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In the fiction writing world {and high school English} there’s a common phrase: “Show, don’t tell”. 

This refers to the fact that it’s WAY more compelling to write something like, “the icy cold metal of the doorknob bit into her fingertips as she twisted the handle,” instead of, “the doorknob was cold.”

The same philosophy applies to your content marketing strategy. No, you don’t need to create overly flowery content {please don’t}. But what you CAN do is show your audience who you are, what you stand for, who you help, and how your business can help them.

Just like the doorknob example, it’s WAY more compelling to show your audience what you can do than to tell them.

How? 

Through story.

Your brand is only as strong as the emotions it creates

Consider this your regular reminder from your friendly neighborhood content marketing agency: Words tell, stories sell.

In fact, we wrote a whole post about how you can use the art of storytelling to increase your impact. The truth? The best words in the world don’t mean a thing if they don’t: 

💥 Convey an emotion that connects with your audience.

💥 Offer a path forward that alleviates frustration and pain.

💥 Tell a story that resonates and inspires action.

💥 Stick in your audience’s mind like super glue.

Stories are powerful because they tick all the boxes. They convey emotion, show your audience a path forward, inspire action, and stay memorable. When your content marketing strategy includes powerful stories, you allow your audience to imagine what their life could be like if they worked with your brand. 

People act with their hearts 💜 first, brains 🧠 second. When people click on the “Buy” button, you’d better believe it’s because they heard a powerful story… not because they listened to a bunch of interesting facts slung in their direction.

Story as a piece of brand voice

Because stories inherently show your audience how your brand can help, it’s also an opportunity to capitalize on your brand voice + content personality

In fact, story is one of the five components we look at when helping brands establish their voice {the other four parts, in case you’re curious, are words, phrases, avoiders, and tone}.

The 5 core stories you can use to improve your content strategy

Now that you know the power of a story, let’s get into the details. There are hundreds of possible stories you could tell in your business. How do you choose the right one? And how do you tell a story without wading into the lake of Too Much Information?

At North Star, we’ve narrowed content marketing stories into five core story types. There’s the potential to develop micro-stories (think of your favorite spin-off series) from each, but these five form your core arsenal.

A word of caution

Before you get excited about plastering your stories everywhere, take a moment to consider the intention behind each story you tell. At the end of the day, your business is NOT about you.

Let me repeat that.

At the end of the day, your business is NOT about you.

Even if you’re telling your story, you’re doing it in service to your audience. Your goal is to take THEM on a journey. Your story can help show them that you’re the right business for the job, but you should never steal the spotlight from them.

Alright, if we’re clear on that point… let’s dive in.

Core Story #1: The Origin Story

Everyone needs to work, right? In  2010, during the height of a recession, that philosophy led to the birth of North Star { at the time, we called ourselves Owl Eyes Editing Services}.

Back then, Marie and I wrote and edited resumes and cover letters for hopeful job applicants. We would meet every Thursday {which  quickly became my favorite day of the week} at Marie’s house. With our laptops and folders, we’d huddle on the floor of her office and scribble edits in red pen. We’d contemplate maybe getting a website someday. We’d create Excel sheets with our dream budgets.

Our biz has changed a lot over the years, but the core of our business remains the same. Our brand promise is still to capture your unique voice and message, so you can stand out. Our origin story helps share that brand promise in a meaningful way.

Your Origin Story tells the journey of your company {or, often, your own story, if you’re a personal brand}.

It talks about your humble beginnings and your arc of growth. You can dig into who you’ve helped, how you’ve evolved, and the ways in which your vision has changed.

Typically, your origin story will follow a fun little plot arc. It starts off with quiet, humble beginnings — or possibly even in the depths of struggle. A dream is born and from that dream a business is created. As the company grows, it’s met with periodic struggles, challenges, and missteps. But at the end of the day, usually through a combination of bold moves, persistence, and belief, you prevail.

It is, in short, the hero’s journey. It most often appears on company About pages and profiles, and is a SUPER common topic when being interviewed.

Your Origin Story will show your audience:

  • The ways in which you are {or were} similar to them
  • How far you’ve come and how you’ve evolved {with plenty of mistakes along the way, because hey, you’re only human — even if you’re a brand.}
  • Who you serve and in what ways {and how it’s changed over time}

This is your chance to show your audience a journey they themselves can embark on. Your story is a touchstone for them, and it positions you as someone they can trust as a mentor along the way.

Core Story #2: The Expertise Story

My domestic partner {we call ourselves California married} is a paleontologist and PhD student at UC Berkeley. There’s nothing I enjoy more than listening to her tell stories about her work.

