How marketers can improve their storytellingMy grandpas know how to tell a good story.

Grandpa Theron (or Pud as he is known to the world) is famous for his Navy adventures during World War II and his fishing tales. He served on the USS Rocky Mount in the Pacific Ocean Theater for 26 continuous months. He shared a can of Spam® with General MacArthur one night while he was on duty. He met a Japanese kamikaze pilot who purposefully crashed into the ocean, instead of the ship, so he could follow his dream of teaching school. There are fishing stories about hooks stuck in thumbs and multiple fish caught on one line, and there’s an incredible tale about Grandpa, his best Navy buddy, a live telephone wire and a lake full of fish…

My other grandpa is the keeper of his family history. Grandpa Keith’s stories begin with our stowaway ancestors who jumped ship and swam the final mile to America. They include tragedy — the pioneer baby who died while her family was crossing our pasture in a covered wagon — brushes with fame — the night Frank and Jessie James slept in Great-Great-Grandma Priscilla’s barn (before they were bank robbers) — and stories of everyday farm life — finger decapitations, angry hornets and one-room schoolhouse pranks.

Marketers can learn a lot from great storytellers. Here are 10 elements of great stories that may help you improve your company’s content in 2015:

1. Get personal.
Brands can tell family stories just as well as grandfathers. Find the interesting personalities — your company heroes, your eccentrics and the rebels — and tell us about them. Interview them. When possible, put them in front of a camera and have them tell the story.

2. Make your history fun.
Long timelines of “product innovations” and tedious company histories are decidedly not entertaining. Instead, find and share your interesting and unusual moments — the stories and events that helped shape your company’s personality. Don’t be afraid of your past — it’s what sets you apart from the competition.

3. Create an audience persona … or four.
The best stories are those your audiences can relate to. But how do you know what they’ll relate to? It’s simple: Create audience personas. Interview people and ask about their job duties, motivations, goals, challenges, pain points and how they prefer to communicate, and turn it into a visual persona that you can give to the entire team.

4. Be timely. Follow their schedule, not yours.
Just because your product is launching in April, it doesn’t mean your audience wants to know about it then. When creating your audience personas, ask about the seasonality of their business and industry. Use that information to talk about your products and services when it makes sense for them, not for your manufacturing schedule.

5. Create an editorial calendar.
If you’re creating a lot of content, start thinking like a publisher and make a plan. Use your company events calendar and your personas to populate it.

6. Use Google AdWords Keyword Planner.
This free tool can help you talk more like your audience and use terms they’re familiar with — another popular trick of good storytellers. Instead of using jargony product and marketing terms, the keyword planner gives you the most popular phrases and terms used when people search for information about your topic. Use it.

7. Identify story themes.
Each of my grandpas is known for very specific types of stories, and they’re considered experts on those topics. Identify themes that your company can become known for and stick with them. Use those themes to guide your storytelling and content ideas.

8. Ask yourself, “What’s in it for them?”
I love my grandpas’ stories because I can relate to them as part of my family history. You can create that same interest with your audiences by simply asking yourself, “Why should they care about this? What’s in it for them?” Tell your stories for the customer, not to talk about your company.

9. Solve their problems and challenges.
We’ve all been schooled by The Greatest Generation — no matter how bad your problem seemed, they quickly put it into perspective with a story about living through the Great Depression. But it’s a good lesson to learn: Sharing your customers’ stories about how they solved common problems or challenges using your company’s product is a great way to get people’s attention.

10. Be authentic.
Don’t try to make your company something it isn’t. Storytelling is about sharing a very real and personal part of yourself. You can’t fake that. You can embellish the heck out of it, like my grandpas are known to do, but it has to start from someplace real. When you tell stories that people want to share with others, they’ll remember you for it.

About Keesia Wirt

Keesia Wirt, content strategist at Two Rivers Marketing, is a self-proclaimed content nerd. With a background in newspaper and magazine journalism, she now helps clients connect with their target audiences by creating relevant, valuable content that they want to read, watch and share with others. Her favorite tools include audience personas, crotchet hooks, whisks and duct tape. If you want to talk content, email her at keesiaw@2rm.com.