Creating Stories that Stick: Building Content that Drives Decisions | AdWeek Elevate Recap
Last week, Parse.ly‘s CEO and co-founder, Sachin Kamdar gave a talk on the main stage at Adweek Elevate Publishing about building content that drives decisions, and creating stories that stick. He walked through why content is so important for businesses, especially in today’s digital landscape, and gave some insight into what Parse.ly and WordPress VIP are doing to equip teams with the tools they need to create a successful content program.
Here are some of the highlights:
- Why content?
- Why now?
- Parse.ly and WordPress VIP
- What makes for a successful content strategy?
- How can smaller organizations with limited bandwidth get started telling their story?
Why is content the thing we always talk about? Why is it the thing that dominates our conversations? Since the most interesting answers are the ones that destroy questions, let’s destroy that question of Why content?
It becomes obvious why contents is so compelling when we go all the way back in time to the oldest existing creations of humans: stories. One of the oldest known stories is that of the Seven Sisters, in Greek mythology, where the Pleiades Constellation represented the seven daughters of Atlas.
Atlas was forced to hold up the sky for eternity and was therefore unable to protect his daughters, so to protect them, he put them into the stars. What happened, though, is that one of the sisters fell in love with a mortal and went into hiding, which is why in the consolation, you only see six stars instead of seven.
A very similar story was found amongst the Aboriginal groups across Australia, about a hunter chasing seven sisters. In this case, one of the sisters died or went into hiding, so again, you only see six stars.
This same lost Pleiades story was found in Europe, Africa, Asia, and America, across all these different cultures. So the question is, how did this story exist with the same characteristic across all these different places?
The working thesis for this is that the story actually originates all the way back 100,000 years ago at the cradle of humanity in Africa, and it was then carried through all the different migration patterns of humans around the world.
What is it that makes this so compelling? And why is it that stories are something that humans are innately wired for?
There are a couple of reasons. Primarily, stories are the best way that we transfer knowledge. I can’t remember what the weather was like yesterday, but if you asked me about the latest Dune movie and the Dune universe, I can talk about that for hours and I know very specific details.
We’re wired to carry a narrative, carry a story, carry content moving forward. That information has been very valuable to us as humans. It has allowed up to carry traditions, carry facts and information, and carry the ways that we operate within our world.
Why content? It shouldn’t be surprising. It’s the way that our brains are wired. It’s at the heart of how we operate and how we communicate with one another.
The next question is Why now? What is it about now that really changes the way that we think about content?
There are two components of this: there’s the research and the reality. The research of this is really interesting. Harvard professor, Gerald Saltzman, did a lot of research on purchasing decisions and found that 95% of purchases are made by our subconscious. In other words, we buy with our subconscious and use facts and our frontal lobes to justify that purchase.
One of the most influential things to our subconscious are those stories. It’s why when you dream at night, it comes in the form of a story.
We also know that stories drive movements. There’s a Noble Prize winning economist, Robert Shiller, who wrote a whole book on how stories drive outsized impact on our economy. This ranges from influencing the most recent financial crisis, into the 2008 recession, all the way back to the Great Depression. Stories were really the catalyst to those things happening.
And then there’s the reality of where we are today in regards to the pandemic. In 2019, 85% of executives believed digital was ‘nice to have,’ which is laughable today. Right now, digital is the primary way that you need to interact with your customer base and your prospects.
Today, 80% of buyers research online before actually talking to anybody and making a purchase. Digital has been the only reasonable economic response to Covid-19.
Why now? The answer is that times have changed, and digital content can no longer be an after thought for a publisher, for a brand, or for any company. It really has to be at the heart of your digital success.
Parse.ly and WordPress VIP
That takes us to why Parse.ly decided to join forces with WordPress VIP. It goes back to the economist, Robert Shiller, who’s really thinking about the impact of narratives and stories on the economy. As he said in his book, even if we can’t measure it or directly attribute causality, the effect of stories and narratives on economics is real and powerful.
So we took this as a personal challenge over at Parse.ly, and we wanted to make sure that we could measure that, and we could actually tie what is happening with your content back to impact for your business.
We’ve done this through launching things like content conversions, content attribution, we did this through implementing content categorization and content personalization, and then tying that all together in one platform. Our software is built around the mindset that you can prove the ability for content to justify and change the way people think and make decisions.
This is the kind of process where you’re understanding your audience through data, you’re using that to inform your content strategy, and then using that to drive value creation for your business.
But one thing that we have as very small here is actually a very big part of this process: the content creation part. That’s where Parse.ly and WordPress VIP really are coming together to change the way that you operate in and around developing content.
Together we’re empowering entire teams to build strong content fast. That includes how you activate that content, how you push that content out through all your digital channels, how you prove the value of that content, how you get real-time signals and insights to determine the content performance and business impact, and then completing that cycle with how you leverage all that data to develop your content strategy.
With this partnership, we’ve now completed the cycle where we have the data and the analytics along with the world’s most popular and powerful CMS.
Content is one of the most powerful things that you have to influence buyers and get people to make the right decisions for your business. So be confident that your stories are powerful and that they’re going to create the key actions that you want.
Make sure you know what those actions are, and why your content exists. What is it trying to do for your business? Is it trying to help you grow subscriptions? Is it trying to help you grow your audience size overall?
Once you know why it exists and you’re confident in your ability to story-tell, use data to drive that execution of your content strategy. Leverage the data that you have to really combine storytelling with your goals to come up with an execution plan that you know is going to work for your company.
What makes for a successful content strategy?
Be specific around what you’re trying to do with content. For anybody who is thinking about what the purpose of their content is, we encourage you to go three levels deep with the why.
So, you want to grow your audience. Why do you want to grow your audience? You want to grow it to increase unique visitors for advertising. Well, what would that do for you as a business? Go a couple levels deep, and that’s going to help you get to a clearer sense of what you’re trying to achieve with your content.
Once you have that, and that might be three different things, that could be two different things, that might just be one thing, then you need to think about how your team is operationally situated to achieve that, and how you can leverage the right data to make that all transparent in terms of what they should be doing.
But it really starts with the why. What are you trying to do with your content, and why? Once you have a very clear picture of what that is, then you can start building the how.
How can smaller organizations with limited bandwidth get started telling their story?
Two things: First of all, don’t assume that you don’t have enough data just because you’re smaller. There’s been a natural trend over the last several years to focus on the real-time aspect of analytics, but one of the things we always tell our customers is don’t ignore the past.
You need to leverage what has happened over weeks, months, even years, to really understand where your trends are going. So look at your own data, look at it closely, and make sure that you can leverage what has happened with your audience and content in the past to inform the future.
Then secondly, look at what is happening in and around the areas that you are seeing success. We have a product called Currents that allows you to tap into network data across our entire content network, where you can start to see what’s happening, not just on your site, but across specific sections or industry verticals. Or you could leverage other insights from the variety of different social platforms out there. All of that combined can give you the first stepping stone.
We work with customers that are only publishing three or four pieces of content a month, and they’re still getting a ton of value out of analytics because it helps them understand where they’re going for the future.
Want to create compelling stories faster and drive more impact with your content? Check out Sachin’s full talk from Adweek Elevate Publishing or chat with one of our content analytics experts to learn how Parse.ly can help.