Whether it’s teaching kids how to tell the difference between fossils and rocks or it’s uncovering the incredible nuance of quantitative genetics, she’s out there doing cool stuff every day.

And each time she tells me another story, I’m more impressed by her level of experience and insight. Through her anecdotes I know that she is an incredible teacher, approaches science with compassion, and absolutely can hold her own out in the field.

And I don’t need to know any of the fancy letters after her name to get that.

Often, we think of our expertise as our degrees and certifications, or maybe a list of workshops we’ve led and books we’ve published. And while each of these can help your audience see that you’re qualified, an expertise story can show them your skills in a powerful, intimate way.

Expertise Stories showcase the experiences of you and your team in a memorable way.

These stories often live within your instructional content and help illustrate important points. When you’re teaching your audience about something, don’t be afraid to frame it around an Expertise Story!

Your Expertise Story will show your audience:

  • Why you’re qualified to do the work you do
  • That you’re capable of guiding others or providing results
  • What systems, products, and processes you’ve developed to adapt to your audience’s needs

Your Expertise Story is your chance to beef up your content marketing strategy with trustworthiness that isn’t a list of facts or degrees. Use this story to show your audience that you’ve got the skills to help them succeed.

Core Story #3: The Innovation Story

Everyone has an angle — what’s yours?

One of the main reasons CEOs choose to work with us revolves around their past experiences. Often, they’ve tried to outsource their content in the past. For whatever reason, it didn’t go as planned. Maybe the content was factually on target, but it lacked the depth and authenticity they were looking for.

So they come to us, because we’ve built a bit of a reputation around capturing brand voice.

This has become our angle. We recognize that when people work with us, it’s because they’re looking for spot-on voice work, and our entire process is geared around it as a result {from our free Copywriting Character Quiz to our high-end content retainers}.

Innovation Stories share the stand-out aspects that differentiate you from similar products or services.

Your innovation stories live in all kinds of places! They are a key part of any strong content marketing strategy. They frequently show up in casual conversation, within services pages on your website, and in live trainings.

Your Innovation Story will show your audience:

  • What you’re taking a stand against in your marketplace
  • How you fill the gaps and offer new opportunities
  • The stand-out qualities that allow your brand to shine

When you share your innovation story, you’re essentially showing your audience what makes you different from the thousands of other people who might offer similar products or services. 

Core Story #4: The Influence Story

These are the best stories. Influence stories are the stories you tell when you want to showcase your results. These are impact stories. They are the realm of case studies and testimonials which, yes, show that you’re an expert, but more importantly they show the cause-effect relationship of working with you.

Stories like the time you inspired someone to make a big, scary decision through you relationship coaching practice. Or how one Instagram post impacted one person in a positive way. Or how your work of branding has helped fund a nonprofit that champions a cause you believe in.

It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be a post that went viral, a seven-figure launch, or that-time-you-were-quoted-by-Oprah.

What it does have to be is meaningful. And in that way, the more intimate the story, the better off you are.

Influence Stories convey the impact you’ve had on people, communities, organizations, and the world.

These are our favorite kinds of stories, because they let you showcase all the good you’re doing for your industry, your audience, and your larger community.

Your Influence Story will show your audience:

  • The impact you’ve made on others
  • How your company has increased its footprint
  • The “trickle-down” effect of working with you

Core Story #5: The Purpose Story

Last, but certainly not least, is the Purpose Story. This is your deeper why, your vision for your brand, and how it impacts your audience.

Knowing your purpose story isn’t just important for you, as the CEO. It’s important for your audience. Consumers want to work with companies who align with their values, and often those values are expressed through your vision.

Purpose Stories share your vision of the future in a tangible way.

If the Origin Story looks backwards, the Purpose Story looks forwards. It’s a little of fiction that paints a picture of the world you want to create.

Your Purpose Story will show your audience:

  • The vision you hold for your clients or customers
  • The vision you hold for your company
  • The long-term impact you want to make on the world

This is the only story that isn’t necessarily about something that’s already happened. It’s about something that will happen. This is a chance to stretch your creativity and inspire others to change the stars.

Identifying Your 5 Core Stories

We recommend that you take the time to identify one story for each type. This will give you five solid stories you can weave into your content marketing strategy and come back to again and again. Sharing them will show your brand’s humanity, impact, and vision. They’ll allow your audience to connect with you more deeply and understand how you can help them. 

Of course, you may have more ideas you want to share, and that’s totally fine! You can sprinkle in what we call micro-stories to further convey your origin, expertise, innovation, influence, or purpose.

Which stories are currently represented in your biz?


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