Content Marketing: Lead With Your Story

Tracking Wonder - Brand Story Strategy

How a local clinic and an alpaca farm benefited from brand story strategy.

I see a lot of businesses (as well as online entrepreneurs) make the same mistake when they build a website and venture into content marketing and social media. Business owners unintentionally bring old assumptions about advertising & marketing to online content and social media.

Traditional advertising is about pushing your product or services onto customers or potential customers.

The ads might be clever to get attention. You pay a premium for advertising and invest in expensive print collateral, and you just sort of hope somehow by virtue of advertising’s messenger pigeons that the right person will get the mail and show up at your door.

So what happens when a business owner steeped in traditional advertising and marketing ventures into the brave new world online?

She might assume a pretty website with a new theme is all she needs to start drawing in customers.

Or he starts pushing more content. And social media – Facebook, Twitter, G+ – just free advertising channels. Right?

Um, no. And no.

Your brand-aligned website does need to distinguish you within your field, but that’s just the beginning of growing your impact with integrity. Now it’s up to you to tell the Story – and to live it. Now it’s up to you to engage.

We live in an engagement economy. We live in an experience economy.

The research and case studies I cull keep pointing to the fact that most people hunger for experiences that change the way they feel, live, relate (Pokemon Go, anyone?).

People – whether paying customers or not – want to be engaged with valuable ideas and information delivered by real human beings, not abstract companies.

Content sometimes needs to pull people into a conversation not repel them from your pushing. And selling does not have to equate with pushing.

Center your message and story around an ideal. Our TW ideal overtly is wonder. It’s tied to openness, delight, surprise. But the real engine of our story is excellence. Much of what we aim to do at TW and to help you do is keep getting better at what you do. Wonder happens to be the best emotional ally on that path.

If you’ve defined what your business’s greater key ideal is and who your ideal hero-customer or client is, then it’s easier to create content that helps and resonates with them. Now you have filters for what content you produce.

Producing content with artful filters – that’s story-telling at its finest, and that’s in part what we help each other figure out how to do better at The Writing Den.

But beyond the bare bones, people want to be surprised. They want to taste delight and feel moved – not unlike what Updike describes as “their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat.”

We remember what we feel. I know – that’s a lot to ask if you’re a business owner who’s just doing your job and meeting your customer demands.

To move an online community often means you “come forward” as the brand’s face and business’s voice. That’s not a comfortable move for some service-oriented professionals, business owners, creatives, and entrepreneurs.

Doing so, though, does not have to look and sound self-centered.

Beyond Brick-and-Mortar Acupuncture Office

Full disclosure: This one is about my wife, Hillary Thing. Hillary has been a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture for almost twenty years. Credentials. Advanced training. Taught grad school courses. Sloan-Kettering. Yadah. You know – accomplished and hard-working.

A few years ago, she felt called to narrow her focus from helping all cases to addressing what she saw as an increasing epidemic – Lyme’s Disease. Her existing website for her brick-and-mortar center still helps her practice and online shop, but she needed another site to tell her new Story about and approach Lyme’s. One goal was for the site to help her reach an international audience and build professional partnerships.

She took our ArtMark™ program and then had our design team build her ArtMark™ Story site – uprootinglyme.com. She tells her Story, which also involves her, ahem, husband. It felt risky because she’s introverted and private by nature, but she started giving talks and sharing part of this personal journey to uprooting Lyme’s. Numerous clients share with her how that personal story moves them.

But she didn’t expect that just putting up the site would place her on the map. The site helped earn her the trust and respect of other professionals in her field, so she could hold a tele-summit on Lyme’s with other professionals, launch a webinar series (she had 380 registrants at her latest one), build 6-month intensive programs, and build up an online community.

Her influence, impact, and income have soared. It’s still a lot of hard work, but those three things – influence, impact, and income – motivate her to keep telling and living the Story.

A website is a tool that can distinguish your Story with integrity. You then must use that tool and tell that Story by engaging your community with innovation and integrity.

More Than a Farm

Lee Rankin has a remarkable story. It involves a young boy, an alpaca, and a dream for a real family. A few years ago, had you looked at her website, though, you wouldn’t have known it. In fact, you might not have found photos of any people and very few animals.

Yet when you meet Lee you’re instantly drawn in by her passion for life and her love of people.

Last year Lee let us revamp her site that not only brings her personal story forward but also tells her larger Story about getting connected again with what is real in life and getting connected with a larger family. That’s what Lee and Apple Hill Farm stand for.

The process of getting clear on her site’s Story also boosted Lee’s confidence in sharing her personal story in talks that in turn led to more people returning to her website and talking about her farm.

Last August Apple Hill Farm took home the 2016 Sue Wilmoth Award for Tourism Development by the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce, and Trip Advisor – an important partner for leads – awarded them a Certificate of Excellence.

The clincher: At the awards ceremony, the presenter read aloud every word of the home page. This year alone they have hosted over 2,000 people on 237 tours of the farm.

Proving again the power of Story, Scott Mason – host of the southeast Emmy award – winning radio show Tar Heel Traveler at station WRAL – read Lee’s personal story and brought a film crew out to capture her touching mother-son story where she’s found and made a farm family. She said it was the biggest media moment she and the farm have had to date. 

Selling follows from telling your Story.

And if you tell the Story that only you and your team can tell and with your signature style, well, then as Updike’s poem notes “imitators and descendants are not the same.”

No one compares to you.

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  1. I’m glad it resonated, Anne – and I’m thrilled you’re showing up to tell – and live – your Story.