News editors have a simple definition of a great story – one that no-one wants told. It’s a definition that I like, but it does not cover everything that makes a great story.
Stories that make great content marketing are no different to those that make great journalism, which makes it important to understand “story judgement”.
As readers, we instinctively know a great story when we see one. It’s one that we can trust, that we can relate to and one that is timely – it’s about something that is important now. And we love a story that is dangerous, risky or controversial.
When I was editing LeadingCompany, we posted a story from one of our contributors, Greg Savage, that went crazy. It was called, You’re not late, you are rude and selfish. It was a story that no-one had had the courage to tell before Savage put it out there.
Another great story that illustrates the risky category was published in the Weekend Australia recently: To Hell and Back. This is not the sort of story you want to read – it is harrowing — but the brilliant treatment of the subject matter makes it impossible to put down. It is timely, trusted, relevant and daring. (Pics are fantastic too.)
“Man bites dog” is another definition of news. Look for what is surprising. My story last week, Why I hate marketing, about a marketing expert who hates marketing (and so is changing it), is a classic example of this type of story.
We all like stories about success, but not if the story skips over the tough bits, since we all know that no-one gets to the top without a struggle. Michael Rennie, the CEO of internationally successful consulting firm, McKinsey & Co, for example, explained his path to this prestigious role in this story: How my cancer changed my view of leadership: McKinsey & Co’s Michael Rennie. As readers, we do not begrudge his success after we read about his journey.
I’m a fan of innovation expert, Amantha Imber’s blog. She has such as knack for headlines that are hard to resist. How about: The brain region that makes ideas go viral. This works on so many levels. For one thing, Imber looks at scientific research, so we can trust her stories. Secondly, “viral” content is a very modern idea, and we all want to understand it. And of course, we secretly hope that after reading it, we can create a viral idea! I sure am.
There is also a degree of fashion in stories. The numbered list is very fashionable at the moment. Here’s one I like: The seven lessons content marketers can learn from journalists. But fashions tend to wane. One minute everyone is writing about innovation or climate change, and the next, no-one is. Don’t be afraid to copy fashions, but watch for when the worm has turned.
You are really on the money if you can start a fashion. The Two of Us, a section of the Age magazine, Good Weekend, is so brilliant – unusual (daring), personal (relevant), first person (trusted) — that it has spawned a million “me-toos”.
Stories of personal tragedy and triumph are perennial favourites too (celebrity magazines thrive on this one!).
If you have looked at some of my examples, and disagreed with my judgement of them as great, it is probably because they are not relevant to you.
Relevance is the last crucial element of a great story I will discuss here today, and it is achieved by simply choosing the audience that you want to communicate with (via your content marketing site). Ideally, you will choose a narrowly-defined audience like King & Wood Malleson’s content marketing site, In Competition.
As journalists, we have spent years being schooled by our mentors and peers about what makes a great story. For companies committed to content marketing, it is a matter of honing your ability to spot a good idea when you see one, whether it is your idea or someone else’s.