Content marketing: Telling Meaningful Stories

How many brands get human to human marketing wrong and how to fix it

Business to Business. Business to Consumer. Those are the traditional terms. Human to Human (coined by Bryan Kramer) or Person to Person (first heard from Facebook expert Mari Smith) is the way we should be marketing.

Be human. I joke that I teach people to behave like humans again. On social media. Their websites. Anywhere, really.

But being human actually is hard because we try to fit things into some existing buckets of expectation.

  • Marketing copy reads like this.
  • This is what we are expected to say.
  • etc.

When executives ask what my B2B experience is, I answer that I’ve spent more time working on my H2H experience. Some understand it. Some try to stay on the more traditional B2C track. Of course, I’m not judging them here, and it might even work for them. There are few absolutes in authentic storytelling content marketing.

Personally, I’ve seen success to behave like a human and treat readers, customers and partners as other humans.

So I started to wonder: Why do many brands get human to human marketing wrong? What’s the struggle?

The answer comes down to this from my experience and observation:

For some brands to actually appear human, they have to have humans attached to them. Let’s take this blog – The Authentic Storytelling Project – as an example. The blog brand in itself isn’t human because it’s not a person, though, all articles on here are from me. It’s essentially my blog. I don’t accept guest posts. It’s just me.

But The Authentic Storytelling Project is also its own brand to a degree. Somebody commented that all posts on here are from me. So isn’t it really just Christoph’s Blog? Yes, it kind of is, and I actually used to have a blog that was called Christoph’s Blog before. But that seemed kind of lame after a while, and I liked The Authentic Storytelling Project name. So that’s now the name of my blog.

But think about how some brands might run this type of blog. The options look like this:

  • All posts are written under the brand banner. No personal bylines.
  • Personal, first-person blog posts from the experts.
  • Third-person writing.

The first and third options set brands up to not be as human as they could be. When we write under a brand banner, especially when the Brand Police officers tell us that the brand needs to sound more formal than most people would sound, that’s how that content ends up looking. Formal, distant, etc.

In option No. 3, the third-person writing style, our writing also can seem distant. We always are telling somebody else’s story, and then we quote them. As a former newspaper journalist, I’ve written in this style for many years. Most websites and blogs should just avoid it.

First person is the way to go. For the most part, that means we need a person. Not a made up one. A real person.

And that’s where the sticking point often happens. People ask me: “Christoph, we get it, but what if the person we pick to be our public face leaves the organization?”

Some things come to mind:

  • Create the kind of culture that ensures they don’t leave.
  • If they do, find a new person.

Also, don’t put all your eggs into one basket. Have multiple people – your subject matter experts preferably – share their stories in their own voice.

If they aren’t writers, get them a ghostwriter. Team them up with an internal or external writer and maybe even a storytelling coach. Then show them how it’s working.

Usually, when done well, they’ll hear themselves that it’s working. People will tell them offline that they saw their stories online (or offline, as that may be applicable).

Many brands who are struggling with human to human marketing aren’t doing this yet, and their brand voice is too formal and doesn’t allow online managers to respond like humans would. They respond or post like a press release would. Not even journalists give news releases the time of the day.

How to get started? In a nutshell:

  • Make the decision that you want to do human to human marketing
  • Make a plan on how that will look. A short one, please!
  • Figure out who has the best storytelling skills.
  • Start implementing.
  • Refine constantly to see what’s working and what’s not working.
  • Sustain it. Make sure people have the resources and executive support to keep going.

Personally, I’m looking forward to a world where brands and humans behave in a way that is relatable and remembers that we are all people.

At some point, person to person marketing may not even be a differentiator anymore. The more people do it, the less unusual it becomes. But today, it can set us apart from the rest – the competition or whatever. And isn’t that the whole point of marketing: To stand out and connect with the people who want to work with us and buy our products?

Of course. Good luck, and here’s to all of us being personable and relevant together.

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Christoph blogs on The Authentic Storytelling Project and is a globally recognized content marketing expert. The IMA named him Internet Marketer of the Year in 2015. He works with healthcare organizations and other brands around the globe.

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