.  If the ghostwriter is good enough, he can help pad the copy with content he can find on his own through some concerted web searching or co-opting relevant content from other documents the firm has published.  Somehow, it all comes together in the end, but the product is inferior to what could have been produced had the firm approached it in the right way.  And the market’s acceptance of the book reflects that.

The problem is this: Even the best ghostwriters will only be able to wallpaper over ideas whose walls are cracked or crumbling.  The best prose in the world simply can’t hide fundamentals flaws in the logic and argument that form the basis of any good book, business or otherwise.

But how does an author know if his content is strong enough and ready for the writer?  One good way to find out is to critique the material on eight key criteria:

Corporate Narratives Hallmarks

If the content meets these tests, it’s time to bring in the writer, whose first order of business is to help the authors determine how to take the theme, analysis, and examples and organize them into a book. He will develop the overall architecture of the book—how the theme progresses from chapter to chapter.

Once the book’s architecture is set, the writer will develop detailed outlines for each chapter that put all arguments and supporting data in their place. This is arguably the most critical point in the book’s development. If a detailed outline cannot be created for the book—and “detailed” means 50 pages or more—then there’s probably not enough content yet for a book.

The outline is critical for another reason:  It’s the primary tool for extracting the authors’ ideas and putting them on paper. The writer will use the outline to guide conversations with the authors, and subsequently shape the transcript of that discussion into prose. But these sessions will only be productive if the authors are prepared to discuss the outline at the right level of detail—which, in our experience, isn’t always the case.

Two recent books we’ve worked on provide a night-and-day comparison.  In the case of one book, each chapter was supported by a detailed outline backed by deep research and thinking.  Because the outline had been prepared well in advance of his discussion with the writer, the author had time to reflect on the topic and think through what he wanted to say.  As a result, conversations between the author and writer were detailed, comprehensive and highly productive, giving the writer plenty of meat to work with to shape and build out each chapter.  The development of chapter drafts moved quickly—in fact, we were able to write the first draft of the entire book in about three months.

With the second book, chapter outlines were sparse and, in some cases, the authors were only vaguely aware of what they wanted to say (or even how their chapter related to others in the book).  In a few cases, a chapter “outline” was all of five bullet points or, at best, a short high-level PowerPoint deck that had been used in a sales presentation to a prospective client.  Not surprisingly, chapter-development sessions were typically long and difficult, often requiring multiple interviews to generate sufficient content, plenty of frantic searching by the writer to find additional content, and more than a few drafts of each chapter.

#3: Marketing Should Begin Long Before the Book Is Published

One of the most important things we’ve learned about book writing is that a book should never be the first publication a firm uses to get its message to market. Early in the research and analysis of the content, the firm should write and place articles, give presentations, and deliver the content in other ways to “prime the market” for the book.

Assume, for a moment, a firm’s idea has a 12-month research and development cycle (which is not uncommon). By month six, the firm should have done enough case study and/or survey research, and have sufficient relevant client work to draw upon, to deliver compelling conference presentations on the idea and pen a strong article or white paper for its own publication or an outside one.  Such a document can serve as a microcosm of the book, enabling the firm to confirm the structure, flow and argument it intends to use in the book.  The sections of the paper effectively serve as proxies for the book’s chapters.

If a survey is part of the research (something that should be done in the early months of the project), the firm should publicize the survey results when they become available. Surveys of executives can be an excellent tool to help make the case for the relevance of a firm’s idea. Finding out that a particular business problem is plaguing a great number of companies, at a great cost, can be the data necessary to make the case that there’s a fundamental business issue in the first place. Such data also is very newsworthy to business media which, by running stories on the survey results, will give the book considerable (and free) advance publicity.

Thus, over those 12 months of R&D on a concept, a firm has many chances to get various aspects of its concept to the marketplace. By the time the book-writing has begun, and the book is published, the marketplace will be familiar with the firm’s concept. If they’ve been intrigued with what they’ve read or heard already, they will want more. That means the book is far more likely to hit a receptive market.

#4: Post-Publication Marketing Should Not Be Left to the Publisher

Once the book is published, the firm should work collaboratively with the publisher’s PR people to promote it aggressively. Typically, publishers will get the book to reviewers, search for serial rights (book excerpts in magazines and newspapers), and set up some journalist and broadcast interviews. To promote a book well, however, the firm should set up press interviews with reporters not covered by the publisher’s PR people. These are often smaller, second-tier publications whose audiences generally will be more interested in the topic than readers of broader business publications.

Furthermore, the firm’s PR staff, in tandem with the ghostwriter who worked on the book, should develop, write and place op-eds in key business publications and business sections of general newspapers to generate buzz. In our experience, few book publishers will help write or place those articles.  The firm also should aggressively promote the book through presentations at conferences and via all relevant digital channels (including a website dedicated to the book and its concepts).

