Whether in web, digital collateral, or social media form, having many assets that showcase your brand/company products in an effective way is critical. As marketers know all too well that there is often a mad dash to get new content created and published to help reinforce the story of your brand/company/products.

But what if your process to create content is actually diluting your story? If you become lost in the weeds of details during the content creation process, won’t your audience be lost as well?

This question was front row and center this month as we attended a Strategic Storytelling class at Columbia University. The course itself was fantastic and combined the softer side of storytelling with the more mechanical side of psychology and data analytics to paint a clear picture of why a strong storyline really does matter.

The biggest takeaway however surrounded a controversial Pepsi Super Bowl ad from five years ago. Kylie Jenner plays a model who is caught up in protesters marching in the streets and ends up giving a Pepsi to a police officer.

See the full version of the ad here.

While the class was consumed in talking about the controversy and politically inappropriate nature of the spot, we were much more focused on the lack of a clear storyline that was captured in the advertisement.

  • Was there emotion? Yes
  • Beautiful people and imagery? Yes
  • Did it reflect the youth image that Pepsi is trying to attract? Yes
  • Did it make sense? (In our opinion) not at all

The advertisement reminded us of past marketing meetings where everyone wants to contribute to a content strategy or story, and the end product is a collection of all of those ideas. When we watched this spot, we could almost hear the marketing voices saying things like: “Let’s have some diverse faces,” and “Let’s have both rock music and a cello player,” and “Let’s include a celebrity to join the march.”

The reason this playing of the ad and subsequent discussion resonated so strongly with Corporate Path Leadership is that we’ve seen this play out on a much smaller scale many times in technology marketing. It is often easy to add in a couple of extra bullet points, or include a call out promotion, or include content from a pet project or eager executive who wants to add “just a little more to the existing story.” In all cases, this can easily deflect attention away from the bottom-line story that matters to the reader/consumer.

In contrast, the class showcased many other Super Bowl ads that were much more straight-forward and concise stories – while less than half of the length of the featured Pepsi spot. It reinforced the fact for us that less is indeed more. Focusing on a clean simple story that your audience will remember far outweighs the value of cramming every detail and possible purchase factor into the mix.

Our advice on how to hone in on your true story

It’s easy to say, “Don’t do that.” But when you begin creating content the real question is, “How do you craft your story in a simple way that makes it easy for your customers to understand?” Use these questions to help you articulate a clear, simple story, and stick to it throughout the content production process.

  • What story will resonate with our customers?
  • How can we better connect with them to help tell our story?
  • Why does this offering exist and what can it help solve for a customer? What challenge is our customer facing right now that is most important for them to address? (linking this to the offering is key)
  • Once you identify your story, you can deflect all the add-on suggestions by asking the person, “Does this help re-enforce our story?” If it does, it’s in. If it doesn’t, it’s out.

Our takeaway for the readers of this blog post is to take a look at some of your existing content. Ask yourself, “what is the real story we are trying to tell here?” and see if you can clearly articulate that in one distinct sentence. If not, it is the perfect time to think about what that simple one-sentence story would be, and how to retool the content to make sure that story comes shining through.

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