Don’t tell your story, ADD your story

By Mark Schaefer

What’s your story?

Answering that question seems to be the core idea behind content marketing today but I want to suggest a subtle but important distinction to that advice. And to do that … I will use a story.

A friend of mine went through my book KNOWN but was stuck on defining his sustainable interest — in other words, what he wanted to be known for.

He had actually been blogging for 10 years but had almost no comments, no social shares, and no subscriptions to his content. I have to hand it to him — he certainly showed content-producing grit in the face of adversity for a long time. Perhaps after two or three years of inattention he should have considered a pivot. What was going wrong with his content?

Although this person is an artist, his content lacked focus and many of his posts were autobiographical, spinning the stories of his life. I asked him why he featured so many of his own personal stories and he said, “well the content marketing advice is to tell your story.”

I would like to poke a hole in this advice. If this person was a famous artist, or a movie celebrity, or a sports star, I indeed might be interested in his life story. Perhaps thousands of other people would too, and this would be a good strategy to become known. But as I looked over these stories, I felt a little bored. Would anybody really care about “his story?”

Putting the strategy on time-out.

He is a talented and experienced man without an audience. In particular, he is extremely passionate and knowledgable about artists similar to him, in the same genre. We did a little research to define the supply and demand of content about these artists. Through a simple web search we determined there was almost no content available about these artists (the supply). We then turned to Google Trends and determined that there was steady interest in these artists (the demand).

This is a recipe for content marketing success! We found an unsaturated niche that is attracting a nice flow of web traffic. If my friend blogged consistently about these artists, it is likely he would start getting some interest in his content from organic search traffic. And he loved these artists, so he could easily sustain this theme for many years.

Adding your story.

Instead of TELLING his story, I encouraged him to ADD his story. The world doesn’t need more Wikipedia-like articles about these artists. But we do need my friend’s personal stories about how he met them, what he admires about them, how his own art has been inspired by these greats.

I think that’s where the magic happens in content today. To stand out, you need to be original, and to be original you need to add your own perspective, your own story to your content. We don’t necessarily need to know every detail of your life. But it would be interesting to learn about your topic through your personal lens.

This could be an absolutely fascinating blog and I’m looking forward to his progress. And, by the way, his new readers will undoubtedly want to know more about his art, since he is so similar to the artists he’s discussing! We hope that the traffic, the readers, and the subscribers will increase over time.

I use this same technique here on {grow}. I could have written a post today simply proposing that we add personal color to our posts, but by adding a story from my own experience, the content becomes so much more interesting.

I love history, travel, art, music, sports, and everything outdoors. I frequently provide glimpses of these aspects of my life — not necessarily to tell my story, but to add entertaining and unique color that only my life can add to the lessons I want to teach.

And I hope this personal perspective held your interest today, and perhaps even provided some advice that will help you with your own content efforts. What do you think?

Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for {grow}, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration marked safe for re-use by Unsplash.

Originally published at on July 10, 2017.

Keynote speaker, strategy consultant, Rutgers University marketing faculty and author of 9 books including KNOWN, Marketing Rebellion, and Cumulative Advantage.