The best way to view the division of labor between the publisher and the authoring firm is this: the former is responsible for promoting the product (i.e., the book itself), while the latter must promote the concept. One of the reasons that Reengineering became a phenomenon is that the authors and their firms tirelessly and effectively promoted the concept to business audiences. No one can say for sure, but without such an effort behind it, Reengineering probably would be viewed today as simply a well-researched and well-written book instead of the blockbuster that it became.

Conclusion

A book is one of the most expensive, time-consuming, and highest-risk marketing initiatives that a company can undertake. The payoff can be huge, but only if the project is approached correctly. Firms that research and develop their book ideas thoroughly, understand when and how to use a good ghostwriter, and aggressively market the book’s ideas before and after the book is published are much more likely to see a strong return on their investment.

Branding Strategy Insider’s guest blog by Corporate Narrative’s Bernie Thiel

Share

Branding Strategy Insider ran a blog post from guest author Bernie Thiel, partner with Corporate Narratives Group.  Check it out here:  http://www.brandingstrategyinsider.com/2013/12/8-characteristics-of-a-motivating-brand-story.html

The Eight Hallmarks of a Great Corporate Narrative

Share
The Eight Hallmarks of a Great Corporate Narrative

More and more, companies of all kinds are recognizing the need to create and market high-quality content that is noticed and embraced by the target audience. And increasingly, companies are turning their attention to stories as content that can capture customers’ attention and differentiate the company and its offerings. But not all stories are created equal. Some truly capture customers’ fancy and help drive loyalty and sales, while others miss the mark (sometimes by a long shot).

What makes a story engaging to customers and effective in motivating them to buy? In our experience, there are eight fundamental characteristics of a great story.

#1: It’s relevant: Stories that aren’t meaningful to people will have no impact. Thus, companies should make sure they know what’s important to their customers—whether by conducting traditional customer research, using analytics, or monitoring the chatter on social media—and build their stories around what customers are thinking. Often that can mean creating different versions of the same story, each tailored to a particular need, concern or area of interest.

#2: It’s credible: While people love to be entertained by the stories coming out of Hollywood, that’s typically not the case when it comes to corporate narratives. People asked to consider buying a product or service, however subtly, want to know that they’re not dealing with smoke and mirrors. They generally don’t like to take a leap of faith in their dealings with product or service providers, but rather, want proof that what they’re buying “works.”

#3: It’s compelling: If a story can’t grab the intended audience and hold their attention, it’s either not worth telling or it’s not being told in the right way. What makes a story compelling is generally a combination of factors—subject matter, words, imagery, sound and others—all working together to create an experience in the minds of readers, viewers or listeners.

#4: It’s persuasive: Great stories don’t simply keep people interested. They also excel in motivating people to do something—and for companies, that typically means ultimately buying something from them. Similar to the previous hallmark, persuasiveness is not the result of any one factor. But imagery and words generally play a dominant role in making a connection—emotional, intellectual, or both—with customers and moving them to action.

#5: It’s timely: Unlike the classics of literature and film, which people can read or watch over and over, storytelling in a marketing context must align with a person’s need within the buying cycle. That means it must be informed by an understanding of when customers or prospects are considering a purchase, the context in which they are determining whether and what to buy, and the information they need to help them make the purchase decision.

#6: It’s understandable: A story may have a great underlying message with real potential to inspire and engage prospects and customers. But it will never live up to its promise if the target audience has trouble deciphering what a company is truly trying to get across. Regardless of medium, a story needs to unfold logically, making it easy for the audience to “connect the dots” and follow the narrative.

#7: It’s informative: The most effective corporate narratives are those that educate and inform, that provide insights on something people value. Such stories convey an air of authority or credibility, often through research, that benefits the companies authoring them. By telling the audience something they didn’t know (but should), these stories position the company as a place the audience can turn for help addressing a particular personal, professional or business challenge.

#8: It’s authentic: People, whether business buyers or consumers, hate to be fooled. They avoid companies they perceive to be insincere or untruthful. Thus, if companies want their stories to have a positive impact on their audience, they should strive to ensure that their stories are true—and, more important, are true to the essence of the company.

The bottom line is that if a company wants its content to make an impact—i.e., attract customers’ and prospects’ attention and spur them to action—it must tell a great story. Anything else is just additional noise and clutter that discourages people from wanting to learn more about a company and its offerings and, ultimately becomes another unwanted obstacle in the buying process.

(For a more in-depth discussion of the eight hallmarks, including examples of companies that are doing it right, read our white paperCreating Stories That Inform, Enlighten and Inspire: The Eight Hallmarks of a Great Corporate Narrative.”)