Storytelling vs the hard Sell:

What content marketing can do for your brand.
7 min read
Content Marketing - Think Banter Banner

So, obviously we’ve all become a little apathetic toward traditional marketing. We can fast-forward through commercials, skip ads on YouTube, and are effectively deaf to the white noise of countless messages bombarding us all day, every day. The thing is, marketers still need to get our attention – and that’s where content marketing comes in.

The marketing world has figured out that talking to our customers, rather than talking at them, is often a more effective way to tell our stories. More than that, we’ve seen the benefit of engaging in real conversations with our audiences.

According to a recent study by the Content Marketing Institute, over 90% of Business-to-Business and 86% of Business-to-Consumer marketers use one or more forms of content marketing in their marketing mix – including social media, e-newsletters, blogs, video content, articles, and more.

While it used to be all about having the biggest budget, new tools and technology offer endless opportunities for brands to connect more deeply with consumers. Rather than just spending money, it’s about spending time on your content.

So what exactly is content marketing? And how can you leverage it to build loyalty?

Essentially, content marketing allows you to communicate and engage with customers without selling to them. Instead, by focusing on educating and entertaining, you’re able to build a relationship with potential customers that doesn’t hinge upon a transaction. But, if you continue to deliver valuable information to this audience, you may in fact find yourself with a very loyal customer base.

Some of the world’s most successful marketers have tapped into the immense power of content marketing, finding creative and engaging ways to start conversations—and get attention. They’re basically our heroes.

One such hero is an old brand (like, 1912 old) that not only made itself relevant again, but has become the one to beat with its impeccable timing and playful cheek.

That’s right, the Edwardian Oreo cookie is now known for creating witty, timely content that has its finger on the pulse of pop-culture, and has captured the attention of a new generation. The “daily twist” campaign, which leveraged its 100th birthday celebration to try something fun and new, was a huge success. Daily images of the classic cookie “dressed up” to mark special occasions and wink at trending topics made them culturally relevant in a way that few brands can pull off. In the words of award-winning digital marketing agency 360i, “By the end of the 100 days, Oreo became a living, breathing part of culture – and people looked at the brand in a completely new way.” (Oreo’s 100th birthday celebrations with a twist)

Oreo Content Marketing

While the “daily twist” gained Oreo plenty of content marketing street-cred for its timely pop-culture references, the “dunk in the dark” twitter post of the 2013 Super bowl blackout is the stuff of legends. When the lights went out, Oreo responded in minutes with a graphic that allowed them to participate in a cultural moment shared by a massive audience, while completely staying true to the brand. The witty and well-timed tweet was totally in keeping with the tone of the daily twists (see more on the importance of consistency below), and therefore felt authentic rather than cheesy. The fact that they pulled it off as the news was still unfolding earned them the respect of content marketers everywhere. It also garnered 525 million earned media impressions, which is roughly five times the number of people who tuned in to watch the game (360i – Oreo Super Bowl).


Okay, so not all of us have the team of experts in place (or ingenious foresight) to leverage these kinds of moments. But, there are some tips you can keep in mind that can help you thrive in the content marketing arena:

Oreo Content Marketing Twitter

Create a relationship.

Engaging with your audience is what content marketing is all about, so find ways to make your story their story. When developing content, involve your community – including your customers, partners, and fans – in ways that connect them to what it is you’re selling, and what you can do for them. Last year, Oreo introduced the “Snack Hacks” video series that invited fans, and even well-known chefs, to create new ways to enjoy their favourite cookie. Let’s just say, this is the kind of engagement marketers dream about.

Another great example of crowd-sourced curation is the fan-sourced photo gallery on the band Arcade Fire’s website, which earned the #13 spot on “The 30 Most Genius Content Marketing Examples of 2014” (The 30 Most Genius Content Marketing Examples of 2014). Not only do fans get see their work (and happy concert memories) on their favourite band’s site, But Arcade Fire comes away with a stunning photo gallery of their tour from the perspective of dedicated concert goers.


Consistency, consistency, consistency.

One of the biggest challenges marketers face with content marketing is consistently delivering quality content that is relevant and meaningful. Content marketing is not about being a one hit wonder. It needs to be sustainable. Before you embark on a content marketing strategy, make sure you have the person or team in place to develop content regularly. It’s also crucial to set up analytics that allow you to inform, adapt, and sustain your content strategy over the long term.

If you don’t have anyone in-house to write the stories, then focus on coming up with story ideas and allow money in your marketing and communications budget to outsource writing. Alternatively, there are immensely talented PR, Marketing, and Journalism students out there who would jump at the opportunity to be involved as part of a Co-op program, or a summer student position.


Be genuine and transparent.

When McDonald’s took their customer service to the next level by engaging in online conversations about the quality of their products, it also meant that negative feedback would be invited to make a very public appearance. However, the benefit of engaging customers publicly meant that McDonald’s was able to educate those with unfavourable impressions, and to dispel myths that might otherwise have taken hold as fact.

If this had been done through traditional, one-way messaging, it might have been brushed off as propaganda. By inviting customers to engage in an open dialogue, McDonald’s checked three boxes on the content marketing success list: educating customers, creating a relationship, and providing trustworthy, valuable content. CMO of McDonald’s Canada, Joel Yashinksy, sums it up perfectly:

“If you have a good story to tell, tell it. But you have to do it in a way that’s authentic, and you have to have that conversation with the customer. You can’t just preach to the consumer these things that you know are true. You have to engage them so that they can come to learn it and believe it and build that trust with you.” (8 Absolutely Brilliant Content Marketing Innovations from the World’s Best Brands)


MacDonald's Campaign

You’re more interesting than you think.

One of the hurdles organizations face when considering content marketing is their mistaken belief that they don’t have anything compelling to talk about. Look at your environment and imagine you are seeing it through the eyes of someone who doesn’t live in your world.

In addition to telling your story, you can think about how to show a little personality. The #1 spot on “The 30 Most Genius Content Marketing Examples of 2014” list was taken by the popular clothing store, Anthropologie, and is a great example of how to relate to your customers while staying true to your brand. Despite the fact that they don’t sell any cocktail related products or ingredients, they featured DIY drink recipes on their blog last summer. Why, you ask? Like the clothes they sell, the drink recipes are seasonal and timely, and mimic the kind of originality that customers love about the brand’s style. While there’s no obvious selling point here, the blog posts “position Anthropologie as a trendy, knowledgeable friend who knows a thing or two about drinks – as well as clothes.” (The 30 Most Genius Content Marketing Examples of 2014)


The content marketing cocktail.

To recap, content marketing is all about creating and distributing content to attract, acquire, and engage your target audiences. It’s about communicating with your customers and prospects without selling, but rather by delivering information that is valuable to them.

For those of you still in vacation mode, here’s a more palatable breakdown: Start with a base of trustworthy, authoritative content, shake with great story-telling and engagement, and garnish with some pop-culture appeal.