“Don't get me wrong, storytelling is great, everybody loves stories and they can be a great component of a content marketing strategy. Nevertheless, the word 'story' has been used recently in some circles as a synonym for content marketing. And this is simply wrong” Rebecca Lieb, analyst, counselor and author of a SEO bestseller said recently. We decided to take a look at the  place of storytelling in different types of marketing.

There are three types of content in content marketing, but according to Lieb, only one of them is technically “telling a story.” The other two types are equally important, but very often the only narration principle they follow is that they have a storyline.
Let’s take a look at those three types together with Rebecca:

1. Entertaining content

This kind of content usually takes the video or audio-video form. Why? It is easier to watch on small screens and is most often shared on social media platforms. Lieb believes entertaining content to be closest to traditional storytelling of all the three types. Consider viral videos, picture stories or website stories (a periodic video publication usually lasting for a few minutes). The video series “Do something real” by Whole Foods is the best example, as is last year’s Squatty Potty viral hit: This Unicorn Changed the Way I Poop. Purina’s Dear Kitten is a more recent hit, and so is “LEGO: Adventure” movie, which with its $550 million box office is also an example of highest marketing monetization. We talked about this phenomenon on our blog.

2. Informative and/or educative content

This type is mainly chosen by B2B companies and B2C services, characterized by a high need for information/education or a longer choice and sale process. Informative content helps buyers assess the capabilities of a product or service before they make the decision. After the purchase it can also increase customer satisfaction and lead to up-selling (selling more expensive products to the existing customer) or cross-selling (selling the customer a product or service linked with the first purchase).

For instance, Hubspot produces large amounts of useful content for digital marketing and advertisers, equalling commercial publications available on the market. American Express OPEN Forum has been a perfect example of content marketing for years, even though instead of telling stories the brand publishes information that is practical for owners of small companies and businessmen.

3. Useful content

Rebecca’s first example here is Zenni Optical, which also is not a storyteller. Instead, the company provides tools helping customers make purchase decisions. How do you measure your nose bridge to choose the best pair of glasses for you? What about the distance between pupils? If we were to tell: what is the main goal of practical content – the answer would be: it helps users perform a task (in this case, choosing the best-suited pair of glasses). We can find many such examples: take a mortgage credit calculator in a bank or a calories calculator provided by a health or fitness brand. Estate brokers offer tools that help house buyers find descriptions and evaluation of the neighborhood for facilities (such as school) or the level of crime.

Surely this sounds familiar – we’ve all downloaded such apps to our phones. Useful content is a very popular idea for mobile devices, but in addition to an app you can also think about creating a vine (an informative animated gif, e.g. Lowe’s network uses it to show simple home improvement tricks). “And even though house selling or calories can become a 'story’, it is not the goal of useful content,” Lieb emphasizes. Instead, the idea is similar to informative and educative content: helping to suggest the buyer the right decision. Take the Crutchfield chart helping to choose the best TV set size for a given room (as you can see, examples are endless).
So much for theory. What about putting this in practice? Is there really no place for a well-told story in informative content? Possibly, there is.

Bartłomiej Brach, organization anthropologist and storytelling expert, says that this division does exist, but in theory.
“You have to remember it is always a mixture,” Bartek explains. In case of a purely practical product, you can add a perspective that allows to create a story, use human experience and convince the customer to use the product.

Let’s get back to the example of Zenni Optical brought by Lieb. The brand decided to use useful content: it helps customers choose glasses offering a tool for measuring space between the eyes. “This tool really does not need a story – it is just for measuring the distance. However, when you want to encourage customers to use the tool and take that measurement – to tell them why this is so important – this is when a story can help, let’s say as a story about mismatched glasses,” Bartek explains.

 

BartekBrachStorytelling can help when you want to encourage customers to use your tool.

Bartek Brach

 

“Similarly, what Lieb calls entertainment always has some educative value – stories entertain and teach,” he continues. Entertaining content that is closest to telling a story, is at the same time educative. “For instance, during the already mentioned film festival “Do Something Real” the viewers learn how important bees are for the ecosystem, and watching The Scarecrow we begin to understand how intensive agriculture works,” Bartek says.

In fact, making decisions is hardly ever rational and the description of qualities – the “informative content” – may not be persuasive enough. Nothing prevents making information closer to our needs and more useful – part of a story addressing our emotions and experience. If Hubspot told about how the knowledge in their high volume publications have helped a customer in business, we could find in that story motivation for using their offer – an answer to problems we are facing.

As to Open Forum – all you need to do is go to the website and see that the company is quoting stories told by businessmen about how they managed to employ their best worker. Usual stories – a new character appears to help make positive changes.