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Content Marketing: Tell Your Story

Wesley* had given the last of his cash to the mechanic who had fixed the engine in his van. Wesley now sat inside that van parked in the Janesville Walmart parking lot wondering how he could afford gas to drive the van anywhere. Cancer and its treatments had sapped his strength. Medical bills had emptied his bank account and taken his home.

He lived in the van.

Careful budgeting of his monthly military pension had helped Wesley survive for a good long time. His next check was just one week away, but in order to receive it, he needed to attend a meeting with his counselor in Madison. He had left a message for his counselor explaining his financial/fuel situation, and now he waited for a return call hoping he had enough minutes on his phone to complete the conversation they would have.

He was out of money. He was out of gas. He was afraid he had finally run out of luck.

Gambling with his last few phone minutes, Wesley dialed the number for the Rock County Cancer Coalition.

Within the hour, volunteers rolled up next to Wesley's van in the parking lot. They greeted him with handshakes and hugs. They escorted him to a gas station (in case he ran out of gas before he reached it) and gave him enough gas cards to cover the cost to fill his tank and refill it again after his trip to Madison. They bought him a supply of phone minute cards. Before the volunteers left him, they presented him with a box of broaster chicken and potato planks from the gas station deli. It was the first hot meal Wesley had eaten in months.

"When I get my check next week, I will pay you back," Wesley promised.

"No, you won't. We won't accept it."

Stories are a valuable component of content marketing.

"Great stories make us care," says Sam Slaughter, VP of Content at Contently (a content marketing firm in New York). At a recent Experience Inbound seminar in Milwaukee, he explained that customers and clients don't buy your products; they buy your story.

Content marketing needs to do more than share facts.

To be effective, content marketing needs to build a relationship between the company and its customers and clients. Any time you can create content that shares a story, stirs feelings, and builds a relationship, you've created something very valuable.

With the above essay about Wesley, I've shared a story with you, I've stirred your feelings toward someone who struggles with cancer and its effects, and I've built a relationship between you and the non-profit organization.

Imagine if the essay had instead read as follows:

Medical bills stack up quickly for cancer patients leaving some people homeless instead of healing. The Rock County Cancer Coalition helps residents of Rock County who are fighting cancer. The RCCC provides financial assistance to pay medical bills, purchase food and prescription medication, and cover other costs so clients worry less about finances and focus more on healing. Please donate.

Both versions illustrate what the Rock County Cancer Coalition does and why their efforts are so important. But Wesley's story spells it out in feelings rather than in words. Wesley's story builds a relationship you care about.

Think of it this way… would you be more likely to contribute money to help "a homeless cancer patient" or to help Wesley? It's the same person, but in your eyes Wesley is the person you care about because he is now real.

This is the power of storytelling.

Slaughter also spoke of the value of being different. When everyone else is doing the same thing, be different. Offer something no one else offers. Create a story no one else can tell.

To illustrate:

There are hundreds and thousands of high quality charities who aid people in need. All of those charities would like to earn your support of time and money. With so many worthy causes, many of the messages sound the same. "Times are hard. People need your help." What makes one stand out from another? The stories.

Of all the non-profit organizations in Rock County, only one of them can tell Wesley's story. His is a story no one else can tell.

This is the power of storytelling.

Maya Angelou was absolutely right in saying, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

You may not remember what the Rock County Cancer Coalition does specifically, but you will remember how you feel about what they do for real people like Wesley.

This is the power of storytelling.

*Real name used with